Computers in the 1990s (2023)

Computers in the 1990s (1)

Key Points

  • This era saw Explorer battle it out for supremacy with Netscape.
  • It also saw Apple granted much needed respite from competitor Microsoft which bought 100,000 of its shares to keep them from floundering (although the latter’s benevolence certainly came at a price).
  • The introduction of WiFi also spelt an end to communication which relied on cables and wiring.

As the 1980s gave way to the 1990s, it was clear that the industry’s focus was shifting away from bringing the computer into the home. Instead, there was a newfound determination to make the personal computer more portable and more powerful. For much of the previous decade, the home computer wasn’t necessarily capable of the most advanced computational tasks. By the end of the ‘80s, it was evident the 1990s were going to bring advancements in features, design, speed, storage, and price that would make this technology more incredible and enticing than ever. The timeline below will outline some of the most important facts and the most notable advancements in the history of computers throughout the 1990s.


New Decade, New DOS

Regardless of brands, from Windows to Apple, the late ‘80s and early 1990s saw an increasing amount of attention being paid to a computer’s DOS (or disk operating system). The first couple of tries Windows made weren’t necessarily the most successful, but with Windows 3.0, the company’s streak of so-so reception toward its DOS was over now. 1990 saw the introduction of Windows 3.0 and the spread of OS/2 from IBM, both of which presented Apple with a serious threat: Keep up with the other guys or face falling behind.

Welcome to Microsoft Office

After initially announcing the suite of programs in 1988, Microsoft officially released Microsoft Office in late 1990. While it’s hard to imagine a computer without this software bundle today, the general public didn’t get access to Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint until this point in the history of computers.


Death of the DOS?

In 1991, the biggest brands in the game continued to wrangle with the DOS. The question lingered: Microsoft’s DOS or IBM’s OS? Which was better? This question only grew more complicated as Windows simultaneously pushed its own Windows 3.0 DOS and its collaboration with IBM, the OS/2. In June 1991, Bill Gates declared “the DOS is dead,” seemingly clearing up the debate with just a few words, only for Gates to drop development of the OS/2 in favor of Windows’s upcoming DOS 5.

Linux Comes to Life

While operating systems, the Internet, and the World Wide Web were still in their infancy, there was already a push to improve the systems actively being built at the time. In 1991, Linus Torvalds, a Finnish student, began work on Linux. An open-source operating system still used today, Torvalds’s Linux kernel was born from a desire to make computing more affordable, accessible, and powerful all in one.

Powering Up the PowerBook

Computers in the 1990s (2)

Even though Apple’s Macintosh Portable was a triumph of design, speed, and technology, its price tag made it less than successful to the general public. Thankfully, the Apple PowerBooks introduced in 1991 were able to amend some of the slight damage to the brand’s reputation. They came with a trackball instead of a mouse, an internal floppy disk drive, and even a couple of palm rests — all innovative features that would soon become staples of laptop computers throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s.


Bring On the 64 Bits

Up until 1992, 32-bit microprocessors had been the standard. However, the Alpha changed all that. A 64-bit RISC (or reduced instruction set computer) microprocessor, the Alpha soon found itself a key component of several new workstations, supercomputers, and servers the world over. It didn’t take long for Compaq and Intel to snatch up the technology and make their own improvements to it, as well.

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Take a JPEG, It’ll Last Longer

In the early years of the personal computer, there weren’t many standards established yet. For example, it wasn’t until the Joint Photographic Expert Group — a.k.a. JPEG — established the standard for what digital images should be. Using the name of their group, the JPEG established the compression and quality standards for virtual images.

The SSD Emerges

Hard disk drives had become the industry standard by this point in 1992, but it came with pros and cons: as the personal computer got smaller and the most popular computers got more portable, the hard disk drive was a little too heavy to be practical anymore. Thankfully, SunDisk — which we now know as SanDisk — presented IBM with the SSD (or solid-state disk) to try and amend this problem. Using non-volatile memory chips instead of a traditional hard disk drive’s spinning disks, the SSD and its flash memory made for a very exciting new storage option.

