The 30 Products and Services We Miss Most

PC World Editors

PC World editors fondly remember some of their technology favorites from bygone eras.

Time and technology march on, but not without a few tears shed by our editors in memory of their favorite products and services of times past. Sure, we love our high-powered computers; our wireless networks; and our always-on, anytime/anywhere Internet access--but we also remember the good old days of DOS and diskettes and, later, the dot-com/dot-bomb epoch.
Join us as we stroll down technology's memory lane. Then, in our comments section, share your thoughts about favorite departed items. (To do so, click the 'Post a comment' link at the bottom of any page, and start typing.)
Hardware
A parallel port.
Parallel Ports
New computers and printers don't have them, and that's too bad. Parallel ports had some definite advantages for printing, not the least of which was backward compatibility with many older devices. The parallel printer interface was more standardized than the USB one, too. I once tested network printer-sharing devices, and the parallel-port models all worked on the first try; the USB units didn't work, period.--Lincoln Spector, Contributing Editor
The Avant Stellar, a metal keyboard that resembles the long-lost Northgate OmniKey Ultra.
Northgate OmniKey Ultra Keyboard
Northgate once made a keyboard composed of real metal. Though it weighed a ton, it stood up to practically any abuse short of liquid spills, and the manufacturer supplied extra keys and a key-pulling doohickey so you could customize your keyboard. Adding to the extravaganza, the OmniKey Ultra had a row of function keys along the left side of the keys as well as along the top. A company called Creative Vision Technologies now makes a similar model (pictured); it weighs 5 pounds and costs $189.--Dennis O'Reilly, Senior Associate Editor
An advertisement from Power Computing, maker of Mac clones.
Macintosh Clones
In the mid-1990s, you could run the Mac operating system on an Apple system, or on a clone system made by Power Computing, Motorola, Umax, or one of several other companies. The clone makers were known for building inexpensive systems--often undercutting Apple's prices--and for making high-powered Macs that frequently outperformed Apple's. They also made the Mac market interesting: Power Computing undertook public-relations stunts like staging a bungee-jumping exhibit at a Macworld Expo in Boston, and running over PCs with a Humvee at a Macworld Expo in San Francisco. (The image at left is from one of its campaigns during the 1996 Seybold Publishing Seminar.) Alas, competition was bad for Apple's business, so when Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, one of his first moves was to rescind the licensing agreements and kill the clones.--Alan Stafford, Senior Writer
LaserDisc player.
LaserDiscs
I can't actually miss LaserDiscs, since I still own several of them, but at some point I will miss LaserDisc players, because no one makes them anymore and I don't know what I'll do when my current one dies. LaserDiscs were the first media to provide letterboxed images, multiple soundtrack options, and commentaries by directors.--Lincoln Spector, Contributing Editor
The IBM WorkPad z50 handheld PC.
Windows CE Handheld PCs
I miss an entire class of products: mini-laptop-size Windows CE handheld PCs, the lovechild of a PDA and an ultraportable laptop. Many top computer makers--including HP, Compaq, HP, HP, and NEC--offered them, and they had some great features: They turned on and off instantly; their batteries often lasted for up to 10 hours on a charge; and they had no moving parts, so you didn't have to worry about a hard-drive crashes and related maladies. Despite weighing (on average) less than 3 pounds, they had nearly full-size keyboards. IBM's WorkPad z50 was my particular favorite in this category--a PDA version of a miniature ThinkPad laptop. But at the time that handheld PCs were available--in the late 1990s and early 2000s--they were expensive (often around $1000). Eventually, regular laptops got smaller and more affordable, PDAs morphed into smart phones, and the PDA laptop faded away. To a degree, Samsung, Sony, and others have tried to re-enter this territory with Ultra Mobile PCs that cost $1000 and up. But I'd rather jump onto eBay and pick up a vintage Win CE handheld for $200 or less.--James A. Martin, Contributing Editor

The Psion Series 5 PDA.
Psion Series 5
A tiny keyboard with a feel remarkably reminiscent of a notebook's. Office-like applications with clever touches that make them highly usable on the go. One of the best styli ever designed. If all of these features appeared in a handheld computer today, I'd be impressed; the fact that the Psion Series 5 had them in 1997 is downright amazing. Psion no longer makes PDAs, but its software evolved into the Symbian OS, which powers phones such as Nokia's E62. If someone were to revive the Series 5, give it a color screen, and add a phone, I'd buy it in a heartbeat.--Harry McCracken, Editor in Chief
The Toshiba Libretto mini-notebook.
