The Threat of Discontinued Software (2021)


47 points | by iyeaton 12 days ago


  • Laforet 12 days ago
    I am not too worried about anything pre-2000 as emulation has got really good over the last few years, just in time as the surviving legacy hardware became prohibitively expensive to acquire. The internet archive has also made it easier than ever to access old software.

    What concerns me are early 2000s stuff with DRM and server-side content to make preservation difficult if not impossible.

    • throwaway48476 11 days ago
      Cloud anything is also a huge red flag for preservation.

      On the other hand there is a game I played on PowerPC macs but the developer released it on github and now it's been updated and compiled for ARM and x86. As long as source is available it's usually not very hard to port to a different architecture.

  • nextos 11 days ago
    This post ignores the Lindy effect. Things that have been around for pretty long are likely to stick around for much longer.

    For example, Unix, Emacs, or Firefox (Netscape) are likely to be quite popular 10 or 20 years down the line. The OS or the editor du jour is not.

    This is a good rule of thumb for choosing what to invest your time in.

    • MilStdJunkie 11 days ago
      Holy smokes! There's a formal name for it!!

      I always privately called it a "Legacy Tail". It was a factor in the selection of a lightweight markup language to support old-fashioned industry (aerospace), but I think it should be a factor in any software selection, to be honest.

      Thanks for teaching me a thing!

      • gofreddygo 11 days ago
        I came across that term from Nassim Taleb's books and talks. Fascinating.
      • p_l 11 days ago
        Can you say something more about the markup language case?
        • MilStdJunkie 11 days ago
          Short version? With a pile of XML docs, Asciidoc's DocBook XML backend represented the "Legacy Tail" or Lenny Effect (Lenny Tail?) that gave us some insurance we'd have a stable format. We didn't see that in the Markdown ecosystem - we would have had to pick and choose Markdown variants and extensions, anyway - and the ReStructuredText ecosystem had no such tail and too many Python/Sphinx dependencies (corporate infosec had a real chip on its shoulder about Python).

          There was a lot of nights and weekends spent prototyping and wrestling with various old aero/milspec formats, but at the end of the day we came out with a publications format that could do more than the original could, on common tooling, where everyone who wanted to could contribute. I put it in the "win" column.

    • eviks 11 days ago
      Emacs and Firefox are not popular right now, and the author mentioned using even more niche apps with long history, and a lot of his challenges are with things that have been around breaking other things that have been around, so how does he ignore the effect?
      • anonzzzies 11 days ago
        > Emacs and Firefox are not popular right now

        They are a lot smaller % than vs code or chrome, but compared to most other software they have a huge user base. They are popular software.

        • lodovic 11 days ago
          Definition nitpicking: They are only popular among a specific crowd. When less than 5% of all users use the software, I wouldn't call it popular globally.
          • anonzzzies 11 days ago
            FF was at 6% in 2021 apparently. And emacs, because it is not spyware, unlike most competitors of it, has an unknown user base. The definition (from the Oxford dictionary) is sufficiently vague though; you put a % on it, they don’t.
            • eviks 11 days ago
              Spying isn't the only method of gaining knowledge, polls exist

              And if the definition is vague enough to include both, you can't use it as an argument to exclude one

              • anonzzzies 11 days ago
                > polls exist

                Yes, and they are also notoriously unreliable. With KYCd users (which won’t be the case in voting ‘best coding editor’) it is even unreliable, let alone things like reddit polls.

