A dozen big names: But where were they in 1999?

What a difference a decade makes. ZDNet UK looks at what 12 big-name technology figures were doing back in 1999
Written by Wendy M Grossman, Contributor on

Ten years is a long time in technology. Enough for five or six cycles of Moore's Law, which means the tech at the end works 64 times better — or costs a sixty-fourth as much. But Moore's Law does not apply to people, and most of us ended up doing much the same thing in 2009 as we did in 1999.

That's not true of some, of course. The rapid pace of change of technology, and the extreme reactions of the market to the potentials and pitfalls of world-changing inventions, has taken some talented people and changed their lives dramatically.

We look at 12 people whose decades changed radically — for better or for worse — by their involvement in tech, and the ways their lives have changed our own.

Steve Case
Founder and CEO of AOL
Now Founder and CEO of Revolution LLC
Steve Case
Probably the event that most clearly marked the height of the dot-com madness was the merger between traditional media company Time Warner and the then-new media darling AOL, announced in January 2000. It landed AOL's already famous chief executive, Steve Case, on the cover of Time magazine with Time Warner chief executive Gerald Levin.

The merged company took AOL's New York Stock Exchange symbol, and awarded its shareholders 55 percent of the new company. Shortly afterwards, AOL's subscriber base began to shrink, and it has never recovered.

In 2005, Case, who resigned from the Time Warner board of directors that same year, wrote in The Washington Post that he thought it would be best to undo the merger, which is now Time Warner's plan. Case has gone on to head Revolution, an investment firm . Revolution's stated goal is to shift power to consumers, much like Case's goals with AOL.

It is easy to forget it now, but AOL was the first online service to use graphical interfaces and focus on ease of use for consumers. The 'walled garden' approach lost out to the open standards of the internet, but AOL was an important stage in opening up the online world to the mass market.

Shawn Fanning
Founding the original Napster
Now Turning 30 and starring in Volkswagen commercialsImage credit: CBSnews.com
Shawn Fanning
Napster, which launched early in 1999, kicked off two things: first, the career of Shawn Fanning (pictured left, credit: CBSNews.com), then a 19-year-old computer programmer working for his uncle during Christmas break from Northeastern University; second, the file-sharing wars.

Napster, which operated a central server that maintained an index of the MP3s available on everyone's computers, created a wildly new and effective distribution system that was extremely efficient and massively uncontrollable.

Sued almost as soon as it launched, Napster was shut down within two years. But its legacy lives on in the form of increasingly decentralised and harder-to-control peer-to-peer file-sharing technologies — first Gnutella, then eDonkey and latterly BitTorrent. It can also be blamed for the drive, 10 years on, for hugely intrusive and powerful laws to monitor and regulate internet access.

Fanning continued to be ahead of the curve. In 2003, he and other Napster veterans set up Snocap, intended as a way for rights holders to register their content. Snocap was designed to offer the technology to digital content providers as a way of enabling legal file-sharing services.

In 2008, Snocap was acquired by social media company Imeem, which still uses the technology. By then, Fanning was gone. In 2006, he developed Rupture, a social-networking tool he described to the Los Angeles Times as "Twitter for gamers". Rupture has since been acquired by Electronic Arts for $15m (£9m). In 2008, Fanning appeared in commercials for Volkswagen, directed by Roman Coppola. All this, and Fanning doesn't even turn 30 until next year.

Kim Polese
Founder and CEO of Java-based start-up Marimba
Now CEO of open-source company SpikeSource
Kim Polese
Running a slightly mysterious start-up in 1999's hottest technology area, Java, Kim Polese's picture was everywhere. Smart, energetic, young — she turned 40 in 2001 — and attractive, she was the poster child for not only new technology, but also a new generation of technologically-savvy women.

In 1997, Time magazine listed her as one of the 25 most-influential Americans. A seven-year veteran of Sun, where she was the original Java product manager, she co-founded the Java-based company Marimba in 1996, taking it public in 1999 and eventually selling it to BMC Software for $239m in 2004.

In her time at Sun, Polese was the guiding force behind marketing Java and, as Tim Berners-Lee had done with the web, she made a key decision: to make Java royalty-free so it would see widespread adoption. This track record makes Polese's present job entirely logical: SpikeSource provides a platform for testing, packaging, distributing and maintaining software of all kinds.

