Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who died Wednesday at 56 years old, is often lauded as a visionary, but he was also an inventor.
His name was listed on more than 300 Apple patents, including desktop computers, iPods, keyboards and mice, according to a New York Times analysis from August. Most of the patents are for product designs that eventually came to represent Apple's brand.
From Apple's unassuming beginnings in a suburban garage, Jobs has always had a passion for counterculture. His desire to bypass popular trends led him to create new ones, propelling Jobs into the top ranks of the world's greatest tech geniuses.
"He didn't want to just put out some decent good thing that would sell, it just had to be better than everyone else's," Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak told ABC News Thursday.
In Jobs' 2005 Stanford commencement speech, he told students their time was limited, "So don't waste it living someone else's life. … Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice."
In that spirit, ABCNews.com compiled a list of the most influential tech visionaries and narrowed it down to the top 10, beginning with two men whose contributions spurred the Information Age.
|Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce|
Jack Kilby, inventor of the hand-held calculator, is best known for conceiving the integrated circuit, without which desktop computers would not exist. He developed the device while working at Texas Instruments and filed a patent in 1959.
That same year Robert Noyce, the co-founder of Intel, independently filed a patent for an integrated circuit that was manufactured in a different way, using silicon. The concept behind both was the same: By laying small metal paths on one piece of material, the metal acted like wires to create an entire circuit.
Computers used to rely on vacuum tubes for circuitry, but integrated circuits made it possible to put thousands of transistors, which control and generate electric signals, on one microchip.
Their companies cross-licensed the technologies, and courts eventually gave credit to Kilby for the circuit and credited Noyce for the manufacturing process, which is still in use today.
Noyce died of a heart attack in 1990 at the age of 62. Kilby died of cancer in 2005 at the age of 81, after earning the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2000.
British scientist Tim Berners-Lee isn't a household name, but nearly every household uses his invention: the World Wide Web.
During the '80s and into the '90s he worked at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics in Geneva, Switzerland, where he created a system of hypertext documents that allowed scientists to access information quickly, without resorting to email. His program, Enquire (which stored information in links), was the precursor to the Web.
In the early '90s, Berners-Lee wrote software for the first Web browser, and went on to found the World Wide Web (W3) Consortium at MIT, an organization that abides by the mottos "Web for All," and "Web On Everything" (meaning mobile devices, TV systems, etc.) Its mission is to develop Web standards that ensure the Web's longevity.
In an interview with the New York Times in 2009, he said if he could do one thing differently, he would remove the double slash after the "http" in web addresses.
"Really, if you think about it, you don't need the slash-slash," he said.
|Larry Page and Sergey Brin|
Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin forever changed the way we use the Web. Google is now a verb, not just a company. The world's most popular search engine is widely considered one of the fastest and most accurate ways to find information online. To stay relevant, Google's search algorithms are continually changing to adapt to people's search habits, and to prevent content providers from hijacking search results.
Google acquired YouTube in 2006, and subsequently became the top online video distributor.
But with the rise of Facebook and Microsoft's Bing, Google faces new challenges compounded by its efforts to expand into other territories such as online software programs, television ads and travel search.
Brin was born in Moscow and his family came to American in 1979. Page is from Michigan. They started the company from a dorm room at Stanford University in 1998 and it now brings in $29 billion in revenue. The founders spoke to ABC News anchor Peter Jennings in 2004, describing their ascent; from borrowing money from professors, family and friends to running a Silicon Valley powerhouse.
"I am sometimes something of a lazy person, so when I end up spending a lot of time using something myself, as I did with Google in the earliest of days, I knew it was a big deal," Brin told Jennings.
They're estimated to have a net worth of $15 billion each, according to Forbes magazine. In April, Page took over as chief executive, succeeding Eric Schmidt. Brin continues to be Google's president of technology.
