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The Greatest Software Ever 435

soldack writes "Information Week has an piece on the 12 greatest pieces of software ever. It also notes some that didn't make the cut and why. Their weblog covers 5 others that didn't make the cut."
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The Greatest Software Ever

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  • by maynard ( 3337 ) <j.maynard.gelina ... minus cat> on Tuesday August 15, 2006 @11:08PM (#15916365) Journal
    That was one of the first -- maybe the first -- 3D game on any platform. And this was first done on the TRS-80, with 128x48 black and white resolution! WOW! Now *that* had to have been one of the most important games... *EVER!* Who doesn't remember Deathmaze 5000?
  • the list (Score:5, Informative)

    by mincognito ( 839071 ) on Tuesday August 15, 2006 @11:09PM (#15916370)
    12. The Morris worm 11. Google search rank 10. Apollo guidance system 9. Excel spreadsheet 8. Macintosh OS 7. Sabre system 6. Mosaic browser 5. Java language 4. IBM System 360 OS 3. Gene-sequencing software at the Institute for Genomic Research 2. IBM's System R 1. Unix
    • Re:the list (Score:3, Insightful)

      12. The Morris worm

      The Morris worm was a flash in the pan compared to the neverending parade of WinDOS remote exploits and email/word/excel viruses.The Morris worm inspired Unix vendors to change their habits. Microsoft seems immune from the pressures that make most companies fix their screwups.

      Back when everyone had to worry about link and boot sector viruses, you would get laughed off the board for suggesting something like an email virus.

      • Re:the list (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Lord Apathy ( 584315 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @01:34AM (#15916947)

        Tell me about. I remember 20 years ago when young lady was just getting into email she ask me if a virus could be spread by email. I just laughed and said no, it would never happen. It would require that email readers have the ability to execute code passed to them, and nobody would be stupid enough to write a mail program that would do that. Execute code passed to it from anyone.


    • Software? HUH? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Ruff_ilb ( 769396 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @12:00AM (#15916600) Homepage
      Java Language? Excel Spreadsheet? Google search rank?

      These, although IMPLEMENTED through software, are not in and of themselves software - they're merely concepts (or in the case of Java, a language).

      I like the list, but it's comparing apples and oranges. Surely, if the Java language makes the cut, other languages should make the cut too - C? BASIC? Don't try to tell me that Excel, or even Google search rank, is more important than C has been. And what about markup languages? No HTML?

      And, if they're going to include OSes, WINDOWS doesn't make the cut? I'm sure I'll get shot around here for making this comment, but Windows has done wonders for bringing the computer to the masses. What about the software for the computer that INVENTED the modern GUI, the Xerox Alto, which also invented the WYSIWYG Text Editor? (

      I'm sorry, this list doesn't quite make the cut, and it definitely isn't the "Witness the definitive, irrefutable, immutable ranking of the most brilliant software programs ever hacked."
      • Re: Windows (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Ayanami Rei ( 621112 ) * <> on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @12:54AM (#15916808) Journal
        DOS more than Windows. If any Windows, Windows 95.
        Windows had enormous business impact and created a software ecosystem, but it didn't really drive any TRENDS in computing.

        DOS might get a mention because it was critical in brining the PC to everyman. But then, the same could be said for the Macintosh OS if DOS never caught on.

        Here are the breakdowns of software and major influence/contributions:

        12) Morris Worm - Internet Security
        11) Page Rank - "Search" (Internet utility in general)
        10) Apollo Guidance System - Fault Tolerant / Embedded Computing (also historical significance)
        09) Excel - Profound effect on business, put power in the hands of many professionals.
        08) Mac OS - GUIs
        07) Sabre - The proof of concept of large-scale BI, CRM and other "Enterprise Systems"
        06) Mosaic - The Web
        05) Java - Popularization of VMs and distributed/network computing
        04) System 360 - Operating Systems
        03) IGR - Pure wizardry and human impact (although I might posit that TeX or the Orbitz boking system could go here too)
        02) System R - _the_ database.
        01) BSD Unix - The Internet
        • Re: Windows (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Anarchitect_in_oz ( 771448 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @01:39AM (#15916961)
          If Excel is there for being the killer app that drives Personel Computer use in business, instead of the mainframe/terminal model before that.

          Then that place should really be taken by VisiCacl for the Apple II.

          Sure in the end Excel won the war for Windows.
          VisiCalc Started the trend.
          • Re: Windows (Score:5, Informative)

            by FuegoFuerte ( 247200 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @05:06AM (#15917499)
            Did you read the article? He specifically mentions VisiCalc, and also states WHY he decided Excel should be on the list and NOT VisiCalc. From the article:

            For software to be considered a success, it has to be up to handling the job it was created to do.

