Prokaryotic and eukaryotic microorganisms make a vital contribution to biogeochemical cycles by decomposing virtually all natural compounds and thereby exert a lasting effect on biosphere and climate. The rapidly growing number of metagenomic sequences together with revolutionary advances in bioinformatics and protein analyses have opened completely new horizons to investigate the molecular basis of such complex processes. Proteomics has contributed substantially to our understanding of individual organisms at the cellular level as it offers excellent possibilities to probe many protein functions and responses simultaneously. However, it has not yet been widely applied in microbial ecology, although most proteins have an intrinsic metabolic function which can be used to relate microbial activities to the identity of defined organisms in multispecies communities. Albeit still in its infancy, environmental proteomics enables simple protein cataloging, comparative and semi-quantitative proteomics, analyses of protein localization, discovery of post-translational modifications, and even determination of amino-acid sequences and genotypes by strain-resolved proteogenomics. This review traces the historical development of environmental proteomics and summarizes milestone publications in the field. In conclusion we briefly discuss current limitations of microbial community proteomics but also the potential of emerging technologies to shape the future of metaproteome analyses.