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A tech top 10 for the 2000s

If you want to set your head to spinning (or just feel old), take a moment to remember the technology you used in 1999 -- how you connected to the Internet, what was on your computer, how you stayed in touch with friends, what gadgets you might have taken with you when you left the house. Then think about what's replaced those items since then.

It's an impressive difference, no? For all the grief I give computers and consumer electronics, they have advanced immensely over this decade. So as part of our "Best of the Decade" series, I put together a list of the top 10 consumer-tech developments of the 2000s ... or the Oughts ... or whatever you want to call this about-to-conclude decade. How would you rank these?

Read on after the jump to see why I included each contender. Then stop by an extra Web chat this Wednesday, from noon to 1 p.m., when we can discuss the decade's technological progress -- or share bittersweet memories of cellphones with pull-out antennas, 30-pound CRT monitors and Windows Millennium Edition.


So why did I pick these items for my list?

Mozilla Firefox: This browser rolled back Microsoft's monopoly, introduced millions of users to open-source software and made Web standards a market reality that no sane Web developer could ignore.

iPhone: Apple's smartphone demolished the conceit that wireless carriers knew phones best, thanks to its clever touchscreen interface, a Web browser that largely erased the distinction between the mobile and the "real" Web, and its simple App Store, among other achievements.

iTunes Store: Apple's digital marketplace was the first site to provide non-user-hostile access to music downloads from all the major record labels, built the foundation of the App Store, and ushered in the demise of "digital rights management" restrictions on music downloads.

Windows XP: Microsoft's 2001-vintage operating system has something of dishonorable-mention status on this list--while it fixed major stability issues in Windows, it required years of patches to address gaping security holes. And now Microsoft can't seem to make it go away; with its continued bundling on many netbooks, XP has already outlived its successor Windows Vista.

Gmail: The first of a family of Web apps from Google showed that the Mountain View, Calif., company woke up a Web-mail market with its crafty use of Web standards to provide an experience akin to that of a desktop mail program. It also taught users to ignore a site's "beta" status and expect Web applications to be free.

Wii: Nintendo's revolutionary video-game console broke with industry tradition with a remote that you control not by pressing combinations of buttons, but by moving it through space (hopefully without pitching it into your TV). Its success despite a lack of high-definition output showed that progress in video games had ceased to be a matter of beating the box specifications of competing consoles.

LCD TV: Plasma sets came first, but it was liquid-crystal-display technology that wound up shipping in more sets, in more sizes and at cheaper prices, in the process ensuring the demise of cathode-ray-tube sets. Now try to add up all the millions of cubic feet of space Americans have regained in their living rooms by replacing CRTs with LCDs.

Facebook: The social network isn't just a colossal, collective distraction (though it serves that function quite well); its status updates have become their own weird form of compressed literature and paved the way for Twitter, while its frequent privacy screwups have awakened many users to the risks of oversharing online.

GPS: The Global Positioning System predates this decade, but it wasn't until 2000 that the government ended the "selective availability" policy that made GPS a little too inaccurate for daily use--a move that allowed location-based software to make its way into cars, handheld navigation units, smartphones, laptops and even cameras and camcorders.

Flash memory: If compact, durable flash memory had not gotten so cheap so quickly over this decade, digital cameras, camcorders and MP3 players would have arrived later and in bulkier form.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  December 14, 2009; 10:31 AM ET
Categories:  The business we have chosen  
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Facebook? Really? I can see all of the others, but we've moved from Friendster to Myspace to Facebook over the last 8 years. I don't think Facebook has a lasting innovation, it's just the current stopping point for social networking with a modestly improved interface over previous versious. Everything else on the list provides innovation that may well last.

Posted by: ah___ | December 14, 2009 2:26 PM | Report abuse

I think you've under-rated GPS. This has a wider effect on our lives than most people realize. From bus tracking to public safety (police/fire/EMS) response to package delivery to personal transportation, the ubiquity of GPS service touches all of us and improves lives every day.

Text messaging is another item that didn't make the list, but should have, certainly ahead of the Wii.

Posted by: pjgeraghty | December 14, 2009 2:55 PM | Report abuse

I'd keep Facebook on the list (but at #10) for providing the tipping point to get non-techies involved.

Posted by: Hemisphire | December 14, 2009 3:38 PM | Report abuse

First of all, you spelled "aughts" wrong.

Second, we are talking about the whole decade? If you think back ten years, I think that iPod/iTunes has changed how more people manage and listen to music (and even video, though to a lesser extent) than what the iTunes Music Store (though I can see the argument for that - no more buying an entire album for one or two good songs) or what the iPhone has done. While I realize that the iPod and iTunes weren't exactly doing things for the first time, I'm not sure that you couldn't say the same thing about Firefox, the iPhone, etc. Maybe knock gmail out of there; gmail is just fancy HoTMaiL or Yahoo Mail, after all.

I think I might add space for YouTube - perhaps knocking out the Wii.

Posted by: doog | December 14, 2009 5:31 PM | Report abuse

I think you missed a really important milestone product - the pdf. It is pervasive and prior to it's development cross platform sharing took a college degree to achieve. Personally, I don't think Windows XP should be on the list. It is what it is by default, not by design. I'd also remove gmail for the same reasons a previous reader stated. The one thing I really object to on your list is Facebook.It may be social networking at it's "best", read "biggest", but I believe it hasn't got a single socially redeeming value. You could substitute the word "marijuana" for the word "Facebook" in your description and it would remain just as factual. You would, of course, then have to substitute "crack" or the name of some newer drug for the word "Twitter" to be really accurate.

Posted by: john_in_dallas | December 15, 2009 12:15 PM | Report abuse

This is a great list, Rob. You nailed them!

Posted by: rjrjj | December 15, 2009 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Flash drives priced for everyone. I remember a boss of mine bought one many years was about 400 bucks for maybe 2 GB...those are tossed in your shopping bag now as a thank you.

Posted by: tbva | December 15, 2009 2:45 PM | Report abuse

I find it hard to believe that Facebook has been more important/influential than Wikipedia. Wikipedia has been genuinely disruptive in proving the concept that things of value can be created by an anonymous self-organizing crowd, while Facebook is the latest iteration of Friendster, Myspace, etc.

Otherwise, I like the list.

Posted by: khuff | December 16, 2009 1:16 AM | Report abuse

Shame on you for missing Wikipedia. I find it far more useful than Google or Yahoo for all kinds of info, even links to commercial web sites. Wikipedia will outlast fads like Facebook and Twitter simply because it does what it set out to do -- organize the world's knowledge in an easily accessible form.

Although Linux has not caught on like Firefox and, Linus Torvalds first showed how a dispersed community can create tremendously large and complicated systems. Um, well, Linux is from the '90s, sorry, but can we give credit to Ubuntu, the first truly user-friendly Unix?

Posted by: SoloOwl | December 18, 2009 9:12 PM | Report abuse

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