by Steve Wood
June 18, 1999
In the course of researching several columns on older Macs over the last year, the disappearance of vintage Macintosh software for vintage Macs has repeatedly been noticeable. Titles that worked well on Mac Classics, SE's, and other machines but are outdated by more recent system and other software releases simply disappear from the software archives and Macintosh web sites. If you are a vintage Mac user, you probably have had the experience of updating a shareware/software to the latest version only to find out that it doesn't work on your beloved, aging Mac! Pity the poor soul who doesn't have the previous version archived on disk somewhere!
One of the great strengths of Macintosh shareware has been the UMICH, AMUG, and Info-Mac archives. But all archives seem to face the same problem: sufficient storage space. All periodically clear outdated and unused archives. This cycle can happen as quickly as six months after a posting. Keeping archives up to date is a necessary process. But, we users of vintage Macs are in a real quandary as to where to find software beyond basic system software that Apple keeps available. Vintage commercial software is even a tougher proposition.
While writing the piece Trends in Shareware, I was reminded of how interesting I found reading The Macintosh Bible's description of System 7.5 Envy (5th edition, pg. 117). It described how System 6-7.1 users could have many of the features of System 7.5 by using sharewares. System 7.5 was described at the time of its release by some writers as the adoption or absorption of many sharewares into the OS. Menu Choice (91K) became Apple Menu Options (which previously competed as a shareware with BeHierarchic), Extensions Manager (40K), and Windowshade (39K) were all directly brought into the Mac OS. It also added the functionality of AppDisk (10K) (RAM disk in memory control panel), EasyPrint (Desktop Printers), PasteIt Notes (Stickies), SuperClock! (19K) (The clock on your menu bar!), and Find Pro III.
You could go to the MIT Hyperarchive and search for the titles that were incorporated into the OS. I did, and they aren't there. AMUG fared slightly better with three of the eight titles still posted. ZDNet seems to be the savior of vintage software, possibly the possessor of incredible storage space, or having an archivist either out to lunch or one that appreciates vintage software, carrying seven of the eight programs mentioned in the System 7.5 Envy sidebar. I hope no one there reads this column and decides preserving those titles isn't really necessary anymore.
Commercial applications of old are almost impossible to find...legally. A reader wrote last year after reading the MacTimes column, SE Fever, wanting to know where he could find an older copy of PageMaker (2.0 or 3.0) or Ready Set Go! 4.5 or older to run on a Mac SE. He'd worked years ago at an ad agency where they used 2 Mac SEs to do all of their work with PageMaker and Illustrator 88! Needless to say, I didn't have a lot of answers for him, other than looking to the Vintage Macs mailing list. He did eventually find what he needed, however.
That reader's dilemma in finding a compatible version can be a real problem. Sometimes commercial software concerns still carry older versions, but that's the exception rather than the rule. Posting of commercial software for download from private sites or archives is a clear violation of copyright and licensing. A good deal of software swapping goes on in the newsgroups and a consolidated vintage software exchange site might give folks the applications they need.
For the readers who are now incredulously looking at this piece in disbelief, wondering who in their right mind would choose to work at 8-16 MHz, let me give this personal example. Often in my classroom, my hot-rod 7500 (actually a 7500/G3) that sits by my teaching station is in use by a student when I need to record a few grades on my old, old copy of GradeBook Plus. I've frequently been known to keep one of the extra SE's equipped with a zip drive close by and enter grades on it. Entering grades is a slow, tedious process that does not lend itself to outrunning even an 8 MHz Mac SE.
Years ago, in what now seems like another life, I was an avid gardener turned small farmer (in stature, acreage, and profits :-). One of the organizations I avidly supported was Kent and Diane Whealy's Seed Saver Exchange. The SSE was and is dedicated to preserving seed germplasm for the future. Commercial seed giant Pioneer Hybrid saw enough merit in the idea to substantially underwrite some of the organization's expenses for several years. It was that important. Much like the fictional extinction of an insect that produced a cancer curing agent in the movie Medicine Man, the "extinction" of seed could leave future generations without the germplasm to breed resistant plants to various blights, insects, and diseases. (I still remember the southern corn leaf blight which destroyed much of the U.S. corn crop in 1970 due to lack of genetic diversity!)
