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Tim O’Reilly: What does it say about software that so many people want to go back to old version?

Tim O’Reilly recently posed an interesting question on Twitter. What does it say about software that so many people want to go back to the old version? Let me make a confession. I’m not a software aficionado by any means. I started this site back in 2001 because I thought it had a great chance to become a hit and there was nothing like it on the Internet at the time. It did become a hit. Within three months, a New York Times columnist reached out for a story, Kevin Rose offered to buy the site for $10,000 and suddenly I mattered a lot more in the Internet world. Life was good. Then I went to high school (I was still in middle school when the site first launched) and life sucked again.

Despite not being a software aficionado, running this site for the last decade has taught me a thing or two. For one, it’s easier to get a second date if you tell a woman “I run an Internet company” vs. “I run an Internet web site.” ;) . Also:

1)      Version updates for the sake of interface changes are RISKY.

Remember when AIM Triton was released and the entire interface of AIM was redone? Or how about the release of Winamp 3 and its disgustingly non-classical default interface? Office 2007? Windows 8? (I have not installed it yet). Tons of things can go wrong. New bugs, people unsure of how to complete basic tasks, etc.

Cyrus Farivar recently mentioned in an interview:

“An overriding principle would be that don’t let design get in the way of functionality. In other words, don’t just do design changes for the sake of doing them.”

Yet, publishers seem to do that all the time. Hell, even I’m guilty of this with this very site. It’s so tempting, especially when you have the job title and responsibility to continually innovate and change things up. I understand the drive to create something new, to switch things up, but if you’ve got something that works – don’t reinvent your own wheel, otherwise you may end up tripping over it and falling on your face.

2)      Publishers who tweak their software without listening to user feedback can run themselves into the ground.

Newer versions are useful. There I said it. I never argued otherwise. After all, the slogan of the site is “newer is not always better,” not “older is always better.” New versions can fix bugs, add requested features, the UI can be more intuitive and so forth. Yet, software publishers who do not communicate with their customers and are too hard-pressed and proud to go back on a previous decision are not following a winning strategy.

TweetDeck AIR version (before Twitter’s acquisition) is a great example. Twitter, why won’t you listen to all the griping souls?

3)      Developing for backward compatibility is challenging, so older versions are always necessary.

I started this site because the new version of Napster used 100% of my CPU power back in 2001. I couldn’t download any more Russian music on my 56K, what was I to do?


4)      Additional ‘bloat,’ monetizing mechanisms can hurt your business.

I’m guilty of this. This site suffered a huge hit in January when Google demoted me for having all 3 ads above the fold (ironically, this is what their AdSense team recommended I do but I digress). I lost a lot of traffic. It’s tempting when it seems like such easy money. Avoid the temptation. It will only lead to unhappy customers seeking to downgrade (or switch to competitors).

5)      It’s hard to run a software company.

If you run a software company (or any company, for that matter), my hat goes off (I’m not wearing a hat). It’s hard. How do you balance pressure for increased revenues with your customers needs? How do you make decisions that serve your customers and the board (hint: your board’s interests should be aligned with your customers)?

How do you deal with all the people whining about a new release that your team has spent years working on? How do you decide to scrape something that you’ve invested millions of dollars into developing?

I’m grateful I don’t have to make these decisions! All I can suggest is that you listen to your core users and send us some money (we will fix something for sure if you send us some money).

So surely the existence of this site must say something about people as well:

1)      People are creatures of habit.

Peter Hershberg tweeted: “Among other things, it says that people hate change.” He later added that people update their software because they are “unaware of how much they hate change.” Jeffrey Mershon offered:sometimes new version truly is worse, but we are creatures of habit, and resist change.”

I tend to agree with Jeff (although maybe I should agree with Peter because he has more Twitter followers). We resist change, but we don’t necessarily hate it. Some people are more open to it than others, sure, but if we hate change so much then there’s no way that Obama could have touted change as his whole campaign and won.

If we’ve worked with Excel for 15 years and Microsoft suddenly updates all the keyboard shortcuts we’ve used and changes the menus around, we may have some feelings about it.

2)      People’s expectations are just as important as the software they are using.

People get upset, angry and frustrated when their expectations are not met. This applies as much to relationships as it does to software.

3)      People like free stuff.

Some of the software downloaded on are the freeware versions of a certain release. Example: PowerArchiver. The most downloaded version is 6.1 because it was released under the Freeware license.

4)      People value archives, legacy and history.

