In 1995, it was still OK to use the phrase "information superhighway. " Netscape's initial public offering fueled the beginnings of the...
In 1995, it was still OK to use the phrase “information superhighway.” Netscape’s initial public offering fueled the beginnings of the Internet bubble. The U.S. Department of Justice was casting a wary eye on Windows 95. And Amazon.com sold its first book.
The online retailer was born during a time of incredible innovation in the technology world. Video-game players, computer operating systems and even movies were breaking through technical barriers, pushing the limits of what was previously thought possible.
Amazon turns 10 this year and — in the spirit of recall and reflection that often accompanies birthdays that end in zero — a walk down technology’s memory lane is in order. Here are 10 ways technology made history in 1995:
1) Startup central. Amazon wasn’t the only tech giant born in 1995. David Filo and Jerry Yang incorporated Yahoo! — an acronym for “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle” — that year and received nearly $2 million in funding from venture-capital firm Sequoia Capital.
Software engineer Pierre Omidyar founded eBay in September, reportedly as a favor for his then-girlfriend, who wanted a place to trade her collection of 400 Pez candy dispensers.
2) Microsoft’s big year. Redmond released a flurry of new products, most notably Windows 95. The operating system got so much attention from consumers — and antitrust officials in the U.S. Justice Department — that Microsoft actually toned down the hype at one point.
“It’s just software,” executive Brad Silverberg said in Business Week. “It doesn’t cure cancer. It doesn’t grow hair. It’s not a floor wax.”
What’s that saying about hindsight?
There were loads of predictions in 1995 about what technology would be like in 2005. Some were impressively on point; others were way off. Here are a few.
Computers would be largely voice-activated.
There would be 600 million wireless subscribers worldwide.
People will spend more time online than watching network television.
The Internet will bring the office to the worker, allowing people to work from anywhere.
People watching football games at home will be able to vote on what the next play would be.
Television will have more pay-per-view features.
Internet access revenue would grow to nearly $5 billion by 2005.
Some computers are voice-activated, but not most.
There were 1.6 billion worldwide cellular subscribers in 2004, and 2.6 billion are expected by 2009.
It’s hard to measure the Internet’s impact on network television specifically. Numerous studies have shown that people are spending more time online and watching less television than before.
Technology, particularly the high-speed Internet, is making it easier for people to work from home, and more people do so every year.
The technology has been seen in bars and restaurants, but it never hit big in the home.
“On demand” television, including pay-per-view options, is becoming increasingly popular with viewers.
The market hit $12 billion in 2003 and has seen single-digit growth since then.
Source: In-Stat/MDR, The Washington Times, InternetWeek, The Rocky Mountain News, Forrester Research
Microsoft also released Internet Explorer — the first and, later, the slightly less clunky second version — that year and launched the Microsoft Network (MSN). It also founded a small travel-software division called Expedia.
And then there was Microsoft Bob, a cutesy, cartoony program that included a household and checkbook manager and appointment calendar. The company launched it in late March, but it was lambasted by critics and would sell only 30,000 units over the next six months.
3) A beginning . Sergey Brin and Larry Page met at a gathering of new doctoral students at Stanford University. Within months, the two would create the seeds of what would eventually become the Google search engine.
4) Java unleashed. Who knew a programming language could generate so much fuss? Sun Microsystems debuted Java, software that, among other things, made it easier to add interactivity and other features to Web sites. Sun promised that Java would be nothing short of revolutionary. Soon, Java was the belle of technology’s ball.
5) Online population grows. The number of U.S. Internet users might have doubled in 1995 to nearly 10 million. New York City-based research group FIND/SVP said at the time that 9.5 million Americans used the Internet, and that half of those only began doing so in 1995. O’Reilly & Associates counted 9.7 million, including those who used online services such as CompuServe.
A survey from Nielsen/CommerceNet drew immediate fire when it concluded that 24 million adults in the U.S. and Canada used the Internet. Later, one of the survey’s advisers identified some flawed methodology and pegged the total at fewer than 10 million.
Now, 68 percent of U.S. adults use the Internet, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Add to that the 19 or so million teenagers who are also online, and the total number of Internet users 12 and older is nearly 160 million, according to Pew.