Polese also serves on many boards and councils, including the Global Security Institute, the Long Now Foundation and the University of California President's Board on Science and Innovation.

Carly Fiorina
Now Running for the US Senate
Carly Fiorina
While there had been other female technology company chief executives before — most notably Carol Bartz, the long-serving head of Autodesk, and Meg Whitman, who was appointed to lead eBay in 1998 — Carly Fiorina's appointment to lead HP in 1999 was the most prominent in the industry to date and led Fortune to list her as the most powerful woman in business from 1998 to 2004.

She spearheaded the heavily contested merger between HP and Compaq, and suggested as early as 2000 that HP should acquire the consultancy firm EDS. The acquisition was eventually completed in 2008. But by 2005, HP's share price had halved and the board forced her out, paying $20m (£12m) in severance.

Fiorina now sits on corporate and academic boards, including Steve Case's Revolution Health Group and MIT's board of trustees. She was a fundraiser for the Republican National Committee in 2008 and participated in the John McCain presidential campaign.

Fiorina spent early 2009 in treatment for breast cancer. Saying she is officially cured, she kicked off her campaign to replace Democrat Barbara Boxer as senator from California in November 2009, roughly the same time as Whitman launched her campaign to be governor of the same state.

Colly Myers
CEO of Symbian
Now CEO of 63336
Colly Myers
In 1999, Symbian had just been spun off from original PDA manufacturer, Psion, with the intention of turning its operating system, Epoc, into the dominant one for smartphones.

Colly Myers, who left his native Zimbabwe for South Africa and then England in 1977, led the effort to develop Epoc from the beginning. He went to Symbian as chief executive. The company was jointly owned by Ericsson, Nokia, Motorola and Psion.

Myers left Symbian in 2001, interested in finding a new challenge now he had fulfilled his lifelong ambition of writing a 32-bit virtual operating system. He knew he wanted to do something in mobile phones and wanted a large market in which even a small success could achieve noticeable size.

With a couple of other colleagues from Symbian, he decided to reinvent internet search for phones, and created the premium text question-answering service 63336, formerly known as AQA. The company depends on freelance researchers who answer questions at high speed from a combination of its ever-growing database of answers and quick-fire internet searches.

Symbian, now running on roughly 50 percent of smartphones, was fully acquired by Nokia in 2008. The operating system has been handed over to the not-for-profit Symbian Foundation to manage as an open-source, royalty-free platform.

Jeff Hawkins and Donna Dubinsky
Co-founders of PDA company Handspring
Now Co-founders of Numenta
Jeff Hawkins
Jeff Hawkins [pictured] and Donna Dubinsky are a long-running partnership with complementary skills: he does the big ideas, she runs the companies.

Together, they have co-founded three companies: Palm in 1992, which created the first commercially successful handheld PDA; Palm offshoot Handspring in 1996, which launched one of the earliest smartphones, the Treo; and most recently Numenta in 2005, set up to commercialise research on Hawkins's theories about hierarchical temporal memory.

Hawkins was always interested in the workings of the mind, and from the beginning one of his goals with Palm was to make it big and successful enough to allow him to dabble in brains.

In 2002, he published his book On Intelligence, and he and Dubinsky set up the Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience. The commercial arm, Numenta, is building software that the company calls a "cross between computer science and neuroscience" to create a learning architecture designed to enable computers to solve the hard problems that are beyond reach today.

Marc Andreessen
CEO of Netscape
Now Co-founder of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz
Marc Andreessen
The fortunes of Netscape neatly bracketed the dot-com boom. If the AOL-Time Warner merger marked its last excess, the beginning is widely held to have been the 1995 flotation of Netscape, the company founded by Andreessen to commercialise the original Mosaic browser.

That IPO, followed up in 1996 with a Time magazine cover featuring a barefoot Andreessen, kicked off four years of giddy optimism about the prospective fortunes of even the most loss-making internet companies.

In 1998, AOL bought Netscape, although the stock traded independently until 2003.

Netscape itself went from being the dominating browser, with over 90 percent market share, to practically vanishing from the scene in the infamous browser wars with Microsoft. However, it lives on in two ways.

