A computer with a full keyboard and a monitor (Microbee), in about 1984. A hex-only keypad is very limiting.
Unix, initially SunOS 4.0 in 1991. Primarily the benefits of this were TCP/IP networking, fast email (no multi-day delay for Fidonet mail), IRC, and file transfer from anywhere in the world. Not inherent benefits to Unix, but at the time only Unix systems did TCP/IP at all well.
OS/2 2.0 in 1992. At the time OS/2 had the best GUI of any system available (IMHO) and clearly the best multitasking of DOS and Windows programs.
Linux in 1992. I started with the TAMU and “MCC Interim” distributions and then moved to SLS when it was released. The first kernel I compiled was about 0.52. At the time the main use of Linux for almost everyone was to learn about Unix and compile kernels. In 1993 I started running a public access Linux server.
Trinitron monitors in 1996. I first saw an IBM Trinitron monitor when working on an IBM project and had to buy one for home use, at the time a 17″ Trinitron monitor beat the hell out of any other display device that one could reasonably afford. A bigger screen allowed me to display more code at once which allowed easier debugging.
Thinkpad laptops from 1998 until now. They just keep working well and seem to be better than other products every time I compare them. I also like the TrackPoint. 1998 was when a Thinkpad dropped to a mere $3,800 for a system that could run with 96M of RAM, enough compute power for the biggest compiles and it cost less than most cars!
The KDE desktop environment in 1998. In 1998 I switched my primary workstation from a PC running OS/2 to a Thinkpad running Linux because of KDE. Prior to KDE nothing on Linux was user-friendly enough.
The iPaQ hand-held PC. I got one in 2002 and ran the Familiar distribution of Linux on it. I had it running SE Linux and used it for writing an article for Linux Journal. Being able to get a computer out on public transport to do some work really saved some time. In some ways the iPaQ hardware and the Familiar OS beat modern Android systems.
The EeePC 701 which I bought in 2008 . In the last 4 years someone has probably released a system that’s no larger or heavier and has the same amount of compute power (enough for web browsing, email, and ssh). But most Netbooks that I’ve seen don’t compete. The EeePC allowed me to take laptops to places where it previously wasn’t convenient.
Android, before using Android I never had a smart phone that I used for anything other than taking photos. The other smart phone OSs are either locked down or don’t have the app support that Android has. I listed lots of problems with my first phone the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10, but I still really enjoyed using it a lot . Since getting an Android phone I’ve read a lot of email while on the go, this means I can respond faster when necessary and use time that might otherwise be wasted. The ssh client means that I don’t need to carry a laptop with me when there’s a risk that emergency sysadmin work may be required.
For the period between 1998 and 2008 I can’t think of anything that really excited me apart from the iPaQ. Computers became a lot smaller, faster, cheaper, etc. But it was never a big exciting change. The AMD64 architecture wasn’t particularly exciting as most systems didn’t need more than 4G of RAM and the ones that did could use PAE.
What are the most exciting computer products you have seen?