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January 4, 2010

The Techies of the Noughties

CBR’s editorial team here unveils its choice of the 20 Most Influential Technologists of the Decade. Jason Stamper picks through the wreckage of a decade that began with the dot-com crash, and ended in recession.

By Jason Stamper

The CBR 20 Most Influential Techies of the Decade, 2000-2010

1. Tim Berners-Lee — WWW

It may have been 1990 when London-born Sir Tim Berners-Lee made the first successful communication between an HTTP client and server via the Internet. But who could have imagined then the influence that the Internet would have on nearly every aspect of our lives into the decade that has been called the Noughties? This decade of course began with the dot-com crash that brought a much-needed correction to the massively over-inflated stock market valuations of so many Internet firms. But the Noughties has also been the decade that saw the birth of Friends Reunited; Wikipedia; LinkedIn; Facebook and Twitter: it was the decade of social networking. None of which would have been possible, of course, without Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

Joint 2nd. Mark Zuckerberg – Facebook; Evan Williams – Twitter; Martha Lane Fox & Brent Hoberman –

While Lane Fox and Hoberman were pioneering with their, and Steve and Julie Pankhurst with their Friends Reunited, Zuckerberg arguably perfected the concept of social networking, with over 320 million now registered on Facebook. That’s almost as many as the entire population of China with access to the Internet (around 360 million). Later, Williams saw the potential in keeping things simple and using the idea of the Facebook status update almost in isolation to give a new immediacy to communication and chatter, with Twitter. The number of Twitter users more than tripled between January this year and December, from around 5 million to over 20 million. The Noughties’ best gadget may be the iPhone, but the iPhone makes particular sense in the era of social networking.

5. Steve Jobs – Apple

Despite struggling with ill health this decade, Jobs has had a massive impact on three industries: technology, music and movies. He may be best known for the iPod, resurgence of the iMac and indeed the launch of the iPhone. But as Fortune noted when they made him CEO of the decade across all industries, he also had a massive impact on the movie world with his other big success, Pixar Animation Sudios (now part of Disney), which is credited with eight of the most successful animated films of all time, including Toy Story, A Bug’s Life and Monsters, Inc. His impact on the music world thanks to iTunes cannot be underestimated either. While his reign at Apple has not been without controversy – a stock options affair, various lawsuits brought by disgruntled consumers – he’s surely the most admired CEO in the world today.

6. Eric Schmidt – Google

This was the decade in which Google not only approached $25bn annual revenue, but also started to make good on its plans to digitise the world. While controversy has surrounded such initiatives as its Google Street View which saw it photograph pretty much everything visible from roads up and down the country, and the Google Book Scanning project, Schmidt has for the most part managed to keep the Google brand association positive. Now that the firm is now a gorilla in its own right, however, it will find it harder and harder to do just that, unless its attitude starts to include more consultation with those who its digital world view affect. Google, under Schmidt’s guidance, has also been notable recently for the launch of Android, which is already carving a big slice of the smartphone market.

7. Mike Lazaridis – Research in Motion

Lazaridis, the co-CEO of Research in Motion with Jim Balsillie, is generally credited as being the more geeky of the two and the brains behind the Blackberry. While the first Blackberry was introduced in 1999, it has been this decade that has seen the devices really take off, and become the de facto smart phone for business use (as well as the unlikely bedfellow for Madonna). Over 75 million Blackberrys have been sold to date, while a recent study by comScore found that most US buyers who will purchase a smartphone in 2010 will choose a Blackberry (51%), with 20% opting for an iPhone and 17% a Google Android device.

8. Linus Torvalds – Linux

Open source technology has been around for more than a decade, and it’s true that Linus Torvalds is not, strictly speaking, its inventor. But his evangelism of the concept during the past decade has made open source a serious force in both the commercial and public sector markets. Torvalds even believes that the model could be expanded to work in spheres other than software: “The future is open source everything,” he is quoted as having said. Already, the open source movement has been the inspiration for increased transparency and liberty in other fields, including the release of biotechnology research by CAMBIA, Wikipedia, and other projects. The open-source concept has also been applied to media other than computer programs, for example by Creative Commons.

9. Marc Benioff –

Marc Benioff may have co-founded in 1999, but for enterprise software companies, the decade belongs to him. It was his marketing line “Say no to software” that gripped the enterprise’s software buyers and turned them on to Software as a Service (SaaS) – a concept that, let’s face it, was not so new after all. But with excellent marketing, a real focus on ease of use for the early CRM apps, and good timing of its IPO, Benioff managed to do with what the application service providers (ASPs) had failed to do. In the latter part of the decade has turned the firm into a cloud computing software provider, naturally, and has so far stood firm against the SaaS rivals.

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10. Larry Ellison – Oracle

Ellison may have founded Oracle in 1977, but the influence of the fourth richest person in the world has been felt as much as ever this decade. His firm’s big news this decade may have been its acquisitions – Siebel, BEA, Hyperion, BEA, Sun Microsystems to name just a few – but it’s somehow managed to keep the customers of those acquisitions, for the most part, happy. Fusion Middleware is impressive; Fusion Applications are on the way.

