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July 30, 2013 4:30 PM   Subscribe

Professor Matthew Kirschenbaum, as part of his larger interest in the problem of software preservation, asks the provocative question What are the 10 most influential software programs of all time?
posted by Horace Rumpole (93 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
No SPSS?
posted by docgonzo at 4:33 PM on July 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


ITS
posted by Ad hominem at 4:38 PM on July 30, 2013


I guess Lotus Notes had some kind of worthwhile pre-existance before I emcountered it as it the worst Intranet software possible.

I'd really question Minecraft's level of influence - maybe be it WILL be influential, but right now it primarily accounts for a few dubious knockoffs. Doom or Quake might make for a good replacement.
posted by Artw at 4:39 PM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


YOU'RE GODDAM RIGHT
posted by cortex at 4:39 PM on July 30, 2013 [22 favorites]


Very happy to see HyperCard there.
posted by Artw at 4:40 PM on July 30, 2013 [10 favorites]


Can we fight about which of Emacs or Vim is supposed to be on this list?
posted by and for no one at 4:45 PM on July 30, 2013 [14 favorites]


Yeah minecraft is cool but we all know but we all know someone who doesn't include any one of ITS, TECO, vi, or emacs, has no idea what they are talking about. I am willing to die on this hill people.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:45 PM on July 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


Lotus Notes was pretty good collaborative software for a while, but then got bloated and started overreaching. Don't ask me to quote versions, but I went from supporting it at one place to supporting a newer version at a different place a few years later, and the newer one was godawful, just a hot mess of indecipherable components.

I never got to play with WordStar. I was more a Word Perfect 5.1 kinda guy.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:45 PM on July 30, 2013




I guess operating systems don't count?
posted by and for no one at 4:46 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd really question Minecraft's level of influence...Doom or Quake might make for a good replacement

Pong. Super Mario Brothers. World of Warcraft. None of them belong on this list either but they're all more influential than Minecraft.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:46 PM on July 30, 2013 [12 favorites]




And, really, I'm willing to make a defense of Minecraft as influential in a sort of sideways fashion to what's blurbed in the link: even with the general arc of recent indie game dev history and Kickstarter being what it is, Minecraft managed to be a really, really conspicuous success under the "sell early access and iterate toward a proper release" thing in a way that has been pretty thoroughly influential. Look at Valve, outright embracing the Early Access model as an official, salable part of their distribution and sales process in what is basically precisely the model Notch made his first millions on.
posted by cortex at 4:48 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Doom or Quake

Both trumped by Wolfenstein 3D.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:50 PM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Maybe, not really seeing that as a thing that's played out enough to make a call though.

Also that would require an influential program for it's dark analog - the unfinished shitty F2P scam game.
posted by Artw at 4:50 PM on July 30, 2013


I question any list made by someone who would say "software program".
posted by DU at 4:51 PM on July 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


Influence is a weird thing. And programs are weird too, and there's lots of software people don't think about.

The original C compiler is pretty influential. Mosaic was influential. Apache is influential. Those would be very high on the list I'd think.
posted by JHarris at 4:52 PM on July 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


I will also accept Multics or Ed.

I actually believe minecraft will be seem as a precursor to a more "virtual world" like "cyberspace" but I think it is too soon.

Eh, whatever. Matthew Kirschenbaum may be a doofus but we know the deal.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:52 PM on July 30, 2013


Sys Rq: "Doom or Quake

Both trumped by Wolfenstein 3D.
"

But he's saying that all three are trumped by Maze War.
posted by octothorpe at 4:53 PM on July 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


If we are just talking influential I think you could make a really good case for Tiny Basic. Not because it was a great language, or that any of its hellspawn Basicen were great languages, but because it was the first non-Assembly (really the first non-Hex-Editor) language that would run on a computer an ordinary person could own, and thus started the democratization of software development by kids and other non-professionals in the field.
posted by localroger at 4:53 PM on July 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


RealPlayer should probably be on this list, because it sure as hell influenced a lot of asshole businesses who like to fuck with people's computers without consent. It practically invented malware, which is easily the biggest software industry in the modern world.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:54 PM on July 30, 2013 [16 favorites]


You'd think saving us from the tyranny of the Master Control Program would be enough to rate this list, but Tron is nowhere to be seen.
posted by ckape at 4:54 PM on July 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


Doom or Quake

Both trumped by Wolfenstein 3D


Wolf had being 3D, Doom had the networked gaming, Quale had the actual for real 3D.

