2016’s 25 geekiest 25th anniversaries

A look back at the most memorable tech-related happenings of 1991.

Geeky anniversaries

Back in 1991

There was quite a collection of new technology and plain-old interesting geeky stuff in 1991. Included were the public debut of the World Wide Web, the introduction of Linux and the discovery of Otzi the Iceman. There was the lithium-ion battery, PGP encryption, Apple’s PowerBook, Terminator 2 and more. When through, if you’d like to catch up on the first nine installments of this series, check out 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008 and 2007.

Zero Wing
Wikipedia (One-Time Use)

‘All your base are belong to us’

Really? It’s been 25 years since everyone was scratching their heads saying, “What the hell does ‘All your base are belong to us’ mean?” No. It’s been 25 years since the release of a Japanese video game called Zero Wing, from which sprang the broken English phrase that became an Internet meme about a decade later.

The first Internet cafe
wikipedia (One-Time Use)

The first Internet cafe

Since virtually every coffee shop, restaurant, pizza joint and dentist’s office offers Internet access today – for free – it may be difficult for the younger set to imagine a time when that wasn’t the case. That wasn’t the case until Wayne Gregori built the SFnet Coffeehouse Network and installed 25 terminals in coffee shops in and around San Francisco in 1991. The service wasn’t free, as the machines were coin-operated.

Linux debuts
wikipedia (One-Time Use)

Linux debuts

Linus Torvalds released the first Linux operating system kernel on Oct. 5, 1991. On Oct. 6, 1991, Torvalds began arguing with volunteer developers who would go on to make Linux an open-source powerhouse and eventually a household name. On Oct. 7, 1991, he gave a vendor the finger.

lithium-ion battery
wikipedia (One-Time Use)

Charge of the lithium-ion battery

This was the year that Sony began selling the first commercial rechargeable lithium-ion battery, which would go on to become ubiquitous in consumer electronics. They would also sometimes catch fire, a problem that has plagued the technology to some degree until this day, as the makers of the Boeing 787 have learned.

PGP better than pretty good
wikipedia (One-Time Use)

PGP better than pretty good

The encryption software called PGP – for Pretty Good Privacy – was developed and first distributed by Phil Zimmermann in 1991. In the mid-1990s, Zimmerman faced a three-year criminal investigation by the U.S. Customs Service for allegedly violating the Arms Export Control Act (encryption was considered a munition.) Twenty-five years later computer scientists face no such concerns because law enforcement and politicians have come to recognize that the benefits of strong encryption outweigh any risks. … Wait, what?

Apple introduces PowerBook
wikipedia (One-Time Use)

Apple introduces PowerBook

Though Apple had already produced a machine called the Mac Portable, the PowerBook – released in three flavors in October of 1991 – was the first worthy of being called portable. From Wikipedia: “These machines caused a stir in the industry with their compact dark grey cases, built-in trackball, and the innovative positioning of the keyboard which left room for palmrests on either side of the pointing device.” They weren’t cheap: $2,500.

Say hello, World Wide Web

Say hello, World Wide Web

There are myriad milestones marking the development of the Internet and the World Wide Web, with one occurring on Aug. 6, 1991 when Tim Berners-Lee published a summary of his pet project on the newsgroup alt.hypertext. Trolls had to wait a bit more though because the World Wide Web was not open to new users for another couple of weeks.

Microsoft splits with OS/2
Microsoft/Softpedia (One-Time Use)

Microsoft splits with OS/2

On May 16, 1991, Bill Gates informed Microsoft employees via a memo that the company's OS/2 partnership was over. From a story in the New York Times: “Reflecting their widening split with I.B.M., Microsoft executives said they would no longer call a new operating system they are working on OS/2 3.0. Rather, the new operating system will be named Windows NT, standing for New Technology. And Windows NT will not be able to run programs written for OS/2, as had previously been planned.”

Norton AntiVirus arrives
Technologizer (One-Time Use)

Norton AntiVirus arrives

Having acquired Peter Norton Computing from Peter Norton the year before, Symantec released Norton AntiVirus 1.0 in 1991 for a suggested retail price of $129. Early advertising featured Norton himself, arms folded, wearing a surgical mask.

Arnold’s back in Terminator 2
Wikipedia (One-Time Use)

Arnold’s back in Terminator 2

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton, Terminator 2: Judgment Day was released on July 3, 1991. From IMDb: “A cyborg, identical to the one who failed to kill Sarah Connor, must now protect her young son, John Connor, from a more advanced cyborg, made out of liquid metal.”

Cessna CitationJet takes off
Wikipedia (One-Time Use)

Cessna CitationJet takes off

One of seven Cessna families of corporate jet built by the Wichita, Kan.,-based aircraft maker, the CitationJet’s first flight was on April 29, 1991. It could be configured to fly between three and nine passengers. The first production model was delivered two years later.

Galileo buzzes asteroid
NASA (One-Time Use)

Galileo buzzes asteroid

Launched in 1989, NASA’s Galileo probe was foremost concerned with the planet Jupiter, but in October of 1991 it traveled past the asteroid Gaspra and took the first close-up images of such a space rock.

