Canonical Software


Lists are all the rage – and not just the traditional rundowns at New Year. In 2014 Paul Ford suggested that it might be possible to propose a software canon consisting of great works of deeply influential software that changed the nature of what followed. He suggested five: the office suite Microsoft Office, the image editor Photoshop, the videogame Pac-Man, the operating system Unix, and the text editor Emacs.

Earlier, in 2013, Matthew Kirschenbaum had come up with ten: like Ford, he listed Photoshop but there was no room for Microsoft Office (instead WordStar and VisiCalc) – and no Pac-Man (Maze War, Adventure, and Minecraft were the games in his list). There was no operating system, but he did include Mosaic, the first graphical web browser.

Engaging in this kind of debate is generally best done over a few drinks, but in their absence, what would be the software canon for archaeologists?

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