“Sawmill” disk drive cutaway

IBM 9345 hard disk drive

IBM’s 9345 hard disk drive is introduced. Codenamed “Sawmill,” it was the first hard disk drive to use magneto-resistive heads. Magneto-resistive heads gave the 9345 an advantage over its competitors, as the bits could be stored more densely. The first model of this 5 ¼-inch disk drive had two 1 GB hard disk assemblies (HDAs) and the second model had two 1.5 GB HDAs.

Intel Touchstone Delta supercomputer

Intel’s Touchstone Delta supercomputer system comes online

Reaching 32 gigaflops (32 billion floating point operations per second), Intel’s Touchstone Delta has 512 processors operating independently, arranged in a two-dimensional communications “mesh.” Caltech researchers used this supercomputer prototype for projects such as real-time processing of satellite images, and for simulating molecular models in AIDS research. It would serve as the model for several other significant multi-processor systems that would be among the fastest in the world.

Surface close-up of a Magneto-Optical disc

Magneto-Optical Discs

Magneto-Optical Discs are introduced. Housed in cartridges, they are a combination a magnetic and optical storage, as their name suggests. They could be rewritten up to one million times. Faster than CD/RWs and DVD-RAMs, M-O discs used lasers that heated up the bits on the disc, after which a magnet would change the bit’s polarity according to what was being written, thereby storing the information.

Windows 3.0 screenshot

Microsoft ships Windows 3.0

Microsoft ships Windows 3.0. Compatible with DOS programs, the first successful version of Windows finally offered good enough performance to satisfy PC users. For the new version, Microsoft updated the interface and created a design that allowed PCs to support large graphical applications for the first time. It also allowed multiple programs to run simultaneously on its Intel 80386 microprocessor. Microsoft lined up a number of other applications ahead of time that ran under Windows 3.0, including versions of Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. As a result, PC users were exposed to the user-friendly concepts of the Apple Macintosh, making the IBM PC more popular.

Photoshop 1.0 for Macintosh

Photoshop is released

Photoshop is released. Created by brothers John and Thomas Knoll, Photoshop was an image editing program and the most popular software program published by Adobe Systems. Thomas, while earning a PhD at the University of Michigan, had created an early version of the program in 1987, and John saw a practical use for it as a special effects staff member at Industrial Light & Magic. It was then used for image editing in the “pseudopod” scene in the movie The Abyss. When Adobe saw potential in the project they bought a license for distribution in 1989 and released the product on February 19, 1990.

First Web browser-editor, 1990

The “WorldWideWeb” is born

At the world’s biggest physics laboratory, CERN in Switzerland, English programmer and physicist Tim Berners-Lee submits two proposals for what will become the Web, starting in March of 1989. Neither is approved. He proceeds anyway, with only unofficial support from his boss and his coworker Robert Cailliau. By Christmas of 1990 he has prototyped “WorldWideWeb” (as he writes it) in just three months on an advanced NeXT computer. It features a server, HTML, URLs, and the first browser. That browser also functions as an editor—like a word processor connected to the Internet – which reflects his original vision that the Web also incorporate authoring and personal organization tools. The idea is that a Web of useful links will grow and deepen as people create them in the course of their daily lives. The Web had been partly inspired by his earlier Enquire program, which had combined networked hypertext with ideas that would later evolve into the Semantic Web.

Video Toaster editing and production system

Video Toaster is introduced by NewTek

The Video Toaster is a video editing and production system for the Amiga personal computers and includes custom hardware and software. Much more affordable than any other computer-based video editing system, the Video Toaster was not only for home use. It was popular, for example, with public access stations and was even good enough to be used for broadcast television shows like Home Improvement.

The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling

William Gibson and Bruce Sterling publish The Difference Engine

William Gibson and Bruce Sterling are known as two of the leading lights in developing Cyberpunk literature in the 1980s. In 1990, the pair collaborate on what many consider to be the first blockbuster “Steampunk” novel. Imagining a word where Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine was built and the pace of technology greatly accelerated, The Difference Engine featured many historical characters, such as Lord Byron, Ada Lovelace, and John Keats, placed in an alternate history where rival factions competed to capture a stack of secret punched cards containing an important program.

The Difference Engine #2 at the Science Museum, London

Babbage’s Difference Engine #2 is completed

Based on Charles Babbage’s second design for a mechanical calculating engine, a team at the Science Museum in London sets out to prove that the design would have worked as planned. Led by curator Doron Swade the team built Babbage’s machine in six years, using techniques that would have been available to Babbage at the time, proving that Babbage’s design was accurate and that it could have been built in his day.


