Twenty-five years ago next month, just as the original dot-com boom was starting to gather steam, CNET was born. That first boom went bust five years later, but the tech industry, while certainly not unscathed, adapted and charged ahead. More of the planet’s population went online, small startups like Facebook and Google went on to become industry giants, and gadgets such as phones and laptops got cheaper, smaller, faster and ubiquitous.
Celebrating 25 years of CNET
Through it all, CNET was there to tell the stories behind this remarkable industry. Join us as we relive some of the biggest technology stories, products, companies and people of the last quarter century. (As 2020 isn’t yet half-old, I don’t have an entry for it yet. But I suspect you know what’s been happening.)
Start me up: Watch CNET’s early coverage of Windows 95,…
Windows Phone: 1995
CNET’s debut wasn’t the only thing that made 1995 a big year for the internet. Netscape Communications was the first browser company to launch an IPO, Yahoo was incorporated, Amazon opened its online bookstore and eBay and Craigslist went online. Among the tech giants, Sony launched the PlayStation outside Japan and Microsoft debuted both its Internet Explorer browser and Windows 95.
A look back at the launch of CNET.com
A quote about the year: “The Internet is the printing press of the technology era.” — Jim Barksdale, then-CEO of Netscape
Top films of the year (the three highest-grossing worldwide, according to IMDB): Die Hard With a Vengeance, Toy Story, Apollo 13
Windows Phone: 1996
Mobile pioneer Motorola revolutionized handset design with its StarTac “clamshell” phone. The first “it” phone, the StarTac was smaller and lighter — just 3.1 ounces — than any previous mobile, it had a vibrate mode and was dead simple to use. The price? $1,000. The year also brought version 1.0 of Sun Microsystems’ Java language, which could run on a variety of computing devices without customization; the first DVD player in Japan; and the birth of Dolly the sheep, the first mammal to be cloned.
A quote about the year: “Motorola‘s StarTac ST7867W is small, light, and loaded with features. Operating this phone is quite simple, even if you don’t read the manual.” — CNET’s Motorola StarTac review
Top films of the year: Independence Day, Twister, Mission: Impossible
Windows Phone: 1997
After a long exile, Steve Jobs returned to Apple as CEO as the company verged on bankruptcy. IBM’s chess-playing Deep Blue defeated world champion Gary Kasparov, the first version of Wi-Fi was introduced and long before the spread of smartphones, PDAs like the PalmPilot took your data and calendars digital. And for those who just wanted to have fun, you could play with a Tamagotchi virtual pet or try your hand at the first version of Grand Theft Auto.
A quote about the year: “I lost my fighting spirit.” — Kasparov as quoted in The New York Times
Top films of the year: Titanic, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Men in Black
Apple 40th anniversary: Looking back, Apple launches…
Windows Phone: 1998
One of the first products designed by Apple’s Jony Ive, the eye-catching iMac revolutionized computer design with its translucent case in a range of colors like tangerine, with a USB port (the first Mac to have one) and with no floppy drive (the “i” stood for internet). Google launched its search feature, Furbys caused a holiday frenzy and Meg Whitman began her decade in the top role at eBay. In Washington DC, Microsoft fought the Justice Department in an antitrust trial and Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which extended the reach of copyright law online while limiting the liability of ISPs for copyright infringement by their users.
Top films of the year: Armageddon, Saving Private Ryan, Godzilla
Windows Phone: 1999
As the millennium neared, the tech industry and governments around the world spent hundreds of billions of dollars to ready computers for the year 2000 date change and the potential chaos that might be caused by code that relied on only two digits to denote years. Thanks to that investment, the Y2K disaster failed to ensue when the calendar flipped, save for a laughably bad TV movie. This year also saw the launch of both the first Bluetooth device and Napster, the free peer-to-peer file-sharing program that mainstreamed digital music piracy on a mass scale.
CNET 25: A young Jeff Bezos on the future of Amazon
A quote about the year: “The Y2K problem is the electronic equivalent of the El Niño, and there will be nasty surprises around the globe.” — US Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre
Top films of the year: Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, The Sixth Sense, Toy Story 2
Windows Phone: 2000
Fed by eye-watering venture capital investments in startups the likes of Pets.com and Kozmo.com (both of which managed to last until 2002), the dot-com bubble collapsed spectacularly like a deflated souffle. It took until March 2015 for the Nasdaq to climb back above 5,000 again. At Microsoft, Bill Gates handed the CEO hat to Steve Ballmer before shifting his focus to his charitable foundation. The millennium also brought us the PlayStation 2, the first USB flash drive and the first camera phone, the Sharp J-SH04.