            That axiom certainly applies to VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet software. It's great because it demonstrated the power of personal computing. The software put the ability to analyze and manipulate huge amounts of data into the hands of every business. But VisiCalc itself, despite representing a breakthrough concept, wasn't great software. It was flawed and clunky, and couldn't do many things users wanted it to do. The great implementation of the spreadsheet was not VisiCalc or even Lotus 1-2-3 but Microsoft Excel, which extended the spreadsheet's power and gave businesspeople a variety of calculating tools. Microsoft's claims that it makes great software are open to dispute, but the Excel spreadsheet is here to stay. Nearly everyone is touched by it.

            See, there was more thought put into this than you may realize.
            • Re: Windows (Score:3, Insightful)

              If VisiCalc is disqualified for not being great software, then Lotus 1-2-3, which was great software, is the next logical choice. Excel was completely unecessary at that point. If a spreadsheet clone like Excel deserves all the credit, then we'll need to mint a few more awards for Microsoft. I think the reviewer is confused about whether he wants to reward great code or great success.

              He goes on to select Mosaic and System R, despite better and more successful follow-ups. He should have used that approach th
        • Re: Windows (Score:5, Insightful)

          by brian.glanz ( 849625 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @03:05AM (#15917199) Homepage Journal
          Windows "didn't really drive any TRENDS in computing" ... perhaps, but Windows drove COMPUTING as a TREND, and at that, a trend which is clearly here to stay. Which do you suppose is more important? Computing did not just happen as some inevitable result of the power in a PC -- hardly, users would never have gotten far building kits. Remember Gates' and thus MS' old maxim, "a computer on every desk!" and you'll acknowledge that computing did not just happen -- Microsoft and Windows and Office made it happen. Like it, or not.


          • Re: Windows (Score:3, Insightful)

            by mvdwege ( 243851 )

            No, Windows didin't drive computing as a trend.

            Lotus 1-2-3, dBase and WordPerfect drove computing as a trend, giving businesses the software to justify buying PCs. MS-DOS came with the computer that was necessary to run the software, and Windows merely capitalised on the huge existing install base of MS-DOS.

            I'm getting sick and tired of this Microsoft revisionist bullshit.

            • Re: Windows (Score:4, Insightful)

              by brian.glanz ( 849625 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @05:13AM (#15917511) Homepage Journal
              Business? Fine, business.

              "A computer on every desk" is not only about business, Mart, nor is being "great" only about business. It's also about personal computing. Every desk, Mart. Computing for everyone.

              Maybe you don't like the idea that billions of people computing is more important than 10 millions of people computing -- even when the billions are doing so much less computation and more of simple communication and information retrieval when they "compute."

              You could take a lot of hard lines and Geek perspectives which will make the software you mention seem more seminal or more important, or more "great" than Windows. If you ask me, in denying the importance of Windows, mass markets, and the still dawning participation age, you'd be missing the definition of "great" in this "greatest software ever" question.

              Great is a computer on every desk, not because I prefer consumerism to intellectualism but because for one reason, thanks to the former we can afford a lot more of the latter. Thanks to a computer on every desk the Web could take off -- without the right OS and UI and a business capable of selling them, we could easily have stalled with BBSes, gopher, email.

              I suppose the potential was too incredible for no one else to succeed, had Windows not succeeded in bringing computing to the masses. You can argue for the rest of your life that Microsoft and Windows have not been essential, or that they should not have been essential to the success of your livelihood and mine, but: they were, and they are. Windows: perhaps the greatest software ever.

              • Re: Windows (Score:5, Insightful)

                by mvdwege ( 243851 ) <> on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @05:50AM (#15917594) Homepage Journal

                Jeez, you really have drunk the Kool-Aid, haven't you?

                What does Windows actually do? A bare Windows install is not capable of doing any useful computing at all, it is an Operating System. It is applications that do actual useful computing.

                Granted, most applications are written to run on the Windows OS, but that does not make Windows the driver of computing for the masses, it is still the applications.

                For business adoption, this was software like Lotus 1-2-3, dBase and WordPerfect. For home use? Games. Face it, most home users on this forum when discussing leaving Windows cite games as the factor keeping them on the platform.

                The history of the microcomputer shows that is applications that drove adoption. The early 8-bit machines were sold to hobbyists who used them in little projects, and the generation of the ZX Spectrum and the Commodore 64 sold to families as replacements for the games console, with a little productivity on the side. Meanwhile, 8080 and Z-80 based machines sold to small businesses for WordStar and dBase II on CP/M, and when the IBM PC came and evolved, businesses upgraded to it and the new software available for the platform. It didn't hurt that the IBM name finally gave the microcomputer enough status to be treated seriously by more than SME's. Mac adoption started really heating up with its use in DTP, and Unix workstations sold on the strength of the high-end engineering and science applications that ran on them.

