Best Tech Products Numbers 2 to 5
2. Apple II (1977)
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)
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)
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.