Linus Torvalds

Linus Torvalds releases the Linux kernel

Designed by Finnish university student Linus Torvalds, the Linux kernel is released to several Usenet newsgroups. Almost immediately, enthusiasts began developing and improving it, such as adding support for peripherals and improving its stability. In February 1992, Linux became free software or, as its developers preferred to say after 1998, “open source.” Linux also incorporated some elements of the GNU operating system and is used today in devices ranging from smartphones to supercomputers.

Morphing sequence from Black or White

Michael Jackson’s Black or White video premieres

Michael Jackson’s album Dangerous spawns several number one hits and classic music videos. The first video from Dangerous, Black or White, was directed by legendary film and video director John Landis. The video, including actors Macaulay Culkin and George Wendt, featured an extended sequence of morphing, a technique then only rarely used in big budget films. Pacific Data Images created the morphing segment, which included supermodel Tyra Banks. The video debuted in more than twenty countries simultaneously before an estimated five hundred million viewers, making it one of the most viewed movies with computer graphics up to that point in time.

Early commercial Internet Service Provider (ISP)

NSF lifts restrictions on commercial use of the Internet

After the National Science Foundation (NSF) changes its policy, the Internet is for the first time a publicly accessible network with no commercial restrictions. This removes the last major remaining advantage for competing networking and internetworking standards, from OSI to SNA to CompuServe’s own international network. Four years later the NSF will turn over the Internet’s backbone (main high speed lines and nodes) completely to private industry.

PGP overview

PGP is introduced

Pretty Good Privacy, or PGP, a public-key encryption program, is introduced and is used for securing texts, emails and files. Its inventor, software engineer Phil Zimmermann, created it as a tool for people to protect themselves from intrusive governments, businesses, and institutions around the world. Zimmermann posted PGP on the Internet in 1991 where it was available as a free download. The United States government, concerned about the strength of PGP, which rivaled some of the best secret codes in use at the time, prosecuted Zimmermann but dropped its investigation in 1996.

PowerBook 100 laptop computer

PowerBook series of laptops is introduced

Apple’s Macintosh Portable meets with little success in the marketplace and leads to a complete redesign of Apple’s line of portable computers. All three PowerBooks introduced featured a built-in trackball, internal floppy drive, and palm rests, which would eventually become typical of 1990s laptop design. The PowerBook 100 was the entry-level machine, while the PowerBook 140 was more powerful and had a larger memory. The PowerBook 170 was the high-end model, featuring an active matrix display, faster processor, as well as a floating point unit. The PowerBook line of computers was discontinued in 2006.

Browser family tree

Web browsers: a Cry for Help

Tim Berners-Lee’s 1990 GUI browser-editor runs only on rare NeXT computers. CERN refuses to fund other versions for common platforms. So the Web team writes a simple text-only browser for quick distribution, and then begs volunteers to write or adapt the needed GUI browsers for PCs, Macs, and UNIX machines. The team also provides code to start with; the WWW Common Library is essentially a build-your-own-browser toolkit written by Tim Berners-Lee and technical research assistant Jean-François Groff.

Eight volunteers respond, resulting in UNIX, Mac, and PC browsers. Viola and Midas are initially the most popular, eclipsed later by Mosaic. All of them leave out editing features, which are trickier to implement on machines other than the NeXT. Berners-Lee never regains control of his creation.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day movie poster

Terminator 2: Judgment Day opens

Director James Cameron’s sequel to his 1984 hit The Terminator, features groundbreaking special effects done by Industrial Light & Magic. Made for a record $100 million, it was the most expensive movie ever made at the time. Most of this cost was due to the expense of computer-generated special effects (such as image morphing) throughout the film. Terminator 2 is one of many films that critique civilization’s frequent blind trust in technology.

DEC Alpha chip die-shot

DEC announces Alpha chip architecture

Designed to replace the 32-bit VAX architecture, the Alpha is a 64-bit reduced instruction set computer (RISC) microprocessor. It was widely used in DEC’s workstations and servers, as well as several supercomputers like the Chinese Sunway Blue Light system, and the Swiss Gigabooster. The Alpha processor designs were eventually acquired by Compaq, which, along with Intel, phased out the Alpha architecture in favor of the HP/Itanium microprocessor.

