Top 50 Minds Behing the Technology of Today part 2
11. Gordon Moore
11. Gordon Moore
You can't go wrong with a guy who's got his own scientific law, can you? Moore's Law, posited in 1965, three years before Gordon Moore founded a little company called Intel, predicted that the number of components on a computer chip would double every year (later, he amended it to every two years). As Intel notes, Moore's Law remains the "guiding principle for the semiconductor industry"; but, in truth, every field of high-tech -- from hard drives to TVs -- validates to some degree the almighty Law of Moore. Moore remains involved with Intel, which -- at 40 years old -- may be No. 1 on the list of companies that Silicon Valley could not exist without.
12. Bill Atkinson
Mouse up to your PC's File menu, open a new window, and thank Bill Atkinson for being able to do that. His early ideas regarding user interface design elements like the menu bar became graphical user interface standbys not just on Apple computers (where he worked), but on every major operating system that has followed. As a programmer, Atkinson designed MacPaint, QuickDraw and HyperCard, a sort of proto-Web system that clearly inspired the creation of the World Wide Web. After starting his own company, General Magic, Atkinson mostly retired from tech to work as a nature photographer.
13. Steve Case
Don't laugh. The brainchild of Steve Case, America Online, was a big deal back in the early 1990s. The timing was perfect for a service that offered online training wheels for millions of intrigued but anxious people looking for an introduction to the World Wide Web. AOL pioneered more than just the chat rooms for which it became infamous. Case launched "Neverwinter Nights" -- one of the first MMOs (massively multiplayer online games) -- was an early champion of user avatars, and (most notoriously) started the blending of online and big media by selling out to Time Warner in 2001. Not such great timing there, alas.
Quick, check your pockets. Whether you're toting an iPhone, a Razr or an enV, you owe a debt to Martin Cooper and his 1973 patent responsible for the mobile phone as we know it. His invention, created during his tenure at Motorola, weighed just shy of 2 pounds, and 10 years would pass before mobile phones broke the 1-pound barrier. Cooper is still active in the telephone business. His company ArrayComm develops antenna technology so today's 2-ounce phones can reach their network.
15. Nolan Bushnell
Atari is synonymous with video gaming -- so much so that the name remains in use (though now far removed from founder Nolan Bushnell, the undisputed father of video gaming) 36 years after it originated. Bushnell's inspiration -- a world where everyone could play games in the comfort of their own home -- is a rare instance where the vision panned out almost exactly as envisioned. Though no one is thrilling over Atari's consoles any more, Atari and Bushnell paved the way for every video game platform that has followed.
16. Vint Cerf
Turing Award. National Medal of Technology. Presidential Medal of Freedom. Vint Cerf has one of the most impressive résumés in technology. Cerf's work as an Internet pioneer has largely taken place in universities and government agencies, which in the early 1970s led directly to the creation of ARPANet, the predecessor to today's Internet. Cerf now works for -- who else? -- Google.
17. Don Estridge
IBM veteran Don Estridge is widely known as "the father of the PC," at least in its Big Blue incarnation. Estridge developed a number of computer systems, even tinkering with NASA radar equipment. But he is best known for his work as a manager -- leading a "skunk works" staff of just 14 people that ultimately produced the IBM PC, an "open" platform that could run third-party software and accept third-party upgrades, that would become the standard for business. Tragically, Estridge died in a plane crash in 1985 and never saw his creation achieve ubiquity.
18. Michael Dell
The origin story of Dell Computer Corp. is so well-known it has become part of the canon of the tech business. Michael Dell started his company, PC's Limited, at age 19 out of his dorm room at the University of Texas. Eventually he dropped out of school to found Dell Computer, which grew at breakneck pace throughout the 1990s. Dell's marketing philosophy turned the industry on its ear: Rather than offer predetermined configurations, Dell's machines were totally customizable and built to order. Eventually almost every competing PC manufacturer followed suit -- or went out of business.
19. Alan Kay
A jack-of-all-tech-trades, Alan Kay lays claim to at least two watershed innovations, starting with HP's original Dynabook, one of the first usable mobile laptop computers. Kay's ideal was to design a laptop that weighed no more than 2 pounds. We still aren't there yet, but Kay's contributions to software -- which include shepherding the idea of object-oriented programming and the notion of multiple, overlapping windows in a GUI -- rank as essential milestones in computing.
20. Marc Andreessen
The Mosaic Web browser, devised by Marc Andreessen, may seem quaint now, but bits and pieces of Mosaic code remain standard software components of most of today's commercial browsers. It's a safe bet that many of Andreessen's other creations will leave similar legacies: Netscape, the company he founded, set off the tech stock craze of the 1990s, and his Ning Web site continues to grow in popularity as an outlet where anyone can build a topic-oriented social network. He even finds time to blog regularly about all this stuff.
