Computer World Canada’s Top 25 stories (1-5)

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1. The creation of the World Wide Web: 1991

When Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau first proposed a network of interlinked hypertext documents running over the Internet, they bandied about ideals like “a pool of human knowledge” with “universal authorship.”  The notion of an easy-to-use client-side browser opened up the power of the Internet to the world, and the world took the ball and ran with it.

It’s evolved from a web of simple, cross-referenced text documents for academics to a home for multimedia distribution, 3-D virtual worlds, commerce, research, learning, pornography, organized crime and, of course, cat videos. Less than 20 years later, it’s hard to imagine conducting business or having a social life without it for many; the one-billionth member of the World Wide Web tribe joined in early 2009.

2. The rise and fall of Nortel

Canada’s high-tech success story and cautionary tale, the BCE Inc. spin-off was at its peak in the dot-com era, valued at almost $400 billion. When the bubble burst, that market value fell to about $5 billion within a matter of months. The long slow slide from there was punctuated by constantly restated financials, an RCMP investigation, a revolving door in the C-suite and charges against executives over accounting irregularities.

In January of 2009, Nortel Networks Corp. filed for bankruptcy, and the company’s business units sold off piecemeal over the ensuing 12 months, ending a saga begun more than 100 years before.

3. The launch of the Macintosh: 1984

During the broadcast of the 1984 Super Bowl (the L.A. Raiders thrashed the Washington Redskins 38-9 to capture the NFL crown), Apple Inc. launched the Macintosh with a $1-million TV ad directed by Ridley Scott (Aliens). The Orwellian theme – lone rebel smashing a mammoth Big Brother TV screen –
heralded a new approach to personal computing (it’s not just for Corporate America), changed the way technology is marketed to consumers forever, and positioned the NFL Championship as THE venue for high-end creative campaign launches.

The Mac became an enduring brand, marketed as the alternative to status quo computing – first in the guise of IBM, then, as today, in the guise of Microsoft. Its user-friendly interface and quirky designs (weren’t those jube-jube iMacs cute?) made it iconic, and created the dichotomy of user archetypes: artsy-cool Apple versus stodgy PC.

4. Windows

What can we say, you’re probably using it right now – more than 90 per cent of client machines on the Internet do. Introduced in 1985 as little more than a graphical user interface for Microsoft’s MS-DOS operating system, Windows has evolved through myriad versions, both client and server side, to become the dominating family of operating systems in the world.

Various versions were criticized for instability, insecurity, or bloat. And some were simply awful. But Windows 7, released in October 2009, is already the fastest-selling operating system of all time. Love it or hate it, and there are many in both camps, Windows arguably did more to open up computing to the masses than any product in history.

5. Mafiaboy

In February 2000, a massive denial-of-service attack took down some of the biggest-name sites on the Web – Yahoo, Amazon, CNN, eBay, amongst others – triggering a worldwide manhunt for the perpetrators. Online bragadacio brought the attention of the FBI and RCMP to Mafiaboy, the chat room alias of Montreal teen Michael Calce.

While some of the more hysterical estimates of the damage Calce did ranged upward of $1 billion, though prosecutors laid only several million dollars in responsibility at Calce’s feet. In the end, Mafiaboy was sentenced to open custody, probation and a fine.

In 2008, Calce co-wrote a book on his experiences, and outlined how the Internet is still broken.

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