I’ve always been amazed at the fact that the universal symbol for saving anything is an image of a 3.5-inch diskette. It just stuns me that we still use this even though there is a generation or two of children who’ve probably never seen one in real life! They probably never really thought of why you have to click on that weird picture to save whatever they’re working on and they just think of it as the “save” button. Of course, the older generation knows what a diskette is and how it was supplanted by hard drives, CDs, USB thumbsticks and the like.
It’s easy to look back at old tech like diskettes, VCRs, Walkmans and rotary phones and see how far we’ve advanced in the hardware department. But what about on software? We’ve seen improvements in those fields as well, such as the huge jump from using DOS to Windows, but they’re never really talked about. Well, let me remedy that now as I’m here to talk about some outdated pieces of software that ruled when they came out.
While there are a ton of multimedia encyclopedia software that came out way back when, I’m mainly focusing on Microsoft Encarta as this was the one I had when I was a kid.
The Microsoft Encarta wouldn’t be possible because of CD technology. With the then huge amount of storage space a CD could handle (when compared to diskettes anyway), one bright person came up with the brilliant idea of putting an entire encyclopedia’s worth of information on it… and it still didn’t fill it up! So the people who make Encarta went above and beyond to add more stuff like musical and video samples for the topics on hand.
I honestly didn’t use it that much for actual research and school purposes. Rather, I would just have fun exploring through the entries, trying to find interesting pieces of tidbits, music and videos I would stumble across. No doubt some other children got a lot more out of it but I was perfectly happy with my experience.
Of course, a CD is no match for the virtual bottomless pit of information (and misinformation) you can dig up on the Internet. So Encarta and other multimedia encyclopedias pretty much fell out of favor when it became possible to hook up to the World Wide Web.
While we’re talking about the Internet, I want to shine a spotlight on what was the most popular Internet browser during the early days of web browsing, Netscape Navigator. It was once the king but now, well, the king is dead.
It’s really hard to really pinpoint what made Netscape Navigator ahead of its time. It was the very first browser I used when I started plugging into the Internet in college so I didn’t know any other web browsers that were available then. However, I don’t think I’m alone on this. Netscape Navigator was my first portal to looking up stuff like, well, porn. Hey, I was a college kid! What did you expect me to use it for? Research? Ha!
It’s very easy to pinpoint where Netscape Navigator started falling out of favor from the public. And that’s when Microsoft shrewdly bundled Internet Explorer with Windows 95. I still used Netscape Navigator at home even though there was Internet Explorer on my computer because I just got so accustomed to the former. I eventually made the switch because Netscape started to feel a little too clunky when compared to the updated Internet Explorer.
Is there something more boring than an encyclopedia for your computer? Well, yes, there is! Thank you for asking! That would be a compression software called ARJ.
ARJ is a very old-school program which allows you to compress and split large files into smaller chunks. This was revolutionary at its time as it also allowed larger files on something like a hard drive to be broken up into smaller file sizes that could fit into diskettes. While there were a few programs that could do this, I felt ARJ was the best one as, through really good programming skills and black magic, could shrink the files just a little bit smaller than the other compression programs out there. This made this incredibly useful for copying games and the like.
Compressing and splitting up large files is still something we do today to get pass download limits or if you have to fit really large files into an email or a USB thumbstick. But ARJ has definitely fallen by the wayside as, as far as I know, has stayed locked in DOS and there isn’t a Windows version for it. You can still open up files compressed and split using ARJ using modern program but WinZIP. But the size compression just isn’t the same.
The application that was YouTube before YouTube was a thing.
Let me start out by saying RealPlayer was amazing for its time! Not only could it play music but it could also play videos as well. But the one thing that put RealPlayer above other multimedia players of the time was it could stream both audio and video live. Considering this was the time when dial-up Internet speeds were the standard, that’s pretty amazing. Granted, the quality of the video wasn’t that good and even the resolution was incredibly small. Also, the application itself was riddled with ads, so there would be times when you’d have to not only wait for the stream to buffer, but you had to wait for the ad to load before it started the stream. Even so, the ability to do it that early on was an eye opener for me!
Unfortunately for the folks who made RealPlayer, other applications like Windows Media Player made streaming available for free and without the ads. Things only became worse when browser plugins like Adobe Flash came into the picture which allows the humble Internet browser to stream videos as well, which is why YouTube exists. RealPlayer still exists as a nondescript media player but it’s way past its heyday as the king of the hill of streaming software.
Ahh, now that’s my jam!
On the surface, WinAmp seems like a very simple music application and, at its heart, it is. However, what made WinAmp heads and shoulders above the rest of music players of its time was its customizability. The built-in equalizer made fine tuning your listening experience very easy. Being able to drag-and-drop music files into the playlist was revolutionary at its time.
Also, WinAmp skins were the bomb! It was so easy to create your own WinAmp skin and I know because I would make some in my spare time. They were just JPG files that you could overlay on the interface and it would word seamlessly if you put enough time and effort into your works of art.
Sadly, WinAmp is no more as things like Apple iTunes and other music streaming services became more popular. WinAmp is still used by some music enthusiasts around the world but its user base is far smaller than the millions it had just a decade ago.
If you have to talk about the early days of the Internet, you definitely have to talk about GeoCities, the wild west of the World Wide Web where anyone can stake a claim on a piece of virtual land.
GeoCities was, from my point of view anyway, the very essence of the early Internet trying to grow up from infancy to early childhood. With the Internet being so new and awe-inspiring back in the early ’90s, there was an impression that only a few smart people or the ones who could afford to pay these few smart people could build websites. But GeoCities bucked the trend, leading to a ton of nonsensical, hilarious, ingenious and, more often than not, unfinished websites to proliferate on the World Wide Web.
There were a few GeoCities websites I would actually visit often, usually the ones focused on cartoons and the like. Unfortunately, the main problem of GeoCities was how the sites would never really be updated with new and fresh information, eventually leading to the more useful sites becoming useless after some time. Most of the designs were also very basic and not very slick, especially if you compare them to sites today. Even the most basic blog sites look way better thanks to user-friendly tools and not having to deal with HTML code.
As GeoCities wasn’t exactly an application and more of a web domain, it can’t be included on this list. But I would be remiss if I didn’t add this in one form or another.
What other awesome outdated programs did you use before? Let me know in the comments section below!