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Most Important Software

I recently read an article about what the author thought were the 10 most important (they used the term “industry-changing”) programs in the history of computing. Since I have been working with computers for almost 30 years now I thought I was probably in a position where I could reasonably evaluate the claims in the article and offer my own perspective, so here goes.

Number 10 was the Oracle database. I guess Oracle is important but I don’t know whether it really deserves to be ranked above others such as Access (remember I’m not making judgements in quality here – just influence) or MySQL. Maybe it depends on which sector you work in. Oracle is important in the corporate world and I haven’t had much to do with that area so I could easily have missed this databases’s importance.

Number 9 was PGP. I think the idea of public key encryption is important (especially to safe transactions on the internet) but I don’t know if I would rate PGP itself that highly.

Next, at number 8 was Apache. I certainly agree with this one. I do a lot of web development and all my systems are running Apache. It also has by far the greatest share of the web server market (easily beating Microsoft and it gets extra merit for that alone). The web is probably the most important internet service to most people today and will become more important as web apps are more widely used so yes, Apache should be up there.

Microsoft had to be in there somewhere and in place number 7 is Microsoft Office. As much as I despise it I cannot deny how important it is because it is the standard for some of the most common tasks computers are used for: word processing, spreadsheets and presentation. I would be happier if Office wasn’t so dominant but the fact is that it is so it deserves a place on this list.

At position 6 was something called Dr. Solomon’s Antivirus Toolkit. I had to think about whether I had really even heard of this before but because I mainly work in the Mac world anti-virus software has never been a major priority for me. But I guess for those people who choose to use the inferior platform which does suffer from endless viruses this sort of program is important.

At number 5 was Adobe Photoshop. I totally agree, Photoshop is a brilliant program as well as an important one. If I could only have a small number of programs (say 5) on my computer Photoshop would be amongst them (along with a web browser, a good text editor, a good game, and a program to open common document formats like PDF, doc, etc). And as a serious amateur photographer Photoshop is now an essential part of my photographic creative process. It made computers serious graphical and photography tools and really belongs on this list.

Number 4 was something called SNDMSG which was an early email type program. There is no doubt that email is extremely important and if this program (which I really know very little about) was what caused email to originally develop then I will take their word for it.

Number 3 was Lotus 1-2-3, an early spreadsheet. But I would have thought that it was just a copy of Visicalc anyway so why not say that Visicalc was the important program in this category? I still remember using Visicalc for the first time (on an Apple II) it was just magic how hundreds of numbers would recalculate instantly even on those primitive machines. It really was the revolution which made personal computers a serious tool instead of a toy.

Coming in at number 2 was Quark Xpress. I found this a bit puzzling because I would have thought that PageMaker really deserved the place for the original influential DTP program. I was a great fan of XPress version 3 but now that I do almost everything on-line I have little use for it. It is a very nice program though, but has recently become a bit irrelevant since the introduction of In Design.

At number 1 (and I assume that means it was most influential) was Mosaic, the “original” full featured (by the standards of the time) web browser. I was around when the internet was born and I used Mosaic. Since then web browsers have just become more and more important and if cloud computing takes off as many people predict then the browser will just be even more essential. So I guess in many ways Mosaic does earn the top spot.

So that’s it. A fair list I think, although I would disagree with a few of those selections. Also, what about an entry for most influential game and most influential programming tool? Those are two aspects of computing which are also very important and deserve a mention.

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