ZDNet 1991 vs. 2011: The more tech changes...

ZDNet 1991 vs. 2011: The more tech changes...

Summary: ZDNet's 20th anniversary: What has ZDNet learned in 20 years? Editor-in-chief Larry Dignan kicks off our special anniversary package by comparing now to then.


We in the tech industry habitually chase the latest greatest thing and portray it as changing the world. In reality, the industry is a continuum of events and technology.

Tech isn't zero sum. In fact, the tech industry is more like a relay race. One new technology takes the baton and moves forward to enable something else.

PCs and Ethernet enabled the Internet -- first with the walled gardens of AOL, Prodigy and Compuserve -- and then the Web browser. Today, we still have the Web with a few walled neighborhoods, such as Facebook. Mainframes were allegedly ditched for client-server architectures. Today, we're back on a more centralized kick with cloud computing.

At ZDNet, we've been fortunate enough to conduct and witness a 20-year relay around the world.

ZDNet's 20 years can be summed up in one word: change. We've had three corporate owners. We had portals, blogs, more personalities than I can mention, booms, busts, different content models and everything in between.

Through it all we've had a loyal reader base. Thank you for joining us daily.

I've been around for two tours of duty on ZDNet and the one constant is the personalities. Today, our blog network in the U.S. has 50 folks covering nearly every aspect of tech and how it applies to business. We have operations around the world.

As I ponder the last 20 years and look forward to the next 20, it's clear that context comes from bringing on the talent that can recognize patterns. What's new today may just be a mashup of a premature computing science project from the 1970s.

ZDNet has the history, newbies and graybeards to create a little perspective when it's all put together.

So what has tech history taught us? The more things change, the more they are kind of the same.

Consider the following:

In 1991 we had a lot of OS choice. Microsoft was duking it out with OS/2 and Unix -- we'll toss in the Mac OS, too.

In 2011, we also have OS choice. Substitute OS/2 for Ubuntu and Unix for Linux -- and toss in the Mac OS. Microsoft is still dominant, but threats are there on PCs. But the real OS choice comparison today is mobile. Here Microsoft is playing catch-up to Apple's iOS and Android. Maybe some new OS sneaks up and thumps all three mobile choices a few years from now.

In 1991, we were mesmerized by newfangled communication tools. Boy, life on Compuserve was great, wasn't it? All that chatting was so wonderful. Oh, and who can forget BBS? We even created Red Light Districts.

In 2011, we're mesmerized by Twitter and Facebook and social networking tools. And yes, we still have a Red Light District. Welcome to .xxx. In the end, we're still yapping and trying to hook up.

In 1991, we were mobile just a bit less so. James Kendrick had a 30-lb. laptop. (He was obviously the coolest kid with a backache.)

In 2011, we're still mobile, but with much lighter devices. Portability -- whatever the definition -- rocks, no matter the decade.

In 1991, there was a big upgrade cycle for these dream enterprise resource planning tools. We were going global.

In 2011, we're global and still getting there. Now ERP systems are the plumbing that enables all the analytics to predict global trends.

In 1991, tech was all about new interfaces. We got downright GUI.

In 2011, we're still all about new interfaces -- mostly TUI (touch user interfaces) like Apple's iOS and Android and NUI (natural user interfaces) like Microsoft's Kinect.

We could go on for a while with the compare and contrast, but you get my point. So happy birthday, ZDNet, and I'm looking forward to the decades ahead.

Larry Dignan is the editor-in-chief of ZDNet.

» Return to ZDNet's 20th Anniversary Special

Topics: Mobility, Apple, Enterprise Software, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software

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  • Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it ...

    ... so it might be worthwhile checking back on mistakes made by businesses and consumers.

    1. Do not believe the marketing hype. Why did we choose VHS over Beta? Why did we choose INTEL over AMD or SPARC? In this respect the media have their journalistic obligation to help the public make the right choice and not be swayed by the company with the best campaign. All very well for ZDNET to argue the pros and cons ... but in the end you have to get off the fence.

