10 most influential computers and programs

This tweet got me thinking…

While Alan’s specifically asking about machines that solve problems, it got me digging out some old lists – including, funnily enough, one I made a couple of years ago in response to another tweet from Alan. Arguably the Commodore 64 and Sinclair ZX Spectrum were more influential than the BBC Micro because they were much cheaper, but as Alan points out, the BBC Micro was part of the journey that led to the Acorn Archimedes, ARM processors, mobile computing devices like the Apple Newton, smartphones – and, I’d add, the BBC micro:bit.

That’s all about hardware though. What about software? Also around the same time two years ago, I made a list of the 10 most influential computer programs ever written. I think the Apollo Guidance Computer is probably missing from both my lists, hardware and software – what else did I miss?

10 most influential apps – a quick list by @blogmywiki

Sketchpad light pen drawing program

1. Sketchpad – Lincoln TX-2 computer – 1963
Light pen-driven vector graphic CAD tool, decades ahead of its time. I remember seeing this on TV in my early childhood and seeing pictures of it (or something like it) in The Ladybird Book of the Computer and being transfixed by it. And I still want a light pen.

VisiCalc spreadhseet on Apple 2

2. VisiCalc – Apple ][ - 1979
The first electronic spreadsheet, people bought Apple ][ computers just to run it, extending the life of this machine beyond what may have been reasonably expected.

3. Aldus PageMaker – Macintosh – 1985
The original desktop publishing software, the quintessential ‘killer app’ that saved the Macintosh from oblivion and changed the publishing and print industries for ever.

4. WorldWideWeb – NEXT Cube – 1990
First ever web-browser, written by Tim Berners-Lee as part of his new way of sharing information on the Internet. Will never catch on.

WordStar word processor

5. WordStar – CP/M – 1979
The first widely-adopted word processing software, without which there may have been no Microsoft Word.


6. MacPaint – Macintosh – 1984
The onlie begetter of Photoshop, Windows Paint and others. Bill Atkinson’s masterpiece really is one of the most elegant and intuitive pieces of software ever written, anyone can pick it up and start creating.

7. Spacewar! – PDP1 – 1962
People had programmed games like Tic-Tac-Toe on computers before this, but Spacewar! Deserves a mention as it could only be played on a computer. This sophisticated vector-graphic game included Newtonian physics, something we take for granted nowadays but which was astonishing for 1962. Without it there would have been no Asteroids.

8. Pong – arcade game – 1972
‘Whatever happened to Pong?’ in the words of Frank Black. Kick-started Atari and the whole popular arcade video-game industry.

Asteroids game screenshot

9. Asteroids – arcade game – 1979
Massively influential vector-graphic arcade game – though I preferred the tank game Battle Zone and the Star Wars game you sat in. Even more popular than…

Space Invaders screen

10. Space Invaders – arcade game – 1978
Very influential early arcade game, spawning a huge number of more colourful, complex but (in my view) less satisfying 2D alien shooters.

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