Old versions are cultural artifacts. Imagine you find a floppy disk stuck between the rusty pages of an old family heirloom. How do you find the software that is able to make sense of that data?

5)      Nostalgia can be fun.

I like to install old software on my Windows 98 VirtualBox and watch the status indicator tell me how much hard drive space I have left as I’m installing. It brings me back. Heck, apparently some people argue that Windows 98 is a great solution for audio editing. (see comments)

So, Tim O’Reilly – thanks for inspiring this discussion!

Our dear users: please feel free to comment below: what do you think it says about software (and people) that so many people want to revert to the older version?

10 Reasons Your Kids Need

“You’re crazy!” a voice booms through the open water; it’s the high-pitched yell of a boy, no older than ten years old. I was venturing past the first swimming posts at Lake Erie at Beaver Island State Park, swimming fervently with motorboats racing by in the near-distance causing waves and currents for me to battle and endure. I thought about her words: what’s so crazy about swimming around in a Lake? Sure, it was past 7pm and all the life guards were gone. It was just me and the Lake with its weedy bottom, over-run by algae dirt, pollution and sewage. But, I felt free and self-reliant; swimming in the open water like an eagle gliding through the sky with no particular purpose but to enjoy wherever the wind current decided to take me. A wave crashes into my face and water starts filling up my throat as I reflexively cough. I start swimming back as I think of the year’s worth of mercury and lead I just swallowed.

As I made my way back to the beach, I walk past the boy who turns out to be a girl and am accosted by her curiosity: “Were there any holes back there? Were you bored? Were you scared?” If there were holes, I’m glad I didn’t fall into one.

I field more questions later, this time from someone closer to my age: “How is it out there man? Is there life? What’s the visibility like?” I can’t be the only person who decided to swim this far out.

I think back to my childhood in Russia when things seemed so carefree and exciting, where we swam in little ponds and then later fished in them; inadvertently catching creepy looking cages with dead fish trapped inside them.

 [At least all Russian women look like this]

Now people are afraid; fed into the fear-machine of the nightly news. Most people don’t swim. They don’t explore. They sit around, monotonously stuck in the same routine, their dreams extinguished, their wings broken; feathers half-plucked. They tune out after coming home from the same banal job they’ve been doing for twenty years, feeding their fear tubes with TV, food, drugs, distractions (average American watched 34 hours of TV per week in 2010, according to Nielsen). We’ve all been there. What other option is there? They need the health insurance for their families, while ironically their health gets beat down by the stress, fear and extinguished passion. Kids suffer when their parents are beat-down. They don’t learn to explore. They may become afraid of the world.

So what can one do? Teach your kids to treat life like an experiment. How do you do that? You can be an example for them. Another thing you can do is explore something with them. Demonstrate your own curiosity, excitement, wonder and awe of the world. If you are 60 years old and you’re still excited about picking and blowing a dandelion, your kids will pick up on that energy.

Why not explore our Games section with your kid? Kids are naturally drawn to video games. Why wouldn’t they be? It allows them to live the life of a hero, before they are heroes. It allows them to go on virtual adventures and become pirates, cowboys, even Kung-Fu Pandas.

Here is why your kids need older versions of software. (Disclosure: I run and want your kids to know about it):

1)      It will teach them the history of computing.

You may think, they can just watch Pirates of the Silicon Valley and learn the history of computing. You would think that, you lazy parent! Shame on you, putting your kids in front of the tube so you can go listen to your old Pink Floyd vinyls. No, you are going to spend some quality time downloading old versions from this site and not learn “Hollywood’s history of computing,” but instead experience with your kids the evolution of video game and software design. After all, old versions are cultural artifacts.

2)      It will be a fun exploratory journey for them without the risk of them drowning in the Lake.

Too chicken of a parent to let your kids swim out and handle the elements of nature? Indeed, why not opt for the safe journey by browsing around our site? You can read about the history of Winamp, analyze Firefox’s version progression with me, and then download the damn things and play with them! Play a game with your kids – go from the first released version to the last and see if your kids can spot the differences. What is your kids’ favorite version of Firefox? Oh and did I mention:

3)      It doesn’t cost any money.

Entry to the Beaver Island State Park is like $8. Not to mention the cost of gas of getting there. Did I mention the beach had cigarette butts on it? What if your kid got too curious and picked it up and ate it? You would have to hit that damn thing out of his/her hand and then he might sue you for child abuse once he gets old enough. You don’t want to take that risk!

