The 50 Best Tech Products of All Time

Artwork: Chip Taylor
The Beatles. Citizen Kane. Muhammad Ali. Many have laid claim to being the "best ever" in their respective fields of work, but only one can top the list. And the same is true when it comes to technology.

So what's the best tech product to come out of the digital age? And what qualifies a product as being "best"? First and foremost, it must be a quality product. In many cases, that means a piece of hardware or software that has truly changed our lives and that we can't live without (or couldn't at the time it debuted). Beyond that, a product should have attained a certain level of popularity, had staying power, and perhaps made some sort of breakthrough, influencing the development of later products of its ilk.

So after considering hundreds of products and engaging in many hours of painstaking debate, PC World presents the 50 best tech products. Note that we're looking only at technology that has arisen since the dawn of the personal computer, so don't expect to see the cotton gin and the transistor radio on the list. Instead, you'll find gear that, in all likelihood, you used yourself at one point or another--and, in many cases, products you're still using today.

And, oh yeah, you may think our choices are ridiculous or that we've left out much more important products. Have at us. Smack us down righteously.

You can comment on the story and give us your views through the comments section on the bottom of every page OR go directly to this story's forum.

And don't forget to vote on the product YOU think should be number one.

Enjoy!

1. Netscape Navigator (1994)

Marc Andreessen may have known what he was getting into when he cowrote Mosaic at the National Center for Supercomputer Applications, but it wasn't until he graduated from college and met with some Silicon Valley types that the Web revolution really began. In 1994 Andreessen launched Netscape Communications, offering his new Navigator Web browser (based on Mosaic) to the world. Finally, users outside of the academic world would get a taste of HTML, and nothing has been the same since.

Netscape was the reason people started spending hours a day on the Internet, leading to the boom (and bust) of many a Web site. The advent of the browser also led to the U.S. Department of Justice's antitrust suit against Microsoft, after the company embedded Internet Explorer into Windows. And Netscape's August 9, 1995, IPO is universally considered to be the official start of the dot-com era.

Netscape, unfortunately, couldn't keep up with the times and was surpassed by Internet Explorer in the late nineties. The Netscape browser still exists (under the ownership of AOL), but has fallen into utter disuse. Nevertheless, its influence can still be felt all over the Web. Fragments of its original code, for instance, live on in just about every browser still in production, from Mozilla Firefox to Internet Explorer (click Help/About Internet Explorer in that browser to see for yourself). To reminisce about bygone versions of Netscape, check out the Netscape Browser Archive.

Best Tech Products Numbers 2 to 5

2. Apple II (1977)

Apple II (1977)
Photograph: Courtesy of John Davin's Antique Computers
While the original Apple I computer was really just a hobbyist's diversion, the Apple II was a computer for Everyman. Beating the
IBM PC 5150 to market by four years, the Apple II (and its cousins, the II+, IIe, and IIc) quickly became the computer for people who wanted a machine that actually did something (competitors like the Commodore 64 and TRS-80 Color Computer were mere toys by comparison).

What was so special about the Apple II? It offered plenty of productivity tools (it was the first PC to run the VisiCalc spreadsheet, for instance), it was good at gaming, and it was quite extendable (when is the last time you saw a computer with eight expansion slots?). And the machine itself looked so much cooler than anything that had preceded it, a philosophy that still lives on in the Apple computers of today. The Apple II may not have been the first personal computer, but it was the spark that ignited the personal computing industry.

If you're lucky, you might still be able to find an Apple II on eBay, though they don't seem to last long.

3. TiVo HDR110 (1999)

TiVo HDR110 (1999)
Photograph: Courtesy TiVo, Inc.
It's hard to believe but it's true--TiVo has been around for almost a decade, making it nearly geriatric in the world of technology. The premise is simple: TiVo (and its competitor ReplayTV) replaced the VHS tape with a monster hard drive, recording shows to disk instead of to analog media. That meant you could pause and resume live TV, skip through commercials in an instant, and record an entire season of shows with just a few clicks of the remote control.
TiVo's innovations (it is now up to its Series3 model) helped it to handily beat ReplayTV in the battle for mind share, though it struggled to reach profitability and now risks falling prey to that killer of many a promising company: commodity status. Though TiVo the brand may eventually die, "tivo" the verb will probably be with us forever.

4. Napster (1999)

No, we're not talking about the current Napster subscription service, which pretty much has nothing to do with Shawn Fanning's groundbreaking file-swapping software. Say what you will about how Napster facilitated copyright violation on a massive scale (it had 60 million users at its zenith), but piracy was around well before Napster came along and has continued to thrive without it.

