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Programming Software

What Early Software Was Influential Enough To Deserve Acclaim? 704

Posted by timothy
from the cultural-literacy dept.
theodp writes "That his 28-year-old whip-smart, well-educated CS grad friend could be unaware of MacWrite and MacPaint took Dave Winer by surprise. 'They don't, for some reason,' notes Winer, 'study these [types of seminal] products in computer science. They fall between the cracks of "serious" study of algorithms and data structures, and user interface and user experience (which still is not much-studied, but at least is starting). This is more the history of software. Much like the history of film, or the history of rock and roll.' So, Dave asks, what early software was influential and worthy of a Software Hall of Fame?"
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What Early Software Was Influential Enough To Deserve Acclaim?

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  • VisiCalc (Score:5, Insightful)

    by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @05:42PM (#42709961)
    'nuff said
  • What the fuck? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 27, 2013 @05:43PM (#42709971)

    Whining because they don't teach Mac history 101 in CS programs?

    I sure bet the grad student heard of MS Windows, Word and Excel. I bet he's even heard of CorelDraw, Super Mario Brothers and Pong too.

  • Re:VisiCalc (Score:5, Insightful)

    by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @05:44PM (#42709975)
    And if you want to continue:
    GeoWorks
  • Re:VisiCalc (Score:5, Insightful)

    by astralagos (740055) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @05:47PM (#42709997)
    Indeed. If there's a piece of software that launched the personal computing revolution, it was VisiCalc - the first software business actually _needed_. I'd also throw in: * WordStar - which was the PC world's answer to emacs. If you did text processing on DOS systems, it was done with WordStar or another program which emulated it. * WordPerfect - the word processor, I imagine that without the Windows Hegemony, Microsoft would -never- have been able to kill wordperfect * Bank Street Writer - the first -educational- word processor, I imagine X'ers like myself lived off of this in school
  • Re:What the fuck? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @05:54PM (#42710079)

    Excel was based on the earlier program Multiplan, which the young company MicroSoft developed for the Apple II.

  • Susan Kare (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Amorymeltzer (1213818) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @05:56PM (#42710103)

    He mentions Susan Kare but I'd like to give another shout out to her work [plos.org]. We are still using derivatives of her designs, and the brief simplicity of them really led the way for a lot of the icons we use now.

  • Re:Times change (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mikael (484) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @05:56PM (#42710105)

    Because once we forget how this software worked, someone else comes along and does a research project, thinks that they have invented something new, patents it and/or names it after themselves. Then they'll start sending lawyers after other people. I've seen this happening with something as simple as 3x3 convolution matrices and widget libraries. What was common knowledge in personal computer magazines back in the 1980's now seems to be stuff that leads
    to patent battles now.

  • by Nova Express (100383) <lawrenceperson.gmail@com> on Sunday January 27, 2013 @05:59PM (#42710133) Homepage Journal

    Without the desktop publishing revolution, it's hard to see Apple surviving long enough for Jobs to retake the helm.

  • Re:Times change (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Leafheart (1120885) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @06:02PM (#42710167)
    For the same reason we have a Baseball Hall of Fame, a Football hall of fame, or even simpler, for the same reason we study world history. Know thy history, learn from your mistakes, understand what the best things were made off.
  • Re:Times change (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gbooch (323588) <egrady@booch.com> on Sunday January 27, 2013 @06:03PM (#42710179) Homepage

    OMG, please tell me you are not old enough to vote too.

    We study influential software for the same reason we study the past in any domain: to learn of the forces that shape what is, the human stories that lead to these artifacts, the design decisions and the lessons learned therein. What you see on your desktop today is the current end of a long chain of "obsolete software" that includes MacPaint, and Whirlwind, and any number of earlier systems that bring us to current dominant designs. Economically significant and useful software intensive systems all have such a legacy, and your hubris in so quickly dismissing the value of understanding anything older than your professional lifetime is staggeringly depressing to me. May you never be on any development team that has to grapple with the refactoring of legacy code.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 27, 2013 @06:09PM (#42710241)

    deluxe paint was better anyway.

