Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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6/7/2005
03:44 PM
David  DeJean
David DeJean
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The Software Hall of Fame contest underscores something I think is very interesting: the tremendous change the World Wide Web has made in how we use software and what we think is good software. The history of PC software isn't that long. It goes back only about 25 years, to 1980, give or take a couple of years. For the first 15 of those years, software was productivity-oriented and kinda geeky: the big hits were

The Software Hall of Fame contest underscores something I think is very interesting: the tremendous change the World Wide Web has made in how we use software and what we think is good software.

The history of PC software isn't that long. It goes back only about 25 years, to 1980, give or take a couple of years. For the first 15 of those years, software was productivity-oriented and kinda geeky: the big hits were titles like WordStar, WordPro, Multimate, 1-2-3, Procomm, and new categories of software blossomed as businesses grew up around new uses for the PC.

But in the last decade -- the period covered by the contest -- that's changed. Productivity software has new versions, not new categories. Most of the really novel and really widely used applications are Web-based, and many of them have been propelled to prominence by young people.

You can see this in the 10 applications written up by Pipeline editors to introduce the contest. Only three of those 10 applications exist independently of the Web -- that is, they're installed on a stand-alone PC and work only with data on the machine. The others all depend on the communication and data resources of the Web: either they exist to manipulate data that is distributed via the Web by doing Web authoring, blogging, e-mail managing, instant messaging, RSS reading, peer-to-peer file sharing, or they are entirely Web-based. (I admit I'm cheating a little bit by including the "e-mail managing" app because it is not, strictly speaking, Web-related. E-mail is a client-server application that's not tied to any particular network.)

I'm not going to tell you what the 10 editors' picks are. You'll have to check the contest out for yourself. I don't entirely agree with the list, and I'm not just being a sore loser because I didn't place any nominees among the chosen 10. Really.

But I do think my Pipeline peers missed applications that have debuted since 1995 and, just in terms of their impact on society and on computing, deserve pedestals in any Software Hall of Fame:

AOL Instant Messenger. You can say what you will about AOL (and most people do), it has connected more people to the Internet than anything else on the planet, and shown them what it was good for. First it was "You've got mail!" and then lightning struck twice with AOL Instant Messenger. AIM wasn't the first -- that honor belongs to ICQ -- but just as the little yellow man who was originally AIM's symbol has come to stand for all of AOL, so has AIM come to symbolize a new form of computer communication in our daily lives (particularly if we are just out of junior high school). "IM me," is part of many a parting. Screen names are the new telephone numbers. Ray Ozzie, the creator of Lotus Notes, was talking about what people do with computers on a panel at Lotusphere last January, and observed that for his kids, e-mail is what they use when they don't want to hear from somebody. IM is what they use for vital communication.

eBay. You can argue about whether eBay is an application or a database, software or a service. But you can't argue with the fact that eBay is a great software application: it delivers incredible functionality and features to both sellers and buyers through an interface that is both information-rich and easy to use. No other e-commerce software comes even remotely close. (Well, maybe Amazon.com deserves an honorable mention.) And let us not forget the thing that makes eBay the perfect digital analog to real-world commerce -- Paypal, another Web-based application/service. (And, yes, I've been waiting to use "digital analog" in a sentence for at least a couple of years.)

Google. Likewise. Is it an app? A database? A whipped topping? A floor wax? Who cares. Nothing else like it comes even remotely close. Search engines make it possible to drink from the firehose that is the Web, and Google is far and away the best of the bunch. The technology sometimes leaves me breathless -- especially when I'm trying to find something on some twisted-and-confused Web site afflicted with serious search suckiness. Then I remember, wait a minute, just use Google. Nine times out of 10 Google can take you to what you want on a site faster than the site itself can.

Mapquest. How did we ever get anywhere before there was Mapquest? How many times have you been heading out for somewhere and looked up directions, printed out a map, or turn-by-turn directions -- or used it after the fact to check the mileage for your expense account, or . . . the uses are endless. It's another application like e-mail or IM, something we didn't have before the Web that has become a part of our management toolkit for our daily lives. It's also why my wife brings her Blackberry along when we go on a trip. She doesn't have to nag me to stop for directions anymore. She just reads them off the screen. Mapquest is the poor man's GPS.

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