Top 10 tech developments of 1991

Top 10 tech developments of 1991

Summary: ZDNet's 20th anniversary: I was only 17 back in 1991, so my recollection of tech from that time is somewhat hazy, but thanks to the marvels of modern technology and the collective intelligence called The Internet, I've been able to delve into the archives.

TOPICS: Browser, Hardware

I was only 17 back in 1991, so my recollection of tech from that time is somewhat hazy, but thanks to the marvels of modern technology and the collective intelligence called The Internet, I've been able to delve into the archives to bring you the "Top 10 tech developments of 1991."

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1 - The first web site

Let's kick off this list with the single, most important tech development of the past 20 years - The Internet.

The Internet has touched on everything tech related - the way we work, the way we shop, the way we get news and information, the way we learn, the ways we chill out and the way we communicate with family, friends and coworkers. There's hardly a thing that people didn't do 20 years ago that isn't today done differently because of this single invention that allowed a PC on someone's desk or in someone's home to be connected to million of other PCs and servers all across the globe.

If you're guzzling bandwidth over a high-speed DSL connection, spare a though for those browsing he web in 1991, the year when 14.4 kbps modems were introduced. How fast (slow) is that? Well, going full blast, a 14.4 kbps modem would take 9 minutes 15 seconds to download a 1MB file. A 1GB .ISO file would take a a whopping 154 hours, 19 minutes and 15 seconds!

Back in 1991 the first web site was built at the CERN labs and put online on August 6.

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2 - AMD Am386

1991 was also the year when Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) announced its AMD 386 microprocessor which was developed to offer direct competition to Intel's 386 chips, rather than a secondary source of x86 processors. This paved the way for long-term competition in the CPU market, which was good for consumers!

While the Am386 was released in 1991, it was actually developed several years earlier, but held up because of legal action by Intel.

AMD actually managed to squeeze a fair bit more out of the 386 architecture than Intel did, pushing the speed up to 40MHz as opposed to Intel's best of 33MHz. In fact, AMD's 40MHz 386 was so good that it could outperform Intel's 486SX-25 in benchmarks and real-world tests.

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3 - Intel i486SX

In April of 1991 Intel launched the Intel i486SX chip, bringing a lower-cost processor to the PC market. It was a modified i486DX with the FPU (floating-point unit) disabled. In fact, all early were in fact i486DX chips with a defective FPU, with the the FPU's power and bus connections were destroyed with a laser.

The i486SX came in 16, 20 and 25MHz flavors.

Some systems allowed owners to upgrade the installed i486SX to a CPU that featured a FPU. The FPU upgrade chip was called the i487, which was in fact a complete i486DX chip which was installed in a separate upgrade socket on the motherboard and disabled the already installed i486SX.

This CPU was a steal at $258.00!

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4 - Notebook introduced by most PC vendors

Notebooks. We take them for granted nowadays, but back in 1991 they were big, heavy and very expensive. But despite these limitations, business users (and tech enthusiasts) still went out and invested in them. In fact, notebooks were getting so popular that by 1991 most of the hardware OEMs of the time had notebooks in their lineup.

It was also the year that Apple introduced the PowerBook. This came in three flavors (PowerBook 100, 140, and 170), featured a 25MHz Motorola 68030 processor, up to 8MB of RAM. a 640 X 400 monochrome LCD panel, and a 20MB, 40MB, or 80MB SCSI hard drive. The package cost between $2,299 and $4,599, depending on spec!

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5 - First color image scanner

Scanners are another bit of technology that we take for granted in 2011. Nowadays scanners aren't even stand-alone, but are instead combined with printers and fax machines into a single all-in-one device.

Back in 1991 thing were different. In fact, it was the year that HP introduced the first color scanner - the HP Scanjet IIc. This featured single-pass color scanning at 400-dpi resolution, pushing that to 800-dpi resolution with software interpolation techniques. Doesn't sound all that impressive nowadays, but back in 1991 this was something special indeed!