                As the PC architecture became more versatile and powerful, and Windows started being more than just a DOS Shell, these separate markets slowly collapsed into one market, that of the Windows-driven Intel architecture, with lone holdouts in the Unix and Mac sectors. But a good objective look at history shows that it was not Windows that created this market. Microsoft merely rode the wave of success of the PC platform, and due to its massive install base was able to provide the most common API for application developers.

                Windows being responsible for the whole microcomputer revolution is too silly to be taken seriously by anyone but Microsoft itself.

            • Re: Windows (Score:3, Interesting)

              by rtb61 ( 674572 )
              It was not neccesarily the MS Dos base that allowed the micrsoft office suite to win. Lotus 1-2-3, dBase and WordPerfect had all developed delusions of grandeur and held up their prices for way to long allowing micrsoft to sneak in there and under cut them.

              The complete microsoft office suite at one stage was significantly cheaper than Lotus 1-2-3 on it's own (and that was with full real manuals and tutorials for each of the applications)

              When the two best parts of microsoft left in the 90s so did anythin

          • Re: Windows (Score:4, Insightful)

            by mr_mischief ( 456295 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @10:51AM (#15919397) Journal
            I think the Tandy Color Computer 3 did as much or more to put a computer in every home as Windows did to put a computer on every office desk. The Commodore 64 and Amiga systems did about as much, too. They all did more than DOS. The main difference in MS-DOS and MS-Windows is that DOS rode the coat-tails of IBM, and Windows rode the coat-tails of DOS. OS/2 was far better than Windows 3.1, but Windows 95 (and MS's practice of forcing white-box vendors to pay for Windows for every computer they sold if they wanted to sell Windows preinstalled on any of them) killed OS/2.

            Windows has been far more projected onto the world by Microsoft's shrewd business moves than by any inherent quality of the software. At one time, the saying that noone ever got fired for buying IBM was almost universally true. When Gates convinced IBM to use MS-DOS as the exclusive preloaded OS on the original PC but to allow him to license it to anyone else, he laid the foundation for his multi-billion dollar wealth. The rest is just building on that.

            IBM then laid a foundation of its own by allowing its hardware to become a defacto standard for compatible clones. This helped IBM's image and did them some good by getting more people developing for their market. It did MS much more good, because the clone hardware was being used with their software. While IBM was building a social empire through influence, MS was building a financial empire through actual sales.

            People eventually bought Windows PCs for home use because that's what they were using at work, and it's what was in the stores. People could buy PCs compatible with the IBM gold standard for a silver-level price, and run the same software. This lead to more development for the platform, which in turn lead to more clones and more Windows sales. Vendors of other models of course had a choice to make, and most of them started selling IBM or IBM clone machines in place of or in addition to their own machines. Commodore and Apple both had software and even hardware solutions to let people use the files and even the software of this IBM/MS platform on their otherwise incompatible platforms. And so it grew even more. OS/2 was DOS software compatible, and that made DOS grow more. Then it was Windows software compatible, and it made Windows grow even more. Then Windows changed, and OS/2 wasn't compatible with software designed specifically for Windows 95. Some still consider this a bit of a dirty trick, because IBM was using the cross-licensing arrangement with MS to make OS/2 as compatible with Windows as they could. MS used the same arrangement to pretty much let the air out of OS/2.

            People for years wrote and sold software to make up for shortcomings of DOS and Windows. Norton, McAfee, DesqView, Novell, Artisoft, and thousands of other companies and individual software developers made their livings making utility programs, file managers, security software, multitasking systems, window managers, network stacks, programming suites, file and disk compression, and a multitude of other add-ons to make up for what DOS and Windows lacked compared to other operating systems available at the same time. Microsoft keeps adding functionality to the OS now and saying it's necessary to compete, but it wasn't back in the day. Back in the day you paid a little for an OS license from MS, then paid far more than the cost of a more complete OS to set it up they way you needed or wanted it to work. Much of that other money went to third parties. Now MS is bringing most of those functions into one box, and is doing a decent but not spectacular job of making it all work.

            The key to Windows as a widely used platform is still in the snowball effect of the original IBM PC and the early years of the clones, then the ISV support, then the compatibility efforts of other platform vendors, then more ISV support. These can still be attributed to stellar business acumen paired with mediocre software development. I'm not saying that there aren't brilliant developers at MS. I'm certain there are. Their
      • Re:Software? HUH? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by megaditto ( 982598 )
        I agree, it was a nice list, but...

