From the early eighties each decade has brought in new technologies that have revolutionized how we live our lives. The 1990s was no exception. So many developments would change the world in fundamental ways.
By the early 90s personal computers were everywhere. Business people would buy computers for the home to increase their competitiveness at work. Businesses were buying computers to automate all of the tasks that had previously been done with paper.
Computer literacy had become one of the great enablers of effectiveness in the workplace. The killer apps were bundled as Microsoft Office (Excel, Word, Power Point) for spreadsheets, documents, and presentations.
In the early 90s HP began investing in communication technology. The leaders believed that in the future computers would be used primarily for communication, rather than computing. They were totally right in this regard.
There were bulletin board systems (such as Prodigy, Compuserve, and AOL), where regular people could log in and trade messages with others. Email had been around for several years but it was difficult to configure and maintain. This made it out of reach for most people. AOL became the primary way that people were able to exchange email.
Access to all of these systems was done over dial-up connections with modems. The fast modems ran at 120 characters/second (1200 baud) while the slow one were 30 characters/second. The phone lines were blocked during the connection so people kept it brief.
First, large corporations, and later all businesses, started busing email. The servers and client email boxes required dedicated IT staff to keep it running and it was quite costly.
ARPANET had demonstrated how to connect computers and exchange data throughout the world. Ethernet protocols showed how computers could be connected onto a LAN (Local Area Network). Communication networks of the era were a total mess; there was no standardization and every company had to solve many difficult problems to integrate computer systems together.
The brilliance of the internet is found in its simplicity. There are a few powerful but simple standards that can be easily implemented on every computer in the world. Today there is somewhere around 100 million secure internet servers waiting for your call.
To get a reliable connection between computer there must first be a way to talk between two computers. The Ethernet standard governs how to talk over a LAN, while the IP (Internet Protocol) allow computers to be addressed. The TCP (Transport Control Protocol) governs how information packets are exchanged.
An addressing scheme uses commercial systems (Routers) to routes data packets to any machine in the world. This allows for the world's computers to each have a unique address. This addressing method is quite robust because there is no single place where the information is stored.
It is impossible to destroy the internet. Computers can be added and removed but the internet continues to exist. This makes it extremely hardy and robust.
In 1993 the release of Mosaic began a series of web browsers that gave computer users access to the World Wide Web. This opened up a whole new range of applications that had never been practical before. Rather than just sending specific messages from senders to receivers, the web allows business to build web pages that could be viewed by interested parties.
The World Wide Web popularized the internet and made it a part of everyday life around the world. Internet use increased as a result of the reduction of the "digital divide" and advances in connectivity, uses of the Internet, and computer education. Between 1990 and 1997, the percentage of households in the United States owning computers increased from 15% to 35% as computer ownership progressed from a luxury to a necessity.
Control of the web browser software was viewed as a major competitive advantage because it would allow vendors to control customer behavior. Mosaic (which would later morph into Netscape and then Mozilla Firefox) was the primary browser being used at the time.
Microsoft felt that it was extremely important to control the web browser, so in Windows 95 Internet Explorer shipped with the operating system. By 2003 Microsoft had captured 95% of the internet users. Later this trend has shifted toward Firefox and Google Chrome.
In the late 80s I started working on scanner software and OCR. In that era the computers were barely capable of working with image data due to both hardware and software limitations.
We were building software that went with our scanners. As the capability of the hardware and operating systems increased we were quick to build features into the software that could provide more value to customers. This sparked the most innovative time in my career.
Here are some of technologies that we developed throughout the 90s.
I went from being a programmer to being a team leader and expert in software engineering. My best season was leading a team to build a complete suite of application software that shipped with our Digital Cameras.
During this time I was able to 25 invention disclosures and was awarded 12 international patents.
Software tool evolved rapidly during the 1990s. The tools that we used were typically dictated by the operating systems of the computers that our products were run on. HP customers were split between Mac and Windows machines.
On the Microsoft Windows platform the development tools moved from Windows SDK (1992) to MFC (1992) to Java (1996) to Visual Studio - .Net Framework (2000). Mac Development tools included MacApp (1985), Metrowerks CodeWarrior (1993), and Xcode (2003). Every few years we were forced to rewrite all of our software to accommodate the new tools and features of the newer hardware and software.
Our products needed to support a large variety of Image file formats - including Tiff, JPEG, GIF and Image transfer protocols - Twain & OLE.
By 1995 everyone knew that eCommerce would be big someday, but there was no viable and secure way to exchange money that people could truly trust.
Amazon.com was one of the first websites to gain people's trust. Customers could buy books there and they would be shipped directly to the address on record. PayPal was another early player that gained marketshare. It is hard to imagine the primitive nature of these simple transactions now in the world as it exists today.
My first web store was a website that required customers to place an order online. An email would be sent the customer and then they would call in with their credit card information. Although we had PayPal integrated, many would not trust it and they would prefer to make a phone call to complete the transaction.
Soon the world had changed. Now people couldn't wait to buy every item they wanted from online. Amazon went from selling books to selling virtually everything in the late nineties. This soon became a gold rush. Sales boomed and a huge number of new companies were born. Every clever person in their 30s became obsessed with starting a company to capture the profits.
Venture capitalist would pump millions into any startup with a domain name and an innovative business plan. We all believed that the old rules about how to run businesses where old-fashioned and antiquated. Price to earnings ratios soared to all time highs. Profitability became king over meeting real customer needs and producing value.
In 1999, 12 large-cap stocks rose over 1,000% in value. Investors sold stocks in slower growing companies to invest in Internet stocks. The internet bubble burst and the boom became a bust. Many who had invested everything on the gamble of fast growth and easy money lost it all. The NASDAQ Composite index spiked in the late 1990s and then fell sharply as a result of the dot-com bubble.
Reality has a way of asserting itself when we are not paying attention. A boom, creates and bubble, and a bust. It is the way of things. The early 2000s were a time of great searching to try and separate the real from the fantasy. With the 9/11 attack in 2001 the country was reminded how volatile wealth and power really are. And a new era was begun.
The decade began with personal computers that were barely useful. Except for businesses that were already using computer systems to collaborate, the technology didn't offer an efficient means of communication. The next five years would see a communication revolution that was driven by internet adoption.
The last five years of the century, saw massive social change as every household began to use the internet daily. People began to think about the Old Economy as a vestigial legacy of the pre-internet age. The economic and social transformation that occurred as a result set up the conditions that would define life in the 21st Century.
To understand what would happen next requires putting ourselves in the mindset of 1999. For us this was the beginning of the Brave New World, with easy money, and global power. The USA had become the only remaining superpower and there was nothing that could stop our rising prosperity. America had become king of the technology stack and we were eager to help the world become a better place.