6) Animation adulation. Pixar and Disney delighted audiences with “Toy Story,” the first full-length computer-animated film to get a major release. The adventure of Woody and Buzz Lightyear grossed nearly $200 million in the U.S., according to box-office data site The Numbers.
The tech world may be known for its intense self-absorption, but there were other things going on in the world.
Feb. 23: The Dow Jones industrial average gains 30.28 to close at 4,003.33, its first-ever close above 4,000. It would close above 5,000 nine months later.
April 19: The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City is bombed, killing 168 people, including eight federal marshals and 19 children.
July 17: The Nasdaq Stock Market closes above the 1,000 mark for the first time.
Oct. 4: O. J. Simpson is found not guilty of murder in the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. (He would be found liable in a second civil trial in 1996.)
Oct. 16: The Million Man March draws hundreds of thousands of African-American men to Washington, D.C.
Nov. 4: After attending a peace rally in Tel Aviv’s Kings Square, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is mortally wounded by a right-wing Israeli gunman.
• “Braveheart” wins best-picture and best-director awards for Mel Gibson. Nicolas Cage wins best actor for “Leaving Las Vegas,” and Susan Sarandon wins best actress for “Dead Man Walking.”
• “Batman Forever” is officially the year’s top grosser, with $184 million.
• Divas reign: Madonna, Mariah Carey and TLC dominate the singles charts.
• Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose” wins Grammy for song of the year.
• “Jagged Little Pill” by Alanis Morissette wins best-album Grammy.
• The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum opens in Cleveland.
• Jerry Garcia dies (followed, four days later, by Mickey Mantle).
“The Drew Carey Show” and “JAG” both debut. “Seinfeld” is most popular show.
— David Turim
Seattle Times news researcher
“Toy Story” gave Pixar loads of cash — in addition to its November 1995 initial public offering — and set a new standard in filmmaking.
7) Wired chronicles. OK, so the covers for Wired magazine in 1995 don’t exactly make history. They do, however, give some insight into the zeitgeist that year, particularly at the intersection of technology and culture. Here’s what was most interesting to Wired editors in 1995:
January: The triumph of Czechoslovakian hippies
February: Ray Smith, then chief executive of Bell Atlantic
March: The Court TV cable network
April: Viacom, the first 21st-century new-media company
May: Artist Brian Eno on culture
June: The making of Johnny Mnemonic
July: Evolutionist Richard Dawkins
August: Newt Gingrich: Friend and foe
September: O.J. Simpson trial
October: Technology hits the Indy 500
November: MIT’s Media Laboratory
December: Technology transforms Hollywood
8) Gaming leaps forward. Sega launched its next-generation Saturn video-game console in May, months ahead of schedule. Why the rush? Sega wanted to beat Sony’s PlayStation to market; it did by four months.
Not really the best move, though. The console’s $400 price tag and lack of quality launch games hurt sales, allowing the $300 PlayStation to surge ahead. At last count, 102.5 million PlayStation consoles have shipped worldwide, and 38 million have been sold in North America.
Sega eventually left the console business.
9) Newton thrives. Apple Computer was still plugging away at Newton, releasing a new version of the operating system in late 1995 for its MessagePad handheld and other devices.
Newton 2.0 had a handwriting-recognition program that was better than the previous version, but critics still panned it. Newton even won the “Best of Comdex” trade-show award in 1995 in the operating-system category.
Newton had its fans but never the success of, say, more recent handheld products from Apple.
The iPod has more ties to the Newton than you might think, though. A member of the Newton team later founded a Bay Area company called Pixo, which helped create the iPod’s operating system. Sun Microsystems bought Pixo in 2003.
10) IPO fever. Shares shot up to $75 in the first hour of Netscape Communications’ initial public offering in August, causing a tremor on Wall Street and setting the stage for the Internet bubble.
Like Netscape, which was acquired by America Online in 1999, many of the companies that went public in 1995 have disappeared.
Cox Communications was taken private, Tivoli Systems was acquired by IBM; HNC Software was bought by Fair Isaac; Spyglass was bought by OpenTV; Novadigm was snapped up by Hewlett-Packard, and Visio was acquired by Microsoft.
Kim Peterson: 206-464-2360 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Seattle Times news researcher David Turim contributed to this report.