My Turn

Legal Software for Older Macs

Teresa Knezek - June 15, 2000

Diamonds are forever; old Macs seem to last nearly as long. The problem isn't the hardware, but finding a copy of ClarisWorks, Photoshop, Illustrator, Excel, or Word that can run on a Mac Plus, Classic II, PowerBook 180, or Quadra 650. The new versions often won't run on pre-PowerPC Macs, and the old versions are long since discontinued.

The Abandonware Project seeks a solution to this problem. We believe their proposal is a reasonable one and offer our support. Dan Knight, publisher, Low End Mac

Software piracy. The phrase raises hackles on the necks of software company execs and brings gleams to the eyes of their company lawyers, but it elicits mere shrugs from computer users unwilling or unable to pay exorbitant fees for popular software packages.

And then, beyond the realm of the usual piracy headlines, there's us. By "us," I mean folks with computers so old that the exorbitant cost of Photoshop 5.5 isn't the issue. My Mac Plus couldn't even begin to decipher the code.

I want to get my hands on a copy of Photoshop 1 or 2. But how?

The same license agreements that hang over the head of cutting-edge software pirates also hang over ours. Although we're not the ones causing the loss of millions of software dollars a year, we face the same legal dangers as the traffickers in new titles (who supposedly greatly endanger the coffers of software companies everywhere).

We can't buy older versions at a discounted price, because the companies say they wouldn't make enough profit to justify providing packaging and support for such old products. Many titles are so old, it's virtually impossible to find an intact "legal" copy to buy secondhand. We've got virtually no aboveboard options for acquiring commercial software our long discontinued machines can run.

The license holders are no longer making a dime off the software we need, but those pesky license agreements linger on. For what reason? Who knows. Aldus, now part of Adobe, wouldn't lose a dime from the free trade of FreeHand 3. Macromedia, the new owner of the title, wouldn't suffer either. No graphics professional would argue that FreeHand 3 is an adequate substitute for the latest version.

In fact, the license holders of these older titles could conceivably benefit from wider use of their old versions. Children who's families can't afford the newest versions could grow up using older titles, making the new versions a natural choice when they enter the professional realm.

I could argue, make analogies, and generally carry on about this subject all day. Instead, I will simply propose a solution. Software manufacturers should release their obsolete versions as shareware or freeware, and allow them to be copied at will.

An arbitrary "release age" could be set across the board. For a bakery, day old bread is sold at a discount, and two day old bread is often given to the local food bank. For software, one version number back could be sold at a steep discount; anything older could become freeware.

There would be no technical support agreements or fancy packaging to drain the license-holders' purses, but there is a monumental opportunity for good press and legions of up-and-coming loyal users to purchase their newest releases later in life.

The publishers would retain all copyrights to the products, just as current shareware and freeware authors do. They could limit authorized distribution to copies containing all the original installers and electronic documentation. They could attach all the strings they wanted to and put up all the hoops we could possibly jump through, as long as the end result was to allow free copying and distribution of their obsolete software.

No bakery's business has ever suffered from giving their old bread to the food bank. No software company is going to suffer by doing this.

Teresa Knezek is the author and coordinator of the Abandonware Petition, an effort to release old software titles for free distribution. You can read and sign the petition by visiting http://mivox.com/essays and clicking the abandonware petition link.

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