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The History of Software

Last Saturday, April 4th, marked the 40th anniversary of the founding of Microsoft, which is sure hard to believe. I vaguely remember when they were sort of the new kid on the block, back in the old MS-DOS days. No more: not only has Microsoft turned forty, but later this year Bill Gates turns the Big 6-0.

And speaking of the Big 6-0, software is celebrating its sixtieth anniversary this year, too.

At least that’s according to an infographic of the history of software that Capterra pulled together.

I would think that the date of the first software might be a bit harder to pinpoint than the founding of Microsoft, or what’s on Bill Gates’ birth certificate. But we’ll take Capterra’s word for it that 1955 was the date when someone came up with a replacement for punch cards.

They give credit to an outfit called the Computer Usage Company, which was the first company to bring off-the-shelf computer software to market. (Prior to that, there was software, but it was all pretty much custom code.) Computer Usage is no longer among us, having gone bankrupt in 1986. But there are a lot of familiar names along the way that are still around.

ADP was using mainframes to do payroll processing in 1957. (They’ve stayed true to their core mission over the years, haven’t they?)

SAP was founded in 1972; Oracle in 1977. Peachtree brought out the first accounting package in 1978, and Microsoft introduced Office in 1989 (ten years after Visicalc, the first spreadsheet was launched; no mention of Lotus, or Multiplan. Remember them? Wow, Mutliplan brings back many memories!)

Linux turns 24 this year, and the first web browser will be 22.

There’s a sidewalk on programming languages that takes us from Fortran (1956) to Ruby (1995). Not sure why, but programming languages dropped off the map – or at least off of the infographic – at that point.

Anyway, at Critical Link one of the big changes has been the shift from our embedded software being primarily developed for bare metal, or an RTOS of some type, (uC/OS, pSOS, vxWorks, MQX, and others) to where we are now with embedded Linux becoming the preferred OS for embedded products.

What all this tells me is that the history of software is still being written. It’ll be very interesting to see how it evolves from today forward!


For whatever reason, I wasn’t able to embed the infographic as anything other than a blurry eyechart. You can find it here. (And for the record, I initially saw a reference to this infographic on the BQE blog.)