 [Lawsuit kid is coming for yo' house!]

Instead you can download some software with your kids – without even leaving the house. Make it a family event, so that:

4)      You will be spending quality time with your kids.

Between the times you spend watching TV, browsing Reddit (or whatever news site you go to), mowing the lawn and going grocery shopping for your spouse, how much serious one-on-one time do you actually spend with your kids? The last time you probably even talked to your kids without pulling out your iPad and sending a Tweet was years ago. Its okay, I understand. But, now listen: you can kill two birds with one stone: feeding your technology obsession AND spending time with your kids like your wife always nicely asks you to. Bam!

5)      You can even introduce them to cool games like The Secret of Monkey Island.

Aren’t you curious what the secret of Monkey Island is? Well, damn. Now you can find out. This game is incredible; it follows the journey of an everyday guy who wants to change his life around and make a fortune by becoming a pirate.

You and your little loved one can download and play the game here.

6)      Your kids WILL learn a life lesson.

7)      They will appreciate the progression of technology.

Aren’t you tired of explaining to your kids “In my day we had rotor phones, we had old Atari games, we used AIM 5.9 with DeadAIM and Windows 95 and didn’t have any confabulated text messages – we just used AIM, BBS and Usenet AND we went skinny dipping with our coworkers after work in the 60s and then came home to our spouse and talked about washing machines all day. Well, listen…now you don’t have to tell them. You can show them. Show them Grand Theft Auto 1 and then the trailer for GTA5. Bam! Now your kids appreciate it more!

8)      They can imagine they are back in time.

Who doesn’t dream of having a time machine? You could be rich AND as creepy as Bill Murray in the Groundhog Day! So why not play a little game with your kids? Tell them you invented a time-machine! If they are young, they will get super excited and then you can deck out your computer to look like a time-machine and transport them back to 1986!

9)      They can learn new typing skills from Mario.

Learning how to type is a key-skill in today’s world. What if your kids could learn that now? I did. I learned how to type when I was 9 years old. Now, I’m a successful typer writing this article to you. You don’t want to deprive your kids of the same glory. May I recommend a personal favorite? Mario Teaches Typing. I remember playing this on my elementary schools Macintosh Plus. It was probably the highlight of elementary school career (that and Dinopark Tycoon).

10)   It will challenge them.

What if you wanted to up it a notch and teach your children how to hustle in business? No problem! Just download Theme Park. You and your kids will learn how to manage a theme park and run the fryer stands. In this game, you get to control how much salt and ice you put in your fries and drinks which directly impacts the amount of money you make. If you add more salt to your fries, people will buy more drinks, but if you add too much salt people will vomit and you will need to hire more janitors. So challenge your kids to figure out the perfect balance of salt and ice for maximum profit. They will be the next Bill Gates!

Take my word for it. You’re a bad parent if you don’t.

Being Human in the Age of Digital Obsession

104 year old grandma on Twitter

I can’t handle it sometimes. I hear my Skype, Gmail, Facebook and texting alerts all go off at once. I have dozens of tabs open in Chrome. Another email goes off as my inner calmness and serenity implode while I’m hungrily gulping down my second iced coffee of the day. I’m juggling twenty things at once. I want to make more money. I want to provide a nice retirement for my parents. I want to make the world a better place. I want to be a pilot, flying down 400 miles for a cup of coffee at the summit of an epic mountain; away from the dismal, banal and familiar. I want to be an author, self-indulgently writing about how I went from being a depressed, anxious teenager to a 23 year old rock-star.

This is actually a picture of me

I want everyone to read my book and have a cult following so that people pay $100,000 to hear me talk about the same stuff they read in the book.

I want to be the most-coveted, sexiest model first in Buffalo, NY and then the world. My modeling career taking off like no other; kick-starting my acting career and then I can finally get continent-loads of money to say a few words on camera. And everyone will love me.

I want to be the best salsa dancer in the world so that everyone sees power oozing out of me as I dance there on the floor. Sweat dripping down their sexy chins as I turn them and twirl them while their hearts throb to my assertive lead. They feel sexy in my arms. I am after all, a model.

If only I could avoid stepping on their feet, I’d look like that!

All the while, the GTalk, Skype and Facebook alerts continue to ask for my attention. All these distractions. All these dreams. Are these dreams just another distraction?

Meanwhile, people are starving. People can’t get access to clean drinking water. Babies are dying from diarrhea because of that. Cancer is rampant. The foods we are eating are coated with carcinogens because they preserve the food better and we can now make a higher profit of it.