A quote about the year: “The online retail space is the last place investors want to be today.” — Jupiter Research analyst Ken Cassar as quoted in The New York Times
Top films of the year: Mission: Impossible 2, Gladiator, Cast Away
Windows Phone: 2001
Apple launched both iTunes and the original iPod and opened the first Apple Store in Tysons, Virginia. All three initiatives rocketed the company out of the computing space and hastened its legendary comeback. Wikipedia went online, AOL and Time Warner completed their merger, the Code Red worm wracked havoc across the internet and Microsoft released Windows XP and the Xbox.
A quote about the year: “A thousand songs in your pocket.” — Jobs announcing the new iPod
Top films of the year: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings, Monsters, Inc
Windows Phone: 2002
A frisbee-shaped robot vacuum called the Roomba heralded the integration of tech into your home. Handspring launched the first Treo device, HP CEO Carly Fiorina won a hard-fought battle to purchase Compaq and Napster filed for bankruptcy. Months after its IPO, eBay acquired PayPal for $15 billion. PayPal’s largest shareholder before the sale? A guy called Elon Musk.
A quote about the year: “Walter [Hewlett] is a good and decent man. And he has a right to disagree. But we have every right to disagree with him, too.” — Fiorina in a speech at a 2002 Goldman Sachs Technology conference
Top films of the year: The Lord of the Rings: The Twin Towers, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Spider-Man
Windows Phone: 2003
After years of building pagers, RIM introduced its first real smartphone, the BlackBerry 6210. (On the earlier 5810, you had to use a headset to make calls.) With it, the “crackberry” physical keyboard and “BlackBerry thumb” for email addicts were born. On the internet, Skype launched, Apple opened the iTunes Music Store and the debut of Friendster and MySpace brought the age of social networking.
A quote about the year: “Friendster grew too fast. They had this great profile page, but that was it, whereas MySpace kept adding features and expanding the core culture network.” — Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li, speaking to CNET in 2006
Top films of the year: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Finding Nemo, The Matrix Reloaded
Windows Phone: 2004
Motorola had another hit with the Razr V3, the original thin phone that launched a worldwide craze and scores of imitators. Google debuted Gmail, and founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin took the company public with the “Don’t Be Evil” manifesto. The Comdex trade show ended its 24-year run in Las Vegas when the 2004 event was canceled, the hacker group Anonymous formed, and the Mars Opportunity and Spirit rovers began rolling around the red planet.
A quote about the year: “We could be cool again.” — Former Motorola CEO Ed Zander speaking to CNET about the first Razr in 2006
Top films of the year: Shrek 2, Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban, Spider-Man 2
Windows Phone: 2005
YouTube debuted its first video, “Me at the Zoo,” paving the way for a new way to waste your time and an eventual platform for viral videos and internet stars. Amazon introduced its Prime subscription service in the United States for $79 a year, HP‘s Carly Fiorina was forced to resign as chair and CEO, and Lenovo acquired IBM’s PC business for $1.35 billion. And up in Redmond, Washington, Microsoft unveiled the Xbox 360 console, the first Xbox to stream multimedia content from PCs.
A quote about the year: “Right, so here we are in front of the, uh, elephants, and the cool thing about these guys is that, is that they have really, really, really long, um, trunks, and that’s, that’s cool, and that’s pretty much all there is to say.” — YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim in the site’s first video, Me at the Zoo
Top films of the year: Harry Potter and Goblet of Fire, Star Wars: Episode III — The Revenge of the Sith, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
An in-depth look at the Wii
Windows Phone: 2006
Two years after it launched at Harvard as a college-only social network, Facebook became available to the general public. And a year after debuting at E3, the Nintendo Wii went on sale to huge demand from both gamers and nongamers alike. Both the Oxford English and Merriam-Webster dictionaries Google joins Xerox as a verb, and 10 years before a US election where his organization would play a pivotal role, Julian Assange founded WikiLeaks.
