So far as I can tell, just about nobody recognized the joker in the deck when I put dBase Mac on my list of 25 killer applications of all time — even though I took pains to say, “in the homicidal sense.”
Many Web sites merely posted the list of products’ names without my explanations of their significance, burying the joke still more deeply — and leaving many people confused about the distinction between a platform-driving killer app and a generally excellent app. There’s some overlap between those definitions, to be sure, but often not much.
At this point, though, it’s clear that the slot jestingly held by dBase Mac deserves to be given to WordPerfect, for the ironic reason that it was a killer app for DOS — after the debut of Windows and even of several graphical word processing products for Macintosh, Windows and OS/2.
In a six-way “Shoot-Out” competition among word processors of that period, which I designed and directed at what was then PC Week Labs, DOS WordPerfect excelled in tasks such as massive mail-merge operations. Its left-brain/right-brain presentation of explicit formatting codes was at least as seminal a contribution as the idiosyncratic WordStar user interface. And people have assured me that yes, machines were bought for the specific task of running WordPerfect — the core of the definition of a killer application.
So, here’s to the real 25th killer.