        9. Excel spreadsheet
        Have to agree, this is a wonderful concept, but not pioneered in Excel

        4. Java
        Pascal should have been there instead. Or Forth. Java is like C++ on viagra and sleeping pills combined

        Also, what was that Zerox OS called back in 1973? That thing had close to WGA resolution, too.
        *Viagra is a Registered Trademark of Pfitzer Inc.
  • by agent dero ( 680753 ) on Tuesday August 15, 2006 @11:12PM (#15916383) Homepage
    The Unix Haters Handbook [] a great read.

    Unix is probably the greatest bit of software ever, but "Unix" doesn't exist per se, it's almost like you could say, that it's had a long branching history [], oh well, I can't fault him for his choice, I probably would have said the same as well...but seriously...

    Excel is on the list? Not say, VisiCalc? [].
  • Umm, excel? Try Lotus 1-2-3. Foolish coycat mortals.
  • Fah! (Score:2, Informative)

    From TFA: "The great implementation of the spreadsheet was not VisiCalc or even Lotus 1-2-3 but Microsoft Excel, which extended the spreadsheet's power and gave businesspeople a variety of calculating tools."

    So, both the article and the submitter are obviously trolls!

    • Yea. When excel came out quattro pro was 10 times better. Quattro was the first spreadsheet with multiple pages too.

      Definately written by idiots.
  • by gtoomey ( 528943 ) on Tuesday August 15, 2006 @11:14PM (#15916392)
    Instead of the Macintoh, I would choose the Alto which gave us the WIMP interface []

    Instead of Excel I would choiose Visicalc []

    Instead of Java I would choose C. Modern RISC machines are built to run C fast. What CPUs are designed to run Java.

  • by ampathee ( 682788 ) on Tuesday August 15, 2006 @11:15PM (#15916402)
    Offtopic, but I gotta say: linking directly to the printable version == nice work.
    I hope it catches on.
  • by HockeyPuck ( 141947 ) on Tuesday August 15, 2006 @11:16PM (#15916408)
    VMware? C'mon... is it because it was implemented on x86? It's not exactly revolutionary. Hypervisors in one form or another have been around since the 80s (anybody remember MVS?).

    AIX? Got em
    HPUX? Got 'em
    Solaris? Got em...

    • by imemyself ( 757318 ) on Tuesday August 15, 2006 @11:37PM (#15916511)
      Yeah, but could those run other operating systems? Or run on relatively generic hardware for that matter? Virtualization may not be a new thing, but VMWare has really brought virtualization down from mainframes and big iron proprietary Unix to cheap x86/x86_64 boxes and Linux/Windows. (Though User Mode Linux might have been there before VMware, I don't know). And VMWare ESX could really change how datacenters are run with some of its stuff like VMotion. So, if you need to take a box down for maintenance - no problem, just move the VM's over to another box while they're still running. VMWare's enterprise products can do some really cool stuff, I'll be very interested to see what VMware does with it.
      • Maybe the other poster meant the Power3 or Power4 CPUs in RS6000 machines. They have the same hypervisor technology and run multiple LPARs on the same CPU, have been doing it for a while. This alone should take it away from vmware.
    • Hypervisors in one form or another have been around since the 80s (anybody remember MVS?).

      IBM VM/370 [] came out in 1972. I can't say I remember MVS at all well though -- back when I did mainframe stuff, it was mostly on Control Data machines.

  • by SanityInAnarchy ( 655584 ) <> on Tuesday August 15, 2006 @11:17PM (#15916418) Journal
    Meanwhile, high fees for Unix outraged Richard Stallman, a grad student who used it at the MIT artificial intelligence lab. Software, he decided, was an intellectual asset and should be free, like the published work of his fellow researchers. He set about building a set of tools called GNU that programmers could use to create their own software.

    All respect goes out the window here. It wasn't price that pissed off Stallman, it was restrictions on his freedom. He doesn't care how much he has to pay for software, so long as he can do whatever he wants with it when he gets his hands on it.

    And what pisses me off is having to read through the whole rest of the article first, then all respect goes out the window on the 3rd paragraph from the bottom.