Intel Paragon system

Intel Paragon is operational

Based on the Touchstone Delta computer Intel had built at Caltech, the Paragon is a parallel supercomputer that uses 2,048 (later increased to more than four thousand) Intel i860 processors. More than one hundred Paragons were installed over the lifetime of the system, each costing as much as five million dollars. The Paragon at Caltech was named the fastest supercomputer in the world in 1992. Paragon systems were used in many scientific areas, including atmospheric and oceanic flow studies, and energy research.

.JPG desktop icon

JPEG standard finalized

In 1986, a group of international standards organizations spun-off the Joint Photographic Expert Group (JPEG) to create a set of standards for digital images. By 1992, the group had determined a set of rules for what became the jpeg (or .jpg) format. Jpeg compression allows for a trade-off between photo quality and file size. Jpeg is one of the most popular image formats, and is the format most widely used by digital cameras.

Feigenbaum and McCorduck’s The Fifth Generation

Japan’s Fifth Generation Computer Systems project abandoned

After spending hundreds of millions of dollars in research and development, Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) abandons its Fifth Generation Computer Systems project. The project was intended to build a platform from which artificial intelligence systems could grow and ultimately build machines that had reasoning capabilities as opposed to simply perform calculations. In part, the announcement of the Fifth Generation project in Japan caused the American computer industry to react, and a group of companies formed the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation.

SanDisk SSD module for IBM

SSD module

A prototype solid state disk (SSD) module is made for evaluation by IBM. SanDisk, which at time was known as SunDisk, manufactured the module which used non-volatile memory chips to replace the spinning disks of a hard disk drive. SanDisk recognized that handheld devices and computers were becoming lighter and smaller, and that flash memory, as was used in the SSD module, offered powerful advantages over hard disks.

Storage Tek tape library

Storage Tek 4400 ACS tape library

Storage Tek announces upgrades to its 4400 ACS tape library. This tape robot was used in a variety of installations, and one was used at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (now the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory) to store data from experiments, providing medium-speed access to immense amounts of data. Storage Tek was one of the first major players in the automated tape library sector, and competed with IBM for market share.

Doom software box

Doom is released

An immersive first-person shooter-style game, Doom becomes popular on many different platforms. Initially distributed via USENET newsgroups, Doom attracted a massive following. Doom players were also among the first to customize the game’s levels and appearance though ‘modding.’ Some criticized the level of violence portrayed in Doom, and it was cited as a prime reason for US Congressional hearings on video game violence in 1995. Doom spawned several sequels and a 2005 film.

Jurassic Park movie poster

Jurassic Park released

Director Steven Spielberg’s story of resurrected dinosaurs, Jurassic Park, becomes the highest-grossing film to date. Based on a novel by Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park told the story of a group of visitors to an island where dinosaurs are unleashed to run amok in an uncompleted amusement park. To create realistic-looking dinosaurs, Spielberg’s team combined animatronics, puppetry, and cutting-edge computer animation.

Debut issue of Wired

Wired Magazine debuts

Considered by some to be “the Rolling Stone of Technology,” Wired magazine is founded by Jane Metcalfe and Louis Rossette. Wired grew out of publications like The Whole Earth Catalog, and featured a cutting edge design philosophy when it first appeared in January of 1993. Articles from many of the top names in technology, politics, entertainment, and literature often dealt with computer and network innovations and their cultural impact. Wired is frequently credited with popularizing terms such as ‘The Long Tail’ and ‘crowdsourcing’.

The Apple Newton Personal Digital Assistant

Apple ships the first Newton

Apple enters the handheld computer market with the Newton. Dubbed a “Personal Digital Assistant” by Apple President John Sculley in 1992, the Newton featured many of the features that would define handheld computers in the following decades. The handwriting recognition software was much maligned for inaccuracy. The Newton line never performed as well as hoped and was discontinued in 1998.

Myst software box

Fantasy game Myst is released

Developed by brothers Robyn and Ryan Miller, Myst becomes one of the best-known games of the 1990s. Distributed by Broderbund for the Macintosh, Myst took the player on an adventure as The Stranger, using a magical book to track the time traveling character Atrus through the Ages of Myst. The game required players to solve puzzles and find clues to discover the nature of the island of Myst. Myst is often credited with greatly increasing the sales of CD-ROM drives for computers. The game became the best-selling personal computer game of all-time – a distinction it would hold until 2002.

FreeBSD CD-ROM cover

FreeBSD is launched

FreeBSD, a complete Unix-like operating system is launched. It was the most widely used open-source BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution) variant. After its initial release, the software was significantly re-engineered due to a lawsuit between Unix copyright holder Unix Systems Laboratories and the University of California, Berkeley. The lawsuit revolved around source code in Berkeley’s 4.3BSD-Lite which was the basis of the FreeBSD operating system. FreeBSD incorporated features including networking, storage, security, portability and Linux compatibility.

