The quinolones have evolved from antibacterial agents with a limited spectrum of predominantly anti-gram-negative antimicrobial activity and a restricted number of indications to a class of widely used oral (and, in some cases, intravenous) antibiotics with extensive indications for infections caused by many bacterial pathogens in most body tissues and fluids. This evolutionary pattern has arisen through the development of new core and side-chain structures, with associated improvements in activity, pharmacokinetics and tolerability, and through the selection of molecules that remain useful and well tolerated. This review describes the progress of the quinolones from the first to the third (IIIa and IIIb) generations. Special attention is given to gemifloxacin, currently the most developmentally advanced third-generation quinolone, which has enhanced in vitro gram-positive antimicrobial activity and no troublesome adverse drug reactions. Preliminary data indicate that gemifloxacin should prove to be an important addition to the fluoroquinolone class. Further clinical trial data are awaited with interest.