As hard as it may be to remember now, the dot-com boom was nearing its dizzying peak as the decade started. But just as the bust hit a few months later, Googlewas pairing a savvy business model with great technology, Apple was most decidedly getting its mojo back, and Bill Gates was becoming exasperated with those pesky trustbusters.
Since then, Google became a giant, the iPhone broke through the smartphone design barrier, and social media went mainstream. But what was the biggest story? As the decade comes to an end, we offer our list of the 10 most important tech stories of the decade
10. Hewlett-Packard acquires Compaq
It was the decade of tech mega-mergers. Oracle bought a good portion of the enterprise software industry. Once business picked up, Cisco Systems went on a buying spree, buying everything from Flip camera maker Pure Digital to set-top box manufacturer Scientific Atlanta. And other big companies like IBM and EMC gobbled up smaller players.
But for sheer drama, nothing came close to the HP-Compaq merger, which played out from May 2001 to June 2002. Old-line HP folks, led by family scion Walter Hewlett, aggressively fought against the merger. But HP's board, led by flamboyant CEO Carly Fiorina, convinced shareholders they had to get bigger in order to compete with tough companies like Dell and IBM. The fight was the subject of two books and an endless stream of invective (pro and con) from the tech press.
Ultimately, Fiorina may have been vindicated. HP looks to be emerging stronger than ever from the recession while Dell stumbles. But her focus on the big picture and inattention to detail proved to be her undoing. She was forced out and replaced by NCR CEO Mark Hurd in March 2005, who has proven to have the management chops Fiorina lacked.
9. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates retires
Although Bill Gates handed over the CEO reins to Steve Ballmer back in January 2000, Gates' move to step away from full-time employment at Microsoft in 2008 marked a significant changing of the guard, leaving a new team led by Ray Ozzie in charge of the company's technology plans.
Gates made the exit slowly, announcing his plan to leave in June 2006, but not making the shift to part-time work until the end of June 2008. Although Gates was there to preside over the beginnings of Microsoft's shift to cloud computing, that focus has intensified in the 18 months since Gates retired.
The shift also freed Gates up to spend even more time on his philanthropic efforts, in which the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation aims to reshape global health efforts as well as the U.S. education system.
8. Google acquires YouTube and legitimizes social media
You can argue Google's $1.65 billion acquisition of YouTube in 2006 was more about bringing television to the Web than offering legitimacy to social media. Either way, it was a milestone for the tech industry.
If Google or another big suitor had not gobbled YouTube, it's not hard to imagine the video-sharing site, despite its popularity, failing because of rising costs and litigation with content owners. Google offered a buffer for YouTube (still does) while it worked on becoming more than a neat idea.
The eye-popping price tag, which even Google CEO Eric Schmidt acknowledges was mighty steep, also helped spark a run on Web 2.0 investments and primed the market for other social-media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter.
7. Craigslist and the slow fade of traditional newspapers
Google News and other news aggregation sites have become a favorite bete noire of traditional media magnates such as Rupert Murdoch. But the latest shoving match ignores Craigslist, the little company that has laid salt to newspapers' biggest moneymaker, classified ads.
Critics like to joke that Craigslist is just "Bolshevism with a smile," but there's no doubting its impact. Today, in most major cities, it's Craigslist calling the classified shots. No surprise then that newspapers from Boston to San Francisco have seen major layoffs, while local pubs in cities such as Detroit and Seattle are trying to recast themselves as online publications.
Unfortunately, earlier this year Craigslist's "erotic" advertisements also drew plenty of scrutiny from prosecutors and pundits who argued that those listings created a virtual bordello. Making matters worse, a Boston area medical student was accused of robbing escorts--and even killing one--whom he found advertising on Craiglist. As a result, the site attempted to tone down the ads by removing the erotic section, and setting up a new "adult" area instead.
But there's no toning down Craigslist's impact on newspapers. At left, empty newsstands sit in a lot in San Francisco, which is also the home of Craigslist.
6. Yahoo plays Hamlet with search
To search or not to search? That was a question first asked with Yahoo's unwise decision to outsource its search business to Google in 2000, giving its upstart competitors a huge vote of confidence and limiting Yahoo's ability to innovate in the business. But in 2004, Yahoo brought the search business back in-house. By then, Google had become the dominant search engine and, well, a verb.
In February 2008, Yahoo was reeling and Microsoft came calling, offering an unsolicited $31-per-share bid, roughly a 62 percent premium above the trading price for Yahoo shares. So what happened? Jerry Yang & Co. said no. They even tried to outsource the search business (again!) to Google, only to be foiled by a threatened federal antitrust lawsuit. Eventually, Microsoft walked away.
But the search yo-yo still wasn't finished. After Jerry Yang stepped down in late 2008, one of new CEO Carol Bartz's first orders of business was to, yes, get out of search and outsource the business to Microsoft's new Bing search engine. The latest pairing is still waiting on government approval.