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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Comment by KLU9
by KLU9 on Sun 4th May 2014 19:56 UTC
KLU9
Member since:
2006-12-06

A little disappointed by all the "TL;DR, let me vilify the original as stupid and give my own different list based on completely different criteria".

From the article:
<blockquote>I propose a different kind of software canon: Not about specific moments in time, or about a specific product, but rather about works of technology that transcend the upgrade cycle, adapting to changing rhythms and new ideas, often over decades.</blockquote>
In case that is still too long for some, let me put it like this: this list is not about "without listed program A, we would not have programs B, C or D".

Did A-0 System transcend the upgrade cycle? Did it adapt to changing rhythms and new ideas? Did it last decades? Did it last even one decade?

Did WorldWideWeb/CERN HTTPd transcend the upgrade cycle, adapting to changing rhythms and new ideas, often over decades? What version are we on today? Of course without WorldWideWeb/CERN HTTPd, we would not have Chromium, Firefox or Apache etc. But this list is not about inspiring other programs.

Did Xerox Star transcend the upgrade cycle, adapting to changing rhythms and new ideas, often over decades? Note: Not things inspired by Xerox Star: actually Xerox Star itself. How many people ever actually used Xerox Star itself? How many people still use Xerox Star itself?

The mouse: in a software canon??

Word Perfect and Lotus 1-2-3: Without them... the world has carried on regardless. Whereas MS Word is near-ubiquitous and has entered its fourth decade. (And if anyone points out that Corel is still selling Word Perfect, I ask "hands up all those who've used (let along bought) Word Perfect in the last 15 years?" Probably a similar number as those who've used a real teletype machine.)

Rather than deal with the actual list and the real criteria, people look at it quickly and go "but something I think should be on such a list isn't, therefore the whole thing is wrong and stupid and poopy-faced". But... such is the nature of lists like this.

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