Thinking About the ThinkPad

To compete with Apple’s PowerBook, IBM released its own take on the lightweight and portable personal computer: The ThinkPad. Known for its distinctive design inspired by the look of a lunchbox, the ThinkPad also features a now-iconic red TrackPoint in the center of the keyboard.


A Commercialized Internet

Today, the price of the Internet doesn’t come cheap. However, at this point in the history of the World Wide Web, there weren’t many Internet service providers around to sell it to people. That changed in 1993 when commercial internet service providers began to emerge and started selling the web to homes and businesses. The Internet officially had a price, and it would stay this way from this point forward.


HTML — or HyperText Markup Language — is now the standard for the document markup language, but here are the facts: before HTML, there was no standard for a website’s fonts, sizes, colors, or images. With the arrival of HyperText, websites could now branch out beyond the basic web design of the past and move toward a HyperText-fueled future of innovative web design.

The Debut of the MP3

A year after the JPEG became the standard for virtual images, the MP3 became the standard for virtual sounds. Used to play music on PCs and store audio on portable digital players, the MP3 file format was undoubtedly a major development.

Doom Isn’t Doomed

Computer games are as popular as any console games today, but in 1993, the jury was still out on whether or not computer games would stick up against the popularity of console gaming. However, with the hugely successful release of Doom in December of 1993, computer games made a major statement: the desktop computer was officially a legitimate option for video gaming, regardless of its pros and cons.

Public Display of Advancements

Computers in the 1990s (3)

It doesn’t get any smaller than the palm of the hand, does it? In the continued push to bring the speed, the storage, and the capabilities of the desktop computer to the hustle and bustle of the working world, Apple created the Newton: a personal data assistant (or PDA) that boasted many convenient productivity tools including software that could recognize handwriting and translate it to text. It was pretty buggy and had many pros and cons, but it served as the first PDA and an early step toward the features of a smartphone.

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PC: Popularity Contest

It was years in the making, but 1994 finally saw a true boom in popular computers and the Internet alike. From the newfound success of computer games to the popularization of the Internet to the ever-increasing interest in owning a desktop computer, it was evident that the popularity of the home computer was not just a product of the time. It was a new way of life.


Battle of the Browsers

As the Internet continued to grow increasingly popular, it was only a matter of time before the biggest names in tech started vying for ownership of it. This is the root of the war that broke out between Microsoft and Netscape in 1995: Would people prefer Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, or would they rather use Netscape’s Navigator? Both browsers were incredibly popular on home computers and desktops across the nation, and, as it turns out, neither one really lost the battle. While Navigator went away and eventually became the basis for Firefox, both this browser and Internet Explorer still exist today.

Dawn of the DVD

The CD was a major development in the 1980s, and the DVD was just as huge in the 1990s. Far surpassing the storage capabilities of the CD, the DVD — or Digital Video Disc — was quickly accepted as the new standard for reading and writing audio-video in 1995. The film industry and consumers alike were enamored by the DVD, especially considering how interactive and high-quality they were compared to the VHS or the CD.

Speaking My Programming Language

From the development of JavaScript to the release of Windows 95, 1995 saw the programming language enjoy one of its best and most successful years on record. Both JavaScript and Windows 95 showed the world how important a solid and advanced programming language could be. Across the most popular computers on the market, both JavaScript and Windows 95 enjoyed great success.


Call Me

With the release of Apple’s Newton and IBM’s Simon, it was evident that many of the world’s smartest technological minds were thinking about how to bring the power of the computer into the palm of people’s hands. Then, in 1996, the release of the Nokia 9000 was the world’s biggest step toward the smartphone thus far. The thing was big but powerful, complete with its CPU, 8 MB of memory, and even its own operating system.

Getting Graphic

As computer games continued to grow more and more popular (and, concurrently, more and more advanced), there became an increasingly obvious need for better graphics. 3Dfx answered the call by developing and releasing the Voodoo graphics chip. While 3Dfx was eventually sold to Nvidia, the company’s graphics chip was an unbelievable step forward in the world of computer graphics. Grand Theft Auto — released in 1997 — was one of the earliest games to show off the benefits of improved graphics.