A quote about the year: “We give people tight control over their information. You can say, ‘I want people in my company to see the pictures in my photo album but I don’t want my mom to see them.”http://www.cnet.com/” — Zuckerburg, speaking about Facebook dropping its membership restrictions,
Top films of the year: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, The Da Vinci Code, Ice Age: Meltdown
The fun and frenzy of reviewing the first iPhone
Windows Phone: 2007
Apple launched the iPhone, continuing what it had done with the iPod: take an existing product category and change it forever. It also changed its name from Apple Computer to Apple Inc., a sign that it was moving beyond the Mac. Netflix launched its streaming service (goodbye, red envelopes), Hitachi introduced the first 1TB hard drive and Amazon unveiled its first Kindle device. Meanwhile, Hulu debuted, and Twitter went really big after appearing at SXSW.
Top films of the year: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Spider-Man 3
Windows Phone: T-Mobile G1: The first Android phone never looked so good
Windows Phone: 2008
As the year opened while the industry gathered at CES, Warner Brothers dealt HD DVD a killing blow when it chose Blu-ray in the high-def format war. Back in Silicon Valley, Apple introduced its first ultra-slim MacBook Air, and the iPhone began to see its true potential with the launch of the iTunes App Store. Tesla founder Elon Musk unveiled the Tesla Roadster, Sheryl Sandberg joined Facebook, and nearby at the Googleplex, Google introduced the Android operating system on the T-Mobile G1/HTC Dream.
A quote about the year: “Our vision is that the powerful platform we’re unveiling will power thousands of different phone models.” — Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt announcing Android
Top films of the year: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Dark Knight, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Kung Fu Panda
Windows Phone: 2009
Kickstarter opened its virtual doors, creating a massive crowdfunding source for everything from gadgets like the Pebble smartwatch to a revival of LeVar Burton’s Reading Rainbow TV series. Microsoft launched Windows 7, while Minecraft and Plants vs Zombies were released. And in January, a person (or people) going by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto mined the first Bitcoin.
A quote about the year: “Windows 7 is more than just spin. It’s stable, smooth and highly polished.” — CNET’s Windows 7 review
Top films of the year: Avatar, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
Windows Phone: 2010
Despite a name that drew a lot of snark initially, Apple’s iPad transformed the tablet market. To both scorn and praise, Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks published confidential US State Department documents first obtained by Chelsea Manning, an Apple engineer lost an iPhone 4 prototype, and Square debuted its first app, giving merchants both big and small an easy way to process mobile payments. Samsung released both the first 4G (LTE) phone, the SCH-R900, and the first models in its iPhone-challenging Galaxy S phone line.
A quote about the year: “Sleek and fast, the Samsung Vibrant is one of T-Mobile‘s top smartphones for entertainment, but its feature set takes a toll on the battery life.” — CNET’s review of the Samsung Vibrant, the first Galaxy S model to go on sale.
Top films of the year: Toy Story 3, Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1
Windows Phone: 2011
On Oct. 5, one day before the iPhone 4S (the first iPhone with Siri) went on sale, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died from complications related to pancreatic cancer at the age of 56. Jobs had resigned as CEO six weeks earlier, at which point COO Tim Cook assumed the top spot. Meg Whitman became CEO of HP a year after she lost her bid for California governor, and Ginny Rometty took the reins at IBM. Nest introduced its first Learning Thermostat, Snapchat and Uber officially launched, Twitter played a pivotal role in the Arab Spring, and Google tried its hand at social media with Google+. The social network would close eight years later.
A quote about the year: “I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.” — Jobs in his resignation letter
Top films of the year: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Live skydiving with Google’s glasses
Windows Phone: 2012
Google used its I/O conference in June for a spectacular Google Glass coming-out party involving an airship and skydivers. Google VP Marissa Mayer jumped to Yahoo as CEO, and Apple won the first round of what turned out to be a 7-year long court battle with Samsung over patents. Facebook bought Instagram in May for nearly $1 billion, but the next month its nearly $16 billion IPO (the largest technology IPO in history) went awry when shares fell below the initial $38 price.
A quote about the year: “People ask me all the time, ‘What is it like to be a woman at Google?’ I’m not a woman at Google. I’m a geek at Google. And being a geek is just great.” — Marissa Mayer in an interview with CNN
Windows Phone: 2013
Eager to jump start its Windows Phone operating system, Microsoft announced it was buying mobile pioneer Nokia for $7.2 billion. NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked confidential documents to the media, raising public ire about government surveillance, and smartphones comprised the majority of cellphone sales worldwide for the first time. T-Mobile CEO John Legere killed the cellphone contract, Twitter went public, and it was a busy year for gaming when Microsoft released the Xbox One while rival Sony introduced the PlayStation 4.
