Top 50 Tech Visionaries

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 deminishing their quality. We know the result now as MP3 coding. At AT&T Labs, American engineer James D. Johnston (left) 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.

Ann Winblad (#35) to Alan Emtage with Bill Heelan and Mike Parker (#42)

35. Ann Winblad

Courtesy of MicrosoftHalf 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

Courtesy of NASACharles 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.

37. Thomas Penfield Jackson

Courtesy of Jackson & CampbellFew people would have imagined that it a 62-year-old man unaffiliated with the company would have the most profound effect on Microsoft in years. But in 1999 U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson shook the tech world to its foundations when he handed down a landmark ruling declaring Microsoft to be an abusive monopoly and ordering it split into two companies. Though appellate courts eventually overturned many of Jackson's rulings, Microsoft has been on the defensive against antitrust actions here and abroad ever since, and all tech companies looking to merge have had to tread more cautiously in Jackson's wake.

38.  Jerry Yang and David Filo

This unassuming twosome got their start in 1994 while still at Stanford, with a truly humble idea: Populate a directory with cool places that they had found on the then-infant World Wide Web. Yahoo was born on a lark but Jerry Yang (left) and David Filo helped it become one of the Web's top destinations: Today it is the home page for millions of people seeking the easiest entry point into the Internet. After an unfruitful turn with Hollywood insider Terry Semel at the helm, Yang retook the reins as CEO in June 2007. Yahoo is now coping with separate forays for control of the company by Microsoft and by Carl Icahn. (Full disclosure: The author writes a blog for Yahoo Tech.)

39. Peter Norton

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