Toshiba Libretto
From its dotcom-era debut to its brief return in 2005, Toshiba's Libretto always stood as the computer world's equivalent of a tiny, shiny, impractical, expensive, yet sexy sports car: You might lust after it, but you probably wouldn't want to have to depend on it to serve your mundane needs. Reviewers of the initial, late-1990s U.S. model (first sold here in 1997) marveled at the Libretto's bright 6.1-inch display, its sub-2-pound weight, and its bricklike design. But most deplored its incredibly tiny keyboard keys, the less-than-optimum location of its eraserhead mouse and buttons (next to the display and on the outside of the case, respectively), and the unit's $2000-plus price tag. Still, the Libretto name acquired enough cachet to prompt Toshiba to revive the brand last year on a portable with a slightly larger (7.1-inch) screen. Ultraportable fans were delighted, but there were still too few of them to keep the new Libretto line afloat. But someday, I hope, designers will come up with a viable way to produce a full-blown Windows PC that I can toss in my handbag.--Yardena Arar, Senior Editor
Nokia 8290 cell phone.
Nokia 8290
Of the cell phones I've had, the one I miss the most is the Nokia 8290. Admittedly, I couldn't do much on the five-line black-and-white LCD except make phone calls and send text messages; and the 8290 worked on only one frequency (GSM 1900 MHz). But at 2.8 ounces, it was cute and small--perhaps a little too cute and small. It fit so inconspicuously into my cargo pants pocket that I didn't notice it one day when I threw the pants into the washing machine, and that was the end of my Nokia 8290.--Narasu Rebbapragada, Senior Associate Editor
The Handspring Visor Edge PDA.
Handspring Visor Edge
The skinniest, sleekest, simplest PDA ever, Handspring's Visor Edge was a wafer of elegance among PDAs that resembled blocks of cheese. It had a monochrome screen and a measly 8MB of RAM, but that was good enough for me. Syncing involved a mere touch of a button on the USB cradle, so I always knew where I was supposed to be and when. That's more than I can say for my tubby BlackBerry, which chokes on all of my recurring meetings.--Kimberly Brinson, Managing Editor
The Palm Tungsten T PDA.
Palm Tungsten T
The Tungsten T may have been the best Palm PDA ever made. You could collapse its case to fit easily into a shirt pocket, and then expand it to gain access to its Graffiti (stylus input) area. Besides being the first Palm OS 5-based device, the Tungsten T was the first PDA with a four-way navigation pad, and its resolution was twice that of earlier color Palms. The stylus was spring-loaded and nicely hefty, and I could listen to MP3s on my handheld and play a game on it at the same time. I gave my Tungsten T to my wife when I bought a Handspring Treo 600, which I later found to be far inferior as a PDA (it kinda stunk as a phone, too).--Alan Stafford, Senior Writer
The Rio Cali portable audio player.
Rio Cali
Back before portable audio players sported shiny black, white, or pink aluminum cases, my rubberized Rio Cali handled all the sweat, water, and accidental crash landings of two years' worth of gym workouts. With a stopwatch (including lap timer), an FM radio, and 256MB of flash memory (plus an SD Card expansion slot), it ran longer on one AAA battery than I ever could. Thanks, Cali, for the memories and for helping me lose 5 pounds.--Narasu Rebbapragada, Senior Associate Editor
Software
Mac OS 9
I was an expert Mac OS 9 user--as many people were, because it was so incredibly easy to use and (more important) to fix. Most Windows applications bury a gazillion files deep in the bowels of the operating system, where you can never get rid of them all. But on the Mac, you typically had a single application file and a single Preferences file to worry about. In many cases, if something wasn't working, you could drag the relevant Preferences file to the trash and restart. I don't deny that it was a primitive operating system, but sometimes I long for the simpler days of computing.--Alan Stafford, Senior Writer
DOS
I miss DOS: "copy *.* prn", "cd\", "mkdir"--you name it.--Dennis O'Reilly, Senior Associate Editor
The XTree file manager.
XTree File Manager
Though its time in the sun has come and gone, I miss the innovation that XTree brought to the now mostly mundane field of file management. Back in 1985, when PC users had to be command-line commandos just to view files, XTree 1.0 provided easy access to Microsoft DOS 2.0 file commands, and it showed a hierarchical view of directory and file structures on hard disks or floppies. I preferred it to Norton Commander and Microsoft's own DOS Shell, introduced in 1986 and 1988, respectively. In 1993, XTree was purchased by Central Point Software, which became a division of Symantec; it released the final XTree Gold 4.0 for Windows in 1994.--Danny Allen, Associate Editor
The Borland Sidekick personal information manager.
