By Craig Buckler

The Top 5 Web Technologies of the Decade

By Craig Buckler

web decadeWhere did the last 10 years go? At the end of 1999 we were living in fear of the millennium bug and the dotcom bubble was about to burst. This decade has seen the web mature from an awkward precocious child in to a competent but unpredictable teenager. Original and innovative technologies emerge on a regular basis and we now have a variety of browsers, mobile devices, HTML5, .NET, PHP 5, Ruby on Rails, Adobe AIR, jQuery, web services, RSS, GMail, Google Maps, Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, iPhones, and the rise of web-based operating systems.

Choosing a top 5 has been a tough task but, in my opinion, these are the web technologies that made a significant difference throughout the past decade. Without further ado, here are my winners in reverse order.

5. Broadband and Wi-fi

In 1999, only a few lucky people experienced the luxury of broadband — and even that was relatively slow compared to today’s speeds. The majority of us were struggling with 56K modems, unreliable speed and dropped connections.

Broadband is now considered an essential utility. Speed and bandwidth are obvious bonuses but perhaps the most important factor is that the web is always available. Broadband is always on and wi-fi makes it easy to connect. There’s little delay when accessing the web from a variety of devices; it’s become easy-to-use and an essential part of life.

4. Firebug

It may seem a little strange to include a Firefox extension in this list, but don’t underestimate Firebug’s influence. In 1999, JavaScript and CSS debugging was almost impossible using the tools provided with IE. The rise of Web2.0 applications would have certainly been slower if it were not for Firebug and the many tools that imitate its functionality.

3. Ajax

Asynchronous JavaScript and XML is not a technology, but a concept that describes how interactive web applications can be developed without using a page refresh. Strictly speaking, you don’t need asynchronous code, JavaScript or XML, but Jesse James Garrett’s article in 2005 brought the techniques to the attention of web developers around the world.

We should also thank Microsoft for developing the XMLHttpRequest object in late 1999; it’s the core technology behind the majority of Ajax code. Ironically, XMLHttpRequest provided the impetus for web applications which now compete directly with Microsoft Windows software.

2. Web applications

Web applications, or software as a service, is an idea that’s been around far longer than 10 years but the names have changed over time. In the 1990’s, thin-client computing was Oracle’s grand plan to topple Microsoft, but cheaper and faster PC hardware prevented the idea becoming a viable success.

In this decade, Web2.0 applications using Ajax have evolved to the point where the only desktop application you need is a web browser. Most general computing tasks can be handled in the cloud. In 2010, Google will release Chrome OS — a pure browser-based operating system which has the potential to upset Windows market dominance.

1. Mozilla Firefox

Today, Firefox is considered as just another browser. However, it has been the most disruptive technology of the decade and provided a turning point for the web industry. In 2002, Internet Explorer 6.0 had more than 95% of the market share and Netscape had been beaten (anti-trust issues aside, Netscape 4 was an awful browser which deserved to be crushed by IE). Microsoft abandoned browser development and decided “smart clients” were the future. At the time, web applications were clunky and difficult to develop — smart clients were Windows applications with rich interfaces that utilized the web’s connectivity.

Although Firefox started as an experiment, it provided developers with tools to create fast Ajax-powered web applications and gave other software manufacturers the confidence to produce their own browsers. Without Firefox, Web2.0 may never have occurred. It changed the industry’s perception of what a browser was and what it could achieve. It deserves it’s place at number 1!

Do you agree with my choices? Have I missed your favorite technology or website? What do you expect to happen in the next decade?

Happy new year!

  • Ayodh

    I would add some of the Ajax heavy services like gmail / google maps which changed the way people thought about building web apps.

  • I did consider GMail but, although it’s popular, it’s not changed how people use email. Hotmail was available in 1997.

    However, Google Maps was one of the first to really demonstrate the power of Ajax. It nearly made the list, but I eventually settled on the more generic “Web applications”.

  • Ibrahim

    How about XML? Thats my favourite….Linux, PC and Mac they can all understand it.
    For the next decade I predict cloud computing and SAAS will be given more importance.

  • chrisvanwyk

    I agree, but would add the CMS revolution, WordPress, Joomla! and Drupal, to name a few. It made website building possible without having to be proficient in MySQL, PHP and Javascript.

  • Ramseyinc254

    social netwotking facebook, twitter and mobile phone platforms android, iphone, palm pre? I think these have come a long way too.

  • Thank God for Broadband. I started with a 28K dial-up modem many years ago and thought upgrading to 56k was fantastic. Would never of conceived running at todays speeds. Has made such a difference to web development and downloading of large files.

    Firefox is my #1 browser giving some great add-ons and apps. Only use IE to test page development for css positioning etc.

    Great article which I have RT’d tweet.