11. Bill Gates & Steve Ballmer – Microsoft

Gates may have resigned his CEO post in 2008, but both men have left a big mark on the Noughties. Yes, there has been controversy aplenty as the company was convicted on monopolistic behaviour at the start of the decade. But it wasn’t until April this year that the company saw sales go in any direction other than up, and its portfolio is broader than ever, having picked up the likes of Great Plains Software (2001); Navision (2002) and over 80 more since 2000. Sure, Windows Vista was generally considered a failure, and a delayed one at that, but thus far Microsoft has fended off open source rivals in most quarters, and Windows 7 is already getting far better reviews.

12. Matt Szulik – Red Hat

While Szulik was CEO of Red Hat he turned the firm into the gorilla in the open source enterprise applications space, and in the process proved that it was possible to make money as a vendor of open source software. Hundreds of open source software companies have been able to win funding, and convince customers of their longevity, thanks to Szulik’s leadership of Red Hat and evangelism of open source in general.

13. Joe Tucci – EMC

Tucci began his reign at EMC with the acquisition of a software company – Legato Systems – and since then has added the purchases of Documentum, VMware, RSA Security and more. His vision seems to nearly always pay off, and his latest attempt to take on the big four in systems management – IBM, CA, BMC and HP – following the acquisitions of network management firm SMARTS and others (now branded as Ionix) may well give those firms pause for thought.

14. Sam Palmisano – IBM

Palmisano has never tried to become the face of IBM in quite the same way as someone like a Steve Jobs or Larry Ellison does at their companies. But while sales have suffered slightly during the recession, Palmisano’s firm grip on the rudder has seen profits going in the right direction. Perhaps just as importantly, the firm’s acquisitions have been inspired, and its Smarter Planet strategy looks set to ensure IBM’s continued thought leadership in the space well into the next decade.

15. Jimmy Wales – Wikipedia

Launched by Wales and Larry Sanger in 2001, Wikipedia now features well over 14 million articles, in numerous languages. It’s also the largest and most popular general reference work on the Internet. Its size makes it a focus of complaints about bias or accuracy, of course, though a study by Nature found it no more error-prone than the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

16. Jeff Bezos – Amazon

Amazon may have been founded in 1995, but the fact that its Kindle e-book reader broke all sales records in November is just one example of the way the company has managed to go from strength to strength this decade. Bezos also deserves credit for seeing the potential of cloud computing before many of his peers

17. Mark Hurd – HP

He may have only become HP CEO in March 2005, but his influence has been clear. He is credited with turning HP around, putting it in first place in the sales of desktop computers (since 2007) and laptop computers (since 2006), and increasing its 2008 market share in inkjet and laser printers to 46% and 50.5%, respectively. He apparently gets up every day at 4:45AM in California because he believes a competitor is already awake on the east coast. Quote: “We’ve got some looseness in our structures and our processes… We have to get away from managing and reporting to leading and driving.”

18. Ron Hovsepian – Novell

Under Hovsepian’s stewardship Novell has managed to retain its relevance and become a real force in the open source space. His controversial interoperability agreement with Microsoft may not have gone down well with the die-hard open source community, but as he told CBR this month, he still believes it was the right move for customers. Look out for a profile of Hovespian and exclusive interview in the next issue of CBR.

19. Mike Lynch – Autonomy

Autonomy may not be the largest software firm in the world, but there’s a reason so many major software companies OEM its Meaning Based Computing: it’s genuinely unique and demonstrably valuable in the enterprise. This decade Lynch not only won the enterprise search wars against Fast Search and Transfer and Google Enterprise, but he found time to develop a whole new target for his technology: structured data. Whether he can get the same traction for his technology in that space as he has in the unstructured world will be fascinating to watch, but with his record so far there will be few doubters.

20. Jonathan Schwartz & Scott McNealy – Sun

While it may be the decade in which Sun finally lost its fight for profitable independence since it has been acquired by Oracle, CEO Jonathan Schwartz and his predecessor Scott McNealy still had a memorable decade, not just keeping their rival hardware firms on their toes but also helping their engineering teams to make a massive contribution to software in general and open source in particular. The open sourcing of Java and Solaris under Schwartz’s reign are key moments, while the man himself will be fondly remembered for seemingly believing that writing his blog was the most important thing he could spend his time doing.

Also nominated, in alphabetical order:

Bob Beauchamp, BMC; Bruce Chizen, ex-Adobe; Craig Barrett, Intel; Ed Zander, ex-Sun & Motorola; Gil Shwed, Check Point; Henning Kagermann, SAP; Howard Stringer, Sony; John Chambers, Cisco; John Thompson, Symantec; Jorma Ollila, Nokia; Michael Dell, Dell; Vivek Ranadive, Tibco.

Think we’ve missed someone crucial? Disagree with our running order? Email who or  why to and we’ll publish the best alongside this article on our website.



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