Rather, Napster is of critical importance not only for inventing peer-to-peer technology, but also for forcing record labels to play ball and work with tech companies to make file-sharing practices in the digital music industry legal. Even P2P is finally on the verge of legitimacy, with companies such as Warner Brothers and Paramount recently signing deals to distribute content through P2P upstarts BitTorrent and TV streamer Joost.

5. Lotus 1-2-3 for DOS (1983)

Lotus 1-2-3 for DOS (1983)
infographic: Courtesy of GUIdebook: Graphical User Interface Gallery
Whenever the topic of killer apps comes up, mention of Lotus 1-2-3 is never far behind. This venerable spreadsheet program was the PC's first critical application, and it almost single-handedly gave the PC the major push it needed, past all other competing hardware platforms, to become the de facto standard for business users.
Lotus 1-2-3 wasn't the first spreadsheet app, but it was visibly superior to competitor VisiCalc, and it remained the standard until the rise of the Windows era and Microsoft Excel (see number 49). Lotus chose to throw in with OS/2 instead of Microsoft, alas, ultimately sealing its fate in the market, though it lives on now as Lotus 1-2-3 Millennium Edition.

And if you could kick yourself for tossing out your old version, $20 or $30 can get you a copy of Lotus 1-2-3 on eBay.

Best Tech Products Numbers 6 to 10

6. Apple iPod (2001)

Apple iPod (2001)
Portable music players were old hat by 2001, having been around for several years and already a staple of cheap knockoff specialists. But Apple thought it could do better, and it came to the game determined to shake things up. Mission accomplished. The
iPod was an instant success, reinventing the clunky and utilitarian digital music player as a stylish--not to mention elegantly simple--way to listen to music. The market responded categorically. Apple commands a monster 73 percent share of the music player market. Its closest competitor, Sandisk, has 9 percent. Newer iPods have greatly expanded that market by adding features like video and slimmer cases--and so far this franchise freight train shows no signs of slowing down.

7. Hayes Smartmodem (1981)

Hayes Smartmodem (1981)
In 1978, with $5000 in hand, Dennis Hayes launched what would become one of the most noteworthy tech companies of the eighties:
Hayes Microcomputer Products. Soon after founding his company, Hayes would release its flagship product, the 300-baud Smartmodem.

Primitive modems of the time generally required buggy acoustic couplers. But Hayes outdid them all with an affordable stand-alone unit that plugged directly into a phone jack. Eventually the screeches of carrier tones were heralding the computer telecommunications revolution, and online bulletin board systems sprang up everywhere. Competition ensued, with Hayes battling U.S. Robotics, Diamond, and others to see who could be fastest. Personal modems ultimately hit 56 kilobits per second. But although they have been far outpaced by broadband technology, we'll still be seeing modems in many homes for years to come.

Original 300-baud Smartmodems are very difficult to find, but some of the "faster" models (1200 and 2400) sell for around $20 to $30 on eBay.

8. Motorola StarTAC (1996)

Motorola StarTAC (1996)
Photograph: Courtesy of the Integrated Engineering Center
Before the
StarTAC, cell phones were enormous bricks that users were almost embarrassed to be seen with. Then came this svelte little number, weighing about a mere 3.1 ounces and sporting a clever clamshell design that had never been seen before. It soon became the cell phone to own, remaining so for half a decade and inspiring a legion of cell phones to follow. Think it's a monster by today's standards? Motorola's megapopular Razr is a direct descendant of the StarTAC, and it's 0.2 ounces heavier.

Collectors can pick up StarTACs on eBay for about $25.

9. WordPerfect 5.1 (1989)

It's surprising what DOS, in its waning years, was able to pull off. The poster child for DOS-based productivity, WordPerfect 5.1, was perhaps the final killer app on that aging platform. The word processor's innovations were numerous, including pulldown menus, support for tables, and a famous Reveal Codes mode that showed all the hidden typographical commands embedded in a document, and allowed you to edit them without a graphical user interface. Newer Windows versions of WordPerfect exist, but WordPerfect 5.1 endured for years and years, as many businesses, especially legal firms, clung to it for dear life in an effort to keep from having to upgrade to Windows.

If you're intent on finding a copy of the original software (which means you're probably a lawyer who's desperately trying to open an old file), it is being sold for around $25 on eBay.

10. Tetris (1985)

Tetris (1985)
In the beginning, the goal in most video games was to shoot aliens, race through a maze, or beat up thugs. None of the games required much thought, just a deft hand on the joystick and a pocketful of quarters. Alexey Pajitnov's independently developed
Tetris was one of the first games that required actual use of your brain, and it shook up the gaming industry in profound ways.

