When BUSINESS WEEK became the first general business magazine to cover computers on a regular basis nearly 20 years ago, we called the section Information Processing. It was a punch-card world in those days, with computers that took up a whole floor. We now live in a fiber-optic digital world and call our section Information Technology--a recognition that a far broader constellation of telecommunications, networking, and wireless wonders have taken shape around the computer.

This week we offer a new barometer of this critical industry. The Information Technology 100 provides a freeze-frame of an industry that seems to be perpetually on fast forward. By breaking the industry down into eight discrete segments and then ranking the companies on growth, profitability, and shareholder return, we present a glimpse of the companies that are prospering or suffering. Just as important, we put those companies in the context of the global business trends that are buffeting or billowing the sails of particular segments of the industry around the world.

You'll find some familiar names on the list: Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Microsoft. But you'll also find some unfamiliar ones: Vodafone, Ingram Micro, MindSpring. If you're looking for clues on where to spot the next immutable force driving the industry that accounts for some 30% of the growth in the U.S. economy, the Information Technology 100 is a good place to start. Happy hunting.

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