                • eviks 11 days ago
                  They aren't as unreliable as to miss an elephant in the room of eternal ignorance, and you don't need to shift to "the best", a basic "have you even heard of this" is sufficient
      • t-3 11 days ago
        Firefox is definitely popular. If you stop a random person on the street and ask them "what is firefox?", they'll probably know that it's a web browser, and a good number will have used it at some point in their lives. Emacs can probably not be considered popular except maybe among the niche of programmers who use Linux or UNIX derivatives.
        • eviks 11 days ago
          Why would I need to resort to these idirect measures of knowledge about the past when there is direct data on actual use currently?
          • t-3 11 days ago
            6% of worldwide users doesn't sound unpopular to me unless you compare to the Chrome monopoly. I'm just giving you an alternate viewpoint to show that you shouldn't get caught up on how much more popular the most popular program is when trying to determine whether something is popular. There are too many browsers to list, but most people are using Chrome/Edge/Safari or Firefox.
            • eviks 11 days ago
              6% wasn't your argument, and is also wrong - that's only counting desktop, so it's missing a huge part of the market, which brings the number down to a mere 2.6%, try to spin that as popular unless "monopoly"

              And your last statement is true with just Chrome, so you can add any other browser there for the same effect

    • steve1977 11 days ago
      Yes and no. Windows and macOS are still around. But not really in the form I'd like them to be (and they once were).
  • arsome 11 days ago
    Stop using a Mac. I still run Windows 95 apps on Windows 11 without issue.
    • bruce511 11 days ago
      Hah, you'll get down voted to oblivion on HN for recommending Windows over Mac.

      But broadly speaking you are right. I run software today on Windows 11 that I first acquired in the 90s. Some of it console based that run under the command prompt.

      While Windows is justly famous for backward compatibility though, there are some exceptions.

      Firstly 16 bit programs don't run on 64 bit Windows. (Well, unless I fire up a 32 bit Windows in a VM.) This is not a train smash for me, although I did have to replace some -really- old programs.

      Secondly, games. MS removed a cdrom driver which a lot of my old games used for copy protection. I'll need to dual boot those into win 7 if I wanted to play them. But the urge to even bother only strikes about once a year.

      Regarding word processors, I used Word Perfect in the DOS days and Word since then, and everything still opens fine.

      Obviously everyone's path is different, and their experience is different, but if long-term commitment to running existing, and past, software matters to you the maybe select an OS that prioritizes that over one that very much does not.

      • p_l 11 days ago
        AFAIK there's Wine-based solution for win16 on 64 bit windows, which might be of interest for those wanting to run 16bit apps.

        And DOSBox iirc can run windows 3.x if necessary

      • steve1977 11 days ago
        > if long-term commitment to running existing, and past, software matters to you the maybe select an OS that prioritizes that over one that very much does not.

        I guess that's the downside of vertical integration where the OS is basically just a means to sell hardware.

    • userbinator 11 days ago
      Truth. The only other Big Tech company better at consistent breakage is Google. MS is known for its legendary backwards-compatibility, although sadly is also going in the same direction as the others.
      • worthless-trash 11 days ago
        What direction is its backwards compatability going ?
        • tastyfreeze 11 days ago
          Worse. Windows 10 dropped 16-bit application support.
          • BoomerMoment 11 days ago
            You mean a 64bit architecture literally cannot handle an 8bit instruction as its smallest register is 16bit without swapping modes?

            This is an architectural problem not an OS constraint.

            And they're completely correct to abandon this software in my honest opinion as the developers already have.

            If you need this run a 32bit VM under the 64bit OS so the virtualised CPUs can handle the 16bit application.

            • userbinator 11 days ago
              You mean a 64bit architecture literally cannot handle an 8bit instruction as its smallest register is 16bit without swapping modes?

              Where did you get that piece of misinformation from? 64-bit x86 can handle 64, 32, 16, and 8-bit data just fine, and its instructions are still byte-aligned.

              Also, the decision to remove 16-bit support from 64-bit Windows was entirely political. NTVDMx64 adds it back.