Larry Ellison, the billionaire co-founder and chairman of Oracle, helped create the first commercial database to use SQL (Structured Query Language). Today, Oracle remains the largest supplier of proprietary information management software and one of the first companies to make its business applications available through the Internet.
Ellison is known as an outspoken, savvy businessman with a penchant for dramatic public declarations. In 2010, he told the Wall Street Journal he was "speechless" over Hewlett-Packard Co.'s new CEO, Leo Apotheker, suggesting that the HP board "resign en masse … right away" because "the madness must stop."
An HP spokeswoman told the Journal that such comments don't "deserve the dignity of a response." (Apotheker was fired in September and replaced by billionaire businesswoman Meg Whitman.)
Oracle was first conceived in 1977 and grew quickly during the '80s, not only because of its database management products but also because of its software company acquisitions, the most recent being Art Technology Group, Inc. Oracle is now also focusing on hardware, and acquired hardware company Sun Microsystems in 2010.
|Evan Williams, Christopher Isaac Stone and Jack Dorsey|
Twitter co-creators Evan Williams, Christopher Isaac Stone and Jack Dorsey celebrated the fifth anniversary of the popular microblogging social network in July.
The founders debuted Twitter at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. Their first tweet? "Inviting coworkers." Since then, a flood of messages no greater than 140 characters has poured from the site. As of September, Twitter had more than 100 million active users around the world.
In 2009, "Nightline" interviewed two of the co-founders, Stone and Williams, who said Twitter is all about having the freedom to either tune in or tune out.
"When blogs first arrived there was a lot of the same response at first, which was why should people care what I am going to say or why pollute the Web with that, or, I have email. If I want to tell people something I will just email them," Williams said.
"When you flip it around, though, and make it up to the reader, the recipient, whether or not they want to tune into this info, it gives the author much more freedom to express themselves because they are not imposing on people."
During the interview, Stone noted Twitter's role in community organizing, a tool used by charities, and recently in Libya and Mexico.
"What we are seeing with Twitter is that people in general are good and they want to do good things and they are making things happen and they are using our tool to organize these great things," he said in 2009.
The microblogging service didn't turn a profit initially, but it's now slated to pull in $400 million in revenue in 2013, thanks to the company's Promoted Products, ads launched in 2010.
|Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett|
Stanford grads Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett co-founded Hewlett-Packard in 1939 and it eventually became a mainstay of Silicon Valley.
The company, which began in a rented garage with just $538, grew quickly. HP went from selling broadcast companies a popular device to set signal frequencies, to developing an ever-growing product line that included the first pocket-sized calculators and the first minicomputer.
In 1976, Steve Wozniak, who was an intern at the time, built a prototype for the first personal computer. HP passed on Wozniak's offer but they gave him the rights to his idea. In the '90s, when the company faltered, Packard came out of retirement briefly to push the company to offer computers and printers at an affordable price.
The company eventually expanded around the world and acquired PC-maker Compaq.
"For Silicon Valley, HP was not only the founding firm, but the embodiment of enlightened management, endless innovation and unimpeachable quality," former ABCNews.com contributor Michael Malone wrote in 2005.
Malone described the company as "one of the great technical innovators, but also the greatest corporate cultural innovator. Think employee stock options, flex-time, management by objective, profit sharing … all were either invented or validated by the company."
Shakeups in HP's management, especially in the past year, led to negative press but it still remains the world's largest technology company.
Hewlett died at his home in 2001 at age 87 and Packard died in 1996 at age 83 from pneumonia.
Harvard dropout Bill Gates started Microsoft with his friend, Paul Allen, more than three decades ago. The duo, who met in prep school, developed software for the first microcomputers, hence the name Microsoft.
When IBM approached Gates in the '80s to create software for their PCs, Gates bought an operating system that would run on their computers, dubbed MS-DOS, which Microsoft licensed to other companies as well, turning a large profit.
Allen left the company in 1983 after being diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. He is now chairman of the investment firm Vulcan and recently had a bout with another lymphoma, this one non-Hodgkin's.