Hotmail Hits the Web

Despite eventually being bought and repurposed by Microsoft’s Outlook, Hotmail was a big deal when it hit the Internet in 1996. Created to bring people freedom from the control of Internet service providers, the popular email service made a serious splash at the time.


Apple Falls Financially

We think of Apple as one of the dominant technology providers of the modern-day, but here are the facts: The company was in serious financial trouble in 1997, and, after nearly two years of straight losses, they needed help from an unexpected source, Microsoft. The rival bought up 100,000 shares of Apple stock (worth $150 million at the time), helping the company get some stable footing so long as they dropped their lawsuit against Microsoft.

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Introducing the iMac

Computers in the 1990s (4)

Just one year after facing serious hardship and receiving a helping hand from Microsoft, Apple released the iMac: a groundbreaking all-in-one desktop computer encased in iconic colorful plastic that singlehandedly brought the company out of the red and into the green. With Steve Jobs now back at the company as well, Apple was officially safe again.


The Force of Geforce

As suggested by the success of the 3Dfx Voodoo chip, computer graphics were headed toward a serious level-up. This came to fruition with the release of Nvidia’s Geforce 256, the world’s first Graphics Processor Unit (GPU) available at the consumer level. Getting in right under the wire of the new decade and the millennium ahead, Nvidia had effectively set the stage for a whole new world of technological advancement.

Welcome, Wi-Fi

1999 also saw the popularization of a new way to connect to the Internet. As it turns out, “IEEE 802.11b” just isn’t as catchy or as snappy as Wi-Fi. Offering Internet connectivity without the hassle of cables or wires, Wi-Fi used short-range radio networking to revolutionize the way we get online.

Up Next…

For more information on computers throughout the decades, check these out:

  • Computers in the 1970s: This decade saw the advent of the personal computer. Find out what exactly it entailed and which brands ruled the tech space.
  • Computers in the 1980s: During this era, computers metamorphosed to become faster, in addition to featuring improved design. Find out the one innovation which made it possible as well as the luminaries which transformed the decade and the tech sector.
  • Computers in the 2000s: It was the decade of the iPhone, Google, and virtual currency. Discover other key trends which defined this era.

Computers in the 1990s FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

How did computers change in the 1990s?

Computers became faster, more accessible, and more widely available in the 1990s. With the Internet continuing to grow throughout the decade as laptops and desktops became more user-friendly than ever, the 1990s were a decade of massive advancement in the realms of portability and accessibility.

What computer brands were popular in the 90s?

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Apple, Compaq, HP, and IBM were some of the most popular brands of the 1990s.

What were computers like in 90s vs now?

Compared to today’s standards, computers in the 1990s were a lot bulkier, a lot heavier, a lot slower, and a lot less capable of the kind of graphics, video, and multitasking capabilities we’re used to seeing today.

Were there laptops in the 1990s?

There were many different laptops available in the 1990s, including the IBM ThinkPad and the Apple PowerBook.

What technology was popular in the 90s?

In terms of physical technology, the 1990s saw the Walkman and Discman rise to popularity alongside the iMac, the PDA, and the car phone. When it comes to virtual technology, the World Wide Web and computer gaming were the most popular.

What major computer events happened in the 90s?

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The release of Microsoft Office, the popularization of the laptop, and the push for smarter phones were some of the major computer events of the 1990s (not to mention the popularization of the Internet).


What were computers like in the 1990s? ›

Computers in the 1990s were bulky and not very user-friendly. They had large monitors and keyboards that took up a lot of space. The internet was not widely used yet, so most people used their computers for basic tasks like word processing and playing simple games.

How did computers change in 1990s? ›

During the 1990s, computers became faster and more capable of rendering different media, resulting in audio and video becoming standard on computers. Also, the internet started to grow and become famous, and networking developed. Portable computers, known as laptops, also became popular during the 90s.

How common were computers in the 90s? ›

High school gradu- ates also showed a significant increase in computer ownership, from 9 percent in 1990 to 23 percent in 1997. Age. Consumer units in the age 45-54 group were the most likely to own a PC, with a 46-percent ownership rate in 1997, an increase of 26 percentage points from 1990.

