Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is named Person of the Year by Time Magazine.
Seven years after introducing the GIF format, during which it became a defacto standard because of its efficient compression algorithm, Compuserve reaches a licensing agreement with Unisys over the use of the patented LZW method in the GIF specification. CompuServe was not aware of the patent when it used the LZW technique in 1987 and Unisys was not aware that LZW was used in the GIF format until 1993. By the time the settlement was reached, the use of the GIF format had become widespread on the early world wide web. During the announcement of the licensing agreement with Compuserve, Unisys made it known that they expected all commercial services or software that used the GIF format or the LZW method to pay licensing fees. While the arrangement would likely not have affected anyone who used GIF graphics on their web sites, the announcement was generally met with outrage. Many people and organizations criticized Unisys for attempting to collect licensing fees on a format that was commonly considered to be freely available. The most famous condemnation was the “Burn All GIFs” campaign by the League for Programming Freedom. The uproar over the GIF licensing arrangement led to the development of the patent-free PNG format. The LZW patent expired worldwide during 2003 and 2004 so the GIF file format is now completely free to use.
The Warner Brothers motion picture You’ve Got Mail, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, is released to theaters. While mostly known as a romantic comedy, the film was chock-full of technology symbolism. Primarily I find interesting that the movie’s themes of business and technology was foreshadowing larger charges to come.
Starting with the obvious, the film’s title was the popular notification sound used by AOL for incoming e-mail. This showed just how quickly the Internet had become mainstream with e-mail and on-line dating starting to gain traction in the general population. At the time, AOL was the face of the Internet to those just getting their feet wet. However, it also foreshadowed one of the biggest technology deals in history. Just a little over a year later AOL would buy Warner Brothers’ parent company Time Warner, forming one of the largest media companies in history. However, the dot-com bubble burst and the merged companies never quite meshed. AOL was eventually spun-off in 2009, having lost its status in a more tech-evolved society.
Additionally, the main characters’ choice of technology was telling. Tom Hank’s character, the corporate businessman, used a Windows-based PC (an IBM no less) while Meg Ryan’s character, the small book shop owner, used a Macintosh Powerbook. The common thinking at the time was that Windows PCs were for business and Macintosh computers were for “creative” people. Of course, this was just a few years before the iPod was introduced and Apple re-revolutionized the technology industry in the 2000’s. Apple is now the consumer face of technology, whereas Windows is considered old technology even among business professionals.
The book industry was highlighted, with the movie’s subplot exploring the struggle of small businesses against the expansion of large corporate chains. Yet in the span of about a decade after the movie was released, large corporate bookstores were on the defensive against upstart companies doing business on the Internet. For context, in 1998 after 3 years in business, Amazon.com had yet to turn a profit, yet today Borders is out of business. The rise of social media now gives small companies the ability to effectively market themselves directly to their customer base, giving them a way to compete with large corporations. All this in a relatively short time after a movie helped publicize a computer network.
December 18, 1987
Larry Wall releases version 1.0 of Perl, a general-purpose programming language very commonly used as a Unix scripting language. Perl became very popular on the early world wide web, commonly being used to program CGI scripts for web applications. Perl’s flexibility and adaptability continues to make it a widely used programming language to this day.
December 16, 2003
The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 is signed into United States law. Passed in an attempt to control the growing deluge of junk e-mail, the law’s effectiveness is dubious at best, especially considering political spam is exempt from the law.
Developed by researchers at Digital Equipment Research Laboratories, the AltaVista search engine is launched. It was the first world wide web search service to gain significant popularity. One of the most popular search engines in the early world wide web, Google didn’t overtake AltaVista until 2001. AltaVista was eventually purchased by Yahoo! in 2003.
December 11, 2008
Google releases the first stable public version of their web browser, Chrome. Chrome is now considered the third-most popular web browser in the world.
December 7, 1999
The Recording Industry Association of America sues the peer-to-peer file sharing service Napster alleging copyright infringement for allowing users to download copyrighted music for free. The RIAA would eventually win injunctions against Napster forcing the service to suspend operations and eventually file bankruptcy. In the end the RIAA and its members would settle with Napster’s financial backers for hundreds of millions of dollars.
While the case was ostensibly about copyright violations, the bigger picture for the RIAA was also about control. The recording industry in general was caught with its pants down when it came to digital music and the Internet. They were not prepared for the sudden popularity of digital music downloads that Napster introduced and were not ready with a model to monetize downloaded music. This lawsuit, along with future lawsuits targeting individuals, was intended to squash the practice of downloading music as much as it was to recover compensation. However, the practice of downloading music could not be stopped as other non-centralized peer-to-peer file sharing services popped up in place of Napster. Faced with the ever increasing tide of users downloading music for free, eventually the recording industry reluctantly got on board with commercialized music downloading services like the iTunes Music Store. However they still lost a great deal of control over the marketplace. Leveraging the huge success of iTunes, Apple enforced a strict pricing policy much to the consternation of the record companies. By creating a de-facto pricing standard for downloaded music, Apple became the major powerhouse in the music industry. The runaway success of iTunes also had the effect of Apple displacing established retail and radio outlets as the gatekeepers of popular music. As well, the ability for artists independent of record companies to distribute their music and gain followings greatly disrupted the control the RIAA and its members had over the music industry. While the RIAA may have taken down Napster, what Napster started completely changed the direction of both the music and technology industries.
December 5, 1969
The University of Utah becomes the fourth node on the ARPANet*. This completed the planned original nodes on the experimental network that would eventually evolve into what we now know as the Internet.
*Some sources claim this date as December 1st. I can not yet find a definitive source.