Twenty years ago, when first launched, my computing life was very local. All my software was on my hard disk, often installed from floppy disks. Floppy disks also allowed me to share files with others. If it was a big file, say, a couple of megabytes, I used a Zip disk. When my computer behaved strangely, I sought troubleshooting help in a thousand-page print book. If I visited the World Wide Web, it was usually to kill time, such as checking out Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

Over the last 20 years, I've steadily moved almost all of my computing life from the desktop to the Web, shifting the way I share files, communicate with friends and family, listen to music, and find and use apps.

Browsers show the way

The Web felt like more of a diversion than an essential part of my computing life in 1996. But it was about to become much more important. Microsoft, in 1996, bundled its Internet Explorer browser with Windows 95, which meant that well over 90 percent of all computer users had a Web browser just a click away. And AOL announced it was moving from an hourly connection fee to a flat monthly fee, turning dial-up users loose on the Web. With an unlimited connection and readily available tools, Internet traffic jumped.


Over 20 years, software gets easier...

Easy-to-use browsers from Netscape and Microsoft and eventually Apple certainly helped point the way. But having quick access to email, contacts and calendars, instant messages, and even newspapers and videos helped speed up the transition.

...and free...

And the move to free software also helped. Google helped carry the banner, for example, with Gmail and YouTube, free to use, supported in part by advertising. Spotify seemingly out of nowhere, move to the top of the streaming music heap with its ad-based free music service.


While AOL in the mid-'90s hinted at what the Internet would become, with its email service, instant messaging software, chat rooms, and online games, the next generations of companies, from Google to Valve, carried the ideas forward. From rating dogs to grumbling gamers, it's all online.

We Rate Dogs Twitter

And it's all the same

And now, 20 years later, most of my apps and files are in the cloud, hosted by Google or Apple or Facebook. I share files through one of a handful of online sharing services such as Dropbox and check an online forum if my Mac starts acting up. But you know what's the same? The Oracle of Bacon is still up and running, in all its Web 1.0 quaintness.


More stories 20th anniversary: 20 of our most popular apps 20th anniversary: a tech timeline

Clifford Colby follows the Mac and Android markets for He's been an editor at Peachpit Press and a handful of now-dead computer magazines, including MacWeek, MacUser, and Corporate Computing.