Borland Sidekick
In the early 1980s, Borland's handy little Sidekick program established the Personal Information Manager category, and it remained slick, simple, and wonderfully useful well into the Windows era. (Borland founder Philippe Kahn must have been partial to it: When he left Borland and founded Starfish Software, Sidekick came along.) By the time Starfish released the final version of the program, Sidekick 99, Kahn's obsession with "slimware" had yielded a Sidekick that felt a little defeatured. Even so, I'd take it over the bloat of Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes any day.--Harry McCracken, Editor in Chief
Apps Without Installations
There's not much to miss about DOS apps; Windows programs are better in almost every way. But I miss the way most DOS apps installed: You copied them to a new folder (excuse me, subdirectory) on your hard drive. And if a program caused problems (which it could do only while it was running), you removed it by deleting the subdirectory it occupied. With Windows programs, you run an installation program while keeping your fingers crossed, hoping that the newcomer won't mess up Windows too much. And inevitably, running an uninstaller doesn't fully correct the problems caused by the installer.--Lincoln Spector, Contributing Editor
PC-Write word-processing shareware.
PC-Write
When I get nostalgic about software, I think of PC-Write, the simplest, most straightforward word processor anyone could ask for--and the first shareware I ever used. Did I ever get around to paying for it? I can't remember.--Dennis O'Reilly, Senior Associate Editor
The WordStar word-processing program.
WordStar
For a trained touch typist (like yours truly), WordStar was the most efficient text editor ever. Using the key and a multitude of key combinations, I could open, edit, navigate, and save with remarkable efficiency--and no need to reach for a mouse. Unfortunately, WordStar never made the transition to the modern era: Its kludgey Windows version omitted most of the keyboard combinations that were its lifeblood. I finally gave up on on WordStar in the mid-1990s, when using a DOS-only product that couldn't share information elegantly with other programs became too much of a liability. But I still have WordStar's diamond shortcuts programmed into Word as macros.--Rex Farrance, Senior Technical Editor
Word Basic
Microsoft Word used to come with a simple, easy-to-use macro language called Word Basic. I'm not a professional-level programmer, but I loved automating all sorts of things in that language. Then Microsoft replaced it with Visual Basic for Applications, a much more powerful development environment. I never got the hang of VBA, though, and I never really wanted to take the time to do so.--Lincoln Spector, Contributing Editor
Lotus 1-2-3 for DOS.
Lotus 1-2-3 Version 2.0 for DOS
First released in 1983, the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet application was fast and easy to work with, and it had great tools--including charting and graphing software--long before Excel came along. The 2.0 version introduced what I believe are still the best, most intuitive macro tools of any spreadsheet ever. All of these features helped reduce archrival VisiCalc into an also-ran. But Lotus moved slowly on releasing a Windows version, and when it did, the product simply couldn't match Microsoft's Excel.--Ramon G. McLeod, Editor, PC World.com
Norton Utilities for DOS
Once upon a time, Peter Norton wasn't a photo on a software box; he was a programmer (and incidentally, a PC World contributor) who wrote essential disk utilities that, almost from the start, helped make the IBM PC useful. Even after Symantec bought out Norton in 1990, the DOS version of the package remained invaluable--a geek's Swiss army knife that could undo almost any computing disaster if you knew how to use it. The Windows version, which lives on as part of Norton SystemWorks, may be the same product in principle, but it never matched the DOS edition's relentless focus on functionality over frills.--Harry McCracken, Editor in Chief

Super Star Trek
I inherited a Leading Edge computer (which used the same 8088 CPU as the original IBM PC) in the late 1980s. Because my machine came with CGA graphics, I couldn't use it to play the cutting-edge VGA-resolution games of the time. But it also came with a great DOS game, Super Star Trek, which had no graphics whatsoever. Instead it required players to enter text commands to navigate an unseen galaxial grid in search of rampaging Klingons. You never saw enemies on your screen, of course, so to fire photon torpedoes at them, you had to type in a command and coordinates such as "PHOTONS 2 3 4." I loved the game because it was the best thing I could get to run on that PC; but in hindsight I realize that the game made me think instead of zoning out, as I so often do with modern games. You can still find ports of the game online; this one is all of 113KB.--Alan Stafford, Senior Writer
The original Civilization.
