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Time to recall faded digital pioneers

Both Windows 95 and MacBook Air are not very relevant in a global context. Sabeer Bhatia’s Hotmail (1996) was a path-breaking pioneer in offering free Web-based e-mail, writes N Madhavan.

columns Updated: Dec 23, 2013 13:15 IST
N Madhavan

Last week, Walt Mossberg wrote the last of his celebrated technology columns for The Wall Street Journal, and listed what he thought were the top 12 products that changed the digital industry.

These started with the Newton Message Pad (of which I know very little) and other predictable ones that include Netscape Navigator (the pathbreaking Internet browser), Windows 95, The Palm Pilot, Google Search, the Apple iPod, Facebook, Twitter, iPhone, Android, the MacBook Air and the iPad.

In my humble opinion, that is a very American way of looking at things. I would gladly acknowledge most, but I think both Windows 95 and MacBook Air perhaps are less relevant in a global context. I would put Sabeer Bhatia’s Hotmail (1996) as a path-breaking pioneer in offering free Web-based e-mail, which remains the quiet force making the Internet what it is.

Also, I would include two other revolutionary developments. ICQ, founded in 1996 in Israel and later acquired by America Online (AOL), was the first peer-to-peer messenger that eventually inspired Yahoo and MSN messengers, and ultimately, group messaging services like WhatsApp. I just discovered that ICQ still exists, having evolved to Android versions and social networks!

Then came Napster (1999) that made youngsters controversially share songs in MP3 formats without copyright concerns in peer-to-peer file sharing through a maverick software. I should think this is what forced the success in 2001 of the iPod as a music player. It changed hands after that and kind of faded away, but not before revolutionizing music!