Dow Record: For Tech, This Time It's Different

For all but one of the tech stocks in the Dow Jones, it's been tough sledding since October 2007, when the index hit its intraday high of 14,198.

Back then Hewlett-Packard was at the peak of what seemed like a textbook turnaround, with then-CEO Mark Hurd ruthlessly cutting costs; the stock traded north of $50. Microsoft and Intel were still smirking at Apple's modest sales of its recently launched iPhone. Cisco owned the Internet. IBM? Supposedly yesterday's news, it was about to lose its revenue crown to HP.

Fast forward to today, and it looks like this: Microsoft and Intel trade about where they did then, stifled by a shrinking PC market. Cisco has risen, fallen and stabilized as it tries to pivot from being Internet plumber to data center maven.

HP and IBM? In a turnabout no one saw coming, HP won the revenue crown, only to lose its head—repeatedly. The company is on its third CEO since Hurd and has lost two-thirds of its market cap.

(Read More: HP Earnings Beat Street, CEO Says Overhaul Taking Hold)

Meanwhile IBM's workmanlike earnings per share growth has helped the stock nearly double.

If not these Dow components, what trends drove tech for the last five years?

Mobile, cloud, and big data.

Danial Allan | Photographer's Choice | Getty Images

In a nutshell, it's this: As wireless networks have gotten faster and phones have gotten smarter over the past five years, a seismic shift has rocked computing. No longer do many consumers need a PC for email, web surfing, gaming, music management or many other tasks.

Businesses, meanwhile, are spending less on commodity hardware. Instead they're investing in specialized systems and software that can analyze private and public data, detect trends, and give management an edge.

(Read More: Not So Elementary: IBM's Watson Moves to Food, Drugs)

The big winners in this new environment include Qualcomm, Apple and Samsung Electronics, who have gone from PC underdogs to mobile overlords. In the enterprise, IBM, Teradata, Red Hat and are among the biggest gainers of the past five years. (Read More: Apple or Samsung: Who's Cooler Now?)

As for the next five years?

(Read More: Samsung Armors Android to Take On BlackBerry)

There's always the chance that mobile web or virtualization technology will shake up the mobile landscape the way Web 2.0 disrupted PCs. And in the enterprise? Once someone wins in the data center, maybe we'll see another big trend emerge in computing.

(Read More: How We Got Here, Where We're Going)

—By CNBC's Jon Fortt; Follow him on Twitter: @jonfortt