Tech Survivors: Geek Technologies That Still Thrive 25 to 50 Years Later

These 17 technologies remain core to the computing experience for IT, engineers, and developers.

17 Fundamental Technologies That Have Stood the Test of Time

The technology landscape has seen many technologies come and go (RIP, Fortran, MS-DOS, NetWare, Lotus 1-2-3, and VAX/VMS).

But if you look around, you'll see some fundamental technologies in widespread use that have withstood the test of time, going strong after 25 years -- even 50 in some cases. Join me now in a celebratory tour of a special group of high tech's still-kicking senior citizens: the technologies that geeks know and love, and that tend to make a lot of everyday technology work.

Cobol: 1960

Developed by a government/industry consortium, the Common Business-Oriented Language became the standard for financial and other enterprise software systems, and is still in use today in legacy systems that power many government, financial, industrial, and corporate systems.

Virtual Memory: 1962

A team of researchers at the University of Manchester working on the Atlas project invented a way for computers to recycle memory space as they switched programs and users. This enabled the time-sharing concept to be realized.

ASCII: 1963

The American Standard Code for Information Interchange, which defines how English-language letters, numerals, and symbols are represented by computers, was formalized in 1963. Today, it's been extended from 128 characters to 256 to accommodate accented letters, and is being replaced by the multilingual Unicode standard (created in 1988), which still uses the ASCII codes at its core.

OLTP: 1964

IBM invented OLTP (online transaction processing) when it created the Sabre airline reservation system for American Airlines. It linked 2,000 terminals (via telephone) to a pair of IBM 5070 computers to handle reservations processing in just seconds. The fundamental OLTP architecture is in use today in everything from e-commerce to, well, airline reservations. (Sabre terminal image courtesy of IBM.)

IBM System/360 Mainframe: 1964

It cost IBM $5 billion to develop the family of six mutually compatible computers and 40 peripherals that could work together, but within a few years, it was selling more than 10,000 mainframe systems a year. The System/360 architecture remains in use today as the backbone for current IBM mainframes. (Image courtesy of IBM.)

MOS Chip: 1967

Fairchild Semiconductor invented the first MOS (metal-oxide semiconductor), the technology still used for computer chips today in the form known as CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semicondctor). The original Fairchild CPU handled eight-bit arithmetic. Note: Jack Kilby created the first integrated circuit at Texas Instruments in 1958, using a different process based on silver. (Image courtesy of Fairchild Semiconductor.)

C: 1969

Bell Labs' Dennis Ritchie designed the C programming language to use with the then-new Unix operating system. The C language is arguably the most popular programming language in the world -- even today -- and has spawned many variants.

Unix: 1969

Kenneth Thompson and Dennis Ritchie at Bell Labs developed the Unix operating system as a single-processor version (for use on minicomputers) of Multics OS, a multiuser, multitasking OS for time sharing and file management created earlier in the decade for mainframes.

FTP: 1971

MIT student Abhay Bhushan developed the File Transfer Protocol (first known as the RFC 114 draft standard). He later helped develop the protocols used for email and the ARPAnet defense network.

Ethernet: 1973

Robert Metcalfe (later InfoWorld's publisher and then longtime columnist) invented the networking connection standard, which became commercialized in 1981. Its successors are now a ubiquitous standard for physical networking.

x86 CPU Architecture: 1978

Intel's 8086 processor debuted what became known as the x86 architecture that today still forms the underpinnings of the Intel and AMD chips used in nearly all PCs, including those that run Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X.

Gnu: 1983

Richard Stallman, who later formed the Free Software Foundation, didn't like the notion of software being controlled by corporations, so he set out to produce a free version of AT&T's Unix based on the principles espoused in his book "The Gnu Manifesto." The result was Gnu, an incomplete copy that languished until Linus Torvalds incorporated much of it in 1991 into the Linux operating system, which today powers so many servers.

Tape Drive: 1984

IBM's 3480 cartridge tape system replaced the bulky, awkward tape reels (both are shown here) that defined computer storage since the 1960s with the enclosed drive systems still in use today. IBM discontinued the 3480 tape cartridge in 1989, but by then its format was widely adopted by competitors, ensuring its survival. (Image courtesy of IBM.)

TCP/IP: 1984

Although adopted by the military's ARPAnet in 1980, the first formal version of the TCP/IP protocol was agreed to in 1984, setting the foundation for what has now become a universal data protocol that undergirds the Internet and most corporate networks.

PostScript: 1985

John Warnock and Charles Geschke of Adobe Systems created the PostScript page description language at the behest of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs for use in the Apple LaserWriter. PostScript was an adaptation of the InterPress language that Adobe created in 1982 for use in laser printers, which were beginning to emerge from the labs into commercial products. PostScript is still used in some printers today, but its primary function is as the foundation for PDF.

ATA and SCSI: 1986

Two pivotal and long-lasting data cabling standards emerged the same year: SCSI and ATA. The Small Computer Systems Interface defined the cabling and communication protocol for what became the standard disk connection format for high-performance systems. SCSI originated in 1978 as the proprietary Shugart Associates System Interface and competed with the ATA (aka IDE) interface that also debuted in 1986 with Compaq's PCs, but the ATA specification was not formally standardized (under the ATAPI name) until 1994. SCSI today is mainly used in server storage, whereas ATA has been continues to be used in desktop PCs in both parallel (PATA) and serial (SATA) versions.

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