Top 10 industry-changing applications

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Top 10 industry-changing applications
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5. Adobe Photoshop

Iain Thomson: Photoshop was, is and will probably always be the graphics industry standard. Try getting a job in production without proficiency if you don't believe me.

It totally changed the way images could be enhanced and manipulated. Pretty much every magazine cover has been developed using it, and a lot of models can thank their long careers on its ability to seamlessly get rid of wrinkles and zits.

Giving the ability to do simple image processing continues to have an effect today. Artists use it to create bold new designs, individuals create stunning web pages and the ability to manipulate images is now commonplace, based on the fact that my mum does it to her own photos.

Photoshop also served a secondary purpose; it kept Apple alive during the dark days. Photoshop and Apple were tied together at birth and graphics designer's insistence on using Apple for work left the company an important business niche when sales were limited to hobbyists and fan boys.

Shaun Nichols: It is definitely not outside the realm of possibility to suggest that had Adobe not developed Photoshop, Apple would never have survived long enough to bring back Steve Jobs in the 90s.

For most of the professional photographers I know, getting rid of Photoshop would be about as difficult as kicking heroin. The ability to immediately develop and fine-tune images has literally cut hours, and in some cases days, off of the photography process. Web coverage of breaking news and sporting events would be next to impossible without Photoshop.

As with everything else, however, Photoshop has brought along some rather unpleasant innovations as well. Due to the sophistication with which images can be doctored, or even outright forged, we are now in a state of mind where something as seemingly concrete as photographic evidence can be called into question.

In creating a new market for digital imaging Adobe also managed to kill off another market; photo printing and film developing. I'm sure in the corporate halls of companies like Fuji and Kodak, Photoshop is about as popular as a Christmas-time shaved ice vendor in Moscow.


Shaun Nichols: In 1971, software engineer Ray Tomlinson constructed a nifty little program called SNDMSG. The program allowed users to send messages through ARPAnet to users on computers connected to other networks.

In other words, Ray Tomlinson invented email. While it would take another 25 years to hit, the system eventually became a rather popular way for anyone who owned a computer to communicate with others.

Aside from being the first program to allow users to send and receive messages with those on other networks, SNDMSG was also iconic in that Tomlinson decide to define individual systems by denoting the workstation name followed by an @ symbol and the network name. To this day, we use that format to designate an individual email address.

Iain Thomson: Where would we be without email? Well, there'd be more postmen at work but other than that the effects have been almost totally positive.

It's hard to imagine a world without email. It sped up business transactions immensely, made almost instantaneous communication a reality for many and is by far the most commonly used computer application in the world. Sadly it has cost us some things, notably penmanship and the irritation of the emoticon, but other than that email is a must have application.

There was some debate as to how to put email on the list. Personally I thought Hotmail, or even Gmail, could have been a contender but in the end we went for the font of email systems. Web mail is important, but it wasn't what changed computing.

3. Lotus 1-2-3

Iain Thomson: As far as businesses were concerned early computers were good really for only a few applications, chiefly fast mathematical calculations. So it was logical spreadsheets would be an early usage model.

The first major spreadsheet application was VisiCalc for the Apple. But when IBM got into the PC market Mitch Kapor, who knew the VisiCalc developers, took the idea and built Lotus 1-2-3 for DOS. Today that would have landed him a shedload of legal fees but instead he built Lotus into a US$3.5bn company.

The spreadsheet was the first killer app for the computer. It changed the way many businesses operated, by allowing analysis of corporate data to be completed in seconds, not weeks. Businesses could game out the effects of a price rise in a key commodity or the cost of a rise in interest payments or taxes.

This ability gave businesses a huge competitive advantage, and guaranteed the future of the computer as we know it today. Word processing, email and the web all followed on but it was something as dull as spreadsheets that moved computing into the mainstream business world.

Shaun Nichols: Along with the word processor, spreadsheet software was really responsible for the proliferation of the PC in the business space. Without it, IT would likely have been limited to servers and control terminals for decades.