  • Don't forget (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 27, 2013 @06:11PM (#42710271)

    Leisure Suit Larry

  • Re:Influential? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jpiratefish (1690054) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @06:13PM (#42710291) Homepage
    Turbo Pascal changed *everything* It turned Mr. Borland into a millionaire overnight, and completely changed how software is marketed, and changed the way software is developed forever.
  • Lisp 1.5 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rmstar (114746) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @06:15PM (#42710319)

    Lisp 1.5 [softwarepreservation.org] was the first widely distributed Lisp sytem (and it includied an interpreter AND a compiler). Many people have completely forgotten about it, but among its contributions were to pioneer dynamic programming languages (as are ruby, python, etc, etc) AND garbage collecting. And many other things. It was staggeringly innovative.

  • by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @06:19PM (#42710343)

    I'll beg to disagree with the idea that history is irrelevant to CS. Protocols, and practices, did not eveolve in a vacuum. Knowledge of how early principles were derived, and why we've migrated to newer approaches, is critical to understanding ongoing changes in a field. Moore's law, for example, led us from extremely limited command line interfaces to today's sophisticated GUI's. But understanding the original command line interfaces is vital to seeing _why_ modern tools aren't all in XML with back end databases.

  • The Clipboard (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gilgongo (57446) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @06:20PM (#42710345) Homepage Journal

    Not so much software as software tool, but if you're looking for the most influential and important thing in software, the clipboard probably wins hands down. Without it, most of the web would not exist, for one thing.
    It also has the distinction of being invisible - out doesn't even feed back. Nothing comes close to it for ubiquitous power and influence.

  • Re:Times change (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Stormwatch (703920) <rodrigogirao@ho[ ]il.com ['tma' in gap]> on Sunday January 27, 2013 @06:21PM (#42710359) Homepage

    Understanding what made such software good back then might help you produce better software now. Who knows, maybe studying various ancient, obscure GUIs could have averted disasters like Windows 8, Gnome 3, and Unity.

  • Re:Times change (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vlm (69642) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @06:23PM (#42710377)

    You have not gotten the straight answer yet, but the real world economic answer is nothing changes very much, so a well educated individual knows how the newest PR news release about a "new" idea will turn out, given how the exact same idea turned out three times in 1970, five times in the 80s, and twice in the 90s. Even if the outcome is different for tech or non-tech reasons, the challenges, successes, roadblocks, etc, will be the same this time around as the last ten times.

    Ah so you're saying that this new language will be a silver bullet which will eliminate programming as a profession because business people will write their own programs, you say? Hmm I wonder if thats ever been claimed before. Naah. If it were you'd have language names like "Business Oriented Language" and stuff.

    I've got a totally new idea! We can project manage programming by programmer-hour because the product of programmer times hour is always a constant a given problem. You'd think someone in 1960's mainframe development would have had the same idea, but people back then were pretty stupid so I'm sure my new idea is ... new.

    Hey guys, I got a new one. We could assign a noob to work with an old timer and see if the noob learns anything by osmosis. This has never been tried in all of human history so I'm gonna patent it and trademark it and I'm gonna be rich and buy a private island.

    To be honest its not as technical as you'd like to think... its kinda like studying ancient fashion to predict what future fashion will look like, seeing as womens fashion is kinda cyclical. So, you're saying after skirts go down, they tend to go up, and vice versa? Holy cow batman! Especially when dealing with trendy style high fashion like UI design or PR.

  • Re:VisiCalc (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sjames (1099) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @06:27PM (#42710413) Homepage

    Now, many of those folks don't have the money that they counted on - their deferred compensation. Another way of putting it is those folks weren't fully paid for their work.

    I find it amazing how little attention is paid to that. Some like to blame pensions for bankrupting the auto industry, but the fact is, until shenanigans like that, they had the pension funds in reserve like they were supposed to. If they don't have them now, it's only because of greed at the top, not something the union did.

