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The five greatest pieces of software ever written

Five Best Software

“Software will eat the world” is a phrase coined by Marc Andreessen, a well-known entrepreneur and venture capitalist, in an essay published in The Wall Street Journal in 2011. This bold assertion encapsulates the idea that software and technology companies are poised to revolutionize every aspect of the global economy and society. Andreessen argued that in the future, every company would become a software company, a prediction that has increasingly become reality as we witness the profound impact of software across various industries.

At the core of Andreessen’s argument is the observation that technological advancements, particularly in software development and internet infrastructure, have dramatically lowered the barriers to entry for creating and scaling digital products and services. This shift has enabled startups and established companies alike to innovate at unprecedented speeds, disrupting traditional industries with software-based solutions. From retail and media to finance and healthcare, no sector has remained untouched by the digital transformation driven by software.

The essay highlights examples of companies that, at the time, were beginning to illustrate this trend. These companies, by leveraging software, were able to offer superior services or products at lower costs, often transforming or even dominating their respective fields. The phrase also reflects a broader shift towards a digital economy, where value creation and competitive advantage increasingly depend on the ability to develop and deploy software effectively.

Furthermore, “Software will eat the world” signifies a future where the physical and digital realms continue to merge, blurring the lines between technology companies and traditional businesses. It emphasizes the importance of embracing digital innovation for companies seeking to remain relevant and competitive in the rapidly evolving marketplace.

Since the publication of Andreessen’s essay, the prophecy has borne out in numerous ways, from the rise of mobile computing and cloud services to the proliferation of internet-of-things devices and artificial intelligence. These developments underscore the growing role of software in shaping our lives, economies, and societies, making the phrase a prescient observation of the digital age’s transformative potential.

In the beginning, software was intricately linked to the hardware it ran on, with early programmers using punch cards to input instructions directly into machines. These were the days of the ENIAC and other early computers, where programming was a laborious task that required deep understanding of the machine’s architecture. The invention of assembly language and compilers in the 1950s marked the first major leap towards making software development more accessible, allowing programmers to write instructions in a more human-readable form.

The 1960s and 1970s saw the rise of operating systems and the development of programming languages like COBOL and FORTRAN, which were designed to automate business and scientific calculations, respectively. This period also witnessed the birth of the Unix operating system, which introduced many concepts foundational to modern computing, such as file systems and the shell interface.

The introduction of personal computers in the late 1970s and early 1980s democratized computing, bringing software development and usage into homes and small businesses. This era sparked the creation of software for word processing, spreadsheets, and databases, revolutionizing how people worked and managed information. The graphical user interface, popularized by the Xerox Alto and later by Apple’s Macintosh, made computers more accessible to the general public, setting the stage for the software-driven world we live in today.

The 1990s and early 2000s were defined by the rise of the internet and the World Wide Web, transforming software from standalone applications to interconnected, networked systems that could communicate across the globe. This era saw the emergence of web browsers, search engines, and the first social media platforms, fundamentally changing how people communicate, access information, and entertain themselves.

Today, software is an integral part of daily life, powering everything from smartphones and smart homes to global financial systems and space exploration. The advent of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data analytics has opened new frontiers in software capability, promising to usher in yet another era of transformation. The history of software is a testament to human ingenuity and creativity, a continuously unfolding story of how abstract code can change the world.


The history of Unix begins in the late 1960s and early 1970s at AT&T’s Bell Labs. The development of Unix is a tale of innovation born out of necessity and collaboration. Initially, Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie, and their colleagues were seeking to create a more flexible and portable operating system than the ones available at the time, which were often tied to specific hardware. Unix stood out for its simplicity, elegance, and the revolutionary idea of treating everything as a file, which made it vastly more adaptable and easier to use.

One of Unix’s foundational principles was the concept of writing programs that do one thing well and work together with other programs. This philosophy promoted modularity and reusability, allowing for a powerful and efficient system where complex tasks could be accomplished by chaining together simple tools. Moreover, Unix was one of the first systems to be written in a high-level language, C, which Ritchie developed. This choice broke the tradition of writing operating systems in assembly language, making Unix easily portable to different hardware platforms. This portability, combined with its efficiency and the licensing model that allowed academic institutions to adopt and modify it, led to Unix’s widespread adoption in the academic world.

The significance of Unix in the development of modern computing cannot be overstated. It laid the groundwork for a multitude of operating systems, including the various forms of BSD, and has directly influenced the design of Linux, which in turn has powered countless servers, desktops, and mobile devices across the globe. The Unix philosophy has permeated through software development practices, advocating for simplicity, clarity, and the importance of open collaboration.

Moreover, Unix brought forth a new era of networked computing. Its built-in networking capabilities were revolutionary, setting the stage for the development of the internet and the interconnected digital world we live in today. The creation of the Unix shell provided a powerful command-line interface that remains central to modern computing, offering users control and flexibility in how they interact with their computers.