    • by JackieBrown ( 987087 ) on Tuesday August 15, 2006 @11:36PM (#15916506)
      I was fortunate to skip to the end. That was enough to make the rest not worth reading. To change Stallman from an idealist to some who is just cheap made the article unforgivable.
    • Wait... so you respected the writer up to that point, and one (frankly understandable) misrepresentation of RMS's motives, and you suddenly don't respect him anymore? Yeah... that's reasonable.
  • Hello World (Score:5, Funny)

    by Aokubidaikon ( 942336 ) on Tuesday August 15, 2006 @11:21PM (#15916436) Homepage
    Where's "Hello World"?
    • by MillionthMonkey ( 240664 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @12:24AM (#15916702)
      public interface MessageStrategy {
          public void sendMessage();

      public abstract class AbstractStrategyFactory {
          public abstract MessageStrategy createStrategy(MessageBody mb);

      public class MessageBody {
          Object payload;
          public Object getPayload() { return payload; }
          public void configure(Object obj) { payload = obj; }
          public void send(MessageStrategy ms) {

      public class DefaultFactory extends AbstractStrategyFactory {
          private DefaultFactory() {}
          static DefaultFactory instance;
          public static AbstractStrategyFactory getInstance() {
              if (null==instance) instance = new DefaultFactory();
              return instance;
          public MessageStrategy createStrategy(final MessageBody mb) {
              return new MessageStrategy() {
                  MessageBody body = mb;
                  public void sendMessage() {
                      Object obj = body.getPayload();

      public class HelloWorld {
            public static void main(String[] args) {
                  MessageBody mb = new MessageBody();
                  mb.configure("Hello World!");
                  AbstractStrategyFactory asf = DefaultFactory.getInstance();
                  MessageStrategy strategy = asf.createStrategy(mb);

      In order to get through the lameness filter, I was forced to include this sentence that I would otherwise omit.
  • Clippy, or Bob? Clippy, or Bob... I can't decide!

    - sm
  • by 70Bang ( 805280 ) on Tuesday August 15, 2006 @11:22PM (#15916445)

    This article from Fast Company [] is coming up on ten years old and I've carried a bookmark for it since that time.

    Read through it and see how much software you're aware of which is as capable as it is, the bug count, the lack of nights of old pizza, etc.

    There are a lot of Earth-bound companies which write software on a large scale (source line count) which should take a page from what this article details.

  • So if we took this list of Greatest Software ever? And you look at the list, it would seem to think that IBM is the greatest software company ever... Looking at the list they made:

    7. Sabre system ( em)/ []
    4. IBM System 360 OS
    2. IBM's System R
    • IBM is responsible for essentially creating the idea of computing in the commercial and industrial sectors.
      They invented databases, proto-ERP, and timesharing OSs. Kinda important stuff, wouldn't you say?
      What the hell do you want from them ? :-)
  • by eclectro ( 227083 ) on Tuesday August 15, 2006 @11:31PM (#15916482)
    I guess the question remains is which wordprocessor. While there's Wordstar, Wordperfect, and Word that might be worthy, clearly TeX should be in first place and mentioned on his list. TeX is the father of all wordprocessors that followed, and the author Donald Knuth had such firm belief that programmers should be responsible for what they create that he paid for each bug found in the code.

    This produced a completely error free program, and started a generation of programs that followed that would drive mechanical typewriters to extinction practically everywhere, and changed how we get printed text onto paper. Hence this is truly great software.

    So TeX is a glaring ommission for this list, and probably should have been close to the top, if not number one.
    • by poliopteragriseoapte ( 973295 ) on Tuesday August 15, 2006 @11:59PM (#15916597)

      I agree that it is simply amazing how few bugs there are in Tex. I do not think this is due to the fact that Knuth was paying people who found bugs. Rather, I believe the quality of TeX is due to Knuth's genius, and also not in small part to his idea of "literate programming".

      There are better ways to put it, but in essence, literate programming means that you are supposed to write text that explains the algorithm or process; the code is like actions intersepsed in the text, but in a sense, the main product is the text, not the code.

      I try myself to follow this style, having code that either reads obvious, or having large comment sections that explain what is going on, and all the background assumptions, so that the code is then obvious. It certainly had an influence on the amounts of bugs in my code, not to mention in my coworker's ability to understand what is going on.

      In this respect, I believe a lot of OSS is sorely lacking. And the pity is that they lose developers in this fashion. As a personal story, some time ago I wanted to develop a plugin for Gimp to implement a particular effect, something I used to be able to achieve with a chemical darkroom. After three hours of staring at the code, and not being able to figure out for certain how to get to the pixels of an image, I gave up. I remember staring at hundreds of lines of C code, written in poor style, with very few comments (and what comments there were explained the obvious, instead of the background and the assumptions of the piece of code).