Pajitnov's game of falling bricks was simple enough to grasp, yet challenging enough to offer endless replay value. Tetris became a hit on a number of platforms, from PC to Mac to Game Boy (in fact, many Game Boy buyers reportedly purchased the device solely to play Tetris). Despite being more than 20 years old, Tetris continues to inspire new variations and knockoffs, demonstrating that a game doesn't need amazing graphics and involved storylines to get people hooked.

Best Tech Products Numbers 11 to 15

11. Adobe Photoshop 3.0 (1994)

Adobe Photoshop 3.0
infographic: Courtesy of GUIdebook: Graphical User Interface Gallery
Photoshop has been a killer app since its introduction on the Mac in 1988, but it wasn't until years later that this watershed graphics tool became a must-have for design professionals. That adoption began in earnest with
Photoshop 3.0 and the introduction of layers, which allowed designers to play with images and effects on multiple levels, one atop another, rather than in a single flat dimension. This technology opened the door for image manipulation on a much grander scale than had been possible before--and it's also why you'll never be able to trust a photograph again.

Adobe's most recent versions, Photoshop CS2 and Photoshop CS3 carry on the original software's tradition and remain the standard for the field.

12. IBM ThinkPad 700C (1992)

IBM ThinkPad 700C (1992)
For many years, only one name mattered when it came to laptops, and that was IBM. With every ThinkPad release, IBM continued to amaze the market, each system outshining its predecessor with a lighter weight, more power, or a larger screen than had previously been thought possible. The 701C, for example, offered an expanding, full-size "butterfly" keyboard that was so innovative it ended up on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The machine that started it all, however, was the 700C, which weighed less than 6 pounds, had a huge-for-its-time 10.4-inch color TFT display, and featured the first-ever pointing stick. Although the laptop is now owned by Chinese company Lenovo, ThinkPads like the R60 are still coveted status symbols in the business community.

13. Atari VCS/2600 (1977)

Atari VCS/2600 (1977)
Photograph: Rick Rizner
You can't underestimate the importance of the original Atari, which made home gaming what it is today.
All modern game consoles owe some part of their heritage to this machine of simple design (not to mention awesome wood-grain paneling). The VCS (later renamed the 2600) was a cool curiosity (until Space Invaders arrived in 1980), with sales hitting 8 million units in 1982 alone. The 2600 eventually sold about 40 million units, and paved the way for all manner of competitors and imitators. Along with the original Pong, it remains the only truly important product that Atari ever released.

14. Apple Macintosh Plus (1986)

Apple Macintosh Plus (1986)
Photograph: Courtesy of Wikipedia
Two years after the release of the first Macintosh computer, Apple finally hit its stride with the venerable
Mac Plus, which corrected several defects of the original Mac and became one of the company's most-loved (and used) products. The stylish all-in-one box featured a Motorola 68000 processor, a built-in 9-inch monochrome display, and a 3.5-inch floppy drive. Chief among its innovations was a SCSI port so you could attach an external hard drive, and 1MB of RAM, which was upgradable to 4MB. Computer as fashion status symbol? Today's iMacs have style to spare, but the Mac Plus is where it all started.

While the original Mac Plus sold for a whopping $2600, today you can get one for less than $100 on eBay.

15. RIM BlackBerry 857 (2000)

RIM BlackBerry 857 (2000)
Photograph: Courtesy of Research In Motion
When RIM introduced the original
BlackBerry 850, the company realized its genius idea of turning the standard two-way pager into something a little more full-featured. The 850 was able to send and receive e-mail--which you could type with your thumbs on its tiny QWERTY keyboard, though the six- or eight-line display left little room for navigating through messages.

Enter the BlackBerry 857, which was basically the same device but which offered up to 20 lines of text. The oblong form factor also got designers thinking that the BlackBerry might not make such a bad cell phone. RIM's first combination e-mail/phone device arrived two years later, and the 857's design still influences the look of many current smart phones, and its heritage can clearly be seen in today's BlackBerry 8700c.

Best Tech Products Numbers 16 to 20

16. 3dfx Voodoo3 (1999)

3dfx Voodoo3 (1999)
Photograph: Courtesy of The Altar of 3Dfx
Arguments about the best video card of all time can quickly degenerate into schoolyard shoving matches, but few will dispute that 3dfx's
Voodoo3 cards were some of the most important ones ever made. Most notably, they had a virtual monopoly at the time on games that used multiple texturing, including Quake 3, and 3dfx even created a custom API called Glide for developers to use when coding games. The Voodoo3 was a huge success, but 3dfx was soon on the ropes. Glide faded from use, follow-up products were disastrous, and the company burned so much cash that it was nearly dead (its corpse picked over by nVidia) a year later.

