My top 10 free apps of the decade – Tom

It’s a pretty tall order picking 10 pieces of software from the last 10 years. This has, after all, been a decade increasingly described – and even shaped – by the software we’ve been using. While Nick focused on free downloads for his selection last week, mine will include more web apps, reflecting the huge shift to online and social software that has taken place over the decade. So please forgive me if there are a couple of Google applications that make it into my top ten.

Firefox – released 2004. The ‘noughties’ could appropriately be split into two eras: before and after Firefox. Since 1998, when AOL announced their purchase of Netscape, hopes that a web browser could ever again compete with Internet Explorer had faded. Mozilla issued a statement of intent with Phoenix in 2002 and fired a broadside with Firefox two years later. The market is now more competitive than ever.

gmail.pngGmail – launched (in beta) 2004.  My first email account was with Hotmail, before that company was bought by Microsoft in 1997. In between then and 2004, I had five or six different accounts with various providers. Google’s reinvention of email, introducing smart conversations, tags, search that works, massive storage… fixed a system that was broken and forced more established providers to pick up their game.

lastfm_thumb.jpgLast.fm – launched 2002. The first great social app that was about something other than socializing. Combining data about what music each user listens to with social features has allowed the website to develop into a powerful recommendation engine, allowing users to discover new music, and make friends with people who share their tastes. The addition of an events section in 2006 made Last.fm’s offering to music fans complete.

twitter1.jpgTwitter – launched 2006. It remains to be seen whether Twitter can maintain its position as the most cutting edge real-time social/communication tool on the web. Intuition and previous experience suggest that this will be impossible. Over the last 2 years, Twitter has grown to become one of the most popular websites out there, as well as playing an important role in world events.

android-nav-1.pngGoogle Maps Navigation for Android – released 2009. The Android edition of Google’s popular maps and directions software is a perfect marriage of hardware and software. As all Android devices feature high-speed data connections, GPS and a digital compass, Google found it could produce a real-time navigation app that would have been unthinkably expensive just a couple of years ago.

Skype – released 2003. If there’s one piece of software that has benefited from the global spread of broadband internet, it’s Skype. While VoIP wasn’t exactly a new idea, Skype launched to a fast-expanding at exactly the right moment. Used by millions around the world to stay in touch with loved ones, Skype revolutionized an industry – and improved our lives.

itunes1.pngiTunes – released 2001. Now, iTunes isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I think it should be. As a music manager, nothing beats iTunes for ease of use and functionality. And the iTunes Music Store taught the record industry that it could embrace digital downloads, a strategic move that may just have saved that industry.

wordpresslogo.pngWordPress – released 2003. As blogging exploded in popularity at the beginning of the decade, there weren’t that many platforms to choose between for budding amateur writers. Those options that existed were typically closed, lacked customization options, or cost money. WordPress made blogs easy to use and personalizable, as well as adhering to a creed of simple, clean code. One of the great open source projects of the decade.

transmission1.pngTransmission – released 2006. If the beginning of this decade saw us downloading files with such awful programs as Napster and Shareaza, the latter half has been dominated by BitTorrent. Transmission has become something of a classic OS X application: its simple design, reliability and ease of use all make it the perfect Mac torrent client.

simgolf1.pngSimGolf – released 2002. OK so SimGolf was never free. And it wasn’t that popular. And no one has ever heard of it except for me. But it’s a great little game and well worth trying out, even 7 years after its release. SimGolf lets you design your own golf course and then play tournaments on it. I know that sounds impossibly exciting but the reality of the game is so much more… try it today and you’ll see.

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