  • 10. Apollo guidance system 9. Excel spreadsheet Hahahaha!
  • Inaccuracies galore (Score:3, Informative)

    by Schraegstrichpunkt ( 931443 ) on Tuesday August 15, 2006 @11:37PM (#15916514) Homepage

    From the article:

    Meanwhile, high fees for Unix outraged Richard Stallman, a grad student who used it at the MIT artificial intelligence lab. Software, he decided, was an intellectual asset and should be free, like the published work of his fellow researchers. He set about building a set of tools called GNU that programmers could use to create their own software.

    Sigh. High fees had nothing to do with it. Anyone who has spent an hour reading about the history of the GNU project [] would know that.

  • by m00nun1t ( 588082 ) on Tuesday August 15, 2006 @11:38PM (#15916515) Homepage
    is tetris. No single piece of software has wasted so much time.
  • Excel is Over. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by twitter ( 104583 ) on Tuesday August 15, 2006 @11:39PM (#15916518) Homepage Journal
    Microsoft's claims that it makes great software are open to dispute, but the Excel spreadsheet is here to stay. Nearly everyone is touched by it.

    I'm amazed that he put Apollo's command module and Excel in the same article. Excel ten years ago had some simplicity and virtue. Today, it is choked with M$'s horrific auto-wrong features. Worse, it requires an OS he dismisses just one paragraph up.

    There are plenty of examples of Excel costing everyone lots of time and money, and not just because someone used it the wrong way. I've read stories about gentic code sequences at the Center for Disease control being turned into date codes. I've seen what happens between versions. Putting your work into a secret format, of course, puts you into a position where the owners of the secret can lead you around. Then there are the cases of misuse. No, not using it for obtuse things, like a blog formatter (yes, I just read about someone doing that), flexibility is what makes spreadsheets great. Misuse is creating the monster that's so big and complex it will eat you alive. When you combine misuse with auto-wrong you get a real disaster.

    I use Gnumeric now. It's light and won't tax your computer. The input is functional, so it won't tax you. It has all the functions Excel does but they all give you the right answer. Most important, it won't auto-wrong you. The formats you enter are the formats it uses and you can go back and forth between them without losing information. Gnumeric is everything Excel used to be and more. It's grown useful features like perl scripting, but not bloat like silly drawing tools.

    After such a blatant contradiction, Excel as a simple tool, I'm going to read the rest of the article with a grain of salt. If I see Power Point or Word, I'll quit reading.

  • Easy: GCC (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ishmalius ( 153450 ) on Tuesday August 15, 2006 @11:49PM (#15916557)
    I can think of no single piece of software that has enabled more people to create wonderful things with only their imaginations and a bit of skill. Take all of the pieces of software you love, and divide them into two piles: "built by GCC" or "built by anything else." Then you will see how impressive it is. Although users never see it, they use it every day. How many terabytes of data are served daily on the net by GCC-built software? And even the scripting languages you love were likely themselves built by GCC. GCC is the invisible root of our information society.
  • Wow! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dolda2000 ( 759023 ) <fredrik@dol d a 2 0 0 0 . c om> on Tuesday August 15, 2006 @11:50PM (#15916562) Homepage
    I'm amazed! Never have I seen anyone be so thoroughly wrong about the history of Unix. I know this is Slashdot, so most people here should know these things, but just in case someone gets a wrong impression, I feel I should at least clear up a few things.
    • He claims that the first version of Unix came with paging. To even credit the PDP-7 with paging capability is rather amazing. Unix used whole-process swapping until only much later in its development. If I'm not entirely mistaken, wasn't paging implemented in BSD3?
    • He appears to claim that Unix invented time sharing! I don't think I have to elaborate on that, really...
    • He also claims that "[Unix] would let two people use a computer at the same time." Not only is it false (it supported as many as there were terminals wired in), I also find it a bit funny that two-people time sharing would have been considered impressive at the time.
    • He seems to imply that "Uniplexed Information and Computing System" was an actual, official name of the system. To begin with, "Unics" wasn't really meant to be expanded -- it was just a pun on the "Multics" acronym (that is, a pun on the acronym, not on its expansion).
    • To mention that Unix was rewritten in C without mentioning that C was invented for that very purpose is of course not "incorrect", but I would argue that it is a rather important omission.
    • He writes that the first C version of Unix was "Unix System III", while in fact it was, of course, Third Edition (V3). System III was a much later release (~1980?) by the USG.
    There are probably many more errors, but I stopped reading when I noticed that my eyes were bleeding.
  • Why not wikipedia? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mcrumiller ( 597783 ) on Tuesday August 15, 2006 @11:56PM (#15916583)
    Dozens of people have already replied with different technologies, and they all use one reference medium: wikipedia.

