Step Changes in Technology

What is this about?

Step ChangeTechnology continually changes and in ICT in particular there is continual change. Some of this is mere produce improvement, some of it is marketing nonsense but some of it is truly game changing or so successful it outstays all predictions. In fact the inability to predict the game changers is part of what makes this so interesting – almost all of the entries were obvious in hind-sight but not at point of release.

The rest of this blog entry is my thoughts on what some of the most important step changes have been – I leave out things like punched cards / tape / home computers as these were all pre-career. Instead I focus on the last 25 years.

I have no doubt missed out a lot – feel free to comment or contact me (see here for details). Thanks for reading!

Floppy Disc

Back in the day the ability to back up or copy a file from a desktop machine was wonderful – remember we were used to using cassette tape on our Sinclair Spectrums and how fun was that?!

Along came floppy discs, first 12-inch, then 7-inch holding (as I recall) 120kB of data (yes kB not MB!). There were expensive double density discs but these were great and also actually floppy. Then the game changed and the plastic shelled 1.25 MB disc arrived and became the de facto boot device, backup device, source of viruses and it has taken until well into this century for the humble floppy to pass away into memory

Windows 95

Yes Apple were first, yes Microsoft hired Apple designers. Be that as it may, they got it right, Windows 95 was a joy to use and moved the PC into the GUI age (did you ever have to use Win 3.11?). It had flaws but work it did and (IMHO) was far superior to Windows 98 and the awful Millennium Edition.

Looking back the hype was actually justified; in the UK the Times was given away free on launch day and the Stones ‘Start me up’ even got involved.

Well done Bill (et al.)

Internet scope change

Potted history – DoD guys invent ARPA-net based on internet protocols and for militar purposes. In Europe JANET (Joint Academic NETwork) also uses internet protocols and ideas and with the modem (should this be on the list?) we also have the growth of bulleting boards, forums and Compuserve.

Mid 1990s it all gets deregulated, opened up to everyone, Tim Berners-Lee gets the credit for HTML at CERN and the nuclear explosion that is the Internet starts (and is still going).

Existent tools such as email piggy-back along for the ride as does the web and voila!

Writeable CD

A bit dull, but this both killed off the floppy and opened a whole new world of possibility to both the software distributor and the home user (and yes killed the music industry. Not). If you ever installed Office from 20 floppy discs or had to transfer a file bigger than 1.25 MB (and yes I know about multi-disc ZIP files) then this was a boon.

This makes my list because crossing the IT-Music divide you can then make your own CDs for the car and the death knell of the cassette was also sounded for in car quality listening.

Windows XP

Not just Windows 95 on steroids, this was the release of software so reliable that 10 years later it is still widely used and it works. Vista has come and gone and Windows 7 seems to be finally replacing it, but in terms of sweating and asset (and saving home users money) this beauty became a standard that outlasted many products that relied upon it.


I still get amazed at this standard simple interface with thin cable that can move data and power devices and is everywhere!

Yes devices have a range of sizes for the connector and some bad-guys change the shape but this technology enables cameras to plug to computers, MP3 players to charge and download and any device you name can now plug to a computer.

Eat your heart out firewire (which I know has specialist video uses).

Wireless everything

Obvious surely? As our smartphones (add to list?) show the ability to grab data (from t’INternet of course) at speed and often for free is also game changing. Amazon Kindle – how easy is that?

At home we can roam the house with our laptop / tablet / phone and things just work. Yes it could work better and faster, but look at the alternative!


This looks like a simple storage device for the desktop then you realise it can serve files when the desktop is off. Then you stream music from it round your home, then connect it to the Internet to allow photo browsing or file access. Then you host a web site / blog…

Once you have a NAS you would never go back

And now the tablet?

Yes well done Mr Jobs for inventing a market without a need (apart from being an Apple sheep) and moving is all on to a device that is more than a stripped down laptop or souped up PDA (see smartphone). There are issues – price and single-user environment spring to mind, but these are attractive and in a Field of Dreams way will create their own market I am sure.


As I write I realise this list could never end. I could talk about Android, smartphones, laptops and a hundred other things. let’s see what happens shall we?


About Tony Jones
Big Finish writer, reviewer and blogger, I'm interested in science fiction and Doctor Who. I review for CultBox, The Doctor Who Companion and others. I am also Lead Writer for Starburst Magazine, and write the occasional piece for Vortex, the BSFA critical magazine.

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