The world has changed a lot in the past 10 years. The rapid development of new technology and the changing landscape of the online world has changed the way we work and, for many, where we do our work from. Here are my top 10 ways how IT technology has changed over the decade.
1. Internet for All – Ten years ago many offices in need of dedicated Internet resources or wide area networks were dependent on expensive leased lines or slightly cheaper ISDN (integrated services digital network) lines. Broadband Internet was not widely available and was often quite restricted by Internet service providers (or ISPs). After a couple of years, however, broadband technology rapidly began to replace dial-up connections and leased lines in the home and office. In the UK, prices began to drop dramatically when Telewest and NTL (both now part of Virgin Media) began offering very affordable broadband connections over the same cables used for cable TV. Shortly after this, BT began allowing competing ISPs to install their own systems in BT’s exchanges, and prices dropped even more. These days almost every office is connected to the Internet via broadband. Most employees now have access to the Internet and email at their desks, and cheap and reliable ADSL connections have made VPNs (virtual private networks) the preferred way of connecting multiple offices and remote workers.
2. Free Phone Calls – Over the past 10 years, these same cheap and fast Internet connections, along with a technology called VOIP (voice over Internet protocol), have emerged to all but destroy the old way in which telephone calls are placed. Using the Internet to make phone calls has become by far the cheapest way to talk to others around the world. Cutting out the middlemen and transmitting voice as far as possible over the Internet before connecting to a regular public switched telephone network connection (or PSTN) means the cost of calling abroad is now almost nothing. Calling people within the same VOIP network is free. Many people think making a VOIP call is just about using a headset with Skype, but there are many other Internet telephone systems around. You may not know it, but the telephones in your office may actually be connected directly to the Internet, even though they look like your standard office telephone. Alexander Graham Bell would be amazed.
3. Free Software – The past decade has seen the rise of the free software movement, with software made absolutely for free and in the name of freedom. From Web servers running Linux and Apache to free office software such as Open Office and Star Office, there is no doubt that the free software movement has helped to change the world and the way we do business. Most websites are hosted on servers running this free software. Even the mighty Google has its walls placed in the rock-solid foundations of GNU/Linux and Apache Web server software. Please see my other articles on open source software.
4. From Geocities to WordPress – Some of you may remember the time when everybody who had a modem and an Internet connection also had a website devoted to themselves and their opinion, on a free hosting site such as Geocities or Tripod. Over time these free websites gave way to the phenomenon known as “blogging”. The more people posted their opinions, musings, diaries, art and photography, the more Web applications appeared to support this new brand of social journalism. WordPress is now the most popular of these platforms, and it is even used by major news outlets as a platform for publishing blogs and news. Blogging is now as important to the culture of the Internet and disseminating news and opinions as newspapers were to us in the last century. Indeed, many newspapers and agencies are struggling to compete with the social journalism that abounds on the Internet.
5. Sharing Media – There are generally two ways of transferring information between users: either over a network of some kind or on some sort of physical, portable media such as a disk. Ten years ago, CDs and floppy disks were the most readily available types of removable media, and the fastest corporate LANs (or local area networks) operated at between 10 and 100 megabits per second. Transferring very large files over the Internet was something only done by those with expensive, high-speed Internet connections. Things have changed a lot. Writeable DVDs became just as cheap as CDs, floppy disks have become almost extinct and everybody has a large-capacity USB thumb drive kicking around. Very small, portable hard disks are now a dime a dozen and can store the same amount of data, if not more, than a decade-old file server which would have cost a small fortune. Network speeds have had the same massive boosts and now operate at speeds of up to 2,000 megabits per second. The average Internet connection in the UK is now around 10 megabits a second, which makes it more than possible for people to share files averaging in the tens of gigs over a standard Internet connection. This has made media sharing online prolific and very easy for the average Web user, so much so that it is causing great concern amongst media companies that are failing to keep up with these new forms of file distribution.
6. The Demise of Regular TV – Over the last decade TV has also gone through some serious changes. First, the birth of TV on demand: cable and satellite TV networks now offer an assortment of programs that you can watch at the click of a button without waiting for a rerun. Services like YouTube, Vimeo and Dailymotion have made it possible for everyone to have 15 minutes of fame, and more recently services like iPlayer, 4OD, Joost and (in the US) a new service called Hulu allow you to watch all the latest TV entertainment on your computer – or on a big-screen TV if you have a media PC.
7. From Desktop Apps to Web Apps – One major change this decade has come in the way we use applications. Ten years ago, most database-type apps had an interface application which was installed on your desktop and connected to a central database server. These days, popular databases and contact management applications such as Salesforce and Sage CRM are all served to you from Web servers and run from within your browser. This has allowed people more flexibility in the way they work, because they can access these important applications from anywhere. The range of Web apps now available is incredible, from webmail and contact management to word processing and case management. Much of this software is also available for free for limited versions. You might also hear of applications being “cloud based” or “working on the cloud”. This usually refers to applications hosted on the Internet rather than a private company network or intranet.
8. Apple and the Rebirth of Cool – In 1999 Apple was struggling to turn a profit and find mainstream acceptance. Its user group was mostly a section of specialist graphics workers who favoured Apple hardware because of its ease of use in the world of media. All that changed this decade as Apple worked hard to provide not only easy-to-use computers but also hardware that looks good and appeals to those who see technology as a fashion accessory. The company’s most notable successes in recent years have been the iPod and iPhone, two stylish multimedia devices that everybody seems to want. Apple’s design chic has pushed up its profit margins and has given the company a rapidly expanding market share.
9. From Mobile Phone to Mini Computer – Mobile phones have evolved rapidly from clunky bricks with bad and simplistic LCD screens and ’70s sci-fi bleeps to high-powered multimedia computers that fit in your pocket. Gone are the days of a phone that only makes phone calls; these days most mobiles are capable of high-speed Internet connections, taking decent photos and videos, playing back movies and music, and sending email. Even newer mobiles, such as the iPhone and devices running Google’s Android operating system, are capable of even more high-performance tasks: GPS navigation, translation of speech, word processing and even navigating the stars with Google’s Sky Map application.
10. Social Networks – The last five years have seen the rise of the social network. This phenomenon takes elements of the old Geocities personal home page discussion forums, blogs and the sophisticated profiling elements of dating sites, mashes them together and produces a place where people can advertise their social lives, reconnect with friends and organise events. Social networking has rapidly become an undeniable part of everyday life, and you will be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t have a Facebook account. Even my mum has one!
I hope you have enjoyed this quick tour of IT technology over the last 10 years. Please feel free to share any changes that have amazed you, in the comments section.