Paying Homage to the Past: 25 Technologies That Rose...and Fell - Page 3
July 16, 2009
15) Madge Networks token ring and ATM networking infrastructure
Cause of death: Ethernet, twice
The biggest local area networking technology of the 1990s wasn't Ethernet but a standard backed by IBM called token ring that required expensive and thick cabling to make it work. Robert Madge was the owner and his company was notable for its development efforts in this arena, including licensing its technology to Cisco. When token ring was waning the company moved on to making gear for Asynchronous Transfer Mode networks, which were also killed off by ever-faster Ethernet. The company closed its doors in 2003.
16) Netscape Communications Navigator Web browsing software
Cause of death: Microsoft and corporate hubris
The first Web browsers were pretty crude affairs, running on command lines and not showing graphics. A team of researchers at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications developed a graphical browser in 1993, and many of them moved on to form Netscape Communications. Alas, Netscape got caught up in the Internet bubble and Microsoft monopolistic tactics, although parts of the code can still be found in Mozilla's Firefox. The company was purchased by AOL, and stopped working on browser technologies by the late 1990s.
17) Osborne Computers Osborne 1 PC
Cause of death: pre-announced upgrades
Back at the dawn of the PC era, we didn't have laptops yet, but 30-pound "portable" (or more aptly called luggable) PCs. Adam Osborne was one of the first to build such a device, with 64 kilobytes of RAM and a five-inch monochrome screen more in line with the size of today's PDAs. The Osborne 1 sold for $1800 back in 1981 and the big thing about it was all the bundled software that came on floppies of course. Osborne pre-announced a new version of the PC that killed off sales and his company in 1983.
18) Poqet PC ultraportable PC
Cause of death: Fujitsu
The first subnotebook PC that ran on regular AA batteries (and often for days at a time) was the quirky Poqet PC, made in 1989. It looks more like a child's toy today but at the time was quite innovative and was a precursor to lightweight netbooks and Windows CE and PDA devices that are now on the market. There is a tribute Website with lots of links to software here.
19) Radiomail Corp. wireless email
Cause of death: Research in Motion
The Blackberry smartphone is now one of the biggest selling such devices. Its antecedent is software from Radiomail Corp. that ran on early wireless devices called Mobidems and used a small HP computer that was called the Viking Express (see photo).
The company was one of the first to understand how to push emails to wireless devices. Its innovations were never patented due to the philosophy of its founder, Geoff Goodfellow. Ironically, after Research in Motion, the company behind the Blackberry, went on to become one of the more litigious computer vendors, it had to pay $615 million to obtain the rights for patents for its device.
20) Radish Communications -- VoiceView for data/voice multiplexing
Cause of death: proprietary hardware
This was an early attempt at running both data and voice over the same phone line, way before VOIP became a reality. You used a matched pair of these modem-like devices at either end of a phone call, which was the major problem, because the protocol was proprietary. The company was sold to SystemSoft in 1995 and its technology was integrated into their higher-end call control products.
21) Santa Cruz Organization SCO Unix/Xenix operating system
Cause of death: corporate malfeasance
Before there was Linux there was Unix and the company that brought Unix to more desktops than anyone else was SCO. Prior to SCO, the major Unix vendors were either AT&T or minicomputer hardware vendors. The first versions were quirky affairs and required lots of care and feeding, but once they were setup they ran forever. SCO sold the rights to Unix in 2001 to Caldera Systems, a company that was founded by Ray Noorda, who made his fortune with Novell, and that began a protracted legal battle with just about everyone else in the Unix universe.
22) Software Arts -- VisiCalc spreadsheet software
Cause of death: Lotus 1-2-3
The first big application for PCs was VisiCalc spreadsheet software, developed by Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston. I remember running it on an early HP -85 computer that is pictured above with a small screen and printer along with a tape cassette for its memory. VisiCalc was never patented (at the time there was no such thing as software patents) and subsequent versions, including Lotus' 1-2-3, improved upon the spreadsheet and made them popular.
23) Softword Systems Inc. -- Multimate word processing software
Cause of death: Ashton-Tate and later Borland
In 1984, the most popular word processing program was called Multimate, and it was used largely because it mimicked the user commands of dedicated Wang word processor machinery. In those early days, a software vendor would have to produce different versions specifically for each PC OEM. But its popularity would prove its undoing, making it an attractive take over target for database vendor Ashton-Tate. Eventually, when Tate was sold to Borland the product disappeared.
24) Thomas Conrad Corp. -- Arcnet networking bought by Compaq
Cause of death: faster and cheaper Ethernet
Thomas Conrad was one of the more popular vendors of one of the early 1980s networking standards called Arcnet. It had the advantage of running over cable TV coax. And like many of the networking adapters of that era, there were hardware switches you had to set (see the picture above) to configure it properly before you installed it in the PC. It was a cheaper alternative to the token ring cabling from IBM and Ethernet. It was the predecessor to 10BaseT topologies that are in vogue today. Many of the early Novell networks ran on Thomas Conrad Arcnet equipment. But as Ethernet became more capable and faster with 100BaseT, the topology died out.
25) Stac Electronics -- disk compression software
Cause of death: Microsoft, integration into the operating system
When hard disks were 20 megabytes, storage was at a premium and a small company in southern California came out with special software that could double your storage space. Stac lasted until 2002, and was the victim of Microsoft tactics to include a similar feature in MS DOS v 6.0. Even though they won a $120 million lawsuit, the company never recovered, as hard drives got bigger and cheaper quicker. Eventually, the intellectual property was purchased by Altiris, who is now owned by Symantec. And most operating systems now include their own disk compression, thanks to early work by Stac.