In the early and mid 1990s there were a host of big players in the nascent public Internet that played their part in guiding the adventurous early Web users on their way. Many of them such as Netscape or Altavista have fallen by the wayside, while players such as Lycos and Yahoo are still in existence but shadows of their former selves. Some other companies broadened their businesses to become profitable and still exist quietly getting on with whatever they do. An example is Tucows, now a major domain name registrar, who have finally announced the closure of their software library that was such an essential destination in those times.
The company name was originally an acronym: “The Ultimate Collection Of Winsock Software”, started in 1993 by a library employee in Flint, Michigan. As its name suggests it was a collection of mostly shareware Windows software, and the “Winsock” refers to Windows Sockets, the API used by Windows versions of the day for accessing network resources. It seems odd to modern eyes, but connecting a 486 PC running Windows 3.1 to the Internet was something of a complex process without any of the built-in software we take for granted today. Meanwhile the fledgling Linux distributions were only for the extremely tech-savvy or adventurous, so the world of open-source software had yet to make a significant impact on consumer-level devices.
The passing of a Windows shareware library would not normally be a story of interest, but it is the part that Tucows played in providing a reliable software source on the early Web that makes it worthy of note. It’s something of a shock to discover that it had survived into the 2020s, it’s been so long since it was relevant, but if you sat bathed in the glow of a CRT monitor as you waited interminably for your CuteFTP download over your 28.8k modem to finish then you probably have a space for Tucows somewhere in your heart. If you fancy a trip down memory lane, the Internet Archive have a very period-ugly-looking version of the site from 1996.
You may no longer have a 486 on your desk, but if you want to you can still build one.