restricted access Collecting the History of the Software Industry
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Collecting the History of the Software Industry

According to Software Magazine, the top 500 companies in the computer software and services industry generated $640 billion dollars in revenue in 2012 and employed more than 4.1 million people who design, program, maintain, sell, or support computer software and services.1 Responding to the significance of the industry in 2000 and anticipating its continued growth, the Annals Editorial Board made a decision at that time that it should give greater emphasis to articles on the history of both the technological advances made in software and the companies and people who had built and were continuing to grow this vital industry.

Thanks to the support and encouragement of Thomas J. (Tim) Bergin, David Alan Grier, and Jeffrey Yost, the editors in chief of the Annals from 2000 to 2011, the Software History Center (now the Software Industry Special Interest Group of the Computer History Museum), in cooperation with the Charles Babbage Institute and many leading computer historians, began a targeted program to collect this history and to encourage the publication of articles in the Annals by both historians and industry pioneers. By the spring of 2013, this will have resulted in six Annals special issues over the past 11 years, with a total of 53 articles in these and other issues of the Annals covering a range of topics on the business and technology history of the software industry.

Although software businesses are an international undertaking, with every country making its own special contributions, we have focused primarily on the US experience with software and services for business usage and for some personal usage applications such as spreadsheets and word processing. We look forward to others who will pick up the mantle to describe the history of software in their own countries and cover the many important aspects of the software industry that we have not addressed such as the Internet, social media, games, and mobile devices.

Preservation Efforts

The Software Industry Special Interest Group has accomplished its objectives of collecting, preserving, and communicating the history of the software industry through five major programs:

  • •. conducting oral histories of industry pioneers,

  • •. organizing meetings that bring together industry pioneers to share their memories of significant events,

  • •. producing Annals special issues on software and services industry topics,

  • •. collecting historical records of industry companies in the online IT Corporate Histories Collection, and

  • •. encouraging and assisting with donations of personal and corporate records to archival institutions.

As part of the collection process, 129 oral histories and 12 meetings of industry pioneers have been conducted. The transcripts of the oral histories and pioneer meeting workshops have been posted (or are in the process of being edited for posting) on the oral history websites of the Charles Babbage Institute and the Computer History Museum. We have also been able to obtain more than 35 collections of materials that have been given to the CBI and the CHM.

A complete description of all the SI SIG projects, including links to online transcripts, is available at

The information gathered from the oral histories and the pioneer meetings has been significant to the role that the Annals has played in preserving software history. The information from these oral histories and pioneer meetings have been the primary sources for the content of the six special issues produced by the SI SIG (referenced in Lars Heide's EIC introduction to this issue). In addition, historians have used a number of the transcripts as sources for articles and books that analyze and interpret the history of the software industry. And the process of recollecting and articulating their memories of past events has encouraged a number of industry pioneers to write additional articles for the Annals, thereby preserving many invaluable records of events that would otherwise have been lost.

Although historians need to publish both to satisfy their personal goals and achieve academic recognition, people working in industry don't have these motivations. We have learned from working with and supporting industry practitioners that, unless prompted, stimulated, and given a lot of assistance, such professionals won't take the time to record their experiences. So, much...