Co-inventor of transistor dies
Wikipedia (One-Time Use)

Co-inventor of transistor dies

John Bardeen, a physicist and electrical engineer, won the Nobel Prize in Physics, along with William Shockley and Walter Brattain, in 1956 for their invention of the transistor. Bardeen also was the winner of that prize in 1972, making him the only man to have done so twice. He died on Jan. 30, 1991.

Apple debuts QuickTime
Wikipedia (One-Time Use)

Apple debuts QuickTime

Apple’s multimedia technology with a built-in media player debuted 25 years ago. From Wikipedia: “Apple released the first version of QuickTime on Dec. 2, 1991 as a multimedia add-on for System Software 6 and later. The lead developer of QuickTime, Bruce Leak, ran the first public demonstration at the May 1991 Worldwide Developers Conference, where he played Apple's famous 1984 TV commercial in a window at 320x240 pixel resolution.”

Python programming language
Flickr/ Ian C (One-Time Use)

Python programming language

Guido van Rossum, Python’s "Benevolent Dictator For Life," explains how it all started: “In December 1989, I was looking for a ‘hobby’ programming project that would keep me occupied during the week around Christmas. My office (a government-run research lab in Amsterdam) would be closed, but I had a home computer, and not much else on my hands. I decided to write an interpreter for the new scripting language I had been thinking about lately: a descendant of ABC that would appeal to Unix/C hackers. I chose Python as a working title for the project, being in a slightly irreverent mood (and a big fan of Monty Python's Flying Circus).”

Congress mandates closed captioning
Google.com (One-Time Use)

Congress mandates closed captioning

Although its official name was the Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990, it wasn't until Jan. 23, 1991 that Congress passed legislation that gave the FCC authority to require that television manufacturers incorporate functionality to allow closed captioning by July 1, 1993.

Visual Basic 1.0 debuts
Wikipedia (One-Time Use)

Visual Basic 1.0 debuts

From Max Visual Basic: “The core of Visual Basic was built on the older BASIC language, which was a popular programming language throughout the 1980s. Alan Cooper had developed a drag-and-drop interface in the late-1980s, Microsoft approached him and asked his company, Tripod, to develop the concept into a form building application. Tripod developed the project for Microsoft. It was called Ruby and it did not include a programming language at all. Microsoft decided to bundle it with the BASIC programming language, creating Visual Basic.” It was declared legacy in 2008.

Super Nintendo Entertainment System
Wikipedia (One-Time Use)

SNES arrives in North America

Already a hit in Japan, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) hit North American stores in 1991 and would go on to be the best-selling game console of its time. It remains popular among collectors.

Star Trek VI hits theaters
IMDB (One-Time Use)

Star Trek VI hits theaters

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was released on Dec. 6, 1991. Never been a fan, so from IMDb: “On the eve of retirement, Kirk and McCoy are charged with assassinating the Klingon High Chancellor and imprisoned. The Enterprise crew must help them escape to thwart a conspiracy aimed at sabotaging the last best hope for peace.”

Nielsen SoundScan
Billboard (One-Time Use)

Announcing Nielsen SoundScan

A system for tracking and measuring the sale of music and video products, Nielsen SoundScan became the basis of the Billboard charts beginning with the magazine’s May 25, 1991 issue. The accuracy of SoundScan was credited by some with helping to advance the alternative music scene in the United States, as record labels were able to point to this data to help convince radio stations to air the songs of lesser known artists.

SMART Board
SMART Technologies (One-Time Use)

New kid in school: SMART Board

SMART Technologies, headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, released its first SMART Board in 1991. The touch-enabled interactive white board remains a staple in classrooms and boardrooms.

Edwin Land dies
Wikipedia/vintagecameraclub.com (One-Time Use)

Edwin Land dies

A scientist and inventor who co-founded Polaroid, Edwin H. Land’s Polaroid instant camera was introduced to the public in 1948 and allowed for a photograph to be taken and developed in under a minute. Land died on March 1, 1991 and he would have been heartened to know that 25 years after his death instant photography is making a comeback.

Otzi the Iceman discovered
Wikipedia (One-Time Use)

Otzi the Iceman discovered

From a 2015 article in Discover Magazine announcing that scientist’s had mapped all of Otzi’s 61 tattoos: “In September 1991, two tourists discovered (Otzi the Iceman’s) remains nestled into a glacier in the Italian Alps. Since then, researchers have rigorously analyzed the Iceman to paint a picture of what life was like during the start of the Bronze Age some 5,300 years ago. We now know that he suffered from a variety of degenerative ailments and ultimately died from an arrow wound to the shoulder.”

Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991

Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, signed into law by President George H. W. Bush, was supposed to – among many other things – stop solicitors from calling you once you told them to stop calling you. The legislation authorized the FCC to create a national database of numbers whose owners did not want to be called, period. That database was not created until Congress passed additional legislation in 2003.

‘Automatic Cleaning-liquid Dispensing Device’
Google.com (One-Time Use)

‘Automatic Cleaning-liquid Dispensing Device’

We know it today as the automatic soap dispenser and someone had to invent the first one. That someone was Guey-Chaun Shiau, who was granted a patent for invention on Feb. 5, 1991.