Readers Report: The Products You Miss Most

I don't miss too many technology products or services. In fact, I was--or in some cases, will be--glad to see many of them go. See you in hell, Windows 95! What's your hurry, here's your hat, America Online! Die, Microsoft Access!

But we all have a few rosy recollections of great old products of the past. When we posted our story "The 30 Products and Services We Miss Most," many of you chimed in on our forums, posting remembrances of your favorite products and services from the good old days. Looking at those posts, I was struck by how many of you still miss old Borland and Lotus products, for example, while only one person pines for the sweet, sweet sound of a dial-up modem.

Because some of these products went away a long time ago, you may not remember every one of them--at least, not right away. So we did a little light digging to expand on the memories you submitted. Here's a look at your favorites.

Soft Spots for Software

Setting the scene in Planetfall, an early text adventure.
Setting the scene in Planetfall, an early text adventure.
"What? Not a mention of Infocom text adventures?" says forum member Hudgens. "Games like Zork, Planetfall, and Deadline kept millions of people engrossed for days at a time." Like Super Star Trek, these games from the 1980s didn't rely on graphics for stimulating play--because they didn't have graphics. I know, it sounds like riding a bike with no pedals, but some of us enjoyed using our gray matter, rather than splattering it on virtual walls. You can still play some of these games online, thanks to the magic of Java.

AceofdataBase says he misses Sierra games of the 1980s like Oil's Well--oh yeah, right!--and the first Hoyle Card Games. In Oil's Well you guided a drilling pipe through underground mazes, pulling back the drill bit to avoid threats. No blood, no guts, no $3.75 for a gallon of gas.

How we could possibly have forgotten Lotus Magellan, JimmyM asks. I'd never heard of the product, so it was pretty easy for me. But its Wikipedia entry says that it was "a groundbreaking DOS-based desktop search package released in the 1980s." The entry makes Magellan sound like the Google Desktop of DOS days, but it also says that Magellan "today is generally forgotten." Not by JimmyM, it isn't!

Drjoewebb remembers Magellan fondly, too, but he also waxes nostalgic for another Lotus product, Manuscript, in particular its support for long documents. "It wasn't until five years after Lotus abandoned it in favor of AmiPro that Word got many of the functions Manuscript had," points out Drjoewebb. Now that's marketplace competition at its best.

Perhaps few among us feel affection Windows 3.1--and those who do are wise to keep it to themselves--but lthrower misses some of the products made to customize that operating system. "Using Norton Desktop or Borland Dashboard, you could have a completely different desktop experience from other Windows (or Mac) users," he says. "Nowadays, it's Start button--period." Mr. Thrower may be overlooking Windows XP customization utilities like WindowBlinds--but we can still sympathize.

Icon Master, a program that let users convert any bitmap file into an icon.
Icon Master, a program that let users convert any bitmap file into an icon.
Other utilities struck a chord with lthrower as well: Quarterdeck Expanded Memory Manager (QEMM), Metz Task Manager, and Icon Master. QEMM let you work with DOS programs that required vast amounts of memory--as much as 634KB, according to the Wikipedia entry I scanned. That was a lot to ask in the mid-1980s. The Metz product included a file manager, a find-file utility, and a launcher utility, among other things; and Icon Master let you create icons from any bitmap file. You can still get Icon Master to run on Windows XP--if you want to try it, check out this shareware version.

Quarterdeck, which was acquired by Symantec in 1998, was responsible for one of OisMe's favorites, too: DESQview. This utility allowed users to run multiple DOS programs (another tip of the hat to Wikipedia, because I drew a blank on this one as well). "The first functional multitasker for DOS," says OisMe.

In the information management category, OisMe nominates NetManage's Ecco Pro, a program that the company stopped marketing years ago but still offers as a free download. A Yahoo Group now does its best to support the software, which like most PIMs organizes your contacts, appointments, and to-dos; amazingly, it'll synchronize with a Palm PDA, according to folks in the support group.

Don7A has a different PIM to plump, saying, "I think information management software is still trying to catch up with Lotus Agenda, circa 1990. It could cross-reference by any keyword, and could sort by date, subject, contact, or any other criterion you could make up. Outlook is a poor substitute, and Act is just not there." Care to put Don7A's claims to the test? You can download the application for free from the Lotus/IBM site (but there are no guarantees that it'll run on an XP-based system).

Prodigy, an early Internet service famous for its communities.
The screech of a dial-up modem makes me think of untrimmed fingernails raking across a chalkboard, but Apecor says it's one of the top five things he misses. "[It] brings me back to the first years I started using the Internet, and the sense of undiscovered country and the possibilities it offered back then," he explains. Apecor adds that the Prodigy Internet service, with its popular communities, "was just inspiring." Yes, you have to give credit to Prodigy for those communities--and for giving AOL some competition, at least for a while.

Another modem aficionado, DBigWoo, says he misses using ProComm Plus, a popular communication utility from the days before TCP/IP communications. I remember using ProComm Plus to connect to bulletin-board services (BBSs); it was so exciting when text began scrolling slowly onto your screen following confirmation of your 9600-bps connection. Now I get impatient with my 6-mbps cable-modem connection.

