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SSB Log Entry 78

Part I: The Dying Practice of Software Ownership

In the early days of home computing, connectivity was scarce. Some computers did not have an internet connection at all, instead acting as a secluded island of data, never connecting to another node. To add new software to a machine, you paid a one time license fee for a CD-ROM in a box with paper documentation. It was yours and you owned it.

Many rudimentary software packages that resembled software seen today began to take form, and their limitations were due mostly to the hardware and connectivity constraints of the time. Before the age of Wikipedia, software suites like Encarta dominated. The same was true for map software. Before Google Maps and Waze, you would go to the electronics store and buy a GPS-enabled hardware device similar to a tablet. It had no network hardware or software onboard, yet it somehow managed to store every major road and place of business in North America. There were no ads or subscription fees. When the map data was no longer current, you could make a one-time purchase for an updated map data set. When you wanted to upgrade the device, you could sell the old device (and its software license) to someone else.

Even vendors of Free (as in freedom) Software would occasionally offer boxed software for a fee. These fees helped pay for the CD-ROM and printed documentation that came with the software. Many of these companies still exist today, such as Red Hat and Suse. Indeed, my first Linux installation disk was purchased from the shelf of a Best Buy retail outlet. In the 90's, downloading an ISO image was simply not feasible and having access to physical media was a necessity.