17. Canon Digital Elph S100 (2000)

Canon Digital Elph S100 (2000)
Photograph: Courtesy of Canon
Early digital cameras weren't much to look at: They were large, clunky, and utterly lacking in aesthetics. But the original Digital Elph changed all that. Clad in stainless steel and almost impossibly small,
Canon's S100 showed how sophisticated a pocket camera could look. Yet it didn't compromise on features, offering a 2.1-megapixel CCD, a 2x optical zoom lens, and autofocus. Today, digicams continue to take design cues from the Elph; Canon's pocket cameras and its current Elph model, the PowerShot SD630, still maintain the overall look of the original model.

18. Palm Pilot 1000 (1996)

Palm Pilot 1000 (1996)
Photograph: Rick Rizner
The Palm Pilot 1000 wasn't the first PDA, but it was the first one that mattered. Having taken a cue from the rapidly declining fortunes of the Apple Newton, Palm set out to design a portable personal digital assistant that focused first and foremost on pocketability. The original model was so influential that the name "Palm Pilot" has stuck with the series, even though the "Pilot" part was banished in 1998. Numerous aspects of the original Palm operating system, including its iconic layout, can still be found on
contemporary Treos.

19. id Software Doom (1993)

id Software Doom (1993)
infographic: Courtesy of GamePro.com
If anti-video-game-violence crusader Jack Thompson is right, most of society's ills can probably be traced back to the watershed video game
Doom, which launched the first-person-shooter genre into the stratosphere. A shareware offering, Doom spread rapidly upon release, and gamers thrilled to its (now primitive) 3D graphics and mod capabilities, which let you take on the role of designer and create your own levels. Purists may argue that we should have selected id's Wolfenstein 3D instead; but unlike Doom, it didn't let you wield a chainsaw--possibly the most iconic FPS weapon of all time. Take that, Martian demons! PC versions of Doom certainly live on, but today console and handheld versions are more common.

20. Microsoft Windows 95 (1995)

Yes, we know that plenty of Windows for Workgroups 3.11, Windows 98 SE, and Windows 2000 fans exist, but Windows 95 first brought us long file names, legitimate multitasking, and a dramatically improved GUI, which arguably represents the brief and final moment in time that Windows actually looked better than a Mac.

Best Tech Products Numbers 21 to 25

21. Apple iTunes 4 (2003)

For its first three versions, iTunes was just a nifty way to manage the music on your iPod. But on April 28, 2003, Apple changed the media world irrevocably with the launch of iTunes 4, which allowed users to purchase music from the iTunes Store for 99 cents a track. Despite vocal complaints over its digital rights management system--purchased music cannot be played on any portable player except for iPods and a few Motorola phones--the iTunes Store has set the standard for online music sales, initiating the move away from physical media for both music and video entertainment. So far the company has sold more than 2 billion tracks. The latest version of iTunes is in PC World's Downloads.

22. Nintendo Game Boy (1989)

Nintendo Game Boy (1989)
Photograph: Courtesy of Nintendo
A monochrome screen, a four-way control pad, and two action buttons used to be all it took to entertain kids for hours on end. The
original Game Boy may look primitive by today's standards, but consider the state of handheld gaming prior to then. Two words: Mattel Football. Through a whopping nine versions, the Game Boy has gotten progressively smaller, while Nintendo's hold on the portable gaming market keeps growing larger. Now mutated into the Game Boy Advance, more than 188 million Game Boys have been sold throughout the years, making it easily the most influential portable gaming device ever constructed.

23. Iomega Zip Drive (1994)

Iomega Zip Drive (1994)
Photograph: Courtesy of Iomega
Before broadband, and before the ubiquitous writable CD, there was the Zip disk. If you regularly dealt with files larger than a few hundred kilobytes, you invested in a Zip drive, which used a super-floppy disk of sorts to hold 100MB (later 250MB and even 750MB) worth of data. The Zip was fraught with technical problems (the "
click of death" being its most infamous), but during the latter half of the nineties, you really had no other choice. (What, you were going to buy a SyQuest cartridge? Please.) Look through your desk drawer, and we wager you'll find at least one of Iomega's iconic squares collecting dust.

24. Spybot Search & Destroy (2000)

When Patrick Kolla saw that Windows was vulnerable to an increasing number of threats that antivirus software wasn't catching, he decided to do something about it. The result was Spybot Search & Destroy, a free program that pioneered the original class of antimalware applications. Spybot endured its share of controversy and jealous looks from the competition--Symantec maintains that Spybot S&D is "incompatible" with its Internet Security product--but despite that, Spybot remains a must-have part of any security toolkit, and you can get the latest version in PC World's Downloads.