First, it was at Netscape that the secure protocol SSL was written. Second, when AOL bought the browser, it also open-sourced the code. While the code itself was eventually abandoned, the project it spawned formed the beginning of the Mozilla Foundation and Firefox.

Andreessen is chair of Ning, which provides a platform that allows people to create their own social networks, and a member of the boards of HP, eBay and Facebook.

In 2009, he co-founded venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz with long-time colleague Ben Horowitz. The firm intends to invest in new companies based in Silicon Valley.

Eva Pascoe
Founder of the original Cybercafe
Now Not posting at www.pascoe.com
Eva Pascoe
In the dial-up early 1990s, it was not uncommon to have to go without internet access all day, and it did not take long for several people to come up with the idea of the internet café. Eva Pascoe, however, was the person who succeeded in opening the first one, Cyberia, in London's Whitfield Street.

Pascoe, a Pole who came to Britain to study cognitive psychology, had been supporting herself by knitting jumpers and selling them on market stalls.

In 2004, she reminisced about the experience for the BBC's Woman's Hour, noting that a key element of opening the café was her desire to make the internet friendlier for women. In Poland, she noted, there were a lot of women engineers who were very comfortable with technology. The then British attitude was that computers were boys' toys.

It was, she added, a terrible disappointment that 80-90 percent of Cyberia's customers in the first three years were male. Still, she offered training courses for women and watched attitudes change.

Pascoe sold Cyberia to three Korean investors in 1998, but by then she was a national figure: her portrait hangs in the National Gallery. For a time she wrote a column about the internet for The Independent newspaper, and in 2000 became managing director of the now-vanished online clothing retailer Zoom.

Since then, Pascoe has gone quiet. Her website seems to have no material dated after 2004. Internet cafés, however, are everywhere.

Mark Zuckerberg
Founder and CEO of Facebook
Then At high school
Mark Zuckerberg
Many American universities publish books introducing the incoming freshman class every year, with photographs. At Cornell in the 1970s, it was known as the 'pig book', because all the photographs were awful.

It was from poring over such a book at Harvard in 2003 that Mark Zuckerberg eventually derived the idea for Facebook, which now hosts the personal connections of 350 million users.

Next for Zuckerberg is the 2010 release of the Aaron Sorkin-penned movie The Social Network, in which Zuckerberg will be played by Jesse Eisenberg.

In 1999 Zuckerberg, who grew up in the Westchester suburbs north of New York City, turned 15. He was already a programmer. While still in high school, he had offers from Microsoft and AOL for a music player he had written. Instead, he went to Harvard, dropped out and became America's richest man aged under 25.

Martha Lane Fox
Founder and CEO of Lastminute.com
Now The UK's digital inclusion champion
Martha Lane Fox
Relatively few high-profile internet companies founded in the UK before the dot-com boom have survived with name intact. One of the few is online travel company Lastminute.com, founded in 1998 by Martha Lane Fox and Brent Hoberman — though it has not survived as an independent company.

Despite a high-profile initial public offering in 2000 that valued the company at £557m, Travelocity acquired it for the same price in 2005 — which, at 165p a share, was 215p below the IPO price.

The digital divide was a concern among policy makers from the internet's earliest days. It is easy to forget how far the internet fails to penetrate. The highly visible Fox, who also sits on the boards of Channel 4 and Marks & Spencer, took on the job of digital inclusion champion in 2009 for a two-year campaign to promote online access to the British public.

Philip 'Pud' Kaplan
Owner and author of website and book, Fuckedcompany.com
Now Entrepreneur in residence at Charles River Ventures
Philip Kaplan
Everyone's loss is someone's gain. During the dot-com bust, the place to go to indulge in schadenfreude was Fuckedcompany.com, where disgruntled soon-to-be-former employees posted the bad news about their companies and shared their misery and experience.

There were, of course, plenty of companies' misfortunes to track — from the extravagant, high-speed flame-out of the ill-conceived fashion retailer Boo.com to Wolff New Media, chronicled by its founder, Michael Wolff, in his 1997 book Burn Rate.

The site's proprietor, Philip Kaplan, who styled himself as 'Pud' when posting, got a book out of the site that was sadly less fun to read than it sounds, although it retains considerable value as a historical catalogue of who spent what and at whose expense.

Kaplan has gone on to code software and run other sites, and he still posts under the Pud soubriquet on Twitter.

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