In essence, Unix’s history is a story of how a quest for a better computing solution led to innovations that shaped the entire field of computer science and the tech industry. Its principles of modularity, portability, and simplicity continue to influence how software is developed and used, making Unix one of the most important foundations of the digital age.


HTTP, which stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol, is not software in itself but a protocol, a set of rules and standards for communication between web servers and clients (browsers). It forms the foundation of data communication on the World Wide Web, enabling the fetching of resources, such as HTML documents. It’s a client-server protocol, meaning a client (like a web browser) initiates a request, and a server responds to that request.

However, software implementations of HTTP, such as web servers (e.g., Apache, Nginx) and web browsers (e.g., Chrome, Firefox), are crucial for the protocol to function in practice. These software applications are written to understand and adhere to the rules defined by the HTTP protocol, allowing them to send and receive messages in a format that both the client and server can interpret. In this sense, while HTTP itself is not software, it is a critical component of the software ecosystem that powers the internet.

The history of HTTP, or Hypertext Transfer Protocol, is deeply intertwined with the inception and growth of the World Wide Web. Developed by Tim Berners-Lee and his team at CERN in the early 1990s, HTTP was conceived as a simple yet powerful protocol for transferring hypertext documents across the Internet. This innovation was pivotal in transforming the Internet from a network used primarily by academics and researchers for email and file transfers into the incredibly rich and interactive web of information we know today.

At its core, HTTP provided a standardized way for web servers to communicate with clients, such as web browsers, allowing users to request and receive web pages and resources with ease. The introduction of HTTP 0.9 in 1991 marked the beginning of this revolution, with a protocol that was rudimentary yet effective, handling the transfer of HTML documents seamlessly. As the web grew, so did HTTP, evolving to meet the demands of an increasingly complex digital ecosystem. The subsequent versions, HTTP/1.0 and HTTP/1.1, introduced critical features like status codes, headers for passing additional information, and persistent connections, significantly improving efficiency and flexibility.

The importance of HTTP extends beyond its technical specifications. It laid the groundwork for the web’s exponential growth by ensuring that the vast network of information could be easily accessible and navigable for anyone with an Internet connection. This accessibility has democratized information, enabling everything from online shopping and digital communication to cloud computing and streaming media. Furthermore, HTTP has been instrumental in fostering innovation, as it allowed developers to build new applications and services on top of a universal, open protocol.

In the continued pursuit of performance and security, the development of HTTP/2 and HTTP/3 introduced improvements like multiplexing, allowing multiple requests and responses to be sent simultaneously over a single connection, and enhancements to security protocols, ensuring that the web could keep pace with the needs of modern users while protecting their data.

Through its evolution, HTTP has remained a fundamental pillar of the Internet, emblematic of the web’s guiding principles of openness and interoperability. Its creation and ongoing development reflect the collaborative spirit of the global community of researchers, engineers, and innovators who have shaped the digital landscape. As the web continues to evolve, HTTP will undoubtedly adapt, supporting new technologies and applications yet to be imagined, continuing its legacy as the backbone of the World Wide Web.

Lotus 1-2-3

Lotus 1-2-3 emerged in the early 1980s as a groundbreaking software application that revolutionized the way businesses and individuals managed data and performed financial analysis. Developed by Lotus Development Corporation, founded by Mitch Kapor, Lotus 1-2-3 was released in 1983 for IBM PCs, which were gaining popularity in the corporate world. Its name, 1-2-3, signified its core capabilities: spreadsheet calculations, database management, and graphical charting, all within a single program. This integration was pivotal, offering a powerful tool that combined the functionality of several separate programs into one seamless application.

The introduction of Lotus 1-2-3 was a turning point in the personal computing industry, particularly for business applications. Before its arrival, software offerings for tasks like financial modeling and data analysis were limited and less user-friendly. Lotus 1-2-3’s innovative approach to handling data not only made it easier for users to perform complex calculations and analyses but also set a new standard for what was expected from business software.

One of the key factors behind Lotus 1-2-3’s success was its performance optimization for the IBM PC’s hardware, making it faster and more efficient than its competitors. This optimization, coupled with its user-friendly interface and comprehensive features, quickly made Lotus 1-2-3 the spreadsheet program of choice for businesses, outpacing rivals like VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet program. Lotus 1-2-3’s dominance in the 1980s helped establish the IBM PC as the standard computing platform in business, further entrenching the software’s position in the market.

Beyond its immediate impact on the business software market, Lotus 1-2-3 played a significant role in popularizing the use of PCs for business applications, demonstrating the potential of personal computing technology to transform workplace productivity. Its success also spurred innovation within the software industry, leading to the development of integrated office suites and pushing competitors to enhance the usability and functionality of their products.

