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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Dasher42
Member since:
2007-04-05

I'm sorry, but on a list where you're tracing back innovation to the originals like A-0, NLS, or CERN, Windows absolutely does not belong. Windows is in almost every respect a rehash built on top of broken standards, driven by marketing, not technical progress, and most of this readership knows it.

The graphical desktop? That was pioneered by PARC and brought to the public by the Mac. Desktop multimedia with pre-emptive multitasking? That's the Amiga. Most of what's good in more recent Windows iterations has been warmed over from VMS and Unix.

Why did the Windows world wait until 1995 catch up to the rest of the world in allowing anything beyond 8.3 filenames??

Putting Windows on a list like this is just painting a target on yourself on a site read by those knowledgeable on the subject.

Reply Score: 7

BluenoseJake Member since:
2005-08-11

I totally disagree, to not recognize the contributions Windows has made to the computing world is the worst kind of self imposed blindness. It, paired with the x86 processor, really did put a computer in every home, and the process improvements in the hardware, and the lessons that the insane hardware combinations Windows supports, set the stage for Android, which basically uses the same model as Wintel

Reply Parent Score: 7

tylerdurden Member since:
2009-03-17

Then it must be specified if the greatness refer to technology or marketing. Wintel is firmly placed in the latter.

Reply Parent Score: 4

Dasher42 Member since:
2007-04-05

That's a monopoly's marketing in action, not technological innovation. The market could have seen an ecosystem of competing platforms. The Amiga had long filenames, pre-emptive multitasking, hardware-accelerated video and sound, and multimedia in 1986. The Atari had amazing capabilities too. The Mac was the clear leader in GUI development, and BeOS had innovations still not fully realized in today's OS. OS/2 had incredibly solid design, such that video driver crashes didn't even bring down the operating system, and an awesome threading model.

All of these deserved a fair shot at the market denied to them by monopolistic practices and lock-down through OEM agreements with Microsoft. The fact that a PC wound up on every desktop was bound to happen. It happened belatedly and half-assedly and with security holes that have fundamentally affected the growth of the internet, thanks to Microsoft.

Everything else on this list was a first of its kind innovation; Microsoft invented nothing of significance, not even MS-DOS. In fact, everything they added was old news to the technophiles by the time it showed up in a Microsoft product, usually after MS's marketing arm had argued against it and acted to kill it elsewhere.

Edited 2014-05-03 03:44 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 6

Soulbender Member since:
2005-08-18

But is Windows a great work of software though?

really did put a computer in every home


A lot of homes, at least in Europe, already had a home computer at, uhm, home. Granted it was probably mostly used for games but it was a computer in the home.
Having a great impact is, as others have noted, not the same as being a great work.
Does McDonalds serve great, or even good, food? Is it a great restaurant? Hell no. Has it had immense impact on the food and restaurant industry? Without a doubt.

Reply Parent Score: 6

Dave_K Member since:
2005-11-16

[Windows], paired with the x86 processor, really did put a computer in every home, and the process improvements in the hardware, and the lessons that the insane hardware combinations Windows supports, set the stage for Android, which basically uses the same model as Wintel


I think the comparison with Android is the one thing you've got right here.

Saying that Windows put a computer in every home is about as accurate as saying that Android put a phone in every pocket.

Reply Parent Score: 6

charlieg Member since:
2005-07-25

Even worse; Windows was a success based on the illegal business practises for which Microsoft was repeatedly given huge fines for - only those fines were a fraction of the market the company ended up dominating.

Windows has always technically lagged behind one OS or another. It does not belong on this list.

Reply Parent Score: 4

hackus Member since:
2006-06-28

I agree.

Windows was not a technical break through, and in all likely hood will disappear just like VMS.

It is rapidly disappearing now.

POSIX UNIX, and the ideas around UNIX will endure and command all Von Neumann machines for the foreseeable future.

The list should be about technical break throughs.

UNIX was built before Knuth finished all of his books, which makes it remarkable in the sense that a master work of computing science on Von Neumann architecture wasn't finished yet.

This makes the accomplishment of the engineers all the more extraordinary.

By the time Windows, which is really rehashed MS-DOS 6.22 appeared, Gates and Co knew how to properly design a operating system, and they simply refused to do it.

Edited 2014-05-04 04:09 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 1

zima Member since:
2005-07-06

By the time Windows, which is really rehashed MS-DOS 6.22 appeared, Gates and Co knew how to properly design a operating system, and they simply refused to do it.

NT has nothing to do with DOS... (and is very technically competent)

Reply Parent Score: 2