In Pictures: Highlights of the Best Tech Products

See photos and screen shots of some our choices.

1. Netscape Navigator (1994)

Netscape was the reason people started spending hours a day on the Internet, leading to the boom (and bust) of many a Website. It was also the reason why Microsoft got sucked into antitrust litigation, when Internet Explorer was eventually embedded into Windows. And the company's August 9, 1995 IPO is universally considered to be the official start of the dot-com era.

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). So what was so special about the Apple II? It offered plenty of productivity tools (including being the first PC to run the VisiCalc spreadsheet), it was good at gaming, and it was quite extendable (when's the last time you had a computer with eight expansion slots?). And the machine itself looked so much cooler than anything that preceded it, a philosophy that still lives on in the Apple computers of today.

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 tech. The premise is simple: TiVo (and its competitor ReplayTV) replaced the VHS tape with a monster hard drive, recording shows to disk instead of 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. 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 continues 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 legalize the digital music industry.

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. 1-2-3 was the PC's first critical application, and it was almost single-handedly responsible for giving 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.

6. Apple iPod (2001)

Portable music players were old hat by 2001, having been around for several years and already a staple of cheap Asian 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 fashionable--not to mention simple--way to listen to music. The market has responded categorically. Apple commands a monster 73 percent share of the music player market. Its closest competitor, Sandisk, has 9 percent.

7. Hayes Smartmodem (1981)

In 1978, with $5,000 investment money in hand, Dennis Hayes launched what would become one of the most noteworthy tech companies of the '80s: 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 standalone unit that plugged directly into a phone jack. Eventually the screeches of carrier tones were heralding the computer telecommunications revolution, and bulletin board systems sprang up everywhere.

8. Motorola StarTAC (1996)

Before the StarTAC, cell phones were enormous bricks that users were almost embarrassed to be seen with. Then came this svelte little number, weighing in at about 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 mega-popular RAZR is a direct descendant of the StarTAC, and it's .2 ounces heavier.

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. Its innovations were numerous, including pull-down menus, support for tables, and a famous Reveal Codes mode, which showed all the hidden typographical commands embedded in a document, and allowed you to edit them without a GUI. There are newer Windows versions of WordPerfect, 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.

10. Tetris (1985)

In the beginning, the goal of most video games was to shoot aliens, race through a maze, or beat up thugs. None of them 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 knock-offs, demonstrating that a game doesn't need amazing graphics and involved storylines to still get people hooked.

11. Adobe Photoshop 3.0 (1994)

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 necessity 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 on a single flat surface. 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 ever again.

12. IBM ThinkPad 700C (1992)

For many years, there was only one name that mattered when it came to laptops, and that was IBM. With every ThinkPad release, IBM continued to amaze the market, each machine outshining its predecessor by being lighter, boasting more power, or tacking on 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 in New York's Museum of Modern Art. But the machine that started it all was the 700C, which weighed less than 6 pounds, had a huge-at-the-time 10.4-inch color TFT, and featured the first ever pointing stick. Though now owned by Chinese company Lenovo, ThinkPads, like the R60 are still coveted status symbols in the business community.

13. Atari VCS/2600 (1977)

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 neat 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)

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, built-in 9-inch monochrome display, and 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 upgradeable to 4MB. Computer as a fashion status symbol?

15. RIM BlackBerry 857 (2000)

When RIM introduced the original BlackBerry 850, it had the genius idea of turning the standard two-way pager into something a little more full-featured. The 850 was able to send and receive email--which you could type with your thumbs on its tiny, QWERTY keyboard--but the six- or eight-line display didn't leave much room for navigating messages. Enter the BlackBerry 857, which was basically the same device but 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 email/phone device arrived two years later, and the 857's design still influences the look of many smartphones of today.

16. 3dfx Voodoo3 (1999)

Arguments over the best video card of all time quickly degenerate into schoolyard shoving matches, but few will argue against the fact 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 (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)

Early digicams 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 seeming 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, 2x optical zoom lens, and autofocus. Today, digicams continue to take design cues from the ELPH, and Canon's pocket cameras and it's current ELPH, the PowerShot SD630 still maintain the overall look of the original model.

18. Palm Pilot 1000 (1996)

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 Newton, Palm set out to design a portable personal data 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 OS, including its iconic layout, can still be found on current-day Treos.

19. id Software Doom (1993)

If Jack Thompson is right, all of society's ills can probably be traced back to the watershed videogame Doom, which launched the first-person shooter genre into the stratosphere. A shareware title, Doom spread rapidly upon release, and gamers thrilled to its (primitive) 3-D graphics and mod capabilities, which let you take on the role of designer and make your own levels. While purists may argue that we should have selected id's Wolfenstein 3D instead, unlike Doom, it didn't let you wield a chainsaw--possibly the most iconic FPS weapon of all time. Take that, Martian demons!

20. Microsoft Windows 95 (1995)

Many readers will likely remember Windows 95 as a primitive OS with basic functionality (at least by modern standards). But think for a moment what we were evolving from: Windows 3.1, a clunky DOS add-on that most users are probably still trying to scrub from their memories. It only took Microsoft three years to get from 3.1 to 95, and the improvements were nothing short of massive. Yes, we know that there are plenty of Windows for Workgroups 3.11, Windows 98 SE, and Windows 2000 fans, 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.

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 Music Store for 99 cents a track. Despite vocal complaints over its DRM system--purchased music cannot be played on any portable player except for the iPod 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.

22. Nintendo Game Boy (1989)

A monochrome screen, 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 before the Game Boy. 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 sold throughout the years, making it easily the most influential portable gaming device ever constructed.

23. Iomega Zip Drive (1994)

Before broadband, before the ubiquitous writeable CD, there were Zip disks. 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 famous issue), but during the latter half of the 1990s, you really had no other choice. (What, you were going to buy SyQuest cartridges? 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 anti-malware applications. Spybot saw 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.

25. 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.

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