Teching Order

Somebody just told me there wasn't any Internet in 1977...and no productivity software suites...and no voice mail...e-mail...cell phones...bar codes--how did entrepreneurs compete with big business before technology leveled the playing field?

To understand where technology is today and find out where it's going in the future, we have to first listen to Barbra Streisand and look at "the way we were." Flash back to 1977: Fax machines and land-line phones were the cutting edge of business hardware. The Apple II computer was introduced the month before the launch of this magazine. With 64K of memory and a 1 MHz processor, it heralded the beginning of the PC era. Kay Kienast, Internet veteran and vice president of marketing with advanced networking start-up Solid Technologies, remembers it well: "People thought 'This will never last.'"

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The road from the Apple II to today's Internet-cruising, flat-screen 2 GHz business PC is paved with innovations and milestones. In 1981, with Apple and Tandy ruling the market, IBM released the 5150 PC, which sported a 4.77 MHz Intel processor. Mike Ravagnani, director of technology consulting firm Revolution Software in Worthington, Ohio, says, "The first IBM PC really made businesses sit up and listen. Before that, it was all kids' toys and research." Then came Microsoft, and the revolution was really moving.

Add the Web to this recipe in 1990. Shake well for 12 years, and look at the ways technology has changed what it means and what it takes to be an entrepreneur. The idea of launching a competitive virtual global business from a spare bedroom would have sounded like an H.G. Wells story 25 years ago. But it's possible today.

Wireless technology started a hundred years ago when Guglielmo Marconi transmitted a signal across the Atlantic. We've made a few advances since then. Experts point to wireless as one of the biggest tech stories for the next 25 years, and the onward march of technology is unsentimental. We'll watch pagers fall like floppy disks by the wayside, as mobile phones rule and wireless LANs become some of the hottest hardware around.

Add wired technology to the endangered list, and expect all devices to be completely wireless down the line. The Handspring Treo mobile phone/PDA combination is a prototype for wireless devices in the future: small, capable and multifunctional. But security issues will continue to haunt wireless and other technologies. On the positive side, Ravagnani notes that biometrics and security research are shaping up as high-growth areas for entrepreneurs.

·Technology:First it leveled the playing field. Where's it headed now?
·Money: Capital was scarce 25 years ago. Here's its state today.
·Management: Trends are multiplying fast. What will stand the test of time?
·Marketing: Technology and personalization will rule this arena.
·Franchising: Get ready . . . the golden age of franchising is upon us.

25 Years of Entrepreneur: A timeline of the forces that have shaped entrepreneurship through the years
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This article was originally published in the May 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Teching Order.

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