What type of technology was used in the 90s? ›

Walkman, Discman and MP3 players

These included portable cassette players (most notably Sony's "Walkman"), portable CD players (the also popular Sony's "Discman"), Minidisc players and MP3 players.

What effect did the computer have on American society in the 1990s? ›

The Internet computer system created a new world of communications. America grew by almost thirty-three million people during the 1990s. This is the most the United States has ever grown during a ten-year period. Some minority groups are growing faster than the white population.

How did the internet change in the 90s? ›

In 1991, the World Wide Web was developed by Tim Berners-Lee (pictured at left) as a way for people to share information. The hyper-text format available through his Web made the internet much easier to use because all documents could be seen easily on-screen without downloading.

What was the internet like in the 90s? ›

The 90s gave us the very first websites on the world wide web, launching us into a whole new age of the internet. In the span of a decade, web pages went from little more than glorified Word documents to boisterous sites full of vibrant colors, cheesy cursors, and excessive animation.

What important software was created in 1990? ›

Microsoft released Windows 3.0, a completely new version of Microsoft Windows on May 22, 1990. The version sells more than three million copies in one year. Microsoft Excel version 3, and Word version 1.1 were released. Excel version 3 was also released for Mac in 1990.

Did schools have computers in the 90s? ›

1990: Multimedia PCs are developed, and schools are using video and compact discs to accompany textbooks and teaching. Object-oriented multimedia authoring tools were in wide use, computer aided simulations began to pick up, and well educational databases become popular.

What were old computers used for? ›

Early computers were meant to be used only for calculations. Simple manual instruments like the abacus have aided people in doing calculations since ancient times. Early in the Industrial Revolution, some mechanical devices were built to automate long, tedious tasks, such as guiding patterns for looms.

How many people owned a computer in the 1990s? ›

In February 1990, 42% of U.S. adults said they used a personal computer, even if only rarely. Men and women were about equally as likely to use computers, as were whites and blacks.

How much storage did computers have in the 90s? ›

During the mid-1990s the typical hard disk drive for a PC had a capacity of about 1 gigabyte. As of August 2020, desktop hard disk drives typically had a capacity of 1 to 8 terabytes, with the largest-capacity drives reaching 20 terabytes (single-disk drives, "dual" drives are available up to 24 TB).

What was the most used computer application until the mid 90s? ›

Word processing was one of the earliest applications for the personal computer in office productivity, and was the most widely used application on personal computers until the World Wide Web rose to prominence in the mid-1990s.

Why was Internet popular in the 1990s? ›

Users and Technologies in the Open Web

The World-Wide Web grew quickly starting in the early 1990s, based on researchers' development of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) and the Mosaic graphical web browser (1993). The Web's availability drove popular demand for access beyond closed services.

What was the 1990s era known for? ›

Known as the "post-Cold War decade", the 1990s are often culturally defined as the period from the Revolutions of 1989 that marked the end of the Cold War until the Global War on Terror ("GWOT"), which included the September 11 attacks, the War in Afghanistan, and the Iraq War.

What is one impact that technology had on homes in the 1990s? ›

Internet access via dial-up modems slowly gained traction during the 1990s. By 2000, 50 percent of households had dial-up access and the No. 1 website was AOL. Entertainment options shifted in the 1990s, too, with DVDs replacing video and CD players replacing tapes.

What was the technology boom of the 1990s? ›

The technology sector has a dynamic history of expansion and contraction. Its first high-growth period lasted from 1990 to 2000, a time traditionally thought of as the “dot-com boom” or the “tech bubble.” National employment in technology sector industries shot up by 36 percent over the period.

What type of Internet access was most common in the 1990s? ›

Availability of Internet access was once limited, but has grown rapidly. In 1995, only 0.04 percent of the world's population had access, with well over half of those living in the United States, and consumer use was through dial-up.

What was the computer revolution 1990s? ›

In the early 1990s, the World Wide Web was developed, in large part, for commercial purposes. Corporations created home pages where they could place text and graphics to sell products. Soon airline tickets, hotel reservations, books, and even cars and homes could be purchased online.

