Software nostalgia ain’t what it used to be

Nobody calls me Software Boy. Chiefly because it’s a fair while since I was a boy. But it is true that I am software-dependent and I regret that you can’t know me above a minute without hearing the words ‘OmniFocus’ or ‘Evernote’. They’re probably the two things I would rescue from my office in a fire. And the things that I would pine for would be Pages, Adobe Photoshop, Mail, iTunes*, maybe InDesign and Numbers.

*I know I’m in the minority loving iTunes but I’ve got both a US and a UK account so I’m already having a very good time with iTunes Radio. So there.

If this software still came in boxes, I would expect each to have my clawed fingernails on if you tried to take them away from me. (And just as an aside, how in the hell did we go from always getting boxed CD software to never getting it like that? When was the day that happened? I cannot remember the last time I got software in a shop or even from Amazon.)


It turns out that I am a fickle software lover. There are all these things that run my life and which I want to run my life, which I relish running my life. Did I mention OmniFocus? But the other day I found a backup CD of applications. From 2002. It was like a time capsule for the days when I was organised enough to do this kind of thing. (I backup all my data, all the stuff I actually create, I back that up good, but I don’t touch applications. Not when you can just download them from the developer again. Most of the time.) I even split the applications into ones like system utility thingies, a set I called ‘Nice’ for some reason – and then one called ‘Mandatory’.

I was young. Okay, I was younger.

I’m sure the idea of the Mandatory folder was that whenever I would move to a new Mac – these were all Mac applications, I’ve got PC ones somewhere but no compulsion to look for them – I would have to install all of these in order to do my work. Lately I’ve often heard people say that when they go to a Mac that doesn’t have TextExpander installed, it feels wrong. I now have TextExpander and the last time I went to someone else’s Mac that didn’t have it, it felt wrong. I get that now. And apparently I got it then.

But these were mandatory? Microsoft Outlook was mandatory? Surely, surely that was the contractual kind of mandatory. I don’t believe I’ve ever actually liked Outlook. Especially not the Mac versions of it. I think I’ve still got it somewhere: I have Microsoft Office, though I use it less and less, so there must be Outlook but if I’ve installed it, I ain’t opened it.

Also Desktop Printer Utility. I don’t even know what it is now. Virex. Anti-virus on a Mac in 2002 and I called it Mandatory? I’m shaking my head. The folly of youth-ish.

I got a bit wistful at the OED though. The complete Oxford English Dictionary. Back when I was on computer magazines, there was a thing called blagging where you’d boast about what great thing you’d got for free from a technology company. Trips to Vegas, the latest laptop, whatever. My biggest blag was the Oxford English Dictionary on CD-ROM and I treasured that so much that it is still on the shelf above this Mac. But it doesn’t work. Within a year or two of my getting it, computers moved on so significantly that the old OED software simply won’t run. And now you can’t buy it on CD, you can’t really buy it at all, you can only subscribe and the cost is a bit above my pay grade.

This backup of Mandatory software also include many writing tools, naturally, and the main ones were Final Draft 4.1 – I now have Final Draft 8 and I’m not sure it’s really four times better – and Corel WordPerfect 3.5 for Mac. That’s another victim of computers moving on, you can’t run it, but if I were still using it in 2002 then I must’ve been hanging on in there and using some trickery.  Anyway.

The real reason I’m telling you this, the thing I want to talk to you about most is software called Now Up-to-Date and Contact. It had an awkward name but it was a truly powerful calendar and address book. When I opened that CD and saw them, I think I yearned. I know I thought that I would be using them today if I could.

NUDC worked so well that every time I’ve tried an address book or calendar application since, I’ve been unconsciously judging it against this pair. I clearly remember pressing PC Direct magazine, where I was features editor, to cover the launch of the Windows version of Now Up-to-Date and Contact. Nobody really expected much from a small US developer with little Windows experience but I knew their Mac one was fantastic and I got to cover it. But was terribly disappointed: the Windows one was initially far inferior. Features I thought were the life and soul of this software just weren’t there. I even remember asking the developers about it and they said I must be a power user. For some reason I liked that. Why did I like that? I know I didn’t like writing the coverage because I couldn’t recommend that version of this software. I don’t think PC Direct ever went back to it; I know I didn’t. But I presume the Windows one improved over the next few years because certainly the Mac one did.

I particularly remember how great it was at notifying you of when events were coming up. Just a smart and clever alarm system. And the regular calendar view could mix To Dos with events so you’d look at the month and it would be full, utterly full of different-coloured tasks and events. Bursting busy. Loved it. And missed it terribly when, again, computers moved on and NUDC didn’t keep up.


After I’d raised a mug of tea to the memory of NUDC, I heard an episode of the MacPowerUsers podcast that mentioned something called BusyCal.

I downloaded the trial and it is Now Up-to-Date and Contact reborn.

I think it is NUDC. Feels the same. Looks the same. In truth Now Software was bought by someone in the 1990s and the original developers went off to do other things. But by around 2007, they were back making calendar and address books and every single thing that was great about NUDC is right here in the new BusyCal. Consequently, BusyCal is a highly-recommended application and I don’t know why I bothered with the trial version, I don’t know why I didn’t just buy it right away.

I think I know now.

Listen, this is entirely personal and I’m only thinking about how much one can change one’s mind. If you want a Mac calendar and address book, I have exactly no hesitation recommending BusyCal. But it isn’t right for me.

Because it mixes To Do entries with events and you can fill up your month with brightly-coloured lines of tasks and appointments. Hate it. I’ve wanted it back for fifteen years and now I’ve got it, I switched it off within fifteen minutes. Then I came back to my Mac and found an alarm notification waiting. It is exactly how I remember with NUDC yet something about it made me switch those off too. Here’s this very strong, very powerful software and I have steadily switched off the strong and the powerful bits of it until there’s nothing left.

I’m not buying the full version at the end of the trial. I’m going to continue with Mac OS X’s ordinary Calendar and The Omni Group’s very not ordinary OmniFocus plus a bit of Evernote. But, listen, nothing will ever take any of those away from me. No. Noooooo.

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  1. Pingback: Over on Self Distract | William Gallagher and The Blank Screen

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