Sunday, May 01, 2011

Technology innovation and the beginning of Microsoft

We've talked about the evolution of a technology from vision to research prototype to product. We used the invention of the Web as an example, starting with the vision of Vannevar Bush, the research prototypes of Doug Engelbart, and the product developed by Tim Berners-Lee.

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has written a memoir, which was excerpted in a Vanity Fair magazine article describing the founding of Microsoft. Allen writes that he and high-school classmate Bill Gates discovered and fell in love with programming in 1968, and goes on to give a snapshot of IT innovation at that time.

That year, 1968, would be a watershed in matters digital. In March, Hewlett-Packard introduced the first programmable desktop calculator. In June, Robert Dennard won a patent for a one-transistor cell of dynamic random-access memory, or DRAM, a new and cheaper method of temporary data storage. In July, Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore co-founded Intel Corporation. In December, at the legendary “mother of all demos” in San Francisco, the Stanford Research Institute’s Douglas Engelbart showed off his original versions of a mouse, a word processor, e-mail, and hypertext. Of all the epochal changes in store over the next two decades, a remarkable number were seeded over those 10 months: cheap and reliable memory, a graphical user interface, a “killer” application, and more.
Engelbart gave his famous demo at the same time as products that would eventually make his prototypes practical were being invented (DRAM) and going into mass production (Intel).

What innovations are in the vision stage today? What innovations are in the research prototype stage today? Have any revolutionary new products been introduced recently? Information technology was a key field for innovation in 1968, what are the key fields today?