  • I would definitely add You Tube, because I can barely remember what life was like before it. You Tube was released in 05 (I think) it has done much to change the way we perceive the web and what we use it for. You Tube pushed video as a viable, accessible medium for the web. Now coming into 2010 video really dominates, I choose video over text every time, I use it for learning and entertainment alike. But I would not know where to put it in your list.

  • ravi_k47

    What about Adobe?

  • hmmmmm, Firebug? Really? I admit that it’s a great tool, but top 5 of the decade? I can work without it and frequently do. I’m more inclined to say that the LAMP stack should go there. Those things did more for web apps/sites than Firebug has, in my opinion. Heck, one could argue that Dreamweaver has had more of an impact than Firebug.

  • LAMP, XML and Dreamweaver were all available prior to 1999. My main reason for Firebug is that it was the tool that made client-side coding easier — that led to an explosion in Web2.0 applications.

  • What about RESTful Apis which everyone seems to be implementing these days or SOAP. Not sure how long they’ve been about but they’ve gotten an increasingly large amount of attention from large companies such as google, facebook and others…

  • jim

    what about webkit?
    iPhone and webkit based browsers? The fact that the focus is now based on the speed on running Javascripts on mobile devices???

  • Matthew Higgins

    I would say blogging as a concept, Youtube (or FLV in general) and smartphones, specifically the blackberry, which has changed how we do business, and the iPhone which has changed the way that people communicate for pleasure, they have only just gained popularity with consumers, outside of enterprise, and have a long way to go!

  • Eric_HE

    4Technologies and 1 brand?

  • guest

    Broadband was around before 2000. If you’re going to stick that in there, you pretty much HAVE to put in iTunes. It is a web technology. It has revolutionized how people shop for music, movies, tv and more. Not to mention integrating with iPods and iPhones all over the world. There isn’t a musician popular today that isn’t selling songs on iTunes. There isn’t a popular movie release that isn’t sold through iTunes. In Fact, it has done even more to promote indie movies and musicians than ANY other service out there. It has also done more to wipe out music and movie piracy than any other service as well.

    And Firebug is not a technology. You can debug CSS and Javascript by knowing what you’re doing, not because you have a little plugin installed. It was not impossible. It’s a great tool, but should not be included here.

  • I guess, the revolutionary technologies in the CMS softwares like Drupal, Joomla & WordPress. Also don’t forget the colud computing and SaaS version — It changed the way, the web is…

  • And Firebug is not a technology. You can debug CSS and Javascript by knowing what you’re doing, not because you have a little plugin installed. It was not impossible. It’s a great tool, but should not be included here.

    Do you remember the days of debugging JavaScript in IE? If I had a penny for every “Object not an instance of an object at line 0″…

    Firebug made complex client-side development significantly easier. It’s one of the reasons we have so many Ajax and Web2.0 applications today.

    As for broadband existing before 2000, I suppose it depends on your definition broadband (ISDN used to be referred to as broadband but only offered 128Kb). Although the technologies existed, they only became widespread after 2000.

    iTunes and iPods are a good choice: they certainly changed the way most people perceived and acquired music. However, MP3s, music players and online stores all existed several years before then. Apple’s marketing was the main success.

  • someone

    A WAMP; a good text editor; that multiple IE program that allows testing in 5.5/6/7; broadband; and a few bottles of Guiness

  • Guest

    “Do you remember the days of debugging JavaScript in IE? If I had a penny for every “Object not an instance of an object at line 0″…”

    So, Firebug is available for IE, then? I thought it was a Firefox only plugin?

  • Guest

    What about Bittorrent? That has got to be one of the most revolutionary technologies of the decade. Not just that but the whole entire concept of using Peer-2-Peer technology to allow for much quicker downloading of files without the strain on the sever.

  • Anonymous

    I would say blogging as a concept that have a long way to go!.nice comments guys.

  • smftre

    No, firebug is not available to IE, only to Firefox.
    But IE does have it’s own Developer Tools that works very similar to the trusty firebug!
    Infact, now so do Chrome and Safari too!

  • cordieb

    I think social media should have been included in the top 5. Social media, including, blogging, has changed how the world communicates. It may very well help win presidential elections.

  • I wouldn’t put it over the five already in the list, but jQuery deserves mention. It brought relatively sophisticated JavaScript effects to a level where even beginning Web designers could incorporate them in their sites with relative ease.

  • tjk

    @someone – You can use Firebug Lite ( for IE – a handy little tool to have.

  • tjk

    Sorry, that should have been for Guest: “So, Firebug is available for IE, then? I thought it was a Firefox only plugin?” – not @someone

  • Helianthus

    One program in particular that I have come to appreciate is Contribute. I am sure that there are a lot of other similar – and better – programs out there, however the ease of use for my clients with the most basic computer skills has been a blessing. It has, in my view, made having a business presence online more possible for those clients. It has also allowed me to move on to the next project quicker without getting stuck providing content maintenance services.

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