Maze War had 3D and the networking, sort of, but Doom took the networking it out of the lab and Quake made full environment 3D a thing.
posted by Artw at 4:55 PM on July 30, 2013


But he's saying that all three are trumped by Maze War.

And I would disagree with this. The 3D in Maze War was extremely abstract. The first actual first person display capable of continuous rotation available for use by ordinary people would have been the Battlezone arcade video game. Wolfenstein was the first that would run on a personal computer. There were some in-betweens for the Apple ][ but like Maze War they were approximate enough that they didn't start a huge trend.
posted by localroger at 4:57 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


But he's saying that all three are trumped by Maze War.

And all of that is trumped by Spacewar, which ran on a PDP-1 in 1962. It's the first video game, and when you consider it was about ships fighting in space, you then realize that it's descendants, like EVE, are still being played today.

Spacewar should be on that list. It should be *first* on that list. Which, of course, means it would be #0.
posted by eriko at 4:59 PM on July 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


Spacewar wasn't first-person perspective, which was the criterion by which he included Maze War. But Maze War only showed 90 degree rotation increments, face-on views of one of four walls (or lack thereof) in the cell you occupied in the grid. You could get in a frame of mind where it felt like "moving around a physical space" but it took some imaginetion. Whereas Battlezone and Wolf3D looked like moving around a physical space, no scare quotes required.
posted by localroger at 5:02 PM on July 30, 2013


The UNIX pipe command.
posted by popechunk at 5:05 PM on July 30, 2013 [17 favorites]


Spacewar should be on that list. It should be *first* on that list. Which, of course, means it would be #0.

I think that by any reasonable measure, software that existed before computers were even built has to trump everything else.
posted by DU at 5:06 PM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Can we fight about which of Emacs or Vim is supposed to be on this list?


I guess operating systems don't count?


Snort!

/flashes vim gang signs
posted by Celsius1414 at 5:12 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I question any list made by someone who would say "software program".


Top Non-Software Programs:

M*A*S*H
iOS Developer Program
Program Flea Prevention Tabs
Science Friday
The National Toxicology Program
The Phantom of the Opera
Soft Bougainvillea
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 5:13 PM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think this chap is thinking more along the lines of "groundbreaking functionslity-wise and influential on other softwares." Because most influential on humans would probably include Word, Excel, Apache, MySQL, Avid (maybe) and the Lindsay Lohan screen saver/trojan.
posted by nowhere man at 5:16 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


There were games with 3D graphics running on home computers in the '80s, well before Wolf3D came out in 1992.

Stellar 7 (C64 version, 1983 - I used to love this game)
Driller (Spectrum version, 1987)

They did tend to run at about 3fps, though.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:17 PM on July 30, 2013


Came in to make sure VisiCalc was on there, left satisfied.
posted by escabeche at 5:22 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


They did tend to run at about 3fps, though.

And that's why they aren't counted as being so influential; they didn't really raise the bar that far above Maze War. Battlezone (with its custom hardware math coprocessor) and Wolf3D managed to provide fluid rotational 3D that looked like first-person motion without squinting and filling in the missing frames. That was new.
posted by localroger at 5:34 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


What about Oracle, or any other RDBMS? Google as a search engine? Apache as a web server? Meh.
posted by graymouser at 5:36 PM on July 30, 2013


Minecraft was incredibly successful, but it wasn't particularly influential.

By comparison every FPS in existence is a gloss on Doom.

Wolfenstein may have come first, but Doom changed lives.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:36 PM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Without Netrek there would be no Minecraft. Kirschenbaum should have known that, so the entire list is suspect in my eyes.
posted by ob1quixote at 5:40 PM on July 30, 2013


Google is trumped by AltaVista, and all RDBMs by VisiCalc without which they would never have been invented.

Wolfenstein may have come first, but Doom changed lives.