21. Linus Torvalds
Given the exorbitant cost of most Apple computers, Linus Torvalds is the godfather of what may be the last, best hope for an affordable alternative to Windows. The Linux operating system has been in continuous development since Torvalds conceived it in 1991, and has experienced steady gains in popular acceptance every year. And at long last, Linux is making the jump from server rooms to large numbers of desktop PCs, most visibly in low-cost laptops like the Asus Eee PC. The OS now has a market share in excess of 2 percent on the desktop.
22. Chuck Thacker
Chuck Thacker has had his hands in a surprisingly wide array of tech projects, from the development of Ethernet to the first laser printers. His most enduring legacy, however, involves a product that never reached market: the fabled Xerox Alto. The Alto, which Thacker designed, was the first computer with a GUI (and a mouse); as the story goes, it directly inspired Apple to build the Macintosh after Steve Jobs paid a friendly visit to Xerox. Thacker now works for Microsoft.
23. Bob Metcalfe
Moore's Law may be better known, but the law formulated by Bob Metcalfe has wider general application. Posited around 1980, Metcalfe's Law conjectured that the value of a telecommunications network is equal to the square of the number of nodes on the network. In other words, even a small increase in the size of a network makes it worth far more because of the enlarged number of new connections that each user can make. Metcalfe's invention of Ethernet and his founding of 3Com are essential tech milestones as well, but his eponymous law -- now in use to quantify value in the Facebook/MySpace milieu -- will be around long after wired networking has passed on.
24. Vic Hayes
Wi-Fi has long been one of technology's messiest standards -- and without Vic Hayes, it might never have come together at all. In the Hayes-less universe we might be left to wallow in a morass similar to the Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD swamp with multiple incompatible wireless standards. In 1990, Hayes formed the Wireless LAN working group and rallied some 130 companies to work together to develop open standards. The result: 802.11, and the cutting of a very firmly attached cord. Hayes continues to be actively involved in Wi-Fi development today.
25. Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston
Accounting departments around the world would be lost without the work of Dan Bricklin (left) and Bob Frankston, who worked together in 1979 to develop VisiCalc, the world's first spreadsheet and arguably the first "killer app" written for a personal computer. The 27KB program can run on PCs today, and its simplicity is a big reason why early PCs sold in droves, especially to business customers. But never mind the bean-counters: You probably owe a lot to VisiCalc yourself. After all, if it weren't for Bricklin and Frankston, you might not be getting your paycheck regularly.
26. Grace Murray Hopper
That's Admiral Hopper, bud. Naval officer "Amazing" Grace Hopper was a computing pioneer who cut her teeth in the calculator era. Later she worked on the team that developed the UNIVAC, the world's first commercial computer, and wrote the compiler software for it (the first such software ever developed). Hopper was instrumental again in the development of the COBOL and FORTRAN programming languages, and she remained a major figure on the technology scene until her death in 1992. Even our language owes a debt to Hopper: She popularized (and possibly coined) the term "bug" after a moth was found in a computer relay during her years at Harvard.
27. Jeff Hawkins
Portable computing was shaped in large part by Jeff Hawkins, who invented the acclaimed PalmPilot, and then followed that up by spearheading development of the Treo six years later. Both Palm and Treo became household names, though Palm as a company has suffered numerous setbacks in recent years. Hawkins is now working on a start-up called Numenta with his longtime partner Donna Dubinsky, focusing on the subjects of machine learning and neuroscience, which Hawkins has long had a deep interest in.
28. Fujio Masuoka
If anything is positioned to challenge the dominance of Al Shugart's hard drive (see #33 below), it's Flash memory -- an invention of Fujio Masuoka. Masuoka developed solid-state storage during his tenure at Toshiba (Masuoka says that the company initially tried to demote him after he came up with the technology). The technology is now seen as a possible way around the fragility of hard drives, as capacity ramps up and prices fall. For smaller gadgets, Flash has become essential...or would you prefer to be saving your digital pictures on floppy disks still?
29. Jonathan Ive
Aside from its showman/CEO Steve Jobs, Apple tends to keep its employees out of the limelight, but Apple VP and design guru Jonathan Ive has broken that mold. That's appropriate, since he broke another mold too, killing off the beige boxes and bricklike pocket gizmos that had become standard-issue in the tech industry. Ive's designs for the original iMac and for the iPod got people thinking about tech products as fashion accessories and decorative items instead of as impersonal and purely utilitarian objects.
30. Jeff Bezos
Long scorned by Wall Street, Amazon.com -- the creation of Jeff Bezos -- is today the one Internet service that many people can't live without. But Bezos hasn't stopped at hawking "Harry Potter" on the Web. His company has also become one of the leading providers of Web services, online storage and by-the-hour CPU rentals, as Bezos pushes Amazon toward becoming a platform that anyone can use to sell anything that Amazon itself doesn't.