In the late 1970s, the first personal computers, created by hobbyists and renegades, ignited a young tech industry that had been stifled by the dominance of International Business Machines Corp.
In the mid-1980s, a collection of more-mundane advances, including faster chips, simpler word-processing software and laser printers, joined with lower prices to boost demand after a slump.
The 1990s boom fed on both types of innovation. Incremental advances in operating systems, such as Microsoft Corp.’s Windows, and the linking of PCs into office networks jump-started demand. Then, the Internet propelled the industry to unforeseen heights.
So, what is the next big thing? Says WSJ: “One intriguing innovation is Wi-Fi technology, a set of standards created to provide wireless office computer networks. Now it’s spreading for an unintended purpose: to deliver Internet access to coffee shops, airports and homes. Another breakthrough could emerge from the resolution of the thorny legal issues around computerized movies and music, now consigned to a modest and largely unprofitable market. A new generation of cheap sensor chips, all linked to the Internet, could create a boom in technologies that track commerce, machines and even health. In addition, hard-core videogamers are pushing the limits of computer performance. The resulting improvements could spread to broader applications.”