    Why is wikipedia not on the list? I consider this the best invention of technology ever--a method that combines the power of the internet with the minds of people.
  • (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jafiwam ( 310805 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @12:00AM (#15916601) Homepage Journal
    Anybody that includes all that obscure stuff and doesn't include BIND on the list needs to retire his slide rule and chase the kids off his lawn.

    Unix or some precursor at 1.

    I'd put BIND at number 2.

    3 PacMan ROM

    4 Some distributed computing client (you pick)

    5 Mosaic (or whatever the first browser was)

    Stop 1 or 2 for a day, and half the world's economy stops with it. Some chess playing crap is neat, but doesn't do anything _important_. The rest are just ordinary breakthroughs....
  • Flow Fazer []
    Excel []
    Mosaic [localhost]
    Star Raiders []
    Shut Down []
  • The Singleton implementation [] (and it's chronologic comrades) makes the grade in my opinion. This was software which squeezed every drop of performance out of the primitive machines they had at the time and made many avenues of scientific research available where they had not before.
  • A better list (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @12:26AM (#15916711) Homepage
    We can do better than that. In no particular order,
    • IBM's VM operating system. (1972) OS/360 was a nightmare, and not even the best OS of its era. Burroughs and UNIVAC were way ahead in operating systems in the late 1960s. VM, though, had paging, good security, hypervisor capability, and good performance. In the 1970s. And it's still in use.
    • Backus' FORTRAN compiler (1957) The first good compiler. Optimizing, even. Better code generation than anything running on UNIX prior to the mid-1980s.
    • QNX (1980) The first really good microkernel OS. Still in use, deep inside railroad signalling systems, machine tools, and nuclear reactor controls, where it has to work.
    • NLS (1967) The first system with a mouse, windows, and a GUI. It took a mainframe to make it go in 1967, but all the key ideas were there.
    • AutoCAD (1982) This is the program that replaced the drafting board. Huge increase in productivity. Ever ink in a drawing by hand? Redraw a drawing to make changes? Engineering companies used to have acres of people doing that stuff. No more.
    • Bravo (1974) The first what-you-see-is-what-you-get text editor. Multiple fonts. Ran on the Xerox Alto. The ancestor of all modern word processors.
    Those are older examples, each a major advance over previous technology. As the technology becomes more mature, the advances become smaller, but more widely deployed.
    • Re:A better list (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jay Carlson ( 28733 )
      I'll agree with most of those. I'd change the last to:
      • Every OS project on the Alto. Smalltalk-80 ate the world. It also hosted an influential Lisp environment. (DWIM? Structure editors? Guess who...) And Java never would have existed without Modula-3, which grew out of Cedar, which grew out of...oh, that's your point.

      QNX is perhaps the weakest on your list. There are plenty of other embedded operating systems out there with great influence.

      I'm a little reminded of a claim that containerized shipping

      • Every OS project on the Alto. Smalltalk-80 ate the world. It also hosted an influential Lisp environment.

        Actually, Interlisp didn't run on the Alto. No way would it have fit. It ran on DEC PDP-10 type machines, or, at PARC, on MAXC, Xerox PARC's in-house PDP-10 clone. DWIM (Do What I Mean) was a dud; we used to call it the "Warren Teitelbaum typing error corrector", because it was so tuned to the typing errors Warren made, like pressing the shift key at the wrong time. Despite the claims that it "never

    • If you're talking about older examples, I'll take LISP over those, thanks. :-)

      And what about SmallTalk (the language and environment)? Wasn't that the first widely deployed "object oriented" language/environment? That would make it pretty significant.
    • Re:A better list (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jamie ( 78724 ) *

      AutoCAD (1982) - This is the program that replaced the drafting board. Huge increase in productivity. Ever ink in a drawing by hand? Redraw a drawing to make changes? Engineering companies used to have acres of people doing that stuff. No more.

      Robert Heinlein anticipated this in "The Door Into Summer" (1956/7), by the way. Here's the narrator's description of what ended up being called "Drafting Dan":

      By the time I got to Miles's house I was whistling. I had quit worrying about that precious pair and h

  • by Jay Carlson ( 28733 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @12:29AM (#15916722)
    Last night I posted this. Now I get to post it again, only now featuring new RTFA power:

    [TimBL...] Interesting, he's going to go down in history with similar status as Gutenberg. One of the very very few people alive who will still be referenced in 500, 1000 years where even kings, prime ministers and presidents will be forgotten.

    And a shame too. marca (or his bosses) were the ones who said "all this abstract chatter on www-talk about compound documents is interesting, but can we hack some shit into the next release to show pictures?" Behold, the IMG tag. Years later, we've just about recovered from the infrastructural mess this made.