              • BoomerMoment 11 days ago
                After further reading, yes I am wrong! Thanks
                • worthless-trash 9 days ago
                  I believe Intel is working on an arch change to drop 32 bit entirely in an upcoming architecture.
          • userbinator 11 days ago
            You mean Windows 11, since it has no 32-bit version - Windows 10 32-bit still supports 16-bit apps:


          • bugbuddy 11 days ago
            My first thought was “what’s a 16-bit app?” That tells you my age range.
            • creshal 11 days ago
              Good(?) news: Even ten years from now, you'll find machine tools and other industrial applications running 16 bit software in prod.
    • fiddlerwoaroof 11 days ago
      It depends on the app: windows vista wouldn’t run various versions Delphi that ran just fine on a Mac with WINE
    • BoomerMoment 11 days ago
      • jeffreygoesto 11 days ago
        Almost. Innovative means "using new methods". It does not mean "destroy old".


        • BoomerMoment 11 days ago
          Since you've already ignored the obvious humour.

          Break: interrupt (a sequence, course, or continuous state). "this broke the pattern of generations remaining in the place where they were born"

          Innovative: (of a product, idea, etc.) featuring new methods; advanced and original. "innovative designs

          Ever modified a product to implement a new original advanced method that didn't interrupt a single existing mechanism or structure?

          If so, I wish I had your codebase!

          Refer to your own link.

  • BoomerMoment 11 days ago
    This genuinely just reads like a bucket list of Mac user problems.

    The author would genuinely benefit from redhats decade long support models provided his desired tooling works on Linux.

    The real concerns are in the SaaS / Remote Resource / Online Activation Space.

    eg software that won't wake up if it can't call home, software that has reduced or no functionality if it can't stream remote data, "apps" that are just webkits loading a pre-set url for a completely online service.

  • anonzzzies 11 days ago
    As others mention; cloud is a big problem; anything you depend on in the cloud will probably not exist in 10 years in the way you are using it now. It will be switched off, changed (pivoted they call it) or out priced so you cannot use it anymore.
  • chris_wot 11 days ago
    This seems a bit out of date: "Nisus Writer Pro is also fully OS X featured while LibreOffice/ Word are not."

    Word and LibreOffice work fine on MacOS.

  • jazzyjackson 11 days ago
    I switched from Lightroom to ACDSee since they still sell a perpetual license + they do AI face and scene detection on-device.
  • 1letterunixname 11 days ago
    Underscores the importance of archival science, repair and maintenance of old hardware, and faithful emulation.
  • Dwedit 11 days ago
    You can always detour the API calls, or even ASM-patch the code.
  • anonzzzies 11 days ago
    Stop using closed software. Anything open will be around forever and can be compiled using old or new compilers. Mostly natively but if not possible, inside emulators.

    Also; Visual Age for Java ; I thought I was the only person in the world who thought it was much better that Eclipse. Seems there is 1 other person.

    • BoomerMoment 11 days ago
      Open software gets abandoned all the time, its not magically immune to this. Open and standardised file formats are the win.
      • anonzzzies 11 days ago
        It gets abandoned but unlike closed software, if you depend on it enough, you can continue using it forever. For some reason if GitHub says ‘updated 6 years ago’ it is not viable for people, but for many things, especially desktop apps, this doesn’t matter at all; it works fine and if you need updates, you can do them.

        The point is you can, while with closed software, you maybe can and sometimes with a lot of trouble.

        If the source is open, the file format is also open.

        • BoomerMoment 11 days ago
          I agree, provided the software isn't network reliant / accessible.

          If the software were to explicitly depend on <vulnerable library> and moving to <patched library> broke it that would be the nail in the coffin for me / make me question whether I want to spend the effort maintaining the project.

          • anonzzzies 11 days ago
            Yes, but for desktop software this is usually less of an issue. And at least you could fix it. When people are running ancient closed source software on Windows (Win 95 software apparently runs on Win 11), they don’t even think about the vulnerabilities and if they do, they cannot fix them. If you are so married to a software like the author seems to be, open is your best bet. And the OP is retired (well, at least 2021), so tinker time!
    • M95D 10 days ago
      Really? Then why can't I compile v4.4 kernel with gcc 12?