With the relatively short history of computers , it’s interesting to look back and see just how far we’ve come in a couple of decades. One area that particularly dates computing is software programs — their purposes, power, and looks have evolved greatly over time.
We’ve looked before at ancient Windows software that we still use today , like Norton antivirus and the command prompt , but not all software has stood the test of time — lots of famous programs no longer exist . Let’s look at older pieces of software that are still alive but have fallen from glory.
1. Napster (1999)
Initially, Napster was released as a peer-to-peer file sharing program, designed to let users share music, illegally for the most part. It marked an important step in the history of music consumption — while the iPod and the explosive popularity of having a collection of MP3s on the go was still a few years off, people still wanted to build an MP3 collection on their desktops.
Napster was only alive as a file sharing program for a couple of years, before it was (understandably) hit by multiple lawsuits and subsequently shut down. What you might not have known is that Napster is still an active service, albeit a completely different (and legal) one.
Looking up Napster now leads you to a run-of-the-mill music streaming service, just like Spotify or Apple Music . Napster features apps for mobile devices as well as desktop, and offers all the standard features for its $10/month premium service, such as offline music. No matter what, it’s got to be better than SoundCloud Go’s disappointing plan .
2. ZoneAlarm Firewall (2000)
Nowadays, Windows Firewall is pretty much the only firewall that the average user needs , but when ZoneAlarm launched, it was pretty popular with users who wanted to lock down exactly what information could come and go on their system. If you used early versions of ZoneAlarm, you know what it was like to see constant pop-ups asking you to police Internet traffic — kind of like when User Account Control goes overboard these days.
Ah ZoneAlarm pop ups how reassuringly annoying you are.
— Sarah Hammond (@schammond) July 29, 2010
When ZoneAlarm first launched, it wasn’t as common for software to access the Internet constantly, so it made more sense to keep an eye on the goings-on. Nowadays, every app on your PC wants to hit the Internet all the time, so using this type of strict firewall wouldn’t really work well. However, ZoneAlarm is still alive, despite being owned by a different company.
Currently, ZoneAlarm’s main page advertises their mobile security apps, but a mobile antivirus isn’t a necessity . The company also sells premium antivirus and firewall software, but most paid antivirus products really aren’t worth the asking price. The free firewall is only compatible with Windows Defender, which isn’t a good enough antivirus . So, it seems that your system is better off without ZoneAlarm products in 2016.
3. LimeWire / FrostWire (2000)
LimeWire had a similar story to Napster — it was conceived as a peer-to-peer file-sharing program , but this one was for more than just music. LimeWire allowed users to share movies and other files, leading to viruses being spread through the system at times. The program was written in Java , which allowed it to be deployed on multiple operating systems.
After predictably running into legal issues, LimeWire was shut down in 2010. However, the program is still alive in a different form today — FrostWire. A group of developers forked LimeWire and created this alternative piece of software in 2004 that was initially quite similar to the original, but gained new features and became its own entity over time.
Nowadays, FrostWire can only be used for BitTorrent , so it doesn’t have all the functionality of LimeWire, but the idea lives on. You could consider this a cousin of LimeWire.
4. AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) (1997)
At one time, AIM was the coolest messenger in town. Everyone had a screen name, and those classic sounds let us know when someone was online or responding to our message.
AIM was incredibly popular when AOL was the way to get online, and into the mid-2000s its reign continued. However, like MySpace and other huge platforms of the time , as the 2000s came to a close, so did the popularity of AIM.
AIM is still around today, updated with modern features like group conversations and social media integration. The question is, is anybody that you know still using it? Since they’re probably using one of the many free messaging apps available cross-platform these days, AIM’s loss of popularity doesn’t hurt too badly.
You can relieve the experience of using this retro messenger by checking out the game Emily is Away, which recreates the tension of being a high school student who chats with his crush on AIM.
5. Winamp (1997)
Winamp, a media player app, was one of the most popular pieces of software in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Its freemium model (shareware in the early days) meant that users could take advantage of it for free, but had to pay to unlock extra features. Winamp solved a problem when MP3s were becoming popular — with so much music hanging out on your PC, it was hard to manage everything .
When Winamp arrived with plug-ins, cool visual effects, and easy ways to manage your library, everybody loved it. However, it was eventually purchased by AOL, and began to go downhill.
Nowadays, tools like Winamp are still useful if you have a large collection of MP3s on your desktop, but with the rise of Spotify and other streaming services even putting a dent in iTunes’s music management, young computer users probably have no use for Winamp.
The software is still available to download, but the official Winamp site has a “Coming Soon” message displayed, letting you know that they’re working on improving the program.
6. Ecco Pro (1993)
Unlike most of the other entries on this list, Ecco Pro is still available in its ancient form — it hasn’t evolved as time went on. Released as personal information management software which allowed you to take notes and keep track of appointments, it was discontinued by its developers when Microsoft Outlook arrived as part of the Office suite and made Ecco obsolete.
Strangely, a group of dedicated users have made an effort to keep this dilapidated software around. Titled EccoProX, it looks just like it did in 1997, but works on everything from Windows XP up to Windows 10.
Oddly, you’ll have to pay a $20/year “EccoPro Support Membership” fee to download the software. Unless you’re curious and have extra money, stick with using Outlook online for free, as it includes everything you’ll need and doesn’t look like it belongs on Windows 95 .
7. RealPlayer (1995)
At one time, RealPlayer was revolutionary. It let you stream media, such as baseball games, and was really the first of its kind. However, it was less than a joy to use, as it was filled with bugs, constant crashes, and privacy issues.
Amazingly, this ancient relic still exists in 2016. My colleague Matt recently covered his attempt to use RealPlayer on Windows 10 and came to the unsurprising conclusion that it’s a pretty lousy piece of software. It’s filled with the usual junkware during the install , system-breaking crashes, and a general sluggishness. RealPlayer should have stayed stuck in the past; there are far better media players .
8. Google Toolbar (2000)
Toolbars generally carry a poor connotation — annoying toolbars that are foisted on you , like Ask or Conduit, are nothing more than junkware. However, legitimate toolbars, similar to Windows software that has been succeeded by new features , are a great example of functionality that used to require an extra download but is now built into modern tools.
The Google Toolbar is one of these. When it was first released, it was actually useful. After all, in those days, Firefox wasn’t out yet, and browsers didn’t have built-in functionality to search Google or other providers in a dedicated bar. Having the ability to search Google without navigating to its webpage and a built-in auto-fill feature was cool. So, why is the Google Toolbar still available for download in 2016?
If you visit the page using Chrome, Google tells you that everything in the Google Toolbar is already built into your browser . But it’s still available to download for Internet Explorer, even though the latest version (IE 11) allows you to search Google from a dedicated search bar.
Unlike the Yahoo Toolbar, the Google Toolbar doesn’t seem to survive from junkware installs , as you almost never see it bundled with other software. This one is a mystery, and unless you still have to use IE 6 for some awful reason, there’s really no reason to use the Google Toolbar.
Gone, and Basically Forgotten
It’s amazing how many different pieces of software come and go from the public eye. While most of these tools were popular at one point, they either got sold out to another company, halted development, or just gave way to more modern tools. It’s fun to look back and remember what was. Now, if only those annoying Windows features nobody needs could join this list…
Interested to take a trip into more forgotten software? Check out retired Windows features we wish never existed .
What other software that used to be popular is still around today? What programs that are common nowadays do you think will be on a list like this in 20 years? Add to the list down in the comments!
Image Credits:girl blows off a dust by Vikulin via Shutterstock