Price ... $1,995.

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6 - First stereo Creative Labs sound card

May of 1991 saw the release of the first stereo sound card. The Blaster Pro, CT1330, released in May 1991, was the first significant redesign of the Sound Blaster's core features. The Sound Blaster Pro supported faster digital sampling rates (up to 22.05 kHz stereo or 44.1 kHz mono), and added features such as a "mixer" to provide a crude master volume control, and a crude high pass/low pass filter.

The Sound Blaster Pro was fully backward compatible with the original Sound Blaster, and the AdLib sound card. The Sound Blaster Pro was also the first Creative sound card to have a built-in CD-ROM interface.

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7 - First multimedia PC standard

The Multimedia PC, or MPC, was a recommended configuration for a PC with a CD-ROM drive created by the "Multimedia PC Marketing Council", which was a working group comprising of companies such as Microsoft, Creative Labs, Dell, and Gateway.

In 1991 the first MPC standard was introduced, consisting of:

  • 16 MHz 386SX CPU
  • 2 MB RAM
  • 30 MB hard disk
  • 256-color, 640×480 VGA video card
  • 1x (single speed) CD-ROM drive using no more than 40% of CPU to read, with < 1 second seek time
  • Sound card outputting 22 kHz, 8-bit sound; and inputting 11 kHz, 8-bit sound
  • Windows 3.0 with Multimedia Extensions

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8 - Symantec releases Norton anti-virus software

1991 was a busy year for viruses. A variant of Stoned called Michaelangelo hit PC users. This was a virus that spent most of its time dormant, but on March 6th is would overwrite the first one hundred sectors of the hard disk. It was also the year that saw the release of the Virus Construction Set which gave pretty much anyone with a PC the ability to create a virus. It was also the year that saw the release of Tequila, a virus which not only featured stealth, was polymorphic and multipartite, but it was also an anti-anti-virus virus.

With so much malware hitting PCs, it was a great time for security firms. Following its acquisition of Peter Norton Computing from Peter Norton, Symantec when on in 1991 to release the Norton anti-virus software. Twenty years on, Norton AntiVirus still exists, and remains one of the most popular, and one of the best performing destop antivirus solutions.

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9 - Microsoft changes the name of OS/2 v3.0 to Windows NT

OS/2 began life as a joint IBM/Microsoft project back in August on 1985. The initial idea was that it would serve as the protected-mode follow-on to PC-DOS. However, in 1990 the partnership started to erode as Microsoft began to see success with Windows 3.0, a platform which sold millions of licenses in the first year and supported a wider range of hardware than OS/2.

In 1991 Microsoft renamed OS/2 v3.0 as Windows NT and left all future OS/2 development to IBM. This was a pivotal move in Microsoft's history as it lead to Windows NT 3.1 in 1993 and eventually the unification of consumer and professional operating systems with the release of Windows XP in 2001 and leading to Windows 7 today.

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10 - Linux

While Microsoft was working on MS-DOS and Windows, Linus Torvald was busy working on the Linux kernel, driven by his frustration with the licensing of the MINIX operating system which limited its use to educational purposes only. Torvald's completed work on the first Linux kernel on August 25, 1991.

While Linux has never really acheived the sort of success on the desktop that many enthusiasts hoped, it has become a very important operating system on servers, embedded devices and on mobile devices.

Note: Tux the Penguin wasn't adopted as the Linux mascot until 1996. Tux was created by Larry Ewing who drew Tun in the first publicly available release of GIMP.

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  • Such a shame that the arbitrary year of 1991 should exclude the Amiga

    The month of December in the year 1990 witnessed the introduction of the Video Toaster from NewTek, Inc.

    Not much more than a year later, Commodore would introduce the Amiga 4000 in 1992 .. a machine that could fully take advantage of the Video Toaster hardware and software.

    Together, this amazing synergy of computer hardware and software would help create memorable scenes from Babylon 5 and SeaQuest DSV only a few years later.

