Wait a minute, these National Geographic CDs are obsolete!

Yang Na/Shutterstock
Yang Na/Shutterstock
When Sean Corcoran’s CD collection becomes obsolete, he turns to National Geographic for help. You’ll never guess what they said.

Question: In 2000, I purchased a 30-disk CD-ROM set from the National Geographic Society with all the issues up to 1998. It was about $200, and it came in a beautiful, red velvet-lined wooden box. I’ve been lugging this box around for 14 years.

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I went to use the set the other day with my son, and I learned it was no longer “supported” by the society. No way to view the magazines or search them. An inquiry to the Society resulted in this email:

“Unfortunately, as technology changed and improved, the Complete National Geographic Collection on CD-ROM became outdated and was discontinued in 2002. No updates are available for this version of the software, and we are no longer able to provide any technical support for the CD-ROM collection. We apologize for any inconvenience that this may cause. ”

The email went on to say I can now buy a 7 CD-ROM set.

I would understand if the Society asked me to purchase the 2000s update or something, I’d understand that. But it appears to me that the Society made a decision not to fulfill its obligation in this instance. I am rather offended that the only solution offered is that I pay for the exact same thing twice.

I also wonder if the disks now being sold could soon be worthless because the Society again decides to abandon its obligations once it has a customer’s money in hand.

Thank you, sir, for any advice or help. I know this is silly. It’s the principle. — Sean Corcoran, Lawrence, Mass.

Answer: This is not silly at all. If I bought all of the issues of National Geographic on CD-ROM and could no longer view them, I’d also be unhappy.

Before we go any further, a big disclaimer: I am National Geographic Traveler’s reader advocate and an editor at large for the magazine. My latest book, “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler,” was published by National Geographic.

I can’t be impartial in this case but I also can’t look the other way. So here I am.

National Geographic is right, in one sense. The technology it sold you back in 2000 is no longer supported, and my own research suggests that you wouldn’t be able to easily make the CDs you own backward-compatible with your current PC. (Possible? Perhaps. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from advocating these kinds of cases, it’s to never say never.)

Where my friends at the Society were wrong is in assuming that this was your problem, not theirs. When you appealed the rejection, you received a note that I find troubling.

“You said you feel you have been ‘wronged’ because this set no longer works,” a representative said. “As we have previously advised you, this product has been out of print, unavailable, and unsupported for a number of years now as new technologies and products have taken its place. We regret any inconvenience this has caused you.”

The email goes on to explain the problem of obsolescence.

“While no one enjoys having to periodically replace or update our cell phones, computers, record players, vinyl records, 8-track players, videocassettes, VCRs, DVD players, dial-up Internet service, copper-cable telephone service, rooftop television antennas, home air-conditioners that use Freon, boomboxes, cars, analog television sets, incandescent lightbulbs, etc., ever-advancing technology sometimes requires it,” the representative noted.

She added, “Like every other business that sells electronic products, National Geographic has made products that are no longer sold because of advancements in the electronics industry. It is not a matter of ‘doing wrong’ to the customer but, rather, is the nature of technological advancement. No company can guarantee that an electronic product will never become outdated.”

She then suggested you find the new CD set at your local library.

I find this answer perfectly reasonable, from the organization’s perspective, but a little lacking in compassion. Maybe I’m being too hard on them; I hold National Geographic to a higher standard when it comes to customer service. After all, I work for the Society. I would have expected you to get some kind of offer to purchase the working CD edition at a discount, if possible.

Although it was a little awkward, I contacted National Geographic on your behalf. It turns out the somewhat defensive response was a reaction to your phone conversation with a National Geographic representative, who felt you were “hostile and condescending” when you spoke with her. You apologized to her and National Geographic agreed to send you a new set of CDs.

What should National Geographic do about the obsolete CDs?

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126 thoughts on “Wait a minute, these National Geographic CDs are obsolete!

  1. It’s nice that the consumer is happy, but I think you may have pushed a little too hard here. This is 14 year old technology that was never sold with a lifetime guarantee. It’s one thing if they stopped supporting the format a year after purchase, but this is over a decade later and it’s unreasonable to expect certain formats to last that long. Will you get me a free blue ray for every betamax cassette sitting in the basement?

    1. But, if you get the magazine, you will always have the magazines. I know a lot of people, including my husband, who have every issue they’ve ever received. The are a “collectible”. The reason you want the magazines on CD is so you don’t have many, many shelves in your house groaning under the weight of hundreds of magazines. I think it was safe for the OP to assume he would always be able to use the CD’s in some form. I feel National Geographic dropped the ball with the loyal readers who purchased this set by not advising at an earlier time that the technology was outdated and offering a chance to upgrade for a fee.

    2. I’d bet that your betamax cassettes still work in a betamax player. I know that my 8-tracks still work in an 8-track player.

  2. I don’t understand why the CDs are no longer working. Is it because the newer operating sytems won’t play nicely with the software? I assume that the original 2000 computer with windows XYZ would still play the CDs.

    1. Came here to say this. I’m guessing if you installed them on an older windows machine they would work just fine. I don’t see any problem with a company ending the life of their software 14 years after producing it.

      1. The year 2000 would date this set in the Windows 9x time frame. That OS would run 12 and 32 bit applications. Fast forward 14 years, and most PCs have a 64 bit processor and won’t run 16 bit applications if Windows 64 bit OS is installed. That could be one reason.

        The other is that the video format is no longer supported by the current OS (e.g., Media Player).

        Without a tech (like myself) looking at the CD set, it’s very hard to determine the underlying cause. The original set (2000) may be playable with a little effort …

        1. The obsolescence date of 2002 means that the software was probably designed for Windows 2000. There is a program available on both current computer types called VMWare, which runs other operating systems, including long-obsolete ones, in a “sandbox” that does not affect anything else on your computer now. Just find a “VMWare appliance” for Windows 2000, and the discs should be readable.

          1. Easy enough for computer techies to do (I’m running VM Ware Fusion on my Mac to use Windows when I have to), but an average home user would have exactly zero clue about how to set that up. The bigger issue would probably be any utilities that the CDs need (Adobe reader for example). Finding an obsolete version of those pieces to install could be problematic.

          2. Say what? Another crap to purchase? How about buying NOTHING and simply going to one’s public library?
            Still not satisfied? The internet is full of FREE travel sites and blogs with so much eye candy 🙂

          3. Yes, if you wanted to be really mean, you would just check out the new disc set at the library and rip a copy of it to keep. Problem solved!

            In ancient times (2002) the CD format for data was still new and PDF had not been established as the universal text sharing format it is today, so installing a proprietary application to read the discs was commonplace. This also made it easy to impose DRM.

          4. What I don’t understand is why it’s even an application. Why wouldn’t it be a collection of PDF’s? Or other collection of image file/text documents? Then it’s OS independant and can be viewed for years (until CD/DVD drives no longer exist). Seems like a smarter, long term move.

          5. Most likely, they were/are using a proprietary reader so that someone can’t simply copy the PDF file and get around copy protection. This is also likely why it quit working. Either the reader won’t work on the current versions of Windows, or NATGEO no longer maintains their online site that the reader would