Hold on, I need to pull out a notebook and generate some ideas to make more money. Maybe I can sell people an e-book: “The 7 foods they must eat to not get cancer” and write about broccoli and stuff. Organic broccoli and blueberries. That’s the cure! $19.95, please! Cha-ching. Now I can finally get that plane and pilot’s license, fly to the mountains and drink a nice cup of herbal tea and meditate at the top. I have to tweet about it, of course. It goes without saying I have to tweet while flying over the pretty sights and maybe upload an instagram picture.

This actually happened.

In an age so digitally-wired and connected that teenagers are falling down manholes while they are texting, why do so many of us feel so alone? How many of us text while walking, while at concerts, check our email at a red light? Flick on the iPad when we’re spending precious time with a loved one? Tune out the world around us to tune into something digital and perhaps less real?  Are we more connected or less? What are we truly connected to?

There are of course those moments when we can use an old version of Skype ;) to video chat with our grandparents living half a world away. During those moments I’m truly grateful for all this technology. Once, my grandmother asked me show her how to setup Twitter. She’s in Russia. Why do you need Twitter, grandma?

104 year old grandma on Twitter

I’m really in awe when technology is used to solve big problems. What if we built a huge spaceship; filled it up with all the world’s nuclear weapons, all of its landfill garbage, all the junk that poisons our air, crammed it all in that spaceship and then blasted it off to the edges of the Milky Way? How much would that cost? Could we get crowd-funding?

Do you ever long for simpler times? Even going back just seven years, before iPads existed and before the huge smart-phone boom? The days when we downloaded AIM 5.9, along with DeadAIM to get rid of the ads?

Back when we had an old flip-phone and could share a meal with a loved one and all of our attention was focused on them? Not on the fears of the future, when the next text-crack is going to arrive or what’s happening on our Facebook walls?

I can’t blame the technology. They are simply little addictive inanimate tools, swimming in the sea of the vast world around us; sending us waves of cares when our friends ping us on Twitter. When’s the last time you pinged a loved one with a hand-written letter or drawing? Or simply told them that you love them; not through texting, not through a digital screen of facades, but in-person from your heart?

On a daily basis, I need to remind myself to be more loving, more caring, simply being there for the world around me. Swami Kripalu once said: “Do not fight the dark. Just turn on the light. Let go, and breathe into the goodness that you are. “ I can’t fight the world around me and where it’s heading. I can only be the best version of myself for that world. Someone recently posted a comment on our FB page that made me smile: “How can I download the old version of my own life?” I don’t think you can, my friend. You can simply be here, as you are.

Resist the compulsion. Stay human in the age of digital obsession.

A Week With WordPerfect 5.1

Editor’s Note: For this assignment, one of the writers for the blog was given a daunting assignment – to use WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS for some of his writing assignments for a week.

Below are his thoughts of the experience. Do you still use WordPerfect 5.1? Feel free to discuss this in the comments below.

The first problem was installation.

Frustrated woman

Initially I attempted to run the application downloaded from this very site in a virtual machine installation of Windows Advanced Server 2000. The DOS window here seemed to run the application without any problems until the actual point of tapping Enter to install the software post-setup. Creating a large-size disk image for the application didn’t work either.

While dropping down to Windows 95/98 was an option, it was one that would require a trip into the attic. With this in mind, I opted for a sidestep – I would try installing WordPerfect in DOSbox!

Running through the installation, I was presented with a lot of screens that in a modern day application would be dealt with via a single check-box or radio button. At the end of the installation with mention of printers and restarts, the application gave the impression of needing to be reinstalled; indeed, I attempted this at the first run, realizing when I reached the end the second time that this was either the beginning of a trip into the box room or I would have to try something else.

Typing WP at the prompt got the software running, however. So, how would I use it for the rest of the week?


The first thing was to track down the help function (F1) and try and work out what keys did what. As a keyboard-driven application, the most important thing to appreciate is that all of the functions were on the keyboard – the mouse is almost completely useless.

WordPerfect 5.1

Pleasingly, the array of keys to the right of Enter and Backspace come in very useful – as an “old school” user these have always been a part of my keyboard use, and it is good to be able to rely on these 30 year old legacy options.

The various options and functions available in WordPerfect can be found via the Function keys, presented via Shift, Ctrl, Alt or with no modification.

So with everything ready, I was set to go. My first task would be to introduce this challenge, the results of which you can see above. But would I be able to use the application daily?