What changed communication by the 1990s? ›

Unleashing the power of the World Wide Web

Websites began popping as digital storefronts for organizations and companies. While their designs and communications strategies were only in their infancy, the Web became an important tool in a communicator's toolbox to drive people to their content.

What impact did computers have on society? ›

The Major Impacts

Thanks to computers, space exploration came true, new designs of vehicles and other transportation were made; entertainment became more entertaining, medical science made more cures for diseases, etc. The computers impacted our lives in many ways.

What social media was used in the 90s? ›

Six Degrees is touted as the pioneer to social networking sites. IMAGE: Buffer. Often considered the platform that kicked off social networking sites, Six Degrees only survived up to 2001 since its inception in 1997. This, despite boasting more than 3.5 million users at its peak.

Was social media a thing in the 90s? ›

In fact, social media was officially born in 1997, but the roots of social media trace back even further to the early 1990s and the birth of the blogosphere.

What was the internet speed in the 90s? ›

In the 1990s, most people who had Internet access at all did so using modems connected to standard telephone lines. In early 1993, the fastest available modem was capable of transferring data at a maximum speed of 14.4 kilobytes per second (kbps), equivalent to 864kb per minute, or 51.84Mb per hour.

What was the most advanced technology in 1990? ›

The first internet browser. Revealed in 1990, the first web browser (called WorldWideWeb) meant that the internet could be accessed from a broad range of devices and operating systems. It meant that even the least tech-savvy users could click and browse different websites relatively easily.

What was the Internet called in 1990? ›

1990s. In 1990, ARPANET is decommissioned. Tim Berners-Lee and his colleagues at CERN develop hypertext markup language (HTML) and the uniform resource locator (URL), giving birth to the first incarnation of the World Wide Web.

How many people were using the Internet in 1990? ›

In 1990 the Internet had existed for only 7 years; just 3 million people had access to it worldwide. 73% of these people were living in the United States, 15% were in Western Europe. Internet users in 1990 were recorded in just a few other territories.

What three technologies were developed since 1990? ›

Smartphones, the digital camera, targeted Internet searches and the World Wide Web itself, emojis, even SnapChat and Instagram are all built on the ideas that came about in the 1990's.

What were the popular operating systems during the early 1990s? ›

In the early 90s, 286 and 386 were ruling the hardware industry. During the early 90s, Microsoft's Windows 3.1 coupled with DOS had taken over as the most successful and widely used OS.

Did the 1990 have Internet? ›

Commercial Internet service providers (ISPs) emerged in 1989 in the United States and Australia. The ARPANET was decommissioned in 1990. Limited private connections to parts of the Internet by officially commercial entities emerged in several American cities by late 1989 and 1990.

What were computers like in 1994? ›

MS-DOS (Microsoft Disk Operating System) was immensely popular and Windows '95 was still a year away. RAM (Random Access Memory) was 4 MB on most computers back then, monitors were 14 inches or smaller, and CD-ROM drives were replacing floppy disks. Computer games were getting more popular.

What were computers like in 1991? ›

Apple introduced System 7 operating system on May 13, 1991. Microsoft released Word 2.0 for PC, and version 5 for Mac in 1991. MS-DOS 5.0 was released in June 1991. Adobe Photoshop 2.0 was released in June 1991.

Was the internet common in the 90s? ›

The 1990s will forever be remembered as the decade when the world came online. In the early years of the decade, the Internet was growing steadily, though few people had access to it. Still, people began to hear about the “Information Superhighway” that would change their lives.

What happened to the Internet in 1990? ›

In 1990, ARPANET is decommissioned. Tim Berners-Lee and his colleagues at CERN develop hypertext markup language (HTML) and the uniform resource locator (URL), giving birth to the first incarnation of the World Wide Web.

What are the major computer events from 1995? ›

Intel introduced the Intel Pentium Pro processor in November 1995. Classmates was released on November 17, 1995. Microsoft released Internet Explorer 2.0 on November 22, 1995, and officially started the browser war with Netscape. GIMP was first released on November 22, 1995.


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