35 technologies that shaped the computer industry

Computer with GUI interfaceComputerWorld magazine published a valuable list of 35 breakthrough computer technologies a few years ago.

It covers 1967 to the 1990s, ranging from the early stages in the invention of D-RAM in 1967 by Robert Dennard at IBM to the 1995 development of storage area networks by EMC Corp. , plus various uncredited inventions.

The list is interesting in its own right, but should also be helpful as a starting place for explorations of how technological innovations occur, either by individuals or corporate teams.

For starters, here are inventors’ ages, which I’ve added to items in the ComputerWorld list. Several seem to fit the mold of young computer geniuses:

  • In his mid-20s, “Ethernet (was) developed in the early 1970s by Bob Metcalfe at Xerox PARC.”
  • At ages 27 and 29, “In 1978, Harvard Business School students Dan Bricklin and Robert Frankston were tired of dealing with numbers on paper and the inevitable erasures. To simplify their homework, using the then-new Apple II computer, they came up with VisiCalc, a self-calculating, interactive ledger-sheet program.”

Also these conceptual breakthroughs:

  • At age 34, “Ray Ozzie’s 1989 vision of (Lotus Notes) document-based collaborative software combined group messaging, online discussion, group calendars, phone books, document databases, forms and workflow with a powerful development environment.”
  • At age 34, ” In 1966, IBM’s Robert Dennard found a way to store a memory bit as a charge on a capacitor in a single-transistor cell.” (It was a conceptual breakthrough, as this brief account makes clear: “Dennard and his team were working on early field-effect transistors and integrated circuits, and his attention to memory chips came from seeing another team’s research with thin-flim magnetic memory. Dennard claims he went home and within a few hours had gotten the basic ideas for the creation of DRAM.”

Are these old inventors more experimental in their approach?

  • At age 42 when the Osborne computer was launched, “Adam Osborne created the first ‘portable’ computer, introduced in 1981 at 24 lbs. with a 5-in. screen.”
  • At age 46, “IBM researcher Ted Codd defined the relational model for databases in 1969. Based on that concept and its query language, Oracle Corp. shipped the first SQL relational database system in 1979.”
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