As 2009 comes to a close, it's time to take a look back at the decade that was. It’s hard to believe what the tech scene looked like 10 years ago, but here's a hint: Imagine a world without the iPod (much less the iPhone), without Facebook, without wireless data, and when Windows 98 was considered state of the art. Don’t be afraid — things have improved immeasurably in the last 10 years. See my top picks of the most important innovations and high-tech happenings of the decade here.
Apple iPod (2001 - ) Hard to believe the ubiquitous iPod isn't even 10 years old. It paved the way for the digital music revolution and, of course, the groundbreaking iPhone.
Napster (2001 - ) The service that launched a thousand lawsuits hit its stride in 2000 and came to its abrupt demise (as we know it) in July 2001.
Segway (2001 - ) The two-wheeler didn't revolutionize transportation as its creator promised, but my head still turns when a Segwayer sways by.
Grand Theft Auto III (2001 - ) One of the most groundbreaking games of the decade, it opened up the world to players to do whatever they wanted in a "sandbox" city where anything goes.
Love Bug and Code Red viruses (2001-2003) The early 2000s saw history's most devastating computer viruses, with billions of dollars in damages caused. Thank goodness computer security has (generally) improved since then.
Windows XP (2001 - ) XP got its start in October 2001, and originally earned lackluster reviews. Over time it proved itself and became one of Microsoft's most successful products.
Wi-Fi (2002 - ) It’s hard to believe Wi-Fi, which is now literally everywhere, got its real start only seven years ago. Wireless ushered in the age of the laptop and the smart phone craze that followed.
PC price crash (2002 - ) Formerly a luxury product that a user would keep for years, PC prices spiraled down starting in 2002 as they turned into simple commodities, taking many a computer vendor down with them.
Spam (2002- ) Spam got its start back in 1994, but it wasn't until about 2002 that it became a real nuisance for the average user. Today spam makes up the vast majority of all email, with no sign of stopping.
MySpace (2003 - ) The site that killed Friendster and gave us Dane Cook.
RIAA lawsuits (2003-2008) Unable to stop the growth of illegal file sharing, the music industry tried something either brave or insane: Sue the sharers directly. To date nearly 30,000 individuals have been sued by the RIAA.
Blogging (2004 - ) Blogging got its real start as a form of online diary in 2004, and then things exploded, with the easy-reading blog format soon devouring all manner of media. The blog has now claimed many a newspaper as its victim.
Firefox (2004 - ) At one time, Microsoft had won the browser wars, and then came Firefox, Internet Explorer's first credible challenger since the Netscape era. Firefox now commands a roughly 25% market share.
Facebook (2004 - ) The site that killed MySpace and gave us the "Like" button.
Xbox 360 (2005 - ) Ushering in the current generation of video game consoles, the Xbox 360 has endured as the gamer's console of choice, despite legendary quality problems and its uncoolness from being a Microsoft product.
Guitar Hero (2005 - ) A video game with a phony guitar as a controller? Sounds corny, but gamers lapped it up, breathing new life into video games and opening up the industry to a whole new category of players. Rhythm games even got The Beatles to free their catalog, unthinkable for a band that's not even on iTunes.
YouTube (2005 - ) Who knew people really wanted to waste all day staring at tiny videos on the Web watching people fall down stairs and dance funny?
HD DVD vs. Blu-ray (2006 - ) The only good format war of the decade, Blu-ray won the battle for high-definition video formats ... but four years later it's still a niche technology.
Sony battery recall (2006 - ) When laptops started melting and exploding on desks, Sony ultimately took the blame: Its batteries were short circuiting and overheating out of control. Millions of battery packs were ultimately recalled.
Nintendo Wii (2006 - ) The "it" gaming console of the decade, suitable for everyone from 8 to 80. Nintendo proved that lousy graphics were irrelevant as long as you made up for it with truly innovative gameplay.
Intel Core CPU (2006 - ) Intel had had its lunch eaten by rival AMD ... until the mighty Intel finally struck back with the Core, a powerful processor that instantly bested AMD's top chips — and, in a shrewd decision, worked well with laptops, where AMD had long been weak. Intel has owned the chip market ever since.
Flat-panel TV boom (2006 - ) Farewell to enormous, heavy and ugly CRTs, hello to plasmas and LCDs. As prices have fallen, flat-panel televisions have become the industry standard to the point where you can't find a non-widescreen TV for sale any more. Good riddance.
Windows Vista (2007 - )The debacle of an operating system met with little but jeers: Microsoft hustled out its successor, Windows 7 in record time, in order to address Vista's many flaws. Vista is now little more than a high-tech punchline.
Amazon Kindle (2007 - ) The e-book arrives, thanks to Amazon's cute handheld, which offers weeks of reading time on a single charge.
Netbooks (2007 - ) The computer price war finally hits laptops, with the advent of extremely cheap, super-small notebooks intended for use as a secondary machine. They remain the hottest segment of the computer market today.
Apple iPhone (original) (2007 - ) Early skeptics were converted to the iPhone awfully quickly. Now, every major phone manufacturer is playing catch-up to Apple's "Jesus phone." Some analysts think at this point Apple has a two-year tech lead over the competition.
Microsoft + Yahoo! drama (2008 - ) It was all anyone talked about in 2008: Would Microsoft buy Yahoo! in what would have been the most landmark tech merger of the decade? It almost happened, but it all collapsed in the end, bringing with it Carol Bartz as Yahoo!'s new CEO.
Bill Gates retires (2008 - ) The end of an era as the man most responsible for the rise of the personal computer finally turns his eye to philanthropy full time.
Conficker worm (2009 - ) Called the most sophisticated piece of computer malware ever written, Conficker caused high-tech panic but, thanks to a huge outpouring of response by the security community, ultimately did little damage (though it continues to infect computers).
Windows 7 (2009 - ) Closing out the decade with Microsoft's third major operating system release, Windows 7 is a well-received piece of software that finally re-solidifies Microsoft's legacy as an innovator ... but is it too late? Ask me again in 2019.
— Christopher Null