Let’s pretend that you’re a tech savvy individual who’s always been interested and followed software, and that you had gone into a coma about ten years ago and just woken up.
You’d probably be surprised by the way the tech scene has changed in the interim (e.g. the pervasiveness of smartphones, the ubiquitousness of social media, the explosion in wearable tech and the ‘internet of things’, ever cheaper 3D printing, the success of crowdfunding, dumb apps like Instagram and Snapchat valued at more than a billion dollars, etc).
But you’d also be surprised to find that many software genres that were there 10 years ago are dying away.
This is a list of ten such software trends. Most of them are still with us, but slowly (and sometimes imperceptibly) fading away and becoming irrelevant.
1. CD and DVD rippers
Remember when movies and music was purchased on CDs and DVDs? To get your media off the disc and onto your hard drive, a host of CD and DVD rippers emerged at a time when it was more or less inconceivable that a day would come when most music and movies would not arrive via an optical disc.
That day is well and truly here, with the overwhelming majority of media being delivered via app stores such as iTunes, Google Play, or Amazon downloads, or via music or video sharing services such as Spotify, Pandora, Hulu, Vimeo, and others. A disproportionately large percentage of media, moreover, is currently consumed on tablets and smartphones that were never built to interact with discs, and most modern PC’s (especially the best, high end modern laptops) don’t even support a CD or DVD player anymore, casting it as useless dead weight from a bygone era.
Of course, these programs have not disappeared altogether, as there is still an occasional need for them, but they’re certainly less relevant with each passing day.
2. CD and DVD burners
The opposite of #1 above. Again, harkening to a time when sharing media and backing up data was the purvey of optical discs rather than cloud or network storage (or even USB and flash drives).
3. PC’s on a USB stick
There was a time when techies everywhere had the fantasy that PC’s would transform into dumb terminals, and that you could carry your data, your OS, and all the programs you needed on a USB stick, which you could conveniently plug into any PC at an internet café or your grandma’s or your workplace etc and be in business. At least I think this was the fantasy. In any case what actually happened was that everybody’s phone became a connected super duper computer with as much or more computing power as any PC or laptop. USB drives, meanwhile, are themselves slowly becoming arcane, much less the idea of a self contained computing environment in a flash drive conveniently attached to your keychain.
Worth mentioning is that self contained OS’s on USB drives did not die out entirely, but became relegated to the realm of troubleshooting environments that you could boot into to fix a faulty PC or one that was infested with malware etc.
4. Hard disk defragmenters
These esoteric utilities were once a techie’s secret weapon used to eke out that much more performance out of a system by conveniently re-arranging the data on the hard drive, leading to faster access times. These programs are being killed by the double whammy of (a) modern PC’s and laptops abandoning traditional hard drives (HDD) towards Solid State (SSD) drives which because of the way they store data on flash memory chips do not benefit from or require defragmentation at all; and (b) the fact that most modern OS’s, such as Windows 7/8/10 are incorporating the defrag function into their internal operations.
Still, defragmenting a hard drive might still be useful and/or necessary when performing operations such as hard disk partitioning or creating backup disk images.
5. Registry Cleaners
Another much ballyhooed utility which was supposed to cure all the ills of a system and miraculously make it faster. The reality was that (a) any alleged speed increase resulting from a registry cleanup was negligible in 97%+ of cases, and (b) a registry cleanup was in many most cases more likely to harm rather than accelerate or optimize the system.
Still, I would say that there are a handful of utilities that have garnered a good reputation for performing a registry cleanup without causing harm (I stand behind the registry cleaning function of CCleaner). But even so I would wager that any performance benefits are mainly placebo effects in the mind of the user.
6. Virtual desktops
A feature of Linux that at one time seemed to generate much excitement and was introduced onto Windows via many free and paid virtual desktop apps. The idea was that you would place your open windows within different desktops that you would flip to on demand, such that the your image manipulation tools would be open in one virtual desktop, for example, your browser(s) in another, etc. This was somehow deemed useful when in reality minimizing and maximizing your windows in a single desktop was good enough, and a lot simpler and more straightforward.
The concept seems to have failed to get traction with users. I really tried to use and get into virtual desktop programs, only to conclude years later that it is a dumb and useless concept. The only exception to this is the ability of Dexpot, the foremost free virtual desktop app on Windows, to arrange ICONS (as opposed to open windows) within virtual desktops, making it an excellent desktop organization app (imagine flipping through desktops and their icons in the same way you flip through pages of icons on an iPad or Android device).
7. Desktop Widgets
Were originally deemed to be convenient dashboard-style outlays of all manner of information right on the desktop (e.g. your stock movements, your RSS feeds, your email, breaking news, etc.) In reality it was information overload that taxed not just your brain and attention span, but your system as well.
Of course desktop widgets still survive in Windows 10, but are now buried in the Start Menu, which is an excellent place for them in my opinion. They are also a mainstay of the Android OS of course. I have yet to see a desktop-embedded widget that is more useful than it is mere clutter in the long term.
8. RSS aggregators
There was a time when RSS feeds were the coolest thing, having the potential to tame the internet and poised to take over the world. Voracious consumers of information such as myself loved RSS aggregators, but then Facebook and Twitter happened, hijacking the whole river-of-news concept (and crowd-sourcing it to your friends and acquaintances), and today RSS aggregators seem to be dying a slow death. Even Google pulled the plug on ‘Google Reader’ at a time when it was the leading RSS aggregator in the universe.
I still love my RSS feeds, and use both a local and web-based aggregator. But it seems that I am an outlier, as evidenced by the fact that most sites will vie a lot harder to get you to like their articles on Facebook and/or to subscribe to their email newsletter than they are to get you to subscribe via RSS.
9. Internet Radio Station Recorders
Yet another concept that got me really excited at the time, and which in hindsight did not turn out to be very useful. Simply put: if I wanted to get ahold of the mp3 of a song, there are many other simpler and more straightforward ways to get it (legally or otherwise) than to be recording it off of the streaming feed of an internet radio station.
Of course, it may be that a user would want to record the entire Jazzy or alternative music show for playback in it’s entirety, a case where these kind of programs are very well suited, but how often does that happen in the age of Pandora, Spotify and other music sharing services that provide customized streams on demand?
10. Screenshot uploaders
A very popular function that seemed to accompany every single screenshot taking program in existence. My question is: who are these people who are taking screenshots and uploading them to image sharing services? Aside from modding enthusiasts who want to show off their customized desktops, I really don’t know why anyone would be uploading screenshots.
If I wanted to upload images to image sharing services (which I frequently do), I would upload the original image files and not take screenshots of them from the desktop. This has the extra benefit of saving myself the labor of getting the edges of my screenshot exactly right, avoiding the trap of including unwanted crap from my desktop in the image, and guarding against uploading an image off the desktop that is likely to be of inferior resolution to the original.
Seriously, if this trend hasn’t died yet it’s about time it did.
I'm sure there are more but I have to stop somewhere. Can you think of other software trends that are (or should be) dying off? Please feel free to add any that I’ve missed in the comments section below.
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