Companies like Dell and IBM have Kapor to thank for trillions of dollars in sales. By giving companies a reason to put a workstation on every desk, Lotus helped fuel the growth of the business PC industry. Suddenly, a computer became something that everyone from the CEO to the secretary required to do their job. And the task of maintaining and servicing these systems became the profession of of... you guessed it... enterprise IT.

As Iain points out, it also helped to transform the concept of business intelligence. Instead of having to rely on specialised hardware and consultants, suddenly executives could all see and analyse collections of data that would have otherwise been nearly impossible to correlate and examine.

2. Quark Xpress

Shaun Nichols: Though it is one of many page layout and desktop publishing platforms, Quark Xpress has long been considered to be the most successful tool for designing a printed publication.

Quark Xpress and its peers have become so ubiquitous that those of us who grew up with personal computers sometimes have a hard time imagining that these sort of tasks were once done by hand.

As a result, Quark allowed many smaller companies to enter the publishing business, and made print publications as a whole much more aesthetically appealing.

I was first introduced to Quark in grade school when my stepmother, a graphic designer, showed me how to piece together a template for writing school reports. I still say with a fair amount of confidence that my science paper that year is perhaps the best-looking report on baboons written by an 11 year-old ever to earn a C.

Iain Thomson: Way to make me feel old Shaun. I first used Quark in my first journalism job a couple of years after graduation. A quick mental calculation shows you weren't even in double figures back then.

Quark basically drove the entire desktop publishing industry and we were tremendously excited when it came out. It may seem hard to believe but back in the day we had to physically bike pages to the repro shop before sending them to the printers. Quark made magazine publishing quick, easy and cheap.

There have been some disadvantages to be sure. Quark eliminated whole industries like typesetting and put a sizable dent in the courier business. But that's the thing with new technology, sometimes older professions have to go to the wall. At the same time the rise in the number of publications was dramatic and it's fair to say that without it neither Shaun or myself might have had a career.

1. Mosaic

Iain Thomson: Usually with a top 10 list the number one is the easiest to work out. This week's was tough, not so much for the application - a web browser was the obvious choice - but the people behind it.

I argued hard for Firefox and Mozilla, Shaun disagreed and things got so acrimonious I nearly didn't get the second round of beers in. In the end he won down to the force of logic. If we're talking change then the Mosaic team were the ones who did it.

There were other browsers to be sure. Berners-Lee may have kicked things off but he had no idea about the future potential of the internet.

But other programmers did. Four Finnish students built Erwise in 1992 and a Berkeley student invented ViolaWWW, the most popular browser before Mosaic.

Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina simply built the best product out there. Not the best technically, but one with features that made sense to the majority of computer users, such as adding the ability to have pictures and text in the same window - something Berners-Lee vehemently objected too at the time. Mosaic proved that the web was more than just text.

The other reason I agreed with Shaun is that in the end we're both right. Mosaic gets the prize rightly, but the team behind it went on to form Netscape, which begot Mozilla and thus Firefox. Just goes to show, you can seldom kill a good idea.

Shaun Nichols: This one was tough. We knew that number one would have to be something to do with browsers, but which one? Netscape Navigator was the first huge commercial success, but with walled garden ISPs such as AOL and Prodigy in the early days of the internet it wasn't a necessity for users.

Firefox was important, but the browser market had been long developed and established by the time it arrived. And Internet Explorer... well... it was Internet Explorer.

In the end, we decided to go with Mosaic for the simple reason that it established the format and basic design concepts for what would become the web. Mosaic introduced the concept that a web page could be ordered and viewed visually in the same way a regular sheet of paper could, with images and text laid out together.

Everyone loves to talk about how the GUI in MacOS and Windows changed the computing world by insulating users from a complicated command line, In a way, Mosaic did the same thing for internet. It marked a transition from the text-only bulletin board system of ARPAnet and made the internet something which could be both accessible and appealing to average users.

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