I think all that's very true, Mark. That's mostly the reason this train of thought interested me in the first place, I've always had it in the back of my mind that this all started with IRIS and trickled down from there.
The fact is, though IRIS did make some
of the first Fine-Art digital prints, (I say this in this way, because I'm not sure if and what was actually acquired by museums and such of the stuff early guys, like Cone, in the '80s were doing), and Nash (as well as Cone and others) did
make a big noise centered around IRIS, but the fact is a print that could stand up in terms of archival quality (from an inkjet) didn't show up until that Epson 2000 printer, in spite of the print speed and nasty color gamut. I think you're right, that was around '99, 2000 or so, that's about when I started at Calumet.
The next step was that archival quality with a decent color gamut, and that was the Ultrachrome inks. (Right? Don't have a chance to verify which inkset did that atm.) So the reality of the timeline is, regardless of what you see as the relative importance of the various contributors to the process, the Epson 2000 (7500/9500) inks set a benchmark, then the Ultrachrome printers next. For me personally, the Advanced B/W step was the next breakthrough, and really was the first time I saw a decent B/W print without a RIP or third-party inksets. From then on it's been simply refinement and elaboration... at least in my opinion.
Now, keeping in mind that, as Schewe kind of hinted at, Fine Art digital prints even now
aren't universally accepted by collectors, but if you argue they are, you honestly can't say they have been since until around the early '00s, and the IRIS went away as a current product around '99, then I have to ask- how can you say that it played all that much of a role in truly bringing this technology to the place it is today? You can't really say that these prints are accepted because of IRIS, in fact, it's arguable that IRIS may have, with it's very limited archival quality, done more damage to that acceptance than inkjet.
..and sorry about my tortured syntax. need. more. coffee. (and the snow to go away)