Sixty years of hi-tech

Some of most basic products and technologies that we take for granted, including computers, communications, security and even video games, were either wholly or largely created here.

hi tech 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
hi tech 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel has done more than survive the past 60 years; it has thrived, and the proof of that thriving is in the far-ranging technological advances invented right here. Some of the most basic products and technologies that we take for granted in a number of areas, including computers, communications, security and even video games, were either wholly or largely created here. AOL Instant Messenger Everyone knows the rags-to-riches saga of four post-IDF kids who came up with the idea for the first instant messenger, ICQ. They sold out their company, Mirabilis, in 1998 to America Online for $407 million. Before ICQ, instant messaging as a concept was restricted to geeky UNIX system administrator types who used to send geeky technical messages to users on a university or corporate network. ICQ was different - because it used Internet protocol and was designed for use by the "common" Windows system user. Now, there are dozens of instant messaging programs - just about all of which owe their existence to ICQ. Pentium M processors The guts of your PC laptop - the miniature processor that lets it run full-sized applications at blazing speed - was most likely made using technology developed at Intel's research centers in Israel. The Pentium M processor is the heart of Intel's Centrino processor family - the processor used in most lightweight laptops today. And Intel has never tried to hide the Pentium M's roots for "marketing" purposes: The working name for the first generation of Ms was the Banias, followed by the upgraded model, the Dothan - and its latest iteration, the dual-core Yonah, which runs the latest and most powerful software at top processor speeds. I wonder how many of those they're using in Saudi Arabia? Given Imaging's Pillcam Given's "camera in a pill" is a perfect example of how Israeli researchers have developed hi-tech products that can diagnose and treat a wide range of maladies. In truth, there are dozens of innovative products being developed here using video cameras that give doctors an "inside" perspective never before available, but Given was one of the first to develop a product using mini cameras - that you can eat. Patients swallow a tiny color camera that is cleverly hidden inside a pill that does not get broken down or absorbed by the body. The camera transmits data via probes attached to the body connected to a computer, which then reconstructs the image of the patient's insides on the screen. It's a painless way for doctors to do internal exams that previously would have required them to cut inside patients - and the pills even come in fruit flavors. Perimeter security systems (Magal) Now that terrorism is not just our problem, but the world's as well, our security companies have been spreading their knowhow and technology to others around the world. One of the largest outdoor, major-installation security companies in the world is Magal, based in Yehud, which has offices in dozens of countries and has 40 percent of the worldwide market for Perimeter Intrusion Detection Systems. Using a wide range of tools, from video cameras to lasers to microwave sensors and more, all controlled by automated software that can instantly alert those in charge, Magal is a major exporter of made-in-Israel tech. Water management systems (Tahal Group) Like security, making the most of Israel's precious water has been a major technology challenge for the country for the past 60 years. Tahal operates here and around the world, and was one of the innovators of the now widely used drip irrigation technology, one of the methods that has helped push the desert back here and abroad. But Tahal is also a major supplier of computerized water management systems - software that ensures that not one drop is wasted. Among dozens of other countries, Egypt and Morocco use Tahal systems. PC firewalls (Checkpoint) If you use the Internet, you need a firewall. How does a firewall keep the hackers away? Basically, by instituting communication "rules" - blocking incoming data (called packets) from IP addresses that are on the "undesirable" list. The concept and technology for firewalls have been around for more than 20 years, with simple packet firewalls already being developed in the late 1980s. However, it took Checkpoint to develop the GUI PC firewall - with the first version of the company's basic firewall product developed for Windows NT in 1997. Since then, dozens of other companies have developed similar looking and acting products - but Checkpoint is still the first Windows integrated firewall, and still the top seller. Anti-virus software Without anti-virus software, your PC is likely to attract the wrong crowd, as hackers, crackers and all sorts of other unsavory characters attempt to take control of your computer for their own nefarious purposes. Viruses were first found "in the wild" in 1987 or '88, with a large outbreak in 1989. IBM, the leading computer maker and support company at the time, released a scanner to its customers to deal with the first major attack, and again in 1990 - but it was clear that piecemeal solutions aimed at specific viruses weren't the solution. Luckily for us, Zvi Netiv, former head of avionics research and development in the IDF was on the job. Taking research he had conducted in the army combating potential electronic warfare scenarios, Netiv developed in 1991 an anti-virus program called InVircible, the first to deal with a wide range of viruses. It's so good that it's still around today. Software testing tools (Mercury Interactive) While technically a company that "grew up" in Silicon Valley, Mercury (acquired by HP in 2006 for $4.5 billion) was started by two Israelis, and most of its development for nearly 20 years was conducted here. Mercury was one of the first companies to develop automated software testing tools - programs that perform a series of actions, once or many times, to see how a piece of software handles the load. Testing is crucial, of course, because customers tend to get very upset when they buy a piece of software that does not perform as promised; there are only so many "bugs" they are willing to put up with. Definitely the pioneer in professional software testing, Mercury Interactive holds at least 21 patents in the area - far more than its nearest competitor. Windows NT/XP and Cellphones Here we come to the bedrock of modern tech life: the world's most popular operating systems, and the world's most popular communications device. A Microsoft Israel rep told me in a conversation last year that "parts of Microsoft's operating system were developed" at MS's Haifa R&D facility. Well, if they developed NT Embedded, why not NT itself - which, of course, was the building block for Windows 2000, XP and Vista? Same goes for analog cellphones, which were more or less invented by Motorola. With Motorola already a presence in Israel in the 1970s, where it had a large R&D facilities (the first of four) - and Motorola set up the first cellphone network in Israel - it's clear that Motorola Israel had a great deal to do with the development of the analog cellphone, without which we wouldn't have today's more advanced CDMA and GSM phones.