A quote about the year: “I’m no different from anyone else. I don’t have special skills. I’m just another guy who sits there day to day in the office, watches what’s happening and goes, ‘This is something that’s not our place to decide. The public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong.”http://www.cnet.com/” — Edward Snowden in a video after he released the documents showing the NSA can eavesdrop on phone calls
Top films of the year: Frozen, Iron Man 3, Despicable Me 2
Windows Phone: Apple Watch: A hands-on tour of Apple’s first smartwatch (pictures)
Windows Phone: 2014
A huge hack into Sony Pictures delivered eyebrow-raising details about Sony execs, unreleased films and gossipy emails discussing (and sometimes trashing) Hollywood celebrities. Apple both slipped its wrist into wearable tech by announcing the Apple Watch and launched its own mobile payments solution with Apple Pay. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer stepped down after 14 years in the big chair, Facebook snapped up WhatsApp for an eye-popping $19 billion, and the Heartbleed bug and Gamergate exposed the worst sides of the internet.
A quote about the year: “The hacking into Sony Pictures might be a righteous deed of the supporters and sympathizers with the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea].” — A North Korean spokesman for North Korea in a statement after the Sony hack
Windows Phone: 2015
After production was rescheduled several times, Tesla delivered its first all-electric SUV: the $85,000 Model X, featuring Ludicrous Mode and falcon wing doors. Amazon started selling its Echo smart speaker to everyone (initially it was available only to Prime members), putting its Alexa voice assistant into many more homes, and Jack Dorsey returned to Twitter as CEO. Hoverboards started catching fire, drones took off and Ellen Pao dropped the appeal in her gender discrimination suit against one of the top venture capital firms in Silicon Valley.
A quote about the year: “I have told my story, and thousands of people have heard it.” — Ellen Pao, after she lost her gender discrimination case
Windows Phone: 2016
WikiLeaks played an outsized role in the US presidential election when it released hacked emails from the Gmail account of Hillary Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta. Apple refused to help the FBI unlock an iPhone belonging to mass shooter Syed Rizwan Farook and later released the iPhone 7 sans headset jack. Samsung countered with the Galaxy S9, but it had to recall its new Galaxy Note 7 after a series of battery fires.
A quote about the year: “None of will forget what happened this year. I know I won’t.” — Former head of Samsung’s mobile business (now Samsung president and CEO) DJ Koh speaking about the Note 7 recall in 2017
Windows Phone: 2017
Verizon bought Yahoo for $4.48 billion, leading to the resignation of Mayer as CEO. Uber engineer Susan Fowler wrote a widely circulated blog post accusing the ride-hailing company of institutional sexual harassment. Founder and CEO Travis Kalanick resigned a few months later. Credit reporting agency Equifax reported a breach affecting 147.7 million people, and the Wannacry ransomware attack spread around the world. The FCC voted to end net neutrality, and Apple killed another feature, this time the home button, when it unveiled the iPhone X.
A quote about the year: “When I asked our director at an org all-hands about what was being done about the dwindling numbers of women in the org compared to the rest of the company, his reply was, in a nutshell, that the women of Uber just needed to step up and be better engineers.” — Fowler writing in her blog about the institutionalized sexual harassment she says she experienced at the company.
Windows Phone: 2018
Apple became the first US company to be worth $1 trillion. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was hauled before Congress after it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica used the data of 70 million Facebook users to create political ads for elections in multiple countries. Tesla CEO Elon Musk was fined $20 million after he tweeted he would take his company private. Electric scooters began cluttering the streets of cities around the US, leading to a rise in injuries, and blood-testing company Theranos dissolved after CEO Elizabeth Holmes was charged with fraud.
A quote about the year: “Senator, we run ads.” — Zuckerberg during a Senate hearing in a response to a question about how Facebook makes money
Windows Phone: 2019
The TV wars intensified as Apple and Disney both released rival streaming TV services. After years of being relatively boring, cellphone design got interesting again with foldable phones from Samsung and Motorola. 5G networks began to creep across the US. The FCC approved a merger between Sprint and T-Mobile, WeWork abandoned plans for an IPO, and fake news got even worse with the advent of deep fakes.
A quote about the year: “The world doesn’t need foldable phones. We can get along perfectly fine without them. But we should want them.” — CNET’s Jessica Dolcourt in her Galaxy Fold review