    About the only notable Amiga related event to occur during 1991 was a relatively "humble, modest and quite talented Automotive engineer" using his Amiga 1000 for Corporate reports and video projects that his brothers and sisters at work could only dream of doing on their antiquated '386 based PC's. (Very Big Grin)
    • PowerBook was industry 1st with pad for palms and Active matrix TN display

      @kenosha7777: this is what Adrian forgot to mention.

      Before Apple, keyboard was always at the edge.
  • notebooks are way older than 1991.

    Notebooks were old hat in 1991. The Sony SMC210-DL6 (M35) was 4.77Mhz XT with 640KB RAM and a non-backlit mono CGA screen (color VGA via DB9 on rear) and had two 720KB 3.5" FDDs. We used to load the DOS on one and programs or data on the other. The optional docking station posessed an optional half height Seagate MFM drive and three ISA expansion card sockets. I believe the date codes in mine are from the late 1980's. IIRC it cost about $6500. There are possibly older notebooks as well, as I had collected a few that were similar in architecture and quite heavy. including one that took two 5.25" floppies (unfortunately not microsoft format). I am writing about notebooks here, which area kind of portable computer that opens to have a keyboard on the lower section and a display in the lid. I have differentialted from terminals and luggables.
    • Ah, you missed

      the part about Apple introducing the PowerBook.
      Around here, nothing is 'invented' or considered a valid example until Apple releases one.
      • RE: Top 10 tech developments of 1991

        @mdemuth Apple did have a "laptop" back in 1989 with the Mac Portable, but the PowerBook series of computers are what really set the standard for design and usability of laptops.
      • The PowerBook defined the form factor

        still used for laptops today.

        We could added audio was a key feature of the original Mac (didn't need a SoundBlaster card).

        Multimedia was defined by Quicklime, it's original timebased container format picked by MPEG and more popular today than any other container.

        The MacOS, which defined modern GUI operating systems.

        MacPaint & MacWrite which defined the UI for generations of applications...
        Richard Flude
    • RE: Top 10 tech developments of 1991

      He didn't say they were introduced in 1991, he said 1991 is when they became common enough that every PC manufacturer offered one. Big difference.
      Doctor Demento
      • RE: Top 10 tech developments of 1991

        @Doctor Demento
        In the 1980's the names appearing on the list of "every PC manufacturer" were different than the list of names 1991 but that does not invalidate them. Some notebooks of interest: GRiD Compass 1101 in 1982, Dulmont Magnum in 1982, Sharp PC5000 in 1983, Kaypro 2000 in 1985, Toshiba T-1100 in 1985, IBM PC Convertible in 1986, Toshiba T-1000 and T-1200 in 1987, macintosh Portable in 1989.
        The word "every" in the article, was it meant to be taken literally? Going by common english usage in the context of most ZDnet articles, I'd say no it's a figure of speech. Even if it was literal, it does not matter because the players were different in the 1980's. The fact that IBM and Toshiba are in the 'old' list certainly validates the list is representative of manufacturers from the 1980's. My point is that "every PC manufacturer" offered a laptop before 1991. I push it back to at least 1986.
  • I'm with OPCON

    In the US Army, we had Toshiba 'laptops' for our office computers. 3.5" disks were standard. Grey screen with blue type., etc.... I took mine to Iraq and ran the company HQ the whole time. Just had to worry about dust storms..
  • RE: Top 10 tech developments of 1991

    ...and what was the Super NES? Chopped liver? ;)
  • sdfs

    They are so nice
    Please open the web site: yessoso com
  • RE: Top 10 tech developments of 1991

    The OS/2 story is not quite right.....NT actually had a lot of DEC code in when MS acquired a lot of the DEC programmers..
    I do not remember it being renamed to NT as such as you say above, the next product was NT but not related to OS/2 as such. I believe it was a separate development altogether.
    Leaving that to you to follow up.....
  • RE: Top 10 tech developments of 1991

    What about Paula Abdul's #1 song Rush Rush?