Not to put too fine a point on it, but as decades go, the '00s sucked. It's hard to imagine a worse beginning than the dot-com bust followed by 9-11. And the Great Recession as a grand finale? Good riddance! I can hardly wait for the Teens.
Yet somehow technology kept barreling along. In business, the shift from client-server to Web, from proprietary and expensive to open and commoditized, was stunning in its swiftness. The impact on IT was a little more chaotic than we might have liked, but plummeting costs had the effect of driving technology into every corner of the enterprise. Predictions of IT's irrelevancy proved exactly wrong.
[ Hindsight is easy. For a look ahead, click your way through InfoWorld's top 10 emerging enterprise technologies of 2009. ]
Looking back on the '00s, I found it pretty easy to pick the five technologies I thought had the greatest impact on business. Remember, these weren't invented during the decade, but all of them most certainly came into their own in the '00s:
1. Linux. If you were going to name the '00s after any single technology, you might as well call it the Linux decade. The first Linux kernel was released in 1991, but mainstream enterprise adoption of Linux was decidedly a '00s thing. Not only did Linux open up a whole new role for x86 hardware, it changed the economics and development model of the software business forever.
2. XML. First recommended to the W3C in 1998, XML didn't really get rolling until 2002 or so. Today XML is the universal standard for document and data exchange, enabling everything from enterprise application integration to RSS. Every major commercial DBMS now claims "native XML" capability. The degree to which different business systems can exchange data smoothly may be pathetic compared to what it should be in 2009, but XML gets much of the credit for the inroads we've made so far.
3. Server virtualization. I have a vivid memory of Diane Greene, then CEO of VMware, sitting in InfoWorld's offices in 2004 explaining how virtualization worked. It was an "oh wow" rather than an "a ha" moment, although I can't pretend to have guessed the impact the technology would have. The idea of divvying up one server into many virtual machines seemed more like an academic exercise than a commercial boon, until I understood how desperately underutilized most servers were. We may never again witness anything like the pace at which server virtualization has been adopted. Enterprise IT normally doesn't jump on anything that fast.