5 ancient software programs we refuse to give up

Who’s using them and why?

Last week I received an email notice from Microsoft informing me that, as of January 14, 2020, they will no longer support Windows 7, which I still have on one of my desktop computers. Why? Because I have some legacy software that is incompatible with Windows 8 and 10: dBase III+, Paint Shop Pro 7, PageMaker, several graphics programs and plugins—one is the first version of Andromeda, which offers some amazing graphic effects—and a few other applications that were originally DOS-based.

We're not alone

I know I’m not alone in clinging to an ancient software program that’s exactly what I need. Allen Bonde, VP and research director at Forrester, told me that, “Where SaaS (Software as a Service) applications don’t have a foothold, we often still see customers sticking with older tools because they see a risk in switching to a newer system, or there just isn’t a compelling alternative.” It’s not just random individuals, either, but entire companies: “There are pockets of this behavior in smaller firms,” Bonde noted, “but also in sectors such as healthcare and government, where we see less digitally mature companies.”

I asked dozens of friends and colleagues, posted inquiries on Twitter and Facebook, and queried several dozen previous clients and corporations that I’ve worked with in the past: Does anybody still use legacy software? Those who did were often embarrassed to admit it, but agreed to discuss it “off the record.”

If upgrading to Windows 10 suddenly deprived you of your legacy favorites, search online using a phrase such as, "is Windows 10 compatible with [name of your legacy program]," e.g., “Is Windows 10 compatible with dBase III+.” You’ll discover there are many sites that explain how to use your legacy software with the current versions of Windows.

Here are six programs I found that people just won’t quit.

Productivity suite: Office 2003

The biggest, most widely used legacy software still in circulation is Microsoft Office 2003. There are entire companies out there still using this version of Office. Why? Because this was the last .doc version that used the Classic menus as opposed to the Ribbon menus (.docx versions).

The Classic menus were a product of the CUA (Common User Access) Standards developed by IBM in 1987, which determined the user interface for all Windows, OS/2, MVS/ESA, VM/CMS, and OS/400 software applications. Equivalent commands such as File, Save, Exit, Print, Cut, Copy, Paste, Edit, View, Help, and hundreds more had to follow the same design for every program regardless of the genre.

03 classic microsoft menus add in programs JD Sartain / IDG Worldwide

Classic Microsoft menus Add-In programs

The CUA standards made it easier for users to learn new Windows and OS/2 programs because they all had similar menus, dialog boxes, keyboard shortcuts, and so forth. Thanks to this standard, for instance, the key combinations of Ctrl+X, Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V —Cut, Copy, Paste— were the same in Word, Excel, Photoshop, Corel Paint, Quicken, and hundreds of other programs.

And then Microsoft moved to the Ribbon menu. So many users hated it that multiple vendors have created “Classic Microsoft menus” add-in programs such as Add In Tools, UBit Menu, Office Classic Menu, and more. These add-in programs have their limitations as well, but many thousands of users (according to my sources) say they can live with the limitations as long as they have the classic menus.

“I use the mouse with my right hand and shortcut keys with my left hand without even thinking about it,” said a colleague from Salt Lake County. “I work twice as fast because I’m ambidextrous on the computer, not with anything else, just with the keyboard and mouse. I can’t do that with the Ribbon menus.”

Other users have made the same argument and swear they will never graduate to the Ribbon, at least, not as long as the add-in tools are available. The software vendors who make these add-in tools claim they'll keep going strong. 

Databases: dBase III+ and Lotus 1-2-3

In spite of the massive variety of databases on the market today, dBase III+ and Lotus 1-2-3 are still widely used by a lot of home users and small businesses. (Lotus 1-2-3 is, technically, a spreadsheet like Excel, but spreadsheets are technically, databases.)

The reasons provided by most of the individuals I asked are:

  • Familiarity with the software
  • Easier to configure and customize
  • Uses less system resources (memory, disk space, virtual, etc.) and therefore, processes faster
  • The macros and programming are modeled after the actual commands.
01 lotus 123 and dbase iii legacy software JD Sartain / IDG Worldwide

Lotus 1-2-3 & dBase III+ legacy software

For example, in Lotus, /FS is the command equivalent to File > Save, and the macro command for File > Save. You can easily write macros in Lotus if you know the menu commands, no programming experience needed—and all the menu commands are right there on the screen. Lotus also has a macro recorder, which placed the macro in an “out-of-the-way location” on the same spreadsheet to simplify editing.

Macros in Excel are not so easy. You can use the macro recorder for the basic stuff, but you must know Visual Basic to do anything complex or to even edit the macro. This is no problem for programmers, but everyday users just want the software to work without the hassle of learning a programming language.

Note: While researching information for this article, I recently learned that you can configure dBase III+ to work on the 32-bit versions of Windows 8 and 10 by making a few adjustments through the Control Panel and Command Prompt.

Graphics: Corel Draw! and PaintShop Pro

Corel Draw! and PaintShop Pro (formerly spelled Paint Shop Pro) are still active programs, of course, but some users hold onto their legacy programs to retain specific features and benefits.

Corel Draw!, for example, offers hundreds of fonts and thousands of clip art images in all of its versions. Many of the older ones are no longer available, however. Meanwhile, some of the older features have disappeared—or been replaced by similar features that don’t work quite as well.

PaintShop Pro has similar issues with the newer versions beyond 5 and 7. A big loss is the animation program, which seems to have disappeared completely from most of the newer versions. In versions 5 and 7, you could create an animation from a single image using a variety of animation effects. It was a simple program, but effective for some applications.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Office 2013Office 2016

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

JD Sartain

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Bang and Olufsen Beosound Stage - Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

ASUS ROG, ACRONYM partner for Special Edition Zephyrus G14

Learn more >

Nakamichi Delta 100 3-Way Hi Fi Speaker System

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit for Nintendo Switch

Learn more >

Philips Sonicare Diamond Clean 9000 Toothbrush

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Teac 7 inch Swivel Screen Portable DVD Player

Learn more >

SunnyBunny Snowflakes 20 LED Solar Powered Fairy String

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?