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80,258 News Articles

The 50 biggest heroes in technology history

Innovators, legends and geeks who shaped our world

Every gadget and technology that affects your every day life has taken years if not a lifetime of hard work in research, design and development. We've charted the top 50 people responsible for implementing today's best technologies.

33. Al Shugart

You're probably using a product conceived by Al Shugart right now without even knowing it. Shugart's company, Shugart Technology, switched to the more exotic-sounding name Seagate Technology soon after opening for business.

At Seagate, Shugart developed technology that he had tinkered with during a stint at IBM (where he led the team that invented the floppy disk) into the hard drive for the mass market. The colourful Shugart ran Seagate for nearly 20 years before redefining himself as a sort of venture capitalist/promoter, a role that made him a staple at big tech shows such as Comdex. Shugart died in 2006.

34. Karlheinz Brandenburg and James D Johnston

Who says grad school is all impractical theory? At Friedrich-Alexander University, Karlheinz Brandenburg used his dissertation to work out a way of compressing digital audio files to radically smaller size without greatly diminishing their quality. We know the result now as MP3 coding.

At AT&T Labs, American engineer James D Johnston improved on Brandenburg's work by introducing "perceptual coding", which strips out inaudible parts of an audio signal to compress the file further. Johnston's contribution, too, has become a standard feature of most audio compression schemes.

35. Ann Winblad

Half of the well-known Hummer Winblad Venture Partners investment group, Ann Winblad was a key figure in the Web 1.0 boom, investing in such proto-companies as Napster, Gazoontite, Liquid Audio and Pets.com. Despite some ill-fated investments, Hummer Winblad picked enough winners to remain a lead investor in dozens of tech companies, primarily back-end enterprises. And lest you think that Winblad is merely a stuffed shirt, consider this: she began her career as a computer programmer in the 1970s and achieved indisputable nerd cred by having dated Bill Gates.

36. Charles Simonyi

Charles Simonyi (plus a little Gatesian muscle, natch) is the reason you use Word and Excel instead of WordPerfect and Quattro Pro. As head of Microsoft's application development group, Simonyi oversaw development of both Word and Excel back in the MS-DOS days and superintended the app suite for more than 20 years. The programs are now as close to ubiquitous as Windows itself (perhaps even closer, since Office is the standard app suite for the Mac as well). Fun facts to know and tell: Simonyi was the second Hungarian in space in space and is Martha Stewart's boyfriend.

NEXT PAGE: Thomas Penfield Jackson, Jerry Yang and David Filo take their place in tech history

  1. They persevered with technology to make our lives easier
  2. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Tim Berners-Lee's place in tech history
  3. Why we've got Ray Tomlinson and Douglas Engelbart to thank for our tech lives today
  4. The founders of AOL and Intel take their places in our top 50 tech bods
  5. Nolan Bushnell, Vint Cerf and Don Estridge
  6. Marc Andreessen, Linus Torvalds and Chuck Thacker take their place in tech history
  7. Why we've got Vic Hayes and Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston to thank for our life today
  8. Apple vice president Jonathan Ive and Amazon creator Jeff Bezos take their places in our top 50 tech heroes
  9. Al Shugart, Karlheinz Brandenburg and James D Johnston
  10. Thomas Penfield Jackson, Jerry Yang and David Filo take their place in tech history
  11. Why we've got Jon Postel and Alan Emtage with Bill Heelan and Mike Parker to thank for our tech lives today
  12. Susan Kare, Sir Arthur C Clarke and Herbie Hancock


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