25. Compaq Deskpro 386 (1986)

Compaq Deskpro 386 (1986)
The very first 386-based PC came not from IBM, which invented the x86 computer, but from upstart rival Compaq. The company had been a thorn in IBM's side since it introduced the Compaq Portable in 1982, having painstakingly reverse engineered the BIOS on the IBM PC. By 1986 Compaq was actually ahead of the game, launching the
Deskpro 386 before Big Blue, and undercutting it in price while garnering rave reviews. The clone wars had begun, and the 386 was the machine that brought the cutthroat PC market into the modern era. In 2002, Hewlett-Packard swallowed up Compaq--but it continues to market machines under the venerable name.

Best Tech Products Numbers 26 to 30

26. CompuServe (1982)

CompuServer (1982)
Founded in 1969,
CompuServe was likely the first major bulletin board system open to the public. It's certainly the most noteworthy. CompuServe pioneered the wide use of e-mail (in 1978!) and introduced a primitive version of the chat room in 1980. By the early eighties, the system began to take shape and evolve into what it would look like for years: a massive online information service with pay-per-minute dial-up access in dozens of cities, and even overseas. Two things ultimately led to CompuServe's decline--the rise of the more noob-friendly AOL (which ultimately acquired it) and, of course, the Internet.

27. Blizzard World of Warcraft (2004)

Who'd have thought that a massively multiplayer online RPG based on a strategy game would become such a hit? It's hard to believe that World of Warcraft has been around for only two years, but what a ride those two years have been. Now with expansion packs and accessories, WoW has more than 8 million players worldwide, and it even inspired a "South Park" episode. WoW is easily the most popular MMORPG ever made, handily bypassing progenitors like Ultima Online and Everquest. True, both of those games paved the way for WoW, but each topped out at well under a million players.

28. Aldus PageMaker (1985)

Aldus PageMaker (1985)
infographic: Courtesy of GUIdebook: Graphical User Interface Gallery
One big promise from the early days of computing was desktop publishing, which assured us we'd all be printing brochures, magazines, and professional-grade reports on our PCs, using WYSIWYG tools. As one of the first desktop publishing programs,
Aldus PageMaker was the app of choice for several years, providing a simple way to lay out text, graphics, and other elements together on a page. Aldus was acquired by Adobe in 1994, and PageMaker is still around (as version 7), but it has long been displaced by the higher-end QuarkXPress and Adobe's own InDesign.

29. HP LaserJet 4L (1993)

HP LaserJet 4L (1993)
Photograph: Courtesy of HP
Before the LaserJet 4L came on the scene, printing a professional-looking resume meant either purchasing a very large and very expensive printer or heading down to a print shop and paying pricey per-page fees (as well as reprinting fees, since the first page never came out quite the way you wanted it to). With the
4L (pdf), the era of personal laser printing arrived. It was small enough to fit comfortably on a table and cost $849, the first laser to be priced at under $1000 out of the gate. The workhorse LaserJet 4L can still be found on some PC World editors' desks, and can be had for less than $50 on eBay.

30. Apple Mac OS X (2001)

With its tenth major iteration of the Macintosh operating system, Apple tossed its aging core out the window and did the unthinkable, adopting a Unix implementation as the kernel for OS X. Would the intricacies of a Unix-based system go over with Mac diehards, who had always valued Apple's ease of use and intuitiveness? It seems so. OS X (now up to version 10.4) has possibly been a bigger hit than anyone could have imagined, and its visual flourishes have set the bar for modern OSs. Many observers claim that Microsoft Vista's Aero is a brazen rip-off of OS X's Aqua interface. You be the judge.

Best Tech Products Numbers 31 to 35

31. Nintendo Entertainment System (1985)

Nintendo Entertainment System (1985)
Photograph: Courtesy of State of the Ark
Gaming had been wallowing in a two-year depression when its savior finally arrived. The
NES was a powerful gray box that introduced millions to the world of Super Mario Bros., the console's most visible and lasting hit. With the NES, Nintendo began a years-long reign over home gaming, thanks largely to its near-perfect ports of various arcade classics, like Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong. The NES's legacy is still apparent today in the success of Nintendo's Wii console, with characters like Mario and The Legend of Zelda's Link still holding court, 22 years later.

You can relive those days of yore, probably for less than $20, which is about what the original NES sells for these days on eBay.

32. Eudora (1988)

Eudora (1988)
infographic: Courtesy of GUIdebook: Graphical User Interface Gallery
Few freeware programs have had as profound an effect on the development of technology as Steve Dorner's Eudora. Originally developed as part of a class programming project, Eudora was the first nonmainframe e-mail client used by many a consumer, including (based on a straw poll) a good chunk of the PCW staff. The app is also notable for offering both
free ad-supported versions and paid pro versions, which nixed the promos. Purchased by Qualcomm in 1991, the program is still in development (version 7.1 is current and available in PC World's Downloads) and is actively supported for a variety of platforms. Future versions of the program will use the open-source Thunderbird as a development core.

