Top 50 Tech Visionaries

Alan Kay (#19) to Grace Murray Hopper (#26)

19. Alan Kay

Alan Kay
Photograph: Courtesy of David Weekly
A jack-of-all-tech-trades, Alan Kay lays claim to at least two watershed innovations, starting with HP's original Dynabook, one of the first usable mobile laptop computers. Kay ideal was to design a laptop that weighed no more than 2 pounds. We still aren't there yet, but Kay's contributions to software--which include shepherding the idea of object-oriented programming and the notion of multiple, overlapping windows in a GUI--rank as essential milestones in computing.

20. Marc Andreessen

Marc Andreessen
Photograph: Courtesy of Duncan Davidson
The Mosaic Web browser devised by Marc Andreessen may seem quaint now, but bits and pieces of Mosaic code remain standard software components of most of today's commercial browsers. It's a safe bet that many of Andreessen's other creations will leave similar legacies: Netscape, the company he founded, set off the tech stock craze of the 1990s, and his Ning Web site continues to grow in popularity as an outlet where anyone can build a topic-oriented social network. He even finds time to blog regularly about all this stuff.

21. Linus Torvalds

Linus Torvalds
Photograph: Courtesy of Martin Streicher, Linuxmag.com
Given the exorbitant cost of most Apple computers, Linus Torvalds is the godfather of what may be the last, best hope for an affordable alternative to Windows. The Linux operating system has been in continuous development since Torvalds conceived it in 1991, and has experienced steady gains in popular acceptance every year. And a long last, Linux is making the jump from server rooms to large numbers of desktop PCs, most visibly in low-cost laptops like the Asus Eee PC. The OS now has a market share in excess of 2 percent on the desktop.

22. Chuck Thacker

Chuck Thacker
Photograph: Courtesy of Microsoft
Chuck Thacker has had his hands in a surprisingly wide array of tech projects, from the development of ethernet to the first laser printers. His most enduring legacy, however, involves a product that never reached market: The fabled Xerox Alto. The Alto, which Thacker designed, was the first computer with a GUI (and a mouse); as the story goes, it directly inspired Apple to build the Macintosh after Steve Jobs paid a friendly visit to Xerox. Thacker now works for Microsoft.

23. Bob Metcalfe

Bob Metcalfe
Photograph: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Moore's Law may be better known, but the law formulated by Bob Metcalfe has wider general application. Posited around 1980, Metcalfe's Law conjectured that the value of a telecommunications network is equal to the square of the number of nodes on the network. In other words, even a small increase in the size of a network makes it worth far more because of the enlarged number of new connections that each user can make. Metcalfe's invention of ethernet and his founding of 3Com are essential tech milestones as well, but his eponymous law--now in use to quantify value in the Facebook/MySpace milieu--will be around long after wired networking has passed on.

24. Vic Hayes

Vic Hayes
Photograph: Courtesy of IEEE
Wi-Fi has long been one of technology's messiest standards--and without Vic Hayes, it might never have come together at all. In the Hayes-less universe we might be left to wallow in a morass similar to the a Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD swamp with multiple incompatible wireless standards. In 1990, Hayes formed the Wireless LAN working group and rallied some 130 companies to work together to develop open standards. The result: 802.11, and the cutting of a very firmly attached cord. Hayes continues to be actively involved in Wi-Fi development today.

25. Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston

Dan Bricklin (left) and Bob Frankston
Photograph: Courtesy of Dan Bricklin
Accounting departments around the world would be lost without the work of Dan Bricklin (left) and Bob Frankston, who worked together in 1979 to develop VisiCalc, the world's first spreadsheet and arguably the first "killer app" written for a personal computer. The 27KB program can run on PCs today, and its simplicity is a big reason why early PCs sold in droves, especially to business customers. But never mind the bean-counters: You probably owe a lot to VisiCalc yourself. After all, if it weren't for Bricklin and Frankston, you might not be getting your paycheck regularly.

26. Grace Murray Hopper

Grace Murray Hopper
Photograph: Courtesy of Naval Historical Center
That's Admiral Hopper, bud. Naval officer "Amazing" Grace Hopper was a computing pioneer who cut her teeth in the calculator era. Later she worked on the team that developed the UNIVAC, the world's first commercial computer, and wrote the compiler software for it (the first such software ever developed). Hopper was instrumental again in the development of the COBOL and FORTRAN programming languages, and she remained a major figure on the technology scene until her death in 1992. Even our language owes a debt to Hopper: She popularized (and possibly coined) the term "bug" after a moth was found in a computer relay during her years at Harvard.

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