However, the landscape of the software industry is ever-evolving, and the dominance of Lotus 1-2-3 began to wane in the 1990s as Microsoft Excel, part of the Microsoft Office suite, rose to prominence. The shift towards Windows and the integration of Excel with other Microsoft applications such as Word and PowerPoint offered a new level of interoperability and convenience, factors that contributed to Lotus 1-2-3’s gradual decline.

Despite this, the legacy of Lotus 1-2-3 endures. It marked a significant milestone in the history of software development, highlighting the importance of user-centered design, performance optimization, and the integration of multiple functionalities into a single, cohesive application. Lotus 1-2-3 not only shaped the future of spreadsheet software but also left an indelible mark on the evolution of personal computing and business practices.


The software that evolved into Google began as a research project in January 1996 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two PhD students at Stanford University. They embarked on the challenge of creating a new type of search engine that analyzed the relationships between websites to determine a page’s relevance. This approach was fundamentally different from existing search engines, which primarily ranked results based on how many times the search term appeared on a webpage.

Page and Brin’s project, initially called “BackRub,” leveraged a technology they developed called PageRank. PageRank assessed the quality of a web page by the number of links directed to it, operating on the premise that more significant pages are likely to receive more links from other sites. This innovative method allowed their search engine to deliver more relevant and useful results than competitors at the time.

In September 1998, Page and Brin officially launched their search engine under a new name, Google, a play on the word “googol,” representing the vast amount of information the search engine aimed to organize. Operating from a friend’s garage in Menlo Park, California, Google quickly distinguished itself as a superior search engine, gaining popularity for its simplicity, speed, and accuracy.

Google’s ascendancy in the world of internet search marked a turning point in how people accessed information online. Its focus on user experience, with a clean interface and relevant search results, set new standards for what users expected from search engines. The introduction of AdWords in 2000, an innovative advertising model that allowed businesses to advertise to people searching for related keywords, provided a robust revenue stream that fueled Google’s growth and expansion into other areas.

Over the years, Google has grown far beyond a search engine, developing a vast ecosystem of products and services, including Gmail, Google Maps, Android, and Google Cloud. These offerings have cemented Google’s position as a leader in technology and innovation, influencing nearly every aspect of digital life.

The importance of the software that became Google extends beyond its role as a gateway to the internet. Google has played a pivotal role in organizing the world’s information, making it universally accessible and useful. Its algorithms have continuously evolved to understand and anticipate user needs, shaping how information is consumed and disseminated. Moreover, Google’s rise prompted significant changes in web design, online advertising, and digital content creation, emphasizing the importance of SEO and the value of user-friendly, content-rich sites.

The Apollo Guidance System

The Apollo Guidance System, a marvel of its time, played a pivotal role in the historic achievement of landing humans on the Moon and safely returning them to Earth. Developed during the 1960s as part of NASA’s Apollo program, this groundbreaking piece of technology was designed to navigate, guide, and control the spacecraft during its journey to the lunar surface and back. The creation of the Apollo Guidance System was a monumental task that required the collaboration of MIT’s Instrumentation Laboratory, now known as Draper Laboratory, and the pioneering efforts of engineers and computer scientists who pushed the boundaries of what was technically feasible.

One of the most revolutionary aspects of the Apollo Guidance System was its onboard computer, the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC). The AGC was one of the first to use integrated circuits, marking a significant advancement in computer technology. Its design was a leap forward in miniaturization and reliability, essential qualities for space travel where every ounce of weight and every cubic inch of space were at a premium. The computer was tasked with performing real-time computations for navigation and control, a critical capability given the vast distances and complex maneuvers involved in lunar missions.

The importance of the Apollo Guidance System extends beyond its immediate role in the Apollo missions. It represented a major step forward in the field of avionics and embedded systems. The challenges faced and overcome in its development spurred innovations in software engineering, particularly in the areas of real-time computing and human-machine interfaces. The software for the AGC, notably developed by Margaret Hamilton and her team, introduced concepts such as asynchronous software, priority scheduling, and error recovery routines that are now fundamental in computer science.

Moreover, the Apollo Guidance System showcased the potential of digital computers in controlling complex systems, influencing the design of future spacecraft and even commercial aviation. Its reliance on software for critical functions marked a shift in engineering philosophy, emphasizing the role of software reliability and the need for rigorous testing and validation processes.

The legacy of the Apollo Guidance System lives on, not only in the memories of the Apollo missions but also in the technological advances it inspired. It demonstrated the feasibility and importance of integrating advanced computing systems into aerospace projects, laying the groundwork for the sophisticated space exploration missions that followed. The system’s development was a testament to human ingenuity and the collaborative spirit of exploration, embodying the drive to achieve seemingly impossible goals through technological innovation.



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