Gopher screen

Gopher Stumbles

Gopher, which organizes content in folders rather than clickable links, grows faster than the Web in the early ‘90s and is its most direct Internet competitor. Educational institutions embrace Gopher, as do the U.S. Congress. Developed by Mark McCahill, Paul Lindner and Farhad Anklesaria from a Campus-Wide Information Service, Gopher is named both for the University of Minnosota mascot, and after “go for” meaning fetch. By 1993, the gopher developers are planning to add hyperlinks and even virtual reality features.

The Web pulls ahead partly by incorporating the ability to read Gopher pages; this is the same absorption strategy it had employed previously when it added support for WAIS and others. Two other rival standards, Lynx and Viola, have conveniently converted themselves into Web browsers. But with Gopher, the Web also gets a major lucky break: the University of Minnesota begins charging for Gopher server licenses in 1993, literally the same spring the Web becomes officially public domain – and free.

HP Netserver LM, one of the first to use Intel’s Pentium

Intel’s Pentium microprocessor is released

The Pentium is the fifth generation of the ‘x86’ line of microprocessors from Intel, the basis for the IBM PC and its clones. The Pentium introduced several advances that made programs run faster such as the ability to execute several instructions at the same time and support for graphics and music.

Windows NT screenshot

Microsoft Windows NT is released

Microsoft Windows NT is released. Work on the project began in the late 1980s in an effort spearheaded by a group of former Digital Equipment Corporation employees led by Dave Cutler. It was the first truly 32-bit version of Windows from Microsoft, which made it appealing to high-end engineering and scientific users that required better performance. A number of subsequent versions of Windows were based on NT technology.

NCSA Mosaic

Mosaic popularizes the Web

Mosaic, the first browser supported by a major institution, starts the Web on the road from research project to blockbuster success. Written by brilliant student Marc Andreessen and UNIX expert Eric Bina at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, Mosaic was modeled on the Viola and Midas browsers and also used the CERN code library. But NCSA quickly assigned teams to write UNIX, Mac, and PC versions, as well as servers. Unlike other browsers it was reliable and could be installed by amateurs. Along with other browsers around this time Mosaic added graphics within Web pages instead of in separate windows. Mosaic spread like wildfire.

Ad on O’Reilly’s Global Network Navigator

Online ads mark the slow start of the commercial Web

Business people are wary. How can you make money on the Web and the Internet? They are both open standards; you can’t charge by the minute as online systems have done since their start in the 1960s.

In 1993, O’Reilly’s pioneering Global Network Navigator Web portal is running online ads. In 1994, Enterprise Integration Technologies (EIT) founds the CommerceNet consortium to encourage Web commerce, and demonstrates secure credit-card transactions that same year.

The first businesses to earn substantial profits on the Web are pornography and gambling sites, by 1995. But it is Netscape’s spectacular IPO, and the success of online shopping sites like Amazon and eBay, that finally convinces mainstream business to follow the pioneers into Web commerce.

Adobe Acrobat Reader 1.0

PDF Format Released

The PDF format was developed by Adobe Systems. Its main purpose was to create a universal file format that would preserve the visual integrity and layout of documents across different computer systems, software, and printers. Before PDF, sharing documents electronically often led to formatting issues, as various software and devices interpreted files differently. PDF has revolutionized the way documents are shared, accessed, and preserved.

CompactFlash card and connector sockets (top)


When CompactFlash is introduced by SanDisk, it is quickly adopted and becomes the preferred memory storage option in many consumer as well as professional electronic devices. It was highly popular in digital still and video cameras, and although its dimensions were slightly larger than some other memory card formats, its ruggedness and high capacity made it a preferred choice. Although most CompactFlash units used flash memory, some actually relied on a hard disk.

ESRB ratings

Entertainment Software Rating Board

The release of violent video games such as Mortal Kombat, Night Trap, and Doom leads to a set of congressional hearings in 1992. While several companies, including Sega and 3DO, had individual, voluntary ratings systems for their games, there was no industry-wide system in place. As a measure to pre-empt the possibility of a governmental rating board being created, several of the largest game providers created the ESRB to give ratings to video games. These ratings, ranging from Early Childhood to Adults Only, are given to games as a guideline for parents and consumers, similar to those given to films by the MPAA. These ratings have led to some controversy ranging from the appropriateness of the categories themselves to the effect they have on commerce as many stores refuse to stock Adult Only games.

