September 9, 1986, through May 24, 1991
Compaq Out-Clones IBM
September 9, 1986 For the first few years of the PC era, IBM faced little challenge from other DOS computer makers. But when Intel bumped up the processing power of its CPUs from 16 bits to 32 bits--a standard that still dominates today--Compaq surprised Big Blue by beating it to market with a competitively priced ($6499!) computer carrying Intel's new 386 chip. Suddenly, IBM could no longer set the pace--or the price--for PCs.
Microsoft Builds an Office
August 1, 1989 Few folks remember that Microsoft Office made its debut as a $500 Macintosh suite containing three already popular programs (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint), and that it lacked the OLE data format, spelling checker, and Visual Basic scripting that tie Office applications together now. The Windows version came a year later, and many experts now view Office--not Windows--as Microsoft's most productive cash cow.
Desktops Become Darkrooms
February 19, 1990 Frustrated by his Mac Plus's inability to show grayscale levels for his doctoral thesis on digital image processing, Thomas Knoll wrote a subroutine to simulate the effect. His brother John, an employee at Industrial Light and Magic, got him to turn it into a program that the brothers called ImagePro, but Silicon Valley took little interest until John demoed it to Adobe. Launched on this date, the retitled app is now so closely identified with digital imaging that people use it as a verb, as in, "I'll Photoshop out the wart."
Windows Hits the Big 3.0
May 22, 1990 The first few releases of Windows failed to catch fire. But by adding both virtual memory and memory protection, Windows 3.0 turned PCs into capable multitasking machines--and a deal with Apple finally allowed overlapping windows (Windows 2.0 could only tile them). Microsoft sold about 10 million copies of Windows 3.0, establishing Windows as the dominant operating system among personal computers.
The Internet Goes Commercial
May 24, 1991 One critic likened the National Science Foundation's decision to open the Internet to commercial use to "giving a federal park to Kmart." At first, commercial traffic meant e-mail from DEC and IBM. But within a few years, entrepreneur Jeff Bezos would conjure up Cadabra, an online bookstore that he redubbed Amazon before it opened in 1995. Today, Amazon alone takes a billion dollars a year in online orders for several million different products--the giant in a $100-billion-a-year marketplace that's still growing.