    The IMG tag allowed corporations to burn money on graphic designers to avoid competing on actual content. Wikipedia as an application was viable once we had TEXTAREA, and before if you count the TimBL's NextStep browser; myspace and were not.

    What really built out the net we still use is one core idea: the Web is "a badly animated TV with a buy button". And the Web would have gone the way of Gopher+ without that. So let me toast the IMG tag. I'll see you in hell.
  • true! (Score:5, Funny)

    by dghcasp ( 459766 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @12:36AM (#15916752)


    The ultimate example of the Unix philosophy of doing one thing, one thing only, and doing it right!

    No arguments, no parameter lists, no side effects, just true!

    Such a beautiful example of Unix doesn't just happen; it takes work! Let's look at /bin/true on a Solaris 2.10 box:

    ss027$ grep '@(#)' /bin/true
    #ident "@(#) 1.6 93/01/11 SMI" /* SVr4.0 1.4 */

    Don't let anyone tell you the Unix way is the easy way; it took Six Whole Versions for Sun to get true correct! No wonder Windows is so full of bugs - they're trying to do hundreds of things. If they'd only adopt the Unix philosophy, they might have gotten it right in only ten tries! (Ten, because all the smart people work on Unix.)

    Worship the true!

  • What about the brillant paula bean ? []
    This software blew me away !
  • "an piece"? I think you meant "an article"!

    "Say Bob, did you send that e-mail yet?"
    "Nah, but I left an message on their answer machine."
    "Really, we don't even have an telephone."
    "Well, I used my cell phone. Guess what? It features an walkie-talkie feature."
    "You mean I get to hear both sides of the conversation now instead of one?"
    "Yes, isn't it an great feature?"
    "Indeed. I'll have to go buy an cell phone one of these days."

    The number of mistakes in grammar/spelling/semantics these past few weeks has been a
  • Notepad (Score:5, Funny)

    by Wolfier ( 94144 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @01:08AM (#15916846)
    Where is it?  It is the most stab
  • System/360 (Score:4, Informative)

    by Mostly a lurker ( 634878 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @02:20AM (#15917082)
    I would agree that System/360 belongs on the list. Charles Babcock's recollection of the achievement differs greatly from mine, however. The number one biggest achievement was the creation of a family of microcode-based computers that allowed the same software to run on everything from an entry level System 360 Model 20 through a supercomputer 360/195. It was the fundamental soundness of the System/360 architecture, that could be simulated on a wide range of different real machine architectures, that gave the underlying software legs and allowed upwards compatibility over a period of 40 years and counting.

    Almost everything else was an unholy mess for years. The first System/360 operating systems (OS/PCP, TOS, original DOS) could not run multiple applications at a time. Although this functionality (implemented by OS/MFT, OS/MVT and later versions of DOS) was in the plans from the start, it took a lot time to actually arrive in a useable form. The process of converting customers from the older 1401's and 7090's to the new architecture was horribly mismanaged. In theory, emulators (supported by microcode) were available to simplify the task. In practice, the conversion was a nightmare, not helped by the fact that, in those days, it was very common to be unable to locate program source code. In IBM's defense, they did put System Engineers on site with customers for as long as it took to solve the problems.

    An even greater technical achievement (Future Sys: which was eventually released in part as the System/38 and its successors, as well as some hardware devices) was axed by Thomas Watson personally, after a bigger investment than that made in System/360 development, because of the painful experiences involved in converting clients to the System/360.

  • by LaughingCoder ( 914424 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @08:16AM (#15918001)
    OK, this is going back a ways, but as a gray-beard I oftentimes find myself telling people about this. The KIM-1 was a single-board computer, 1MHz 6502-based, with 1 kilobyte of RAM (yes, that is not a misprint). It had a hex keypad and a 6 digit 7-segment display. I purchased (via an ad in Byte Magazine) a program called Microchess. It came in hardcopy form, basically the assembly source and associated hex code. I keyed the ~900 bytes into the KIM and then it played a decent game of chess. Yes, 900 bytes! It had 3 levels of play - 3,10,100 seconds per move. It used self-modifying code, so you had to re-enter it after each game. Remember, the computer only had 1KB of RAM in total, so that had to hold both the program and all its data. I can't even imagine writing a program in 1KB that could remember the chess board position and determine if a move was legal ... nevermind implementing a decent chess strategy. Truly remarkable.
  • by smchris ( 464899 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @08:32AM (#15918082)
    but when you really look at a desktop OS, any desktop OS, isn't it a little like watching sausage being made? Maybe "greatest" should be restricted to something a little smaller where the word "elegant" still applies?

"I will make no bargains with terrorist hardware." -- Peter da Silva