Zip Disk with case

Iomega Zip Disk

The Iomega Zip Disk is released. The initial Zip system allowed 100MB to be stored on a cartridge roughly the size of a 3 ½ inch floppy disk. Later versions increased the capacity of a single disk from 100MB to 2GB. Like hard disks but unlike other floppies, ZIP drives used a non-contact read/write head that “flew” above the surface. Reliability problems and low-cost CDs eventually made ZIP disks obsolete.


RISC PC is released

Replacing their Archimedes computer, the RISC PC from UK’s Acorn Computers uses the ARMv3 RISC microprocessor. Though it used a proprietary operating system, RISC OS, the RISC PC could run PC-compatible software using the Acorn PC Card. The RISC PC was used widely in UK broadcast television and in music production.

White House Web site

Web momentum moves to US

When main Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee forms the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in 1994, the European headquarters are slated for the Web’s birthplace, CERN in Switzerland, with U.S. headquarters at MIT in Boston. But then CERN changes its plans and the core team of Web developers gets split among several French research sites. Also in 1994, Vice-President Al Gore supports a prominent White House Web site, as well as encouraging funding of W3C in the U.S.

Perhaps most important, Silicon Valley begins to invest in the commercial possibilities of the Web – including Java and the formation of Netscape. The momentum for Web development shifts further West, and never returns to Europe.

BeBox computer

BeBox is released

Be, founded by former Apple executive Jean Louis Gassée and a number of former Apple, NeXT and SUN employees, releases their only product – the BeBox. Using dual PowerPC 603 CPUs, and featuring a large variety of peripheral ports, the first devices were used for software development. While it did not sell well, the operating system, Be OS, retained a loyal following even after Be stopped producing hardware in 1997 after less than 2,000 machines were produced.

Netscape Navigator browser

Browser War II: Netscape vs. Microsoft

Browser War I had been more of a coup – when half the Mosaic team defected in early 1994 and formed Netscape under entrepreneur Jim Clark, Mosaic lasted less than a year. But when Microsoft licenses a version of Mosaic and rebrands it Internet Explorer, the fight is on. In the mid to late 1990s Netscape revolutionizes the business model for the Web, and helps it spread to ordinary people as well as businesses.

But Microsoft gives away Explorer free with every copy of Windows 95 and beyond, and by the end of the 1990s Netscape is failing. As a last-ditch strategy the code for Netscape’s Navigator browser gets converted to open source, and becomes the basis of the Mozilla Foundation and its Firefox browser today.

Homer Simpson in Homer 3D

Computer-animated Homer Simpson appears on The Simpsons

As a part of the annual Treehouse of Horror Halloween episode, Homer Simpson appeared in 3D animated form during a segment called Homer3.Created by graphics pioneers Pacific Data Images, the segment featured Homer walking through a strange reality plane populated with many computer graphics in-jokes, including a Utah Teapot. Homer is finally spit out of the dimension and walks the streets of the real world: in this case Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, California. The segment was well regarded, winning the Grand Prize at the Ottawa International Animation Festival, as well as a nomination for a Prime Time Emmy Award.

DVD cover for Twister, the first commercial DVD release

Digital Video Disc (DVD)

The Digital Video Disc (DVD) format is introduced, and its storage capacity is a huge increase over the common compact disc (CD). Two groups, made up mainly of Japanese technology companies, had been developing competing, optical disc storage formats. In order to avoid a format war akin to the VHS versus Betamax clash of the 1980s, IBM initiated a working group of technology experts that brokered the competition. After compromises from both sides, the DVD format was formalized. DVDs came in both read-only and read-write formats, and were widely adopted in the film industry for consumer releases of movies. Its better audio and video quality, interactivity, and improved lifespan effectively rendered the VHS format obsolete. Its successor was the Blu-ray disc.

IBM ThinkPad 701C

IBM releases the ThinkPad 701C

Officially known as the Track Write, the automatically expanding full-sized keyboard used by the ThinkPad 701 is designed by inventor John Karidis. The keyboard was comprised of three roughly triangular interlocking pieces, which formed a full-sized keyboard when the laptop was opened — resulting in a keyboard significantly wider than the case. This keyboard design was dubbed “the Butterfly.” The need for such a design was lessened as laptop screens grew wider.

Java logo

Java 1.0 is introduced

Java 1.0 is introduced by Sun Microsystems. The Java platform’s “Write Once, Run Anywhere” functionality let a program run on any system, offering users independence from traditional large software vendors like Microsoft or Apple. The project was a successor to the Oak programming language created by James Gosling in 1991.