I made a similar argument in another thread, in that Doom resembles the most modern FPS more than Wolf3D, or anything else prior, resembles it. But that would probably argue against including Maze War at all, because its "3D" was really a gimmick that didn't catch on much because the technical limitations didn't leave much room for game play. Doom was where game play not driven by the technical limitations really entered the FP display arena. (And that goes even for Battlezone.)
posted by localroger at 5:40 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Anyone remember this crazy maze?
posted by oceanjesse at 5:43 PM on July 30, 2013


all RDBMs by VisiCalc without which they would never have been invented

No. RDBMS are not derived from spreadsheets, and SQL was under development before the personal computer.
posted by graymouser at 5:44 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


No. RDBMS are not derived from spreadsheets

*facepalm* you're quite right of course. Been awhile and I don't use that kind of software much.

RDBMs were really beyond the personal computer though until the mid to late 80's and my experience with them in that environment was that they caused much more trouble than they saved and were very expensive and unreliable. More people were probably exposed to the idea of data arranged in tables by spreadsheets though, for the same reason more people learned programming through Tiny Basic and its offshoots than FORTRAN or COBOL.
posted by localroger at 5:51 PM on July 30, 2013


this crazy maze

Wolfenstein-like projector + random maze generator + random dynamic wall bitmaps + random maze walking algorithm = LSD.
posted by localroger at 5:52 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I guess I don’t really understand what Minecraft is, I thought it was just a thing where you built things out of blocks with bad graphics. I was surprised to see it on this list, I guess I need to look into it more.
posted by bongo_x at 5:57 PM on July 30, 2013


MySQL?
posted by spitbull at 5:59 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm a bit surprised to see minecraft on the list in its present state as well.

I can only believe he means it is influential in terms of software publishing and development philosophy not as software qua software.

It managed to generate huge sums of cash, through digital distribution, in a largely unfinished state by promising free updates to anyone who bought it in it's alpha state.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:04 PM on July 30, 2013


I could see Wolf3D/Doom as a precursor to that as well.
posted by Artw at 6:10 PM on July 30, 2013


Just came here to represent for Emacs.

Lotus Notes my ass.
posted by edheil at 6:12 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Maybe, but they actually sold doom disks. You could only FTP the first part.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:12 PM on July 30, 2013


No TeX? If not for TeX itself, then as a standin for everything Knuth.
posted by GuyZero at 6:14 PM on July 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


It managed to generate huge sums of cash, through digital distribution, in a largely unfinished state by promising free updates to anyone who bought it in it's alpha state.

Isn't that how all software development works ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:19 PM on July 30, 2013




Vim is a sports car. Emacs is a 747 containing an office building and a factory that can make 747s, office buildings, and sports cars.

I'm an emacs user and this is exactly right. I wouldn't want to spend huge chunks of my day crammed in a tiny sports car. I want room to spread out and build my own tools.
posted by DU at 6:22 PM on July 30, 2013


Emacs is the grey goo?
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:22 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


A think worth considering as far as TFA's framing is that one of the questions it asks is "if you wanted to run Word 97, which introduced $FEATURE, to see what it was like, how would you?" So he is interested in user experience. Thus the video games and my nomination for Tiny Basic. Things that don't create a user experience so much, like RDBMs, not so much even if they were very widely used.

(Hey, it's not my list, I'm just snarking about it too.)
posted by localroger at 6:28 PM on July 30, 2013


Isn't that how all software development works ?

I was going to answer, but I don't even know anymore.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:37 PM on July 30, 2013


If operating systems count as software, I'd say the original Mac OS pretty much laid out the real foundation if not defined graphical user interface principles for software used by real human beings outside the confines of a think tank or academic lab, used not only by its own maker's hardware, but by other platforms in their respective incarnations of the same combinations of ideas.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:43 PM on July 30, 2013


It managed to generate huge sums of cash, through digital distribution, in a largely unfinished state by promising free updates to anyone who bought it in it's alpha state.

Isn't that how all software development works ?