  • by DNS-and-BIND (461968) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @06:29PM (#42710431) Homepage
    Learning history does have its advantages. "Those who don't understand UNIX are condemned to reinvent it, poorly." Same principle applies to other software.
  • by PapayaSF (721268) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @06:46PM (#42710563) Journal

    Once in an interview, Dan Bricklin (IIRC) said that in the early days they personally demonstrated VisiCalc at trade show booths. Sometimes accountants would actually cry, as they realized how many hours they'd spent adding up rows and columns of numbers, and how quickly they'd be able to do it with this new piece of software.

    You know you've got a killer app when a demo causes members of your target market to realize how much your software is going to change their lives, and they burst into tears.

  • by joeaguy (884004) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @06:59PM (#42710659)

    Before the internet, computers were a tool and not just a screen to get you to what someone else already had made. You got a computer because you wanted to make things. It could be a document, an image, a song, software that could be used to make more and other things. Computers were mainly purchased by those who wanted to use them as a tool for creative and practical purposes. All you could consume on computers in the pre-internet age were games, and consoles were usually cheaper and better for that, or the few expensive and slow online services that you could reach over dialup.

    So this made a huge difference for early software. The windowed GUI interface that is everywhere today was designed for desktop publishing, by Xerox, a company whose business is making documents. The phone and tablet interfaces that are growing now and the first centered around consumption of data instead of creation of data. This is a huge switch which makes it even more important to remember software history.

    So a few titles I think are of note:

    The Print Shop - One of the most popular programs in the 80s. Most people's first experience with anything like desktop publishing. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Print_Shop [wikipedia.org]
    BASIC - This language introduced many people to programming, and was a default built in feature of most early computers.
    Deluxe Paint - Bitmapped graphics program by Electronic Arts - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deluxe_Paint [wikipedia.org]
    HyperCard - Multimedia software http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HyperCard [wikipedia.org]
    SuperPaint - Combined bitmap and vector graphics in one program - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SuperPaint_(Macintosh) [wikipedia.org]
    SoundEdit - The first popular GUI sound editor - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SoundEdit [wikipedia.org]
    TheDraw - Text editor for making ASCII/ANSI art - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TheDraw [wikipedia.org]
    ResEdit - GUI builder for early mac - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ResEdit [wikipedia.org]

    That's just what I can think of so far.

  • Re:VisiCalc (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Will.Woodhull (1038600) <wwoodhull@gmail.com> on Sunday January 27, 2013 @07:09PM (#42710745) Homepage Journal

    1. Visicalc, of course. It is what changed the Apple ][ from a toy to a valuable business asset.

    2. Lotus 1.2.3, the better VisiCalc, and now for DOS machines!

    3. The first flight simulator for the Apple ][.

    4. WordStar on CP/M (later on DOS), proving that effective word processing could be done without a dedicated word processing network. 5. Perl--- the first truly useful, easy to learn (hard to master) programming language supporting regular expressions. (Well, awk preceded it, but awk was impossible to work with.)

    There were also several raster and vector graphics apps from the 1980s that demonstrated the breadth of possibilities.

    I have avoided the software that was originally created on mini frame and main frame computers, then duplicated on the microcomputers. These were great, but they did not have the "Oh wow, nobody saw that coming" impact of Visicalc, WordStar, or Perl.

    Yes, any decent Computer Science program should definitely have some required courses in how and why these apps changed the world.

  • by damnbunni (1215350) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @07:22PM (#42710831) Journal

    I started computing with a VIC-20, and grew up with a C-64. I never really used the 'must have' apps that made businesses want computer in the first place, though. I knew about them, and knew my uncle spent a fortune on an Apple II to run them for his store, but knew little about them.

    So recently I picked up a Commodore 128D and got some CP/M software: WordStar, dBASE II, and VisiCalc. After some configuration brouhaha (this wasn't easy, without the manuals!) I gave them a go.

