Readers Report: The Products You Miss Most

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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.

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