How Did We Get Here?

It seems unlikely to today’s geek newcomers, but at one a time Hotmail was not only cool, it was also the hottest web-based application on the planet.

Back in the early 1990s, the idea of having free, separate, web-based email that could be used alongside a typical POP3 account was very appealing to a lot of long-term Internet users. Hotmail meant getting an instant, throwaway online identity. People rushed to grab all the cool Hotmail usernames. Of course, all this was a long time before Microsoft came along with a big fat check and purchased the whole thing.

These days, Hotmail is MSN Hotmail and is just one of many web-based email systems. Most commentators agree that it isn’t even the leader among them anymore, having been out-featured by Google’s Gmail and Yahoo!’s email service. (Although it is under constant development, so who knows what new features may be on the way?)

Webmail has become commonplace now; it’s a mainstream product that millions of people rely on daily for their personal communications. Most people using webmail accounts have no idea that they are taking part in the web apps revolution.

And webmail is just the start of this new trend: in the last couple of years, a bunch of unexpected computing tasks have become browser apps. The irony is that this is happening just as our computers have become faster, more powerful, and cheaper than ever before. We’ve got the best consumer computing devices we’ve ever produced, and we’re increasingly using ...

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