DBigWoo also misses the dBase III database application, deftly heading off the objections of contributing editor Dan Tynan, who disses its successor, dBase IV, every chance he gets. However, DBigWoo trips up a bit, I think, in characterizing Microsoft Access as "nice." I respectfully disagree, DBigWoo, as may be evident from my previously stated desire for the program's speedy and utter obliteration.

Jstevans, another database fan--and one who professes no scandalous allegiance to Microsoft products--says that he misses Borland's Object Vision, an "incredibly simple to learn" application that allowed users to create forms that worked with several different database applications. "It enabled you to create genuine process flow while automatically protecting the underlying data from unauthorized diddling," jstevans says. Sadly, I think I'm probably the kind of the person Object Vision users would rather not have diddling with their databases.

WordPerfect, a much-admired word-processing application.
WordPerfect, a much-admired word-processing application.
Forum member Castro bewails our omission of the "greatest word processor all time": Microsoft Word. Just kidding. Actually, Castro wrote in behalf of WordPerfect, which is still being refined and upgraded under the ownership of Corel; see our most recent review here. "Just imagine a suite of Lotus 1-2-3, WordPerfect, and Freelance Graphics (or Harvard Graphics), and you would have quality tools in your box," says Castro. Yes, but regrettably your tools would also require adapters to fit the nuts and bolts that the rest of us work with.

Hankering for Hardware

The Tungsten T3 Palm-based PDA.
Now here's someone whose style I like: Messinger, who says I got it "almost right" by writing up the Palm Tungsten T (most people describe me as "totally off my nut"). Messinger insists that the Tungsten T3 was even better than the T, citing the T3's vibrating alarm, metal case, voice recorder, stereo audio, and great memory heap. Though I must point out that the original T had all of those features except for the memory, I'll concede the point, and add that I probably would have appreciated the T3's faster processor and higher resolution, too, if I'd had one. Of course, both the T and the T3 owed a lot to the Palm Vx nominated by rpa52; The V and its Vx variant were Palm's first attempts to produce a sleek-looking PDA, rather than a boxy-but-functional one.

Iomega's Zip Drive trumped the old-fashioned floppy disk drive when it debuted.
Iomega's Zip Drive trumped the old-fashioned floppy disk drive when it debuted.
I may also concede that Iomega's Zip Drive served some worthwhile purpose, as apecor says, but only early in its lifespan when the competition was floppy disks. "Holding a hundred megabytes on one disk just seemed huge back then," he recalls. Yes it did, but I also remember the tribulations of copying files onto a 100MB Zip Disk parked in a 250MB Zip Drive; not only did the operation take forever, but it brought my system to a screeching halt. Thank goodness for thumb drives.

A big-screen CRT to die for: The 22-inch ViewSonic P220f.
A big-screen CRT to die for: The 22-inch ViewSonic P220f.
Apecor--who seems to miss quite a lot of stuff from the past--puts "huge, heavy CRTs" on his list, too. I felt a similar lust for the giant screens afforded by these behemoths, and I remain convinced that CRTs display video better than most LCDs do. When we last tested them (almost three years ago) you could snap up a 22-inch CRT for less than $600. Today, you have to search hard to find a brand-new one, and it won't cost much less then its compeers did back then.

Tandy computers, including the TRS-80 Model 100 shown here, benefited from the accessible Tandy Deskmate GUI.
Photograph: Ira Goldklang (
Ricklw says that he misses old Tandy 100/200 laptops, and AceofdataBase puts in a kind word for the Tandy Deskmate, the graphical user interface that ran on those Radio Shack relics. We're in agreement on this one--PC World voted the 3.4-pound Model 100 one of our 25 Greatest PCs of All Time.

Likewise, the Amiga 500 personal computer that nvnusman nominated--or more precisely its predecessor, the Amiga 1000--also made our Top 25 PCs list. "Millions of colors!" Nvnusman gushes. "A true graphically oriented computer you could buy through the J.C. Penney catalog!" Too bad Penney couldn't draw inspiration from those Amigas to design some flashier clothes. Fancy color printing didn't catch on until the mid-1990s; but long before it did, you could swap wheels in your daisy-wheel printer and print in a whole new font, according to nvnusman. Think of the possibilities!

Grayson Peddie conjures memories of two IBM Aptiva desktop computers and the IBM Home Director home automation software that came with them. Home Director, which worked with X-10 home automation modules, was popular for a few years but faded away when IBM went all corporate again.

Motorola's clamshell breakthrough: the StarTAC mobile phone.
The Motorola StarTAC mobile phone mentioned by rpa52 deserves credit for being the first clamshell phone. Think Razrs and Chocolate phones are cool? Imagine casually flipping open a StarTAC back in 1996, when everyone else was lugging around huge phones that looked like surplus Korean War walkie-talkies and had all the sveltness of a brick. You were Captain Kirk, whether you were requesting a beam-up or simply ordering a pizza.

Never Forget

Drag one of these products out of the garage now and people will look at you funny. But back then, you'd have won admiring glances for being the person with the best toys. Perhaps in some instances we don't miss the actual products so much as the coolness factor they commanded in the prime (though this theory probably doesn't apply to database utilities).

And of course, if you remember other favorite products of the past, share them with the rest of us in the comments section below.

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