I doubt if as much as 10% of "software development" ends up in executables that a user touches. There's a lot of in-house stuff. R&D development in labs and universities. Personal software from one-off scripts to large projects. (I probably write a dozen small programs a day, maybe 1% of which are ever run again.) System control software for things like power plants or factories. Code embedded in a non-retail device (satellites, cell towers, etc).
posted by DU at 6:44 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


My geeky list would probably include the Bourne Shell (sh). There were predecessors but, as far as I can tell, sh was the most influential at making pipes and filters standard under the hood of most operating systems. I see it as a grandfather (with others) of the modern scripting languages in use.

Emacs would go on there, not because I like it but because its model of implementing features as macros on top of a core has been widely imitated.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:52 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lotus Notes only belongs on the list if it counts as an influence on what NOT to do. A far better candidate would be System R, the granddaddy of all relational databases.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:52 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also traditionally consumer software was sold when it was done, feature complete and theoretically bug free, it was written to a disk put in a box and sent to a store. You bought each successive version the same way.

What minecraft did was say "pay me this small fee, and you get updates all thought the development process till we are feature complete. Oh, by the way I don't know what features I want to add yet either."
posted by Ad hominem at 6:53 PM on July 30, 2013


If operating systems count as software, I'd say the original Mac OS pretty much laid out the real foundation if not defined graphical user interface principles for software used by real human beings outside the confines of a think tank or academic lab

LOL.

But yes, Mac OS is pretty influential even if a lot of it was the culmination of UI work carried out by Xerox and others, no need to be defensive about it.
posted by Artw at 6:57 PM on July 30, 2013


I love stories about all the weird shit that is secretly run on hypercard, even to this day.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 7:04 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also traditionally consumer software was sold when it was done, feature complete and theoretically bug free, it was written to a disk put in a box and sent to a store. You bought each successive version the same way.

I don't think that there's ever been a program more complicated than "Hello World" that could be claimed to be bug free.
posted by octothorpe at 7:04 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


if not defined graphical user interface principles for software used by real human beings outside the confines of a think tank or academic lab

Amiga Workbench :)

I don't think that there's ever been a program more complicated than "Hello World" that could be claimed to be bug free.

Yea theoretically, I really mean no known issues.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:06 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


After Dark was profound, though, wasn't it?
posted by swift at 7:10 PM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Minecraft was the list item so commenters can scream at him and draw hits.

Macromedia flash is a consumer software package that has built and destroyed careers. Just ask Psy and George Allen.
posted by cmfletcher at 7:13 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


MySQL? Are you new?
posted by j_curiouser at 7:43 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


apache? open ssh? vim? grep? GNU anything? perl? Mosaic/netscape/firefox? gcc? cvs? X? bash? ntp?
posted by ecco at 7:58 PM on July 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Also, I think SABRE is the nod to the original RDBMS.
posted by cmfletcher at 7:58 PM on July 30, 2013


Tennis for Two. Beats Maze War, Beats Pong, Beats Space War.

I see looking at wiki now, that apparently there are other contenders, but I am not clear on how "realtime" they are (chess, tic-tac-toe, nimrod and "Cathode Ray Amusement Device" patented by Ralph Baer, which is listed as the very first one way back in 1947 (not sure if ever created or just designed), but that really isn't software, as it's just an analog toy using a CRT, with no storage and retrieval to speak of).

---------------

As for other non-game software. Surely an OS should count as others have mentioned above. Why not Grace Hopper's compiler for A-0, the first compiler ever made, though it looks like FORTRAN should be more properly considered as the first compiler as we conceive of it in the modern era.

---------------
What about Cubase? Even better: Music-1

---------------
If we're talking about Computer Programs before computers, I would have to say that Ada Lovelace's Program (even if not an actual piece of software in existence) should surely count.
posted by symbioid at 8:18 PM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


GREP?
posted by radwolf76 at 8:42 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


What, no love for Daikatana?
posted by JHarris at 8:51 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I love vim but it really hasn't influenced other programs much. I mean, there's vimperator, vsvim, and viemu but not much else.
posted by Jpfed at 9:10 PM on July 30, 2013


Amiga Workbench :)

One of the best. But really it's Xerox -> Mac -> Everybody else. If one was going to be influential it would be Xerox or Mac, and more people saw Mac.
posted by Artw at 9:11 PM on July 30, 2013


Also, I think SABRE is the nod to the original RDBMS.