While possibly not on the same order of importance of saving seed germplasm, world peace, or salvation of ones soul, there is a need for an archive of vintage Mac software. A consolidated web site that links to all available vintage software would be a start. I've previously suggested in columns that AMUG, BMUG, CMUG, and on through the alphabet, or some such entity could make a few bucks by releasing a vintage shareware CD. They probably have many of the files (and the necessary permission to post and distribute) already on their various BBS's (oooh, remember the days of TeleFinder and First Class BBS?).
Some efforts in this direction have already been tried. Adam Engst of Tidbits fame and others began the Electronic Phoenix Project to preserve and update older applications that have moved into the public domain. The Project has just never seemed to get off the ground, but the mailing list remains active and something may yet come of it.
What we vintage Mac users need out there is a software site dedicated to carrying older titles and older versions that are still compatible with vintage system software. I'm not talking about a page of links, but an archive with some serious storage capacity. Links can and do disappear in a heartbeat. (Just try to find EasyPrint, mentioned above, on a web archive.) The site would need the authors' permission to permanently post their files. Sometimes these folks can be very hard to track down. A forum for exchange of older commercial software would also be good, although some of that functionality is already in place with the Vintage Mac and Classic Macs mailing lists and various newsgroups.
Some folks in related areas could help, but most of them already have their hands full. This is something that Apple could do, but as users, we'd probably be better off with it in the hands of a less fickle entity (remember Open Doc, Emailer, and support for 30-chip and earlier Macs?). And in fairness, Apple does continue to carry older system software, including System 7.0.1 and System 7.5.3 for free download. Maybe one of the Mac monthly magazines could be persuaded to provide the web space and resources necessary. One immediately comes to mind!
In the meantime, there are already some excellent tools in place for those seeking older software. The (MacOS) Finder (no longer available) carries an excellent collection of search engines. Their header states "If you cannot find it via this page, chances are that you'll never find it." Low-End Mac carries links that may prove helpful here and here and here. Individual computer description pages (example) also carry some valuable links. The Mac Driver Museum carries many older essential drivers (Also see: http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/macdrivers/) and the Mac SE Support Page also has many valuable links. The list of places to look goes on and on. That seems to be part of the problem. There just isn't any one consolidated site dedicated to older software with their own complete archive. The other part of the problem, shareware that has just plain disappeared from the web and archives, will take some serious research and "detective work."
To add to all the confusion, I'll add my own page of links to archives and links pages that may lead you to the older Mac software you seek.
If none of the Mac mags step forward, maybe you could be webmaster of The Vintage Mac Software site. Just just think of the possibilities. You could be making
Send your feedback to
Late notes added after publicationThanks to:
Since the posting of this column, I've received several emails from various folks who agree that a software archive of older Mac material would be a good idea. While folks are mulling over the possibilities, their resources and time available, I'll continue to act as a clearinghouse for emails of interest, trying to direct each to the appropriate person(s) and/or organization(s). And...maybe one of the Mac sites, Users Groups, or magazines will step forward to help. It would be a terrific public interest project.
This is one of those articles that is almost too old to update. I would not have attempted an update, but I noticed in our site stats that someone included a link to this column from the Wikipedia entry, History of Mac OS, and it was drawing a good number of "hits."
I took a shot at the update today, reformatting the page and updating links where possible. Sadly, I had to delete several links to things such as EasyPrint, PasteIt Notes, and Find Pro III, as I couldn't find them anywhere online.
I also left the original version, well, the most recent version before this one, of this page on the server here.
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some links updated 8/19/2011
©1999 Steven L. Wood