No More Cows: Iconic 1990s Download Site Finally Shuttered By Tucows

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.

28 thoughts on “No More Cows: Iconic 1990s Download Site Finally Shuttered By Tucows

  1. The company is still alive and well. They are a major player in domain registration, both wholesale and retail, and run an MVNO (reseller of cellular service). But it’s sad to see their iconic original site go.

  2. This brought back some goo memories from the late 90’s where I made my first steps on the interwebz. With a Palm-III organizer and a parallel-port Zip-drive I only had access to the internet at school so you had to think what you would need later that day, download it, put it on the Zip using zipguest.exe and hopefully it worked at home.
    Goodbye Tucows. We had some great years together. We shall never forget.

  3. It was at some point changed to “The Ultimate Collection of Windows Software”. But then they began hosting Macintosh and other software, so it was changed to just TUCOWS. At some point there was a stupid lawsuit with Gateway 2000 over the use of Holstein cows in branding of the companies. That mentions Gateway suing Tucows but I can’t find anything directly about the suit.

  4. I see web sites worse to use than that (their old one) every day.. And I think I only had a 14.4K modem when they started, which was a big step up from the 2400 before that, or the 300 before that..

      1. we were amazed that the flight ‘simulator’ on the amiga could run someone else in the same air space via pc to pc 300 baud modem.. It was magic. Of course, it was just sending the location and orientation of the plane, and both ends were then ‘rendering’ it, but it was quantum better than anything else we had seen.. And much more fun than the mainframes we were working on..

      2. I came in third place in an end-of-the-year online RISK tournament of monthly champions in the (large) city I lived in, in 1991. My youngest son was a few months old, and my wife really appreciated my volunteering for the 2am bottle feeding for him each night. With him and the bottle in my left arm and the keyboard under my right, I was logging onto the RISK BBS through a 2400 baud modem to take my turns. Both the bottle feeding and the turn taking took about 45 minutes. Ahhh, those were the days! 🤣

  5. Took me right back, especially looking at the UK mirrors, and remembering that I used to type in the mirror URL from memory, as at work I was connected directly to JANET by 10Base2 coax cables.

  6. As others may have said, Tucows was a huge resource, often free, for a lot of platforms that nobody else would collect in a useful and easily accessed repository – perhaps the ghost of the original librarian in its completeness. My Amiga and Palm devices (may they rest in peace) both benefited from this as I’m sure other systems did.

  7. Damn, buried the lead again, they transferred it all to !!!

    (And yes I said lead, I have reason to believe that “lede” is a reddit invention, don’t correct me unless you can cite a print source earlier than 2005.)

      1. When I try to keep myself short I undersplain, then if I don’t I oversplain, heh, what I should have said is that the theory that it was the original and only correct way to say lede, and universal in the publishing industry is what is invented by reddit. The references to it as technical jargon, I believe, but the notion that it’s “proper English” is what I don’t believe, though acceptable in usage.

        Anyhoo, when you get those “The proper word is lede” people, it’s stupid because it was only ever jargon to distinguish from lead in SOME print shops, it’s double stupid because it’s like insisting that pwn is the correct spelling of own because a few people used it, it’s triple stupid because the newspaper industry hasn’t needed to distinguish lead from lead type since web offset printing came in the 80s, so about as archaic as a word like comptroller anyway, and quadruple stupid because we don’t need to distinguish lead from type made out of pixels now.

    1. The first citation in the OED for lede is from 1951 in a local newspaper. The second is from the Washington Post in 1979. The first citation of “bury the lede” is from 1983. The etymology says it’s an altered spelling of lead (as in leader, not the metal). It was originally meant to distinguish it from other uses of the word for the benefit of typesetters. Sorry, I can’t provide a link because OED online access is paywalled; I get access as a university alum.

      I think that lede is a silly word, and that lead should be used because that’s the role that it plays in a story. Let’s bury the lede, as in put it into its grave!

      1. No wonder I’ve felt like I was missing some detail. It wasn’t some special thing I didn’t know about, but a new spelling.

        Given that context, “lead” is the only proper word.

  8. Maybe someone will do a geocities mirror :P
    All kidding aside I appreciate what TUCOWS did for us back in those days. Got me out of quite a few jams when I needed it most. Glad they found their way out of the tech wild west but like others I am sad they will be closing the repo.

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