Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 2nd May 2014 20:03 UTC
Talk, Rumors, X Versus Y

So I set myself the task of picking five great works of software. The criteria were simple: How long had it been around? Did people directly interact with it every day? Did people use it to do something meaningful? I came up with the office suite Microsoft Office, the image editor Photoshop, the videogame Pac-Man, the operating system Unix, and the text editor Emacs.

Each person has his or her own criteria for these sorts of things, but in my view, this list is woefully inadequate. If it were up to me, I would pick these, in no particular order:

  • A-0 System: the first ever compiler, written by Grace Hopper in 1951 and 1952, for the UNIVAC I.
  • UNIX: This one's a given.
  • WorldWideWeb/CERN HTTPd: the first web browser and the first web server, both written by Tim Berners-Lee. Also a given.
  • Xerox Star: this one is actually a tie between the Star, its research predecessor the Alto, and Douglas Engelbart's NLS. These three combined still define the way we do computing today - whether you look at a desktop, a smartphone, or a tablet. I decided to go with the Star because it was the only one of the three that was commercially available, and because it's so incredibly similar to what we still use today.
  • Windows: you cannot have a list of the greatest software of all time without Windows. You may not like it, you may even hate it, but the impact Windows has had on the computing world - and far, far beyond that - is immense. Not including it is a huge disservice to the operating system that put a computer on every desk, in every home.

This leaves a whole bunch of others out, such as Lotus 1-2-3, DOS, the Mac OS, Linux, and god knows what else - but such is the nature of lists like this.

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In my contrarian view point, VisiCalc/spreadsheet should never have been invented. All they do is make white collar workers productive in creating information garbage that gets used with serious real life consequences.

Imagine if programmers worked like your typical Excel analyst MBA:
- All development would be done using live production databases with no backups.
- All code would be hidden from view as soon as it was written, making it impossible for anyone to catch mistakes later.
- Nothing would ever get tested, as long as the first result looked close to reasonable.
- No version control.

I could go on and on, but the point is that spreadsheets offer a great user experience at a horrible cost to usability (where producing correct results matters). Too bad there's no hope for anything better replacing spreadsheets. A better system would make mistakes clearly visible and take away all fallacies of intelligence its users may have.

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