Civilization
The demise of the floppy disk drive on modern PCs means that I can't load my legitimate copy of Civilization, the greatest game ever (with the possible exception of Civilization II). Running the original Civ on my ancient Whole Earth computer system, with its amber monochrome monitor, posed some difficulties not necessarily anticipated by Sid Meier--like who does that postage-stamp-size cavalry unit near my weakly defended frontier outpost belong to, anyway? But I loved the oddly ambiguous icons such as the close-up visage of a pillowy mantis that under improved viewing conditions turned out to be a covered wagon. Also, as an unreconstructed platehead, I appreciated having my guys return to full strength immediately after surviving a ferocious enemy assault: That which did not kill me left no lingering aftereffects. And who can forget the multiple-choice pop quiz that would come up just as you were settling in to a promising campaign ("What civilization advances are required for Construction?"), presumably to confirm that you weren't running a pirated copy of the game? Better have your cheat sheet ready.--Steven Gray, Copy Editor
Tempest 2000 console and PC game.
Tempest 2000
Along with millions of other teenagers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was a huge fan of video arcades--storefronts or even large buildings that housed multiple rows of video game machines and blared REO Speedwagon and Journey over big speakers. One of my arcade favorites was Tempest--a game in which you spun a rotary controller with one hand to navigate special playing fields and fired at enemies with your other hand. In the mid 1990s, ports carrying the Tempest 2000 name started appearing for consoles, PCs, and even for the Mac. It was nostalgic, it didn't siphon quarters out of my pockets, and--just as I did a decade earlier--I played the hell out of it. You can download a game that works much like the original Tempest, or you can wait for a new version that is supposed to appear on Xbox Live Arcade next year.--Alan Stafford, Senior Writer.
Napster
In 1999 a person might theoretically have downloaded a free song or two using Napster, the free peer-to-peer file-sharing service created by Shawn Fanning. Enjoying the illicit yet seemingly harmless activity so much, the individual might have been able to set 50 songs to download before heading home from the office, and then, upon returning the next morning, he or she might have seen 25 or so full tracks and 5 partial ones (each bearing an inscrutable name like 2Shykaja?128k.mp3). Our hypothetical audio enthusiast might have engaged in this activity repeatedly, until major recording companies won a lawsuit against Napster, which shut down in 2001. Today Napster is a publicly traded company that offers legal music downloads and a subscription service; but a person might miss the early days of freewheeling MP3 anarchy--hypothetically, of course.--Narasu Rebbapragada, Senior Associate Editor
My.MP3.com
What if you could create a streaming Internet library of all your music simply by briefly inserting each of your CDs into your PC to prove that you owned it? For a few months in 2000, you could--and I did. Then the music industry sued this nifty service out of business. I shed no tears when the original Napster got shut down, but the death of My.MP3.com hit me hard.--Harry McCracken, Editor in Chief
WebVan grocery delivery service.
WebVan
I know that WebVan is widely considered a poster child for dot-com-era insanity, but I was a regular (and happy) customer of this Internet grocery shopping service. For an urban dweller with a full-time job and no supermarket within walking distance, WebVan was a dream come true, delivering boxloads of staples and luxuries at the hours of my choosing. I loved taking a virtual walk down its well-stocked aisles during my lunch break, clicking through my weekly shopping list in a matter of minutes. And though some former customers complained that the quality of the groceries deteriorated as WebVan declined, I rarely had a significant problem (though I do remember early on receiving DOA "live" Maine lobsters before the company figured out that its plastic packaging was suffocating them). Safeway is now trying to earn my patronage, but it will never inspire the same frisson.--Denny Arar, Senior Editor
PurpleTie.com
In the dot-com glory days, people were so busy tracking their IPO stock prices that they didn't have time to visit the dry cleaner. Purple Tie's service picked up, dry-cleaned, and delivered your clothes, and let you schedule the pickups and deliveries online. It was very reliable--at least in San Francisco--and did a great job, contributing to the wholesome atmosphere at PC World headquarters. The service had plans to expand to 28 metropolitan areas, but it ran out of money before it could catch on. A smaller outfit bought the assets of PurpleTie.com assets and now offers delivery service in communities south of San Francisco; it appears to be doing much better than its predecessor.--Alan Stafford, Senior Writer



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