In this article, we'll take a look at six types of software that changed the way we live our lives, from terminal emulation software used for accessing mainframes, such as 3270 emulation, to peer-to-peer file sharing software such as Napster.
1. Graphical user interface
Long before the graphical user interface, computers were mainframes that were accessed with text-based terminals that could do nothing more than input and output textual data. Even during the early years of personal computer when the microcomputer become common the most widely used operating systems, such as MS-DOS, remained text based and lacked graphical user interfaces (GUIs). It wasn't until the likes of Apple and Microsoft started developing image and mouse-based interactive abilities that personal computers were given the opportunity to shine.
Computers were showing the world what incredible things could be achieved with technology, but it wasn't long before there was a downside, and that came in the form of malicious software, commonly referred to as malware or "viruses". In truth, a virus is a specific type of malware, but it has come to be the popular term for any software that might cause your computer to crash, steal your information or track your computer habits. These days, fighting viruses has spawned a multi-billion dollar industry.
3. Terminal emulation
As stated, mainframes and large scale systems were once the only computers going around, and they were accessed through text-based terminals or "dumb terminals" with no processing power of their own. With the arrival of GUI-based operating systems, the mainframes still needed to be accessed, but no one wanted to use the old terminals any more. Instead, terminal emulation software (such as a Windows terminal emulator) was developed, allowing access to mainframes on modern GUI-based PCs.
4. Open source software
In the early days of computing, the source code of software was often kept a secret by the developers producing it in order to protect their commercial interests. In the late '90s, however, when the open source movement began to gain traction. Open source advocates making source code freely available to anyone who wished to view it, allowing developers to build and modify the same software or understand how it functions. The aim is to promote a public, collaborative effort, and some reports suggest open source software has led to savings of around $60 billion per year for customers.
5. Web browser
The technology behind the Internet dates back to the 1960s, but it wasn't until around 1990 that web browsers first sprung up. Early trailblazers such as NCSA Mosaic in 1993 and Microsoft Internet Explorer in 1995 led to a boom in content being developed on the World Wide Web that could be accessed at any time. The subsequent growth of search engines such as Yahoo! and Google helped to organize and make this data accessible.
6. Peer-to-peer file sharing
While it wasn't the first piece of software that facilitated P2P file distribution, Napster had a friendly user interface and specialized in MP3 music files and quickly shot to popularity. It allowed users to illegally share as much music as they wished, almost eliminating the need to head to a CD shop to access music. Napster was eventually shut down and the war between P2P software and music, movie, television and software studios continues to rage.