I remember the first time I heard the term Public Domain software and Shareware somewhere between the late 1980′ and early 90’s. Towards the end of the Commodore C64 era, where software was almost solely commercial (and not affordable for the average secondary student) creating the vivid software “sharing platform” at the schoolyard as a solid first release of software piracy, I got my hands on my first IBM compatible PC running DOS. Soon after data CD-ROM’s appeared with Shareware, a legal way to use software. Magazines were published with CD-ROM’s attached and I remember regular visits to shareware shops selling nothing but legal CD-ROM’s, years before the internet was available to public. While Public Domain Software was totally free of any license and Shareware was more like a free-to-use model (sometimes under certain conditions or restrictions similar to today’s lite/free versions), it laid the foundation of what we know as Open Source today, in my opinion one of the most important elements of our software landscape. I recommend the title “The Cathedral and The Bazaar” by Eric S. Raymond, the 25 year old book describing the inner parts of open source, a lot of it still applies.
If you are keen to go on a time travel you can download the ISO image of a couple of these shareware CD’s from archive.org and have a hands-on session with 25 year old software, though I doubt you can execute all of them on current hardware and OS.
Once the internet was in place platforms emerged where hobbyists could store the software repositories and releases of their software. One of the early ones I remember was Sourceforge which was launched in 1999, it still exists today (after changing ownership 3 times last few years). Few others were coming and going in the same space (BerliOS, Launchpad, java.net, Javaforge, Tigris.org, ..). Though not so dominating today anymore, due to number of alternatives, one of the most prominent is Github, Sourceforge still hosts a huge number of software, some of them quite prominent, it also was the starting platform of some rather known solutions (Pentaho, Firebird, Wireshark, Nagios, Notepad++,..). Over the years I created accounts for some of the platforms, and even forgot some of them, now I solely use Github. Recently I came across a simple tool that I created in 2008 to experiment with repositories in Java and noticed the tool is still there and it was downloaded over 2.300 times in the last nine years. Not that the tool does anything more magic than creating UUID’s and copy them to clipboard. It is just amazing to see, as long the platform does not disappear, the code lives on, no expiry attached.
Do you have some old forgotten software treasures too?