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

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.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

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.

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