33. Sony Handycam DCR-VX1000 (1995)

Sony Handycam DCR-VX1000 (1995)
Photograph: Courtesy of Sony
Home videos were huge for years before the
the Handycam DCR-VX1000 came along, but this was the product that finally brought the camcorder kicking and screaming, into the digital era. Thanks to its use of MiniDV digital tapes, which made editing video on a PC significantly easier, the sketchy quality of VHS and Hi-8 soon became a thing of the past. For $4000, you got only a 410-kilopixel image, but things improved over time, as Sony finally hit 1 megapixel in 1999 and high-definition quality by 2004. Mini-DV is now being phased out in favor of better technologies, but Sony still offers new camcorders with the technology.

34. Apple Airport Base Station (1999)

Apple Airport Base Station (1999)
Apple wasn't the first company to introduce Wi-Fi, but in 1999 its flying saucer
Base Station became a visible (and stylish) emblem for the joys of wireless connectivity. Apple was a forerunner when it came to incorporating 802.11b into laptops, and it championed the technology before other vendors did. Nowadays, Apple's Airport Extreme Base Station is a direct descendant of the earlier technology. But even though the company is a relatively minor player in networking hardware, the original Base Station had a powerful influence in the early days of Wi-Fi and helped kick-start the migration to the wireless world as we know it today.

35. Brøderbund The Print Shop (1984)

Br?derbund The Print Shop (1984)
Once upon a time, the only way to set up for a party was to print out an enormous banner on tractor-fed paper, using all of the ink in your dot matrix printer. From clip-art-festooned fliers to cheese-ball homemade greeting cards,
The Print Shop offered a wealth of ways for bored Apple II users to prove that computers could do anything a crayon could, and more. In a nutshell, it was the world's first useless killer app. Believe it or not, Print Shop is still around--the PC version is now on release number 22.

Best Tech Products Numbers 36 to 40

36. McAfee VirusScan (1990)

As long as there have been PCs, there have been viruses. But it wasn't until the early days of Windows 95 that antivirus software became utterly indispensable (Windows 3.1 viruses weren't nearly as bad). At the time, McAfee VirusScan was the top choice in virus protection (though many opted for Norton). In 1997 McAfee acquired Dr. Solomon's Software and with it, one of the best antivirus engines around. And even though recent versions of VirusScan haven't been as well received as its early brethren (McAfee now seems more interested in promoting other security products than catching exploits), it remains a pretty good product.

37. Commodore Amiga 1000 (1985)

Commodore Amiga 1000 (1985)
Photograph: Courtesy of OldComputers.net
Commodore's Amiga probably has more cult followers than any other defunct computer system, despite the fact that it never sold well and eventually bankrupted the company in 1994. But what a noble failure it was. The
Amiga was years ahead of its PC--and Macintosh--brethren, using the Mac's Motorola 68000 processor and a separate video CPU, which allowed the computer to perform 3D animation, full-speed video, and other unheard-of feats. Its abilities with high-end audio processing quickly earned it the title of world's foremost "multimedia computer," but perhaps users simply weren't ready for its next-gen tricks.

38. ChipSoft TurboTax (1985)

ChipSoft TurboTax (1985)
If you really understand what all those cells and instructions on your 1099s, 5305-EAs, and Schedule Rs mean, you probably don't need
TurboTax (now owned by Intuit). But for those of us who don't know our ISOs from our NSOs, TurboTax makes life much easier during that first (and possibly second) weekend of April every year. TurboTax may not be revolutionary, but as far as essential PC software goes, many users can't easily live without it.

39. Mirabilis ICQ (1996)

Mirabilis ICQ (1996)
infographic: Courtesy of GUIdebook: Graphical User Interface Gallery
Why pick up a phone when you can send an e-mail? Why send an e-mail when you can fire off an instant message? Specializing in short-burst communications, IM was a no-brainer technology that took off quickly thanks to ICQ, developed by Israeli tech firm Mirabilis. For a long while, ICQ was the only choice in IM, and hundreds of millions of user ID numbers were assigned. Alas, the numerical ID was ICQ's downfall. By the time it was able to easily link digits to e-mail accounts, users had moved on to other options. AOL bought ICQ in 1998 and
still supports it, though AOL Instant Messenger is now the market leader.