Brendan Eich

JavaScript is developed

JavaScript, an object-based scripting language, is developed at Netscape Communications by Brendan Eich. It was used extensively across the Internet on both client and server sides. Although it shared its name with the Java programming language, the two are completely different.

Windows ’95 box with MSN logo

Online Services make way for the Web

Most of the big “walled gardens” — CompuServe, AOL, Minitel in France—resist the Web and Internet. By the mid 1990s they are either fading out or on their way to becoming Web portals.

Microsoft Network (MSN) is the one that might have mounted a serious challenge. The tens of millions of copies of Windows 95 come ready to connect to this private network, which has proprietary protocols; it could have become the biggest online service in the world nearly overnight.

But by 1995 the Web is growing quickly, and Microsoft CEO Bill Gates decides it is better to fight within the Web than to fight the Web itself. In a single memo, he turns company strategy completely around to focus on the Web in nearly every product. MSN becomes a Web portal.

PlayStation game console

Sony releases the PlayStation in North America

Electronics giant Sony enters the home gaming market with the release of the PlayStation console in Japan in 1994 and in the US a few months later. Originally a disk-based gaming system, it originally started as a collaboration between Sony and console manufacturer Nintendo to create a CD-ROM-based version of their Super Nintendo gaming system. Sony continued the game system project, eventually settling on a system that would support games, as well as audio CD playback. The PlayStation was a great success, selling more than a hundred million units, setting the stage for the Sony to become a dominant player in the home gaming market.

MQ-1 Predator drone

The MQ-1 Predator drone called to duty

The MQ-1 Predator drone is introduced and put into action by the United States Air Force and the Central Intelligence Agency. It was widely used in Afghanistan and the Pakistani tribal areas against Al-Qaeda forces and Taliban militants starting after September 11, 2001. The unmanned aerial vehicles were equipped with cameras for reconnaissance and could be upgraded to carry two missiles.

Windows 95 opening screen

Microsoft Corporation

Windows 95

On August 24th, 1995, Microsoft’s Windows 95 operating system was launched with one of the most sweeping media campaigns in the history of computing. A $300 million promotional blitz included television commercials using the Rolling Stones’ song “Start Me Up,” as well as a 30-minute promotional video starring actors from the top-rated television comedy “Friends,” made it one of the most anticipated product launches in American business history.

Windows 95 was a major improvement over the previous Windows 3.1, adding features such as “Plug and Play” for more easily installing new peripherals, as well as the Taskbar and Start button menu. More than one million units were sold in the first four days following the release, and within two years, Windows 95 was installed on more computers than any other operating system.

3Dfx graphics chip

3dfx begins selling Voodoo Graphics chips

The demand for high-quality video cards for personal computers grows throughout the 1990s as game companies create games with more complex audio-visual requirements. Founded by three former Silicon Graphics employees, 3dfx designed chipsets to be used in graphics cards. Early success came in the form of arcade games using the Voodoo system, including hits like San Francisco Rush and Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Ice Hockey. A failed attempted partnership with Sega to provide graphics cards for their Dreamcast game console, along with improved 3D graphics cards, led to the decline of 3dfx, which eventually sold all its intellectual property to Nvidia.

Still from Diary of a Camper

Diary of a Camper machinima created

The use of computer game engines to create short films goes back to the 1980s Demoscene culture built around computers like the Commodore 64. As visual technology improved, many would-be filmmakers began to experiment with using game engines like Quake to make short films called machinima (Machine Cinema). While many other films had been created mostly to document gameplay, Diary of a Camper told a short story with a comedic punch line. Diary of a Camper was posted to newsgroups and other sites and is one of the best-known machinima pieces ever created.

Ed Colligan, Donna Dubinsky, and Jeff Hawkins

Palm Pilot is introduced

Palm Inc., founded by Ed Colligan, Donna Dubinsky, and Jeff Hawkins, originally created software for the Casio Zoomer personal data assistant. The first generation of Palm-produced devices, the Palm 1000 and 5000, are based around a Motorola microprocessor running at 16MHz, and uses a special gestural input language called “Graffiti,” which is quick to learn and fast. Palm could be connected to a PC or Mac using a serial port to synchronize – “sync” – both computer and Palm. The company called it a ‘connected organizer’ rather than a PDA to emphasize this ability.

