[and most people don't even know what it is!]
I've spoken about this software before, I think, but it deserves its own blog post.
And what piece of software is the most important for the last 10 years?
"Oh yes of cour- eh, what?!" I hear you say.
But what it really allows is a PC to run only web applications and allows web applications to be feature rich as desktop ones. What is really allows is GMail to compete with Outlook and Google Apps to compete with Office. It not only allows Google to compete directly with Microsoft head-to-head but gives them a slight lead.
Since Google's applications are designed with sharing in mind and Microsoft's are not, Google is ahead in this respect. And since Google's applications are on the Web, you can get to them pretty much from anywhere.
And since Google are driven by a policy of "good-enough as fast as possible" their applications are sleek and ready to be used online - Microsoft have some way to go if they want to compete in this area.
In the mid-90s I remember a whole host of companies decided to take on Microsoft directly and all of them came off second best. Netscape (with navigator - remember that?) , SUN (SunOffice, Java, Net-PC) , IBM (OS/2), Apple (pre-Jobs, iPod).
Netscape is no longer but they did spawn Firefox which is eating into IE's market share in a big way. SUN has some amazing software like Java and SunOffice (or OpenOffice) but they never really impacted on Microsoft's dominance as they looked like they might have. The less said about OS/2 - the better. And Apple reached their lowest point when Microsoft invested in them to keep the company alive.
SUN's vision for a NetPC is coming about again with Google's ChromeOS. The only difference really is that SUN's vision had lots of pretty blue SUN Servers being the central store for all data and apps while Google's vision has lots of ugly grey and black Internet Servers being the central store. (Internet being the important part). Google are making true what SUN never could - "The (Inter)Network is the Computer".
Whether Google will succeed where many have failed remains to be seen but they have lined up some interesting tools to get themselves with at least a chance and at the heart of each of these tools is Google Gears making it all possible.