40. Creative Labs Sound Blaster 16 (1992)

Creative Labs Sound Blaster 16 (1992)
Prior to the Sound Blaster, your PC's audio was pretty much limited to a few squeaks and beeps to let you know that you successfully stabbed the ogre or your machine was crashing. The Sound Blaster product line changed all that by putting real audio capabilities into the computer. The Sound Blaster 16, one of the series' early models, brought 16-bit sound to the mix, which made audio (and music) finally passable on a PC. Today, integrated audio has become standard, largely relegating the Sound Blaster family to
high-end gaming PCs. That's not such a bad thing, because the SB16's direct descendants, today's Audigy and X-Fi lines, do an astonishing job of reproducing the high-quality, multichannel sound that gamers thrive on.

Best Tech Products Numbers 41 to 45

41. Apple HyperCard (1987)

Trying to explain HyperCard to someone who's never used it is a bit like explaining a thesaurus to a three-year-old. But here goes: HyperCard--which was created by Apple software genius Bill Atkinson--was a programming environment that provided you with a stack of blank "cards," upon which you could add text, graphics, and little videos. And most important, you could link the cards together, sort of like an offline version of a Web site--years before the Web existed. (Some of HyperCard's design features live on in browsers to this day, such as the use of a tiny pointing-hand cursor to indicate hyperlinks.) Side note: The game Myst was originally built with Hypercard.

42. Epson MX-80 (1980)

Aside from the sound of a successfully connected modem, has there ever been a noise in all of computerdom as satisfying as the chugga-chugga-crunch-buzz of a dot matrix printer? Dot matrix ruled the printing universe for years, sucking up tractor-fed paper with abandon. Reasonably cheap, relatively durable, and fast enough (about 1 page per minute), the MX-80 became the best-selling dot-matrix printer after it was released, with Epson claiming that it had captured 60 percent of the dot matrix market. Exactly how popular was the MX-80? Despite its being 27 years old, you can still buy printer ribbons for it. Six bucks a pop.

43. Central Point Software PC Tools (1985)

Purchasing PC utilities one by one has always been costly, not to mention a pain in the neck. Central Point's PC Tools wasn't exactly revolutionary, but by bundling into a single package over a dozen useful utilities (antivirus, backup, undelete, and unformat(!), to name a few), it provided frustrated tech-savvy users with a one-stop shop for fixing problems on their DOS machines. After a disappointing 1991 release, the company was bought by Symantec and was eventually dismantled, as Norton SystemWorks continued what PC Tools had started.

44. Canon EOS Digital Rebel (2003)

Canon EOS Digital Rebel (2003)
Photograph: Courtesy of Canon
With the 2003 launch of the
Digital Rebel, Canon brought high-end camera technology to regular consumers. The EOS was a 6.3-megapixel digital SLR that broke the $1000 price point, finally putting swappable lenses and greater photographic control within financial reach of serious shutterbugs disappointed with the performance of pocket digicams. The Rebel may also be the most-hacked camera ever made: Clever tweakers have created new firmware for the camera and even written DOS apps for it. The Rebel line is still a mainstay for Canon, with its EOS Digital Rebel Xti a popular choice for serious photographers.

45. Red Hat Linux (1994)

Picking a watershed Linux distribution is tough. Literally hundreds have existed over the years, though only a few have advanced the state of the art. Red Hat was critically important for beginning the move (however tentative) toward making Linux beginner-friendly and easier to install. While development of Red Hat was discontinued in 2003, it directly spawned successors like Ubuntu, which aim to make desktop use of Linux commonplace.

Best Tech Products Numbers 46 to 50

46. Adaptec Easy CD Creator (1996)

Optical disc burning is something we take for granted now (just drag files to the DVD-R and go), but in the early days of writeable CDs, burning a disc meant using third-party software and a lot of trial and error. Easy CD Creator took a lot of the guesswork out of CD burning, and was pretty much the standard for CD writing until Windows XP came along. Its direct descendant, Roxio Easy Media Creator 9, does much more than CD burning, of course, but many of us still look fondly on the original.

47. PC-Talk (1982)

PC-Talk was a terminal program that let you dial into bulletin board systems and early online services such as CompuServe. But the program was better known for a different reason: It's widely credited for helping to create the shareware model of software distribution. When its author, who just so happened to be Andrew Fluegelman, the founding editor of PC World, decided to release his creation to the world, he simply requested that if people liked it, they send him a little cash. Though he trademarked the word "freeware" for his creation, "shareware" soon became the accepted term for this business model. And now there are entire Web sites, or major parts of them, devoted to downloading software.