Sony Vaio laptop

Sony Vaio series is begun

Sony had manufactured and sold computers in Japan, but the VAIO signals their entry into the global computer market. The first VAIO, a desktop computer, featured an additional 3D interface on top of the Windows 95 operating system as a way of attracting new users. The VAIO line of computers would be best known for laptops were designed with communications and audio-video capabilities at the forefront, including innovative designs that incorporated TV and radio tuners, web cameras, and handwriting recognition. The line was discontinued in 2014.

Boston cybercafe, mid 1990s

Web users reach 36 million, now biggest user community

At the end of 1996, the 36 million Web users surpass the 30 million or so on France’s Minitel, until now the most popular online system. By decade’s end, the Web will hit 360 million. By 2010, two billion.

Grand Theft Auto screenshot

Grand Theft Auto is released

Created by David Jones and Mike Dailly, Grand Theft Auto is set in Liberty City, a fictional American metropolis designed after New York City. The game used a free-form structure, allowing players to do anything they wanted in the city, but also rewarding players with points for creating havoc such as running down pedestrians and completing missions. Subsequent Grand Theft Auto releases featured increased amounts of sex, drugs, and violence, leading to calls for its outright banning. The game was a huge success and was ported to many different systems.

ASCI Red supercomputers

ASCI Red is operational

The Advanced Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI) needed a supercomputer to help with the maintenance of the US nuclear arsenal following the ban on underground nuclear testing. The ASCI Red, based on the design of the Intel Paragon, was built by IBM and delivered to Sandia National Laboratories. Until the year 2000, it was the world’s fastest supercomputer, able to achieve peak performance of 1.3 teraflops, (about 1.3 trillion calculations per second).

Sony 700 MB CD-RW disc

Compact Disc-ReWritable (CD-RW)

The Compact Disc-ReWritable (CD-RW) is introduced. This optical disc was used for data storage and in the backing up and transferring of files to various devices. It was less robust than some contemporary storage media, and could only be re-written roughly 1,000 times. However, this factor seldom encumbered users who rarely overwrote data that often on one disc. CD-RWs that were created on CD-RW drives were often unable to be read on CD-ROM drives. DVDs overtook much of the market share from CD-RWs.

First meeting between Garry Kasparov and Deep Blue

Deep Blue defeats Garry Kasparov

With the ability to evaluate 200 million positions per second, IBM’s Deep Blue chess computer defeats the current world chess champion, Garry Kasparov on May 11. Of the six matches played, Deep Blue won two, Kasparov won one and the other three matches ended in a draw. The games took place over several days and were played in a television studio with a sold out audience of 600 watching each match on television screens in a theater several floors below. These matches were considered a rematch, as Kasparov had defeated an earlier version of Deep Blue in 1996.

Garry Kasparov contemplating move against Deep Blue

IBM’s Deep Blue defeats world chess champion Garry Kasparov

Creating a world champion level chess program had been a goal of artificial intelligence researchers since the 1950s. In the second meeting between world champion Garry Kasparov and IBM’s Deep Blue chess supercomputer, a machine beats a standing world champion in a regular timed series. In losing two games to one, with three draws, Kasparov saw “superior intelligence” in Deep Blue’s play, leading to accusations of human interference. IBM retired Deep Blue following the match and a portion of the system is now on display at the Computer History Museum.

Visual Studio startup screen

Microsoft introduces Visual Studio

Microsoft introduces Visual Studio. Bundled within Visual Studio were a number of programming tools, as Microsoft’s intent was to create a single environment where developers could use different programming languages. The idea of visual programming is to allow programmers to develop software using built-in visual elements (like in a block diagram) instead of text.

Furby toy robot

Furby ignites buying frenzy

The Furby ignites a 1998 holiday season buying frenzy, with resale prices reaching $300. Each Furby initially spoke only “Furbish” but could gradually learn English commands. It communicated with other nearby Furbies using an infrared port between its eyes.

Linux Supercomputer

Linux-based Supercomputing

The first supercomputer using the Linux operating system, consumer, off-the shelf parts, and a high-speed, low-latency interconnection network, was developed by David A. Bader while at the University of New Mexico. From this successful prototype design, Bader led the development of “RoadRunner”, the first Linux supercomputer for open use by the national science and engineering community via the National Science Foundation’s National Technology Grid. RoadRunner was put into production use in April 1999. Within a decade this design became the predominant architecture for all major supercomputers in the world.

Maya screenshot

SGI releases Maya

Silicon Graphics Incorporated (SGI) initially develops Maya as a next generation 3D animation tool, basing it on code from previous systems created by Wavefront and Alias. Maya quickly found adoption by video game and graphics industries, especially in film and television. Maya was the basis for three separate Academy Awards for Technical Achievement between 2003 and 2008.