    What most surprised me was how usable they all are, still. Oh, the interfaces require actual studying, but WordStar's is sensible, and dBASE's total lack of anything resembling user friendliness at least exposes its raw flexibility.

    Of course, then my 30-year old Commodore monitor let the blue smoke out of the capacitors, so it's out of commission till I get them replaced.

    I think having current compsci people take at least a brief course using these old, old programs might help them understand not all that much has really changed - and maybe inspire them to change things.

    Who knows? Probably couldn't hurt, at least.

  • Re:VisiCalc (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @07:40PM (#42710955) Homepage Journal
    Which, it should be emphasized, we do study. While I'm a major advocate for the study of computer history, CS is not about software development, it is a branch of mathematics. The author of the article would be better off pestering computer engineers.
  • First game! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Salamander (33735) <jeff.pl@atyp@us> on Sunday January 27, 2013 @08:18PM (#42711209) Homepage Journal

    Adventure, a.k.a. Colossal Cave, by Crowther and Woods (extended by others).

    http://rickadams.org/adventure/e_downloads.html [rickadams.org]

    This was many old-school programmers' first exposure to computers as entertainment. For example, both my wife and I recall playing it on TI SilentWriters (paper output plus an acoustic modem) when we were kids. Even more than Space Wars, which was written at least a year later and only ran on much less common hardware, this was the start of computer gaming.

  • Re:Times change (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Hentes (2461350) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @08:36PM (#42711303)

    That's not a problem, but saying that younger people are dumb for not sharing the author's nostalgia is.

  • Re:What the fuck? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bing Tsher E (943915) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @08:40PM (#42711327) Journal

    Apple 2? I had Multiplan on Xenix.

    The old Xenix Microsoft produced before the PC. I still have an Altos box that runs it.

  • by kenh (9056) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @09:24PM (#42711591) Homepage Journal

    While the first 4K Microsoft BASIC was significant in many ways [wikipedia.org], the ROM-based Microsoft BASIC included with literally tens of millions of computers shaped the industry in ways no other application ever did.

    It's impact was in being the first tool used by an entire generation of programmers, it shaped their thinking in ways that frustrated some.

  • Lisp and FORTAN (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bcrowell (177657) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @10:06PM (#42711849) Homepage

    FORTAN: 1957

    Lisp: 1958

    Lisp was such a good idea that people are still reimplementing it [wikipedia.org] 55 years later.

    FORTAN was such a piece of crap that ... almost everyone started using it, it became for most people the only possible way to learn to program, it persisted for decades after alternatives were designed, it was sufficiently flexible to evolve into a very nice and usable modern version, it's still often more efficient than C, and it basically defined the whole procedural style of programming.

  • CS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Capt.Albatross (1301561) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @10:35PM (#42711995)

    "CS is not about software development, it is a branch of mathematics."

    That depends entirely on what college or university you are attending.

    Computer science has a meaning for more than just students, and that meaning lies primarily within the domain of mathematics. What gets taught in the name of computer science depends on the institution doing the teaching.

  • Re:VisiCalc (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Sunday January 27, 2013 @11:31PM (#42712285) Homepage Journal

    Xerox Bravo [wikipedia.org] (1974), Xerox Gypsy [wikipedia.org] (1975), and Xerox Markup [toastytech.com] (not sure of exact year, in the vicinity). As a general rule, whatever you can think of, PARC had it ten years earlier. By the late eighties they were working on a PDA/tablet/smart surface, touch-driven ecosystem.

    Point being—people disproportionate weight on programs that they experienced. It's the same story whenever an amateur writes a computer history article; a few pages of nostalgic bullshit without any real research. Yes, it's significant that the Mac programs (which, oh by the way, already existed on the Lisa, too!) were popular, but severely erroneous to give them all the scrutiny. As historians we should endeavour to look past our own biases and provide an accurate image of history, not play favourites with specific products.

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