I certainly wouldn’t be able to get away with outputting all of my work using WordPerfect – the majority of material that I am involved with requires a pretty quick turnaround, which usually means writing directly into the browser window and submitting.

However there are enough suitable features in WordPerfect to be able to use this application daily…

Day 1

I left WordPerfect running in the DOSBox window overnight, and found that I was unable to restore the document! The whole scenario of saving and closing is a confusing one at best, and discovering that my most recent save file wasn’t being displayed in the “Retrieve” screen was jarring. Fortunately closing the app and restarting “rediscovered” the file.

I have also noticed that the lack of an auto-spellcheck (used in Microsoft Word to resolve common typos) is slightly annoying. Indeed, I’m noticing a lot of errors that I really shouldn’t be making!

Day 2

Something else I have noticed with the application is the difficulty in applying formatting to text.

Via Help (Shift+F1) I discovered that this done by selecting text using the block command, placing the cursor at the start of a word, activating Block (Alt+F4) and then taking the cursor to the end of the word. Once the word or passage is selected, the appropriate formatting can be applied, using the corresponding keyboard shortcut. For instance these bolded words were originally achieved using F6 after selecting the text as a block.

Day 3

Remarkably I found myself up and running with WordPerfect without mistyping DOS commands today. As someone with experience of DOS going back to 1990, installation and running of the application had been somewhat frustrating until now, but it all seems to be coming back to me!

If you’re planning on using WordPerfect – and if you are limited by hardware and budget it is worth considering – then printing out the keymappings for the Function keys is a good idea. In the absence of an on-screen menu system, having a reference for what key does what is going to prove useful. As it is, remember that F7 is for saving documents and F5 for opening!

Day 4

As I approach the end of the week, I’ve found myself wondering just how to transfer this journal into something I can publish at

The obvious option is to open it in Microsoft Word and then paste it into the site – but if I already have Word, why am I using WordPerfect?

Saving options are limited in WordPerfect, so what is the best way of converting the document into a format I can use online?

The WPS format can be opened in apps such as WordPad and Notepad, but sadly there are odd artifacts within the text which need to be edited out. As WordPad and Notepad are built into Windows, you shouldn’t have any problem running them.

Day 5

So what have I learned about using WordPerfect as a word processor?

Well, it certainly wasn’t as easy as I expected. For some reason, even though my writing career has taken place almost exclusively on GUI word processors (with the small exception of an old Amstrad PCW device in the late 1980s) I had expected to find WordPerfect more usable than I did.

However, as the days progressed I found more and more features and I believe that if you need a good, no-frills word processor that doesn’t blind you with formatting options, this is a good way to go.

Running in DOSBox allows you to ALT+Enter to view full screen, presenting you with a pure page of text. Sometimes Microsoft Word and OpenOffice give you too much to look at, which is why the full screen options on those applications are so good to use.

In fact, if you’re the type of writer who prefers more page and less icons, using WordPerfect in full screen mode might be exactly what you’re looking for. It’s an ideal way to get your thoughts onto the screen quickly without worrying about formatting, something which could, for the zen writer, enable and inspire better writing.

Once you’ve got the words down, you can then use other applications to deal with the formatting and redrafting…

Editor Note: Do you still use WordPerfect 5.1? If so, why? Let us know in the comments!


Ahh – yes, iTunes.

I spent over ten hours yesterday cleaning up our Windows iTunes page. It was far too out of date and I apologize — we had some technical glitches supporting the larger file sizes which were just recently worked out. I probably spent half the time cursing Apple for releasing so many versions for me to keep track of. While doing research on specific versions, I noticed some interesting patterns; such as the usual scheduled release of a new iTunes (i.e. 9 to 10) version in the first few weeks of September.

Also, I saved some version numbers for your convenience: iTunes 9.1 was the first version to support iPad syncing, but you may want to take heed at its enormous near-100MB file-size. Version 10 became a bit leaner and dare-I say..better then its 9.0 counterpart with a 20MB cut in file size and no longer a bundling of QuickTime with the releases.

Another version to take note of was iTunes 8.2 as it was the last version to support syncing with Palm Pre devices. Apple decided to take “mimic” players seriously and disable Palm Pre syncing with any version afterward. Boo!

Anyway, what’s your favorite iTunes version?

P.S. Our Mac users: sorry! I will update the Mac section as soon as I find another 10 hours. Leave a comment or send me an email to get me to hurry up if you need a specific version now ;)