10 pieces of software that changed the world

Then came the iTunes Music Store, turning the personal player from an accessory to a vibrant platform in its own right. For the first time it was possible to buy popular music in digital form – a revolution for the entertainment industry. And once it became the de facto way of purchasing music online, Apple wielded its considerable influence to force a reluctant music industry into dropping DRM.

iTunes subsequently expanded to sell TV shows as well, kickstarting the idea of watching TV on a computing device. We suspect BBC iPlayer, which appeared two years later, was influenced by iTunes.

Finally, in 2008, came the iTunes App Store – another industry first – which once more opened up an entire new dimension in personal devices that established the blueprint for later rivals such as the Android Market and Intel’s AppUp store.

Some may grumble at iTunes’ ubiquity and inflexibility, but it’s carved out and defined not one but several billion-dollar industries – a claim very few applications can match. And now it’s even managed to convince The Beatles to jump on board.

10. Adobe Photoshop

Photoshop is one of the few computer applications to become a verb in its own right. The program is now synonymous with image manipulation, but when Adobe Photoshop 1 was launched in 1990, bitmap editing was already a well-established field with plenty of competing applications such as MacPaint, PCPaint, PixelPaint and PC Paintbrush.


What made Photoshop different was apparent from its name. Whereas the existing applications struggled to adapt to images acquired from the first generation of scanners, Photoshop fully embraced the new world of computer-based photography. Photoshop’s original developers, Thomas and John Knoll, attempted to recreate the same sort of rich photographic control they had experienced working in their father’s darkroom.

Providing such control wasn’t easy. Editing high-resolution images is demanding, and Photoshop benefitted greatly from the low-level graphics subroutines that Thomas Knoll had developed while gaining his PhD on image processing. John Knoll immediately appreciated the potential of his brother’s imaging engine for photographic enhancement and creative effects via his own contribution to the project: Photoshop’s extensible plugin architecture.

Photoshop 1 provided the foundation and the next few releases built on it. Version 2 added support for CMYK handling, while version 2.5 opened up the Windows market. 1994’s Photoshop 3 introduced layer-based handling and so provided the platform for seamless photo-composition.

By the time digital cameras became ubiquitous, Photoshop had seen off a host of rivals. Its consumer spin-off, Photoshop Elements, is slowly becoming as dominant in the home market as Photoshop is in the professional publishing world.

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Twenty years after its first release, Photoshop CS5 is still delivering state-of-the-art photo-editing capabilities, and now the software is helping to propel Adobe into new digital publishing platforms such as the iPad, and next year on to the computer desktop.

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