A lot of your favorite old software has been lost to the sands of time, much of it made defunct by newer systems, faster internet connections, and the next big thing. Let’s catch up with some classic software and its modern equivalents.
Nero Burning ROM
You might also remember: ImgBurn
In the early 2000s, the ability to create your own CDs was reason enough to own a PC. Though there was ample CD authoring software around, there was no better way to burn your way through a fresh pack of 52x CD-Rs than with Nero Burning ROM. Nero was the one-stop shop for creating optical media, from data disks to audio CDs, DVDs to video CDs, and even Blu-ray discs when they arrived on the scene.
Nero could do almost everything. It was used extensively to make “backups” of audio CDs, complete with a connection to the Gracenote song database to label tracks. It could even etch labels directly onto compatible media using LightScribe. Back in the day, Nero was one of the best backup solutions for important files, particularly given the slow internet connections of the time.
Nero is still around today, with new versions still being developed. You’ll need a CD burner in your Windows PC, which might be the biggest barrier to entry for most people in 2024 and beyond. Disciples of the CD-burning era may also recall ImgBurn, a similar application that was last updated in 2013. ImgBurn was particularly proficient at burning image files (like BIN, ISO, MDS, and Nero’s own NRG format).
You might also remember: Wireplay, The All-Seeing Eye (ASE), HLSW (Half-Life Server Watch), Xfire
When online gaming hit the mainstream with the widespread adoption of the internet in the late 90s and early 2000s, finding people to play with was a real problem. Originally starting life as QSpy (short for QuakeSpy), GameSpy was a company that helped gamers find servers to play with each other.
Eventually, QSpy became GameSpy3D and was integrated into many more games and platforms. The technology was used extensively by PC gamers but also found its way into consoles like the PlayStation 2, Dreamcast, and Xbox. GameSpy Arcade was perhaps the service’s most popular iteration, a Windows game server browser released in November 2000.
GameSpy eventually merged with IGN, which itself was acquired by Ziff Davis Publishing. This resulted in the GameSpy servers being switched off in 2014, causing headaches for gamers who wanted to continue playing games that were built around the GameSpy infrastructure.
GameSpy wasn’t the only solution at the time, and there were many platform-specific applications designed to help gamers find one another including The All Seeing Eye, HLSW, Xfire, and the UK-born gaming network Wireplay (which also shut down in 2014).
These days you don’t need middleware like GameSpy, with matchmaking integrated into platforms like Xbox Live and Steam.
MSN, AIM, ICQ
You might also remember: iChat, Gaim (Pidgin), Jabber
Talking to random people online might not sound like a great idea these days, but at one point it was a big deal. The popularity of early instant messaging apps like MSN Messenger (later Windows Live Messenger), AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), and ICQ cannot be overstated. It was easy to spend hours talking to people you’d spent all day with, purely for the novelty factor.
MSN Messenger was killed off by Microsoft in 2013, after years of neglect as social media took the internet by storm. Had Microsoft kept the service relevant, it might still be around today. AIM and ICQ are both still alive and kicking, so if you can remember your login you might be able to reconnect with some very old friends.
Modern equivalents include Apple’s Messages, Meta’s WhatsApp, and upstarts like Signal and Telegram.
Flash and Shockwave
You might also remember: Microsoft Silverlight, Java Web Plugin, 3D Groove
At a time when internet connections were slow and online denizens yearned for interactivity, Macromedia Flash and Shockwave filled a hole. These browser-based plugins allowed for rich animations, audio, and interactivity at a time when the most animated GIFs took minutes to load.
The result was an outpouring of creativity, from memorable animation series like Xiao Xiao and Homestar Runner to online games like Line Rider and Super Meat Boy. Websites like Newgrounds became incubators for all manner of creators, and even video streaming websites like YouTube depended on Flash to get off the ground.
Adobe purchased Flash in 2005, but it was clear that the web would eventually move away from browser plugins in favor of native technologies. Apple’s refusal to allow Flash on the iPhone and the increasing threat of Flash-based malware confirmed that the end was nigh. You can still enjoy a huge library of Flash games using Flashpoint (which now includes support for other plugins too).
Centralized P2P Software: Napster, KaZaA, WinMX and Others
You might also remember: Shareaza, edonkey2000, Morpheus, Grokster, LimeWire, iMesh, WireShare, Gnutella
Filesharing is as old as the internet, but several front-runners brought the much-maligned practice into the mainstream. The one thing that ties all of these early networks and applications together is their reliance on a centralized database. Without the database, the network would not be able to function.
Perhaps none is better known than Napster, which famously lost a lawsuit that saw the service shuttered in 2001. Anyone who dabbled in filesharing from this era had a platform of choice, particularly after the Napster shutdown. Not only were these networks used to download terrible quality MP3s one at a time, but many integrated features like chat, online radio, codec packs, and more.
While many of these services no longer exist in any capacity, Napster came back to life as a music streaming service that still exists today.
You might also remember: iTunes, Sonic Stage, Windows CD Player
Winamp was once the coolest way to listen to MP3s of dubious origin. Originally released in 1997, sold to AOL in 1999, and acquired by what is now known as the Llama Group in 2014, Winamp was perhaps best remembered for its immensely customizable interface and wacky skins. Many of these are available for browsing on the official Winamp skin museum.