Copyright symbol

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act becomes law

The advent of the Internet led to an increase in copying and sharing of digital content including music, video, and software, often in direct violation of copyright law. To combat this, the US Congress passes the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (or DMCA), which stiffened the punishment for violating copyright on the Internet. It also made illegal the creation of programs to circumvent copy protection. The DMCA has become an influential law worldwide, influencing similar legislation around the world.

iMac poster

The iMac, a range of all-in-one Macintosh desktop computers, is launched

Apple makes a splash with its Bondi Blue iMac, which sells for about $1,300. Customers got a machine with a 233-MHz G3 processor, 4GB hard drive, 32MB of RAM, a CD-ROM drive, and a 15″ monitor. The machine was noted for its ease-of-use and included a ‘manual’ that contained only a few pictures and less than 20 words. As Apple’s first new product under the leadership of a returning Steve Jobs, many consider this the most significant step in Apple’s return from near-bankruptcy in the middle 1990s.

EverQuest box cover

EverQuest is released

Inspired by Dungeons & Dragons, as well as text-based on-line Multi-User Domains (MUDs), computer game programmer John Smedley develops EverQuest, a fantasy-themed Massively Multi-player Online Role-Playing Game, or MMORPG. While beaten to market by rival Ultima On-line, EverQuest attracted nearly half-a-million players worldwide. EverQuest was also a critical success, winning awards ranging from the 1999 GameSpot Game of the Year, to a Technical and Engineering Emmy Award.

The Matrix movie poster

The Matrix released

Telling the story of Neo, a programmer who becomes a cyberspace messiah, The Matrix combines a cyberpunk setting, dystopian philosophy, and hyper-fast cinematic action. The Matrix also featured cutting edge computer-generated visual effects, and popularized ‘bullet-time’ – a multi-camera technique where the camera appears to move at normal speed while the action filmed appears slowed. The Matrix was added to the U.S. National Film Registry in 2012.

IBM Microdrive

IBM Microdrive

IBM releases the Microdrive in 170 MB and 340 MB capacities. At the time of their introduction, they were the smallest hard drives in the world. Like all hard drives, Microdrives were mechanical and contained small, spinning disk platters, and were more prone to physical damage from temperature fluctuations and physical shock than other storage media. Hitachi purchased IBM’s hard disk division in 2002, which included the Microdrive. For several years, Microdrives had more data capacity than CompactFlash cards, but were soon overtaken by the these and by USB flash drives. Many handheld, mobile devices contained embedded Microdrives for data storage.

nVIDIA GeForce 256 closeup

Nvidia releases the GeForce 256

Video applications for personal computers drive demand for increased graphical performance. A new approach, one based on a processor specially designed to manipulate graphics, was initiated and the resulting product was known as a “Graphics Processing Unit,” or “GPU.” The GeForce 256 is often thought of as the first consumer GPU, and while expensive, it sold extremely well. The GeForce 256 was designed to relieve the pressure on the central processing unit (CPU) by handling graphics calculations, while the CPU processed non-graphics intensive tasks.

Sony’s AIBO robot pet

The AIBO robotic pet dog

The Sony AIBO, the $2,000 “Artificial Intelligence RoBOt” was a robotic pet dog designed to “learn” by interacting with its environment, its owners and other AIBOs. It responded to more than 100 voice commands and talked back in a tonal language. It was even programmed to occasionally ignore commands like its biological four-legged counterparts.

i-Mode screen, bookstore

The Mobile Web arrives in Japan

Japanese mobile phone operator NTT DoCoMo creates the i-mode networking standard for mobile data in 1999. By 2002, over 34 million subscribers are using it on their phones for web access, e-mail, mobile payments, streaming video, and many other features that the rest of the world won’t see for nearly another decade. The i-mode protocols, a simplified version of the standard HTML web language, are designed to work well with devices having small screens, limited buttons, and no keyboard. Related systems like WAP (Wireless Access Protocol) have fewer customers, but all of them contribute to bringing mobile browsing to a mass market.

Apple Airport Wi-Fi base station

WiFi Comes Home

In 1999, the growing IEEE 802.11b short-range radio networking standard is rebranded “Wi-Fi” by the Wi-Fi Alliance. This is the same year Apple releases its “Airport” Wi-Fi router and builds Wi-Fi connectivity into new Macs. These and other consumer products help popularize cable-free connections at work, in cafes, and at home.