In the mid-'80s, facing competition from other companies, Gates developed Windows, an operating system with a graphical interface.
Microsoft became the world's largest software business, leading Gates to become one of the richest men in the world. The company then spent several years battling antitrust allegations from the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department.
Apple's stock value soon surpassed that of Microsoft as mobile devices began dominating the Information Age.
Even so, in 2008, when Gates left Microsoft to focus on philanthropy, PCs with Microsoft software had become pervasive in offices and homes across the United States.
Gates' new passion, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is dedicated to improving global health. The foundation gave out more than $2 billion in grants in 2010 and controls more than $37 billion.
Marc Andreessen helped create Web browser Mosaic, a "point and click" graphical interface revolutionized the way we surf online.
Like many young visionaries the idea that launched his career originated in college. As a student at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, he worked at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, where Mosaic was born.
Soon after graduating he co-founded Netscape, the company that created Netscape Navigator, which was released in 1994. It soon became the go-to Web browser before being overtaken by Microsoft's Internet Explorer.
AOL purchased Netscape in 1999 and Andreessen became chief technology officer before resigning a few months later. That same year he founded web services firm LoudCloud, Inc. The company, renamed Opsware, was later acquired by Hewlett-Packard. In October 2004, Andreessen co-created social network Ning, which was bought by Glam media in September.
Andreessen's Sept. 20 blog post announced the merger, commenting on the company's two-year transformation.
"Today Ning hosts over 100,000 social networks covering every conceivable topic and interest, from 50 Cent to Sarah Palin and beyond," Andreessen wrote. "Ning's mission has always been, 'Your own social network for anything' and the team at Ning has worked hard to achieve this."
Andreessen is now co-founder of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. He also sits on the board of directors of Facebook, eBay and HP, among other companies.
Facebook CEO and Harvard dropout Mark Zuckerberg, 27, has changed the way we communicate, not only online but in other areas of our life. The social network platform that began in a dorm room in 2004 has arguably eliminated the need for high school yearbooks, greeting cards and reunions. It's a website that's now used by 300 million people around the world.
Zuckerberg, always ambitious, posted the latest number in September on the Facebook blog.
"It's a large number, but the way we think about this is that we're just getting started on our goal of connecting everyone," he wrote.
The social networking site is constantly evolving. In September, Zuckerberg announced new features called Timeline and Open Graph that will allow users to share their life stories and hear the music or movies their friends like.
At times socially awkward, Zuckerberg has been growing into his role as the face of Facebook, which is now valued at $50 billion. In the meantime, Zuckerberg has postponed its highly anticipated IPO.
Fans flocked to see a portrayal of Zuckerberg in the movie "The Social Network," which highlighted his long legal entanglement with the Winklevoss twins, who claim they thought of Facebook first. That dispute seems to have ended.
Recently Zuckerberg donated $100 million to public schools in Newark, N.J.
In an interview with "Good Morning America" Thursday, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak spoke to anchor George Stephanopoulos about the company's first few years, when they operated out of a garage on $1,300.
"You've got no money, you've got no bank account, you've got no relatives or friends who are rich and will loan you some money," Wozniak said. "And how do you start out and believe that you have dreams that really are going to take you to the top? Steve had them all the way. Me? I was just an engineer. I wanted things for myself so I built them."
Of course, Wozniak was much more than an engineer. Like Jobs, he was also a visionary (and college dropout) who played a crucial role in creating Apple's empire. After designing a personal computer that was initially rejected by HP, he and Jobs teamed up to develop the Apple II, one of the first mass-produced computers that included a keyboard and color monitor.
He left Apple a multimillionaire in 1985. After spending two decades as a philanthropist and volunteer, Wozniak joined Fusion-io in 2009 as itsr chief scientist. The company, headquartered in Utah, produces hardware and software that improves data processing performance.