Deservedly included on PC World's " Ugliest Products in Tech History" list, the external acoustic-coupler modem (1965) turned luggable computers into network interfaces using ordinary telephones, at a blazing 300bps.
Commercial cell networks debuted in 1983, for huge phones that were confined to vehicles. Now mobile phones fit in our pockets, serve more than a billion subscribers worldwide and apparently prevent everyone around you from talking in a normal tone of voice or ever shutting up for even a second.
Creating a personal connection to the Internet, let alone finding anything you were looking for, was a challenge until 1989, when proto-ISP owner Steve Case founded America Online to make the Net a little less off-putting to his own customers. AOL begat CompuServe, which begat the Web, which begat social networks like Facebook.
The first personal digital assistant (or PDA), the Newton was pathetically unsuccessful. But when it debuted in 1992, it changed our expectation of how convenient computer automation should be and introduced the idea that all of our critical information should be available wherever we are, no matter what we're doing.
Wi-Fi home router
Before Italian ISP Fastweb added Wi-Fi in 2001 and turned cable modems into wireless Internet gateways, building networks was too complicated and expensive for most consumers. Round-the-clock wireless Internet access is now considered as essential in most homes and businesses as electricity, heat, water and gadget-envy.
When, in an effort to make it easier to connect to documents across the Internet, Tim Berners-Lee invented HTTP, HTML and the URL, and published it in 1991. Life as we knew it stopped to wait for users to return from "browsing" for interesting things online. As far as we know, no one has returned so far.
Fogarty writes about enterprise IT. You can follow him on Twitter ( @KevinFogarty).
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