10. Google Maps
In the early 2000s, maps were mostly a “solved” problem online. But then we saw Google Maps and the web changed. Suddenly, not everything required a page refresh. Websites could have states and live, streaming data. And it all sprung from dragging a map, watching tiles load.
VisiCalc was the program that turned personal computers from hobbyists’ toys into business machines. VisiCalc worked with the limited power and visuals of early computers to show that one of the things computers are best at is modeling and (obviously) computation. VisiCalc was the core of the office productivity programs that are still the foundation of suites like MS Office and Google Docs today.
If there is an ecommerce site or a social networking site with comments that doesn’t owe a debt to Amazon, I’ve yet to see it. In the late 1990s, Amazon showed everyone one of the things the web was good at: aggregation of behaviors and data (“Customers who bought this also bought…”). They dared to have comments that were critical of the products they were selling. One click ordering. Imagining the web as we know it without the influence of Amazon is almost impossible.
Every text editing and word processing program has as its heritage partially in WordStar. WordStar, like #9 VisiCalc, remains near the core of most desktop experiences. It’s other legacy is the richness of its key commands, which remained in vogue for years afterwords.
6. Mosaic Browser
The Mosaic browser gave us the Back button. Suddenly, software could move backwards in “time” and “space.” Not to mention bookmarks to return somewhere in the future. The application as time machine.
The Newton showed that there was room in the world for a computer smaller than a laptop (a “portable” computer in those days). While the Newton famously failed, its influence (and its lessons) spread to the Palm and outward into mobile phones and devices.
Computers could be used for…fun? Outside of offices? Pong seems so crudely primitive now, but it started an entire industry of video games and arcades. And it was multiplayer!
The Automatic Teller Machine was one of the first, and certainly the most prevalent, of devices that replaced a human service with a digital one. Millions of people who have never touched a traditional computer have used an ATM. For designers, it has become the defacto design for interactive design for the public in public spaces. Gasoline pumps, ticketing machines, and airport check-in kiosks are all descendants of the ATM.
2. Xerox Alto
The product of the group of geniuses gathered at Xerox PARC in the early 1970s, the Alto had features like WYSIWYG manipulation, an ethernet connection, and a GUI, which Steve Jobs famously
stole appropriated for the Lisa and the Macintosh. The Alto contained paradigms like Cut-and-Paste that we still use today. And of course, the Alto was heavily influenced by…
1. oNLine System
While it was challenging to rank and sort the other 29 products on this list, the #1 spot was never really in doubt. Doug Engelbart’s oNLine System basically defined the interactive paradigms for the next 40 years (and continuing). From Windows to the Mac to the Lisa to the Star to the Alto, the line from Engelbart’s work is clear. The Mother of All Demos probably changed the lives of everyone who saw it, and it is still mindblowing today, given the technology of the time. What it showed off: a mouse, a GUI, windowing, videoconferencing, hypertext, word processing, and email. In 1968. It would take 20-30 years for most people to get their hands on these technologies, and it is safe to say no other single interactive product has done as much to influence how we work and live as the oNLine System.