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This Month in Tech History: February

A calendar displaying February

February is filled to the brim with monumental events in tech history. Three services you probably use daily launched this month, along with two of the most beloved game series of all time, plus a seminal moment in the development of artificial intelligence. Keep reading to learn the details.

February 4, 2000: The Sims Released

Several characters from the original 'The Sims' game

When Maxis launched The Sims, it was groundbreaking. It was the first time players could create simulated people, build their homes, and live their lives in granular detail. With every moment of a Sim’s life depicted in an addicting fashion, Maxis delivered the first truly immersive life-simulator game. Players had never seen anything like it, and the world loved it.

Although it began as a spin-off game of the popular SimCity franchise, The Sims immediately took on a life of its own. Not only was it one of the top-selling computer games of the year 2000, but then also went on to become the best-selling PC game of all time. It was later dethroned by its successor: The Sims 2. With a seemingly never-ending series of sequels, expansion packs, spin-offs, and mods, The Sims is still going strong today. The franchise has shipped more than 200 million copies worldwide and lives on in its most recent release: The Sims 4.

The Sims 4

Build the world of your dreams in the Sims 4.

February 4, 2004: Facebook Goes Live

Few companies have impacted the 21st century the way Facebook has. It all started in a Harvard college dorm when a young Mark Zuckerberg and his classmates launched The Facebook.

Originally exclusive to Harvard University students, Facebook was a hit on campus and quickly expanded into the rest of academia. At the end of 2004, Facebook had acquired one million active users. By the time Facebook opened its doors to the general public in 2006, that number had grown to six million. In 2008, Facebook overtook Myspace as the world’s most popular social network. Today, Facebook is closing in on three billion active monthly users.

Facebook’s dominance reshaped how society communicates. And it continues to push into new frontiers of online social interaction. In 2021, Facebook Inc. renamed itself Meta. While the social network will continue to be known as Facebook, the change signaled the company’s focus on the next big internet revolution: the metaverse.

February 8, 2005: Google Maps Launches

Google Maps showing toll roads
Google Maps

Before Google Maps, if you wanted to go somewhere you had never been, you needed a physical map to show you the way. If you were going someplace far, you needed multiple maps or even a whole atlas. They were big, unwieldy, and you could never use them while you were driving. Services like MapQuest saved us from that with printed turn-by-turn directions. And if you wanted to spend the extra cash, you could buy a GPS device like a TomTom to guide you.

When Google acquired Where 2 Technologies in late 2004, then relaunched it as Google Maps in 2005, it harnessed the power and resources of the Silicon Valley giant to improve on what came before and integrate it into the Google ecosphere. The result is a comprehensive map of the entire world carried around in the pockets of over one billion people. Showing them where they are, where they’re going, and how to get there — for free.

February 10, 1996: Computer Defeats World Chess Champion

When IBM supercomputer Deep Blue defeated reigning world chess champion Garry Kasparov, attitudes and perceptions about artificial intelligence radically shifted. Until then, computers could only occasionally beat top-rated human players. Kasparov’s defeat is one of the most symbolic milestones in computing history because it proved that a computer could outperform a human in an exercise that demands high cognitive abilities.

Feng-Hsiung Hsu designed and built Deep Blue with the specific goal of beating a world chess champion. He developed it at Carnegie Mellon University in 1985 and continued at IBM after 1989. By 1996, Deep Blue could evaluate 200 million moves per second, and IBM was eager to give it a highly publicized match.

After defeating Deep Blue’s predecessor, Deep Thought, in 1989, the previously undefeated grandmaster expected to win easily. But in the first game of the match, Kasparov resigned after just 19 moves. After losing the first game, Kasparov went on to win the match by beating Deep Blue four games to two. Nevertheless, Deep Blue set a precedent. And a year later, with its hardware upgraded, Deep Blue definitively defeated Kasparov in a rematch series.

February 14, 2005: YouTube.com Activated

A closeup of the YouTube webpage

YouTube began when Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim launched the video-dating website Tune In, Hook Up. But they abandoned the endeavor five days after launch because no one was uploading videos. The former PayPal employees reconsidered the romance element and relaunched the site as YouTube.

The first upload to the site was an 18-second-long video featuring Karim visiting the elephant exhibit at the San Diego Zoo. YouTube’s growth immediately exploded and never slowed down. A year later, the site hosted more than 25 million videos, catching the eye of potential buyers. And a mere 20 months after the video-dating experiment went wrong, Google bought YouTube for $165 billion in stock.

Today, YouTube is the most-watched online video platform by a mile. More than two billion people a month watch YouTube, and the YouTube mobile app has 845 million active monthly users. It comes in second in other pivotal categories like most visited website behind Google and most used social media platform right after Facebook.

February 19, 1990: Adobe Photoshop 1.0 Released

Photoshop was the brainchild of University of Michigan student Thomas Knoll. Originally named Display, it was limited to displaying grayscale images. In 1988, his brother John suggested expanding its scope. The two spent six months developing it into a more robust image editing suite. After renaming the program ImagePro then Photoshop, the brothers sold about 200 copies through manufacturer Barneyscan. And in September of that year, Adobe bought the distribution license.

When Adobe launched Photoshop in February of 1990, it was only available on Macintosh. When Adobe released it for Windows in 1993, it achieved the growth that would eventually make it one of the world’s most recognizable and widely-used software brands. Adobe purchased the program outright from the Knoll brothers in 1995 for 34.5 million dollars.

February 21, 1986: The Legend of Zelda Goes on Sale

Photo of an original Nintendo NES video game console with Zelda game cartridge
Pit Stock/Shutterstock.com

Legendary Nintendo game designers Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka approached The Legend of Zelda very differently compared to other video games of the time.

The game features one of the earliest examples of open-world design, which prioritizes exploration to a quick completion. The opening crawl establishes the game’s lore, giving players a deeper investment in the characters and story. And its heightened difficulty encouraged people to exchange strategies for beating the game, creating a community of fans and word-of-mouth marketing. The approach paid off.

Nintendo launched the game in Japan in 1986, and it was a smash hit with players. When it came to North America and Europe more than a year later, it was one of the most highly anticipated games ever. Selling a total of 6.5 million copies, The Legend of Zelda is the fifth most-sold game for the Nintendo Entertainment System. And it’s carried that success ever since. The franchise’s latest title, The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild, was hailed as a masterpiece. And its highly anticipated sequel is set for release in 2022.

Danny Chadwick Danny Chadwick
Danny has been a technology journalist since 2008. He served as senior writer, as well as multimedia and home improvement editor at Top Ten Reviews until 2019. Since then, he has been a freelance contributor to Lifewire and ghostwriter for Fit Small Business. His work has also appeared on Laptop Mag, Tom’s Guide, and business.com. Read Full Bio »