The media player also enjoyed a huge range of plug-ins, helped popularize SHOUTcast radio, and had support for features like a media library, album art, and remote applications for streaming your library elsewhere. Amazingly, Winamp made a comeback in 2022 with the release of Winamp 5.9 for Windows and has since developed into a service designed to bring artists and listeners closer together.
Many of the original competitors to Winamp, like foobar2000, never went away. For Windows users, iTunes is still a necessary evil for accessing Apple Music and local iPhone operations.
CD-ROM Edutainment: Microsoft Encarta, The Incredible Machine, Carmen Sandiego, and More
You might also remember: The Oregon Trail, Math Blaster!, The Magic School Bus, The Way Things Work, Kid Pix, Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing
If you attended school in the 90s or 2000s, you might fondly remember the small selection of educational CD-ROMs your school happened to own. If you raised children during this era and invested in a family PC, you probably received some of this software as pack-in titles. Even when the internet was finally accessible, the CD-ROM market flourished for a short time.
This led to the immense popularity of CD-ROMs like Microsoft Encarta, an encyclopedia on a disc. The internet was slow, Wikipedia was in its infancy, and Encarta was a recognizable name that could be trusted. Encarta eventually moved to an online database which could be more easily updated but was closed down in 2009.
Edutainment was designed to teach and entertain about all manner of topics from biology and physics to practical skills like typing, logic puzzles, and more. One of the best resources to see these games in action is the LGR YouTube channel, which has a CD-ROM Edutainment playlist full of titles that will take you back.
Internet relay chat, or IRC for short, is an internet chat protocol that first appeared in 1988. It works using a series of servers, on which users chat within channels. It’s not dissimilar to a modern chat solution like Discord (so much so that we gave it a nod in our Discord alternatives roundup). Unlike Discord, chat history isn’t saved to the server and is not retrievable later.
mIRC was the Windows IRC client of choice for many users. Like GameSpy, IRC was an invaluable tool in the early days of online gaming, where users could hang out in channels, organize matches, advertise servers, and follow each other into games. Many server providers would offer support over IRC as it was the fastest way to get issues resolved at the time.
mIRC is still around, as are many of the IRC servers that made the protocol so popular in the first place.
Dial-Up Software: CompuServe, AOL, and More
You might also remember: FreeServe, MSN, Prodigy
It’s hard to imagine a world without always-on internet, even on mobile devices. The internet has become a utility like electricity or water, where we expect it to always just be there and suffer withdrawals whenever it goes away. That wasn’t always the case.
You probably aren’t yearning for a return to the days of dial-up speeds and random disconnects, but how long has it been since you heard the beeps and boops of a 56K modem? Does anyone else fondly remember counting down the minutes until you could click “Connect” on your free off-peak dial-up provider’s Windows 98 app?
Though dial-up has largely been replaced in the US, a very small percentage of users still connect to the internet using dial-up.
Defunct Browsers: Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator
You might also remember: Mozilla, Internet Explorer for Mac
If you remember the early internet, you probably remember the early web browsers used to access it. Particularly seasoned surfers were likely partial to Netscape Navigator, though Microsoft’s Internet Explorer rapidly gained market share when it arrived with the Microsoft Plus! pack for Windows 95. Subsequent versions were bundled with the operating system for free.
Internet Explorer eventually made its way into Mac OS 7 but suffered a huge loss in market share once browsers like Mozilla (and subsequently Firefox) started to gain traction. Mozilla led the charge to introduce tabbed browsing, and Firefox won fans using a faster rendering engine and better adherence to web standards. It didn’t help that ActiveX posed a huge security risk, with some labeling it the web’s biggest mistake.
By the time Chrome joined the race in 2008, Internet Explorer was falling out of favor. Though Internet Explorer 11 will officially be supported for the best part of a decade yet, the browser has effectively been abandoned in favor of Chromium-based Microsoft Edge.
A deep cut for some, eJay was one of the easiest (and most limiting) ways to make music on a computer in the late 90s and early 2000s. At a time when “proper” digital audio workstations like Fruity Loops and Ableton Live seemed complex with demands for expensive sound cards and powerful computers, eJay let you throw a track together in a matter of minutes.
The app came bundled with a set of loops that fell into categories like drums, percussion, bass, lead, vocals, and so on. These loops could be dragged and dropped onto a timeline, layered, and combined however you liked. There were countless sample packs and versions of eJay released covering different genres like dance, techno, hip-hop, and more.
Amazingly, eJay still exists and you can buy old versions that promise to work on versions of Windows up to Windows 10.
Desktop Pets: Dogz, Catz, Bonzi Buddy
You might also remember: GoPets, MOPy fish
What better way to waste your precious system resources than on a virtual pet that lives on your desktop? There was a time when virtual pets were all the rage, even though they consisted of little more than a few canned animations and barely enough interaction to be considered a “game.”
Perhaps the worst of these was the Bonzi Buddy, a name that instilled fear into the hearts of those unlucky enough to have stared into its cold, dead eyes. This virtual pet, or “assistant” as it was known, combined both spyware and adware in one cutesy purple desktop critter.
You can still find many of these apps (and much, much more) available for download on abandonware repositories. While many of them are freeware or shareware, many are not and so the legalities of yoinking them for free off the web isn’t something we can recommend you do.
But if you happen to have a Windows 98 virtual machine running in DOSBox-X or (better still) a vintage, period-appropriate gaming PC that you use for playing old games, you might want to revisit some of your old faves.