    2. Shun the profit driven technology decision (PDTD as I lke to call it). Well at least find out where it is and try to get round it. An example? 'Internet Explorer cannot be removed from Windows'. Such restrictions are everywhere. Compare the design of a vendor SAN, the Backblaze disk array and Google's architecture. Why do you follow like corporate sheep?

    3. Be bold. When you see the cost of enterprise storage ... or that M$ VAIL no longer has drive extender ... isn't it time to entertain a new architecture? (Why no ZFS?) You are being sold (down the river) on fear of failure. Yes, I know 'nobody got fired for buying IBM' .

    4. Keep things interoperable. All the good stuff has come from interworking standards, some joint, some de facto. Of course we want Net Neutrality. We want flash (for now). We want access to adult material (we are adults). Beware those who would take away openness - they want to control the ecosystem for their own ends.

    5. Trust no one. Remember that all major IT global corporates have been fined huge sums by their Governments for unethical and unlawful dealings. See 1. Marketing.

    6. Do not go back to the future. Forty (note not 20) years ago IBM ruled with a centralised computing model based on subscriptions. What, you thought cloud computing was new? Loser.

    Once bitten ...
  • RE: ZDNet 1991 vs. 2011: The more tech changes...

    Yo dudes - go find Fred Davis. He was there and instrumental in a bunch of different efforts. Ask Dan Farber!
  • RE: ZDNet 1991 vs. 2011: The more tech changes...

    1991 - having everything we needed on a 20mb harddrive.
    2011- is 1TB enough on my laptop?
  • My First Internship

    I did my first paid internship at ZDNet - must have been 1997 or 98, right when they were moving operations from Kendall Square in Cambridge to the West Coast. I remember "optimizing" the HTML of the homepage to reduce the number of nested tables! At the time CNET was the competition.<br><br>The next summer I interned in the same office space, but this time for ZDUniversity.<br><br>I think it was that summer that ZDTV was announced and I remember wondering if it would be cool to have an under-age beer during the celebration in the lobby (I didn't - oh well).<br><br>I learned a ton working with Cindy my first summer and then the next summer Gina (by phone from the other coast) and Mark and Dan - and now I'm an AVP of Online Communication for a university. Thanks for getting me off on the right foot ZDNet!
  • RE: ZDNet 1991 vs. 2011: The more tech changes...

    I'm Cindy Wakeman, former Assistant Production Manager of ZDNet Chat. That was a wonderful time in my life, and I miss my buds! I am a Social Media Specialist at this time, chats, boards, that sort of thing.
  • RE: ZDNet 1991 vs. 2011: The more tech changes...

    I applaud ZDNet for the varied topics of interest they've tackled. I am subscribed to a number of them, also through my TiVo I get ZDNet broadcasts of my interests. I was a former subscriber to MacFixIt & VersionTracker which ZDNet bought them, and it's been a bit of a transition for me to get used to the differences, but ZDNet's versions do the job (with a few glitches - to be expected) in keeping my software up to date. Keep up the good work and I look forward to more from ZDNet in the future!

    In 1991 I was computing in the low GHz, now multi-cores processors are the rage. A HD of a 100's MB was sufficient, now we can't get enough GB or TB. Much is related to video/media file sizes, but that's the rage now. Heck, it wasn't much before 1991 that the processor speed I used was measured in MHz! LOL

  • RE: ZDNet 1991 vs. 2011: The more tech changes...

    The first emails from ZDNet on my computer here were the Anchor Desk emails by Jesse Berst and I received the first ones in 1996. For example "Jesse Berst Tells When It's Stupid to Spend Less"

    A ZDNet Reader
  • RE: ZDNet 1991 vs. 2011: The more tech changes...

    I was an early member of Compuserve... I have fond memories spent surfing the Net and online chatting. And I remember the horrors of those who went beyond their minute allotments, resulting in $400-$500 charges!

