Top 50 Tech Visionaries

Ann Winblad (#35) to Alan Emtage with Bill Heelan and Mike Parker (#42)

35. Ann Winblad

Ann Winblad
Photograph: Courtesy of Microsoft
Half of the well-known Hummer Winblad Venture Partners investment group, Ann Winblad was a key figure in the Web 1.0 boom, investing in such proto-companies as Napster, Gazoontite, Liquid Audio, and Pets.com. Despite some ill-fated investments, Hummer Winblad picked enough winners to remain a lead investor in dozens of tech companies, primarily back-end enterprises. And lest you think that Winblad is merely a stuffed shirt, consider this: She began her career as a computer programmer in the 1970s and achieved indisputable nerd cred by having dated Bill Gates.

36. Charles Simonyi

Charles Simonyi
Photograph: Courtesy of NASA
Charles Simonyi (plus a little Gatesian muscle, natch) is the reason you use Word and Excel instead of WordPerfect and Quattro Pro. As head of Microsoft's application development group, Simonyi oversaw development of both Word and Excel back in the MS-DOS days and superintended the app suite for more than 20 years. The programs are now as close to ubiquitous as Windows itself (perhaps even closer, since Office is the standard app suite for the Mac as well). Fun facts to know and tell: Simonyi was the second Hungarian in space in space and is Martha Stewart's boyfriend.

37. Thomas Penfield Jackson

Thomas Penfield Jackson
Photograph: Courtesy of Jackson & Campbell
Few people would have imagined that it a 62-year-old man unaffiliated with the company would have the most profound effect on Microsoft in years. But in 1999 U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson shook the tech world to its foundations when he handed down a landmark ruling declaring Microsoft to be an abusive monopoly and ordering it split into two companies. Though appellate courts eventually overturned many of Jackson's rulings, Microsoft has been on the defensive against antitrust actions here and abroad ever since, and all tech companies looking to merge have had to tread more cautiously in Jackson's wake.

38.  Jerry Yang and David Filo

Jerry Yang (left) and David Filo
This unassuming twosome got their start in 1994 while still at Stanford, with a truly humble idea: Populate a directory with cool places that they had found on the then-infant World Wide Web. Yahoo was born on a lark but Jerry Yang (left) and David Filo helped it become one of the Web's top destinations: Today it is the home page for millions of people seeking the easiest entry point into the Internet. After an unfruitful turn with Hollywood insider Terry Semel at the helm, Yang retook the reins as CEO in June 2007. Yahoo is now coping with separate forays for control of the company by Microsoft and by Carl Icahn. (Full disclosure: The author writes a blog for Yahoo Tech.)

39. Peter Norton

A Buddhist monk before becoming invovled in the tech world, Peter Norton has been a major figure in the computer industry for three decades, having made his mark early in the DOS era with Norton Utilities, the first major data recovery tool for the PC. Norton went on to produce a gaggle of related utilities for the PC and write a series of essential technical manuals before selling his company to Symantec in 1990. Symantec still uses his name on its utility apps.

40. Phil Zimmermann

Phil Zimmerman
Photograph: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Phil Zimmermann fought the law so you don't have to. His Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) application, the first mainstream encryption software, published in 1991, made Zimmermann a pariah in the eyes of the U.S. government. The feds spent three years investigating the possibility that Zimmermann had violated rules forbidding the export of cryptographic tools. The case was ultimately dropped, however, paving the way for everyday people to protect the material on their hard drives and in their e-mail with the same encryption standards that the government itself uses.

41. Jon Postel

Jon Postel
Photograph: Courtesy of Irene Fertik, USC News Service. Copyright 1994
How do you move from one IP address to another? Easily, thanks to Jon Postel, the so-called Father of DNS--the system that translates 70.42.185.10 into http://www.pcworld.com/. Postel also did substantial work on the TCP/IP and SMTP protocols, authoring some 200 Internet spec documents overall. But Postel didn't just envision the DNS system; he ran it himself for years as founding head of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (a position that led him into a memorable conflict with President Bill Clinton's science advisor when he tried to move control of DNS from Network Solutions to IANA). Postel died in 1998.

42. Alan Emtage with Bill Heelan and Mike Parker

Alan Emtage
Photograph: Courtesy of Michael Rhodes
Before Google--before the Web even--people had to find a way to locate files and programs hiding out on FTP servers around the world. The answer: Archie (a derivative of "archive"), a 1990 application devised by McGill University student Alan Emtage, who was assisted by Bill Heelan and Mike Parker. In its original incarnation, Archie contacted far-off FTP servers regularly and kept a local list of the files they contained, for easy indexing. That may sound like simple stuff by today's standards, but it inspired everything about the way we currently work with search, from the Web to the desktop.

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