THE personal-computer era is about twenty years old, dating from some point between the founding of Microsoft, in 1975, and the introduction of the IBM Personal Computer, in 1981. People have continually marveled at how fast everything is changing. But never before have the fundamentals of the business changed as quickly or as dramatically as they have in the past year and a half, because of the sudden popularity of the Internet.
Less than two years ago an auditorium's worth of high-powered computing executives watched in fascination as one of their colleagues demonstrated something called the World Wide Web. (A report on the meeting appeared in the July, 1994, issue of this magazine. For those joining us late: The Internet is the supernetwork that links computer networks around the world. "The Web" is a graphically oriented system that makes it easy for someone using one computer connected to the Internet to inspect and collect information from another computer connected to the Internet, no matter where those computers might be. Such transactions have been possible for years, but the Web allows users to perform them merely by clicking on little symbols, which are connected to files or other computers in a series of hypertext links.) Now children in elementary school have their own Web pages, and beer and car companies put their Web-site addresses in their advertisements.