    A time when you could go in a chat room, and say your real name, post your email address in the open, without fear of harassment, spam, etc.

    The Net no longer has that innocence... but the amount of information available when needed, still makes it worthwhile.

    Happy Birthday ZDNet!
  • RE: ZDNet 1991 vs. 2011: The more tech changes...

    I used to write for PC Magazine through the 90s (utility columns). The biggest thing that has changed that I've not seen mentioned is that back then, PCs were not universal. Being the sort of person who had a PC made you part of a select group, with assumed common interests.

    But once PCs became ubiquitous, we lost the sense of community. PC Magazine, when I wrote for it, was the thickest magazine on the newsstand. Now it's almost a pamphlet...
  • Remember gopher?

    Twenty or so years ago, I was setting up a gopher server, when the World Wide Web burst on the scene and blew gopher out of the water.
  • Another Service

    Some I noticed remembered the days of Compu$erve and its features (including the chat/CB) .. one that seems to have disappeared too was GEnie ... and the days of the PDP 8 ... when motherboards were hinged and floppy drives were the size of breadboxes. Remember the old Apple II floppy drives w/the steel housing? Or, what about 8" floppy drives and CP/M?
  • RE: ZDNet 1991 vs. 2011: The more tech changes...

    Computer Shopper - a giant compendium of all things in the primitive world, a Whole Earth Catalog for the geek. This was back in the dim mists of time, when CompuServe was text based and s l o w. We were building our own 8 bit MPU's out of Motorola 6800 series chips. What a time.
  • RE: ZDNet 1991 vs. 2011: The more tech changes...

    ZD, when I was a noob, you and the boards where my savior. Hope the best for you. Congrats and GOD bless. I remember ordering from computer shopper, WOW. Still read the "news", and always will.
  • RE: ZDNet 1991 vs. 2011: The more tech changes...

    When ZiffNet began in 1991, I was a Compuserve subscriber and loved the add-ons and things that went with it.

    I have remained a loyal ZDNet subscriber, even though twenty years have passed, and along with it my connection to Compuserve.

    I look forward to reading comments, product comparisons and the myriad of other things one can find on your site(s). This may be (but this isn't the only reason) because I don't live in the continental USA and your sites expose me to a lot of technological advances that I ordinarily wouldn't encounter in a daily basis. (My kids call me a technophobe, but I like your style--easy to understand even for a non-techie like me.)
  • RE: ZDNet 1991 vs. 2011: The more tech changes...

    Excelent articles and publications. Congratuliation for the editors.
    Ruben Arosemena
  • RE: ZDNet 1991 vs. 2011: The more tech changes...

    1993- purchased my first computer. (Packard-Bell). Wife walks in to the office later that week, and I had it in parts all over the desktop. "What are you doing?" she says. "Figuring out how it works" I replied. Had been reading on BBS about parts, so I was able to put it pack together and get it running after just a little while.
    Oh! And I upgraded the memory as well. I think it was two 1/2 meg chips for $400.
  • RE: ZDNet 1991 vs. 2011: The more tech changes...

    I don't always agree... but I always come back. Keep it up!
  • RE: ZDNet 1991 vs. 2011: The more tech changes...

    With hindsight we see, 2 decades ago...we were sayin' "buh-byee" to the 'analog cave' and grasping the future as 'digital dwellers' going mainstream. The pace of innovation has accelerated considerably and ZDNet has fostered great understanding of these advances. Thank You! Diana a former dweeb (computer hobbyist)... now...hip techie.
  • PZ Madness?

    What about the actual face-to-face get togethers in NYC when PCExpo was in town? I remember hanging out with the ZD gang at some local restaurant once the trade show closed for the night (back when I could actually go into NYC without getting massive migraines).
  • RE: ZDNet 1991 vs. 2011: The more tech changes...

    Wow! I wasn't expecting a 5-star review. I would of picked this up regardless of the review because I loved the original, but it is a nice surpris

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