There were definitely databases before System R, but not relational databases.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:12 PM on July 30, 2013


EF Codd FTW!
posted by mikelieman at 10:52 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


If this was written 10 down to 1, how would Minecraft be written about and would it still even make the list?
posted by iamkimiam at 11:06 PM on July 30, 2013


Just because no one's mentioned it yet, I think you could make a good argument for iTunes.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 11:26 PM on July 30, 2013


After Dark was profound, though, wasn't it?

After Dark's biggest legacy was probably that the money it made was used to start MoveOn.org.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:27 PM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I did not know that. Interesting!
posted by JHarris at 12:08 AM on July 31, 2013


Emacs would go on there, not because I like it but because its model of implementing features as macros on top of a core has been widely imitated.

I'd include it too, but not because of any actual properties of the software itself. It was instrumental in the launch of the GNU project & Free Software Foundation.
posted by aubilenon at 12:18 AM on July 31, 2013


I have my own particular hateon for RDBMs, but...
Oh my Codd! For the love of Codd!

Why won't anyone give the love due an RDBMS!?
Even though it's an old thing, putting the sabre ref as #1 kinda makes my bullshit all irrelevant.
And I will say, I've been wanting to say "For the love of Codd!" for a very long time.
posted by drfu at 12:56 AM on July 31, 2013


If I'm being mean:

From his author info: Matthew Kirschenbaum is associate professor of English at the University of Maryland.

(My emphasis)

If I'm being generous:

I can imagine the conversation with the Slate Editors. "Hey Professor. You're an intelligent guy, writing about software preservation. But you know what would be really great? If you could dumb it all down and do yet another fucking Top 10 list which makes no-one happy but it's good for traffic."
posted by milkb0at at 1:52 AM on July 31, 2013


No Napster? No Oracle? Lotus Notes? bahh
posted by dave99 at 4:09 AM on July 31, 2013


I kept reading Minecraft as Minesweeper and was confused, and then skeptically convinced, and then really confused.
posted by like_neon at 4:21 AM on July 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


Damn I miss Hypercard. I'd written stuff in BASIC before that, and C++ after that, but nothing was as much fun as Hypercard.
posted by echo target at 8:23 AM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


> Doom took the networking it out of the lab

My favorite feature of which was that Doom for IPX/SPX-protocol (Netware) networks used broadcast packets, which swiftly made the network useless for any other thing people might be doing. (None of which would be anywhere near as important as playing Doom. People can be so silly about their parochial little concerns.)
posted by jfuller at 10:13 AM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Doom also used IP port 666, which is in the group below 1023 that is generally reserved for privileged applications, causing endless headaches for network administrators.
posted by localroger at 10:59 AM on July 31, 2013


Oh, I see id went ahead and registered port 666 with IANA. Nobody else up to then felt like filing a claim on the Beast's Own Port.

N.b. 667 ("neighbor of the beast") is still unregistered, if anybody likes the neighborhood.
posted by jfuller at 12:09 PM on July 31, 2013


If I'm being mean:

From his author info: Matthew Kirschenbaum is associate professor of English at the University of Maryland.

(My emphasis)


A little mean, I think. He has written software for humanities applications as well as written about software, new media, electronic literature, and the role of coding in literary studies.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 1:32 PM on July 31, 2013


jfuller, I believe this still caused problems with the port being registered IIRC because on UNIX systems with normal security settings, applications can't listen on well-known ports unless they have root privileges. I would not want to be the IT guy explaining why a video game has the same access level as the email server.
posted by localroger at 1:34 PM on July 31, 2013


MySQL? Are you new?
posted by j_curiouser


Why no. I wrote my first program in 1982 on a DEC mainframe. What's your point other than to be an obnoxious wise-ass?
posted by spitbull at 5:52 PM on July 31, 2013


Also, MySQL appeared in 1995 and has since become the worlds most widely used database. It's a damn sight more important than half the stuff mentioned in this thread. And SQL, on which it was based, appeared in the mid 70s, but not as a widely used open source tool.
posted by spitbull at 5:56 PM on July 31, 2013


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