48. Sony Mavica MVC-FD5 (1997)

In the wee early days of digital photography, getting pictures from camera to computer was a major challenge. There were no memory card slots, no Bluetooth, not even USB. Sony's Mavica MVC-FD5 was a stroke of genius: Put a floppy drive inside the camera, and then let shutterbugs use sneakernet to tote photos back and forth. You could fit about eight pictures on a disk (images were limited to 640-by-480-pixel resolution), which was good enough for most people at the time. The Mavica line eventually evolved to include integrated DVD writers.

49. Microsoft Excel (1985)

Microsoft Excel (1985)
infographic: Courtesy of GUIdebook: Graphical User Interface Gallery
OK, to some of you this may be a contentious choice, since Microsoft Excel has been plagued with bugs and virus vulnerabilities throughout its existence. But would you believe that
Excel was released for the Macintosh a full two years before it came out for the PC? Ultimately, when Excel did arrive on Windows, it buried Lotus 1-2-3 within a few years, thanks in part to its powerful scripting language. It eventually became so dominant that the rest of the Microsoft Office programs were redesigned to look more like Excel.

50. Northgate OmniKey Ultra (1987)

Northgate OmniKey Ultra (1987)
Photograph: Courtesy of Creative Vision Technologies
A legend among keyboards, the
Northgate OmniKey was a monstrous, mechanical beast. It was heavy, loud, and insanely durable--a far cry from today's practically disposable membrane keyboards. Northgate fanatics still use them today (or its clone, the Creative Vision Avant Stellar), and original versions of the 'board regularly fetch $100 and up on eBay. Why did Northgate go out of business in 1997? Perhaps its products simply didn't break often enough to be replaced.

The 50 Best Tech Products, Alphabetical List

We'd like to know what you think, so vote for your own favorite best product. And see our Slide Show: The Products PCW Should Have Picked.

The 50 Best Tech Products, by Decade

Duran Duran, REM, Nirvana. The eighties and nineties were fantastic eras for music, and they also gave us some of the greatest technology of our time. Here are our 50 best tech products, listed by decade.

We'd like to know what you think, so vote for your own favorite best product. And see our Slide Show: The Products PCW Should Have Picked.

1970 to 1979

1980 to 1989

1990 to 1999

2000 and later

The 50 Best Tech Products, in Ranked Order

This is how PC World ranks the best tech products. You may disagree, strongly. Take action: Vote for your favorite best tech product. And don't forget to leave a comment below. We want a piece of your mind. And see our Slide Show: The Products PCW Should Have Picked, where you'll find out what others are already saying.

  1. Netscape Navigator (1994)
  2. Apple II (1977)
  3. TiVo HDR110 (1999)
  4. Napster (1999)
  5. Lotus 1-2-3 for DOS (1983)
  6. Apple iPod (2001)
  7. Hayes Smartmodem (1981)
  8. Motorola StarTAC (1996)
  9. WordPerfect 5.1 (1989)
  10. Tetris (1985)
  11. Adobe Photoshop 3.0 (1994)
  12. IBM ThinkPad 700C (1992)
  13. Atari VCS/2600 (1977)
  14. Apple Macintosh Plus (1986)
  15. RIM BlackBerry 857 (2000)
  16. 3dfx Voodoo3 (1999)
  17. Canon Digital Elph S100 (2000)
  18. Palm Pilot 1000 (1996)
  19. id Software Doom (1993)
  20. Microsoft Windows 95 (1995)
  21. Apple iTunes 4 (2003)
  22. Nintendo Game Boy (1989)
  23. Iomega Zip Drive (1994)
  24. Spybot Search & Destroy (2000)
  25. Compaq Deskpro 386 (1986)
  26. CompuServe (1982)
  27. Blizzard World of Warcraft (2004)
  28. Aldus PageMaker (1985)
  29. HP LaserJet 4L (1993)
  30. Apple Mac OS X (2001)
  31. Nintendo Entertainment System (1985)
  32. Eudora (1988)
  33. Sony Handycam DCR-VX1000 (1995)
  34. Apple Airport Base Station (1999)
  35. Brøderbund The Print Shop (1984)
  36. McAfee VirusScan (1990)
  37. Commodore Amiga 1000 (1985)
  38. ChipSoft TurboTax (1985)
  39. Mirabilis ICQ (1996)
  40. Creative Labs Sound Blaster 16 (1992)
  41. Apple HyperCard (1987)
  42. Epson MX-80 (1980)
  43. Central Point Software PC Tools (1985)
  44. Canon EOS Digital Rebel (2003)
  45. Red Hat Linux (1994)
  46. Adaptec Easy CD Creator (1996)
  47. PC-Talk (1982)
  48. Sony Mavica MVC-FD5 (1997)
  49. Microsoft Excel (1985)
  50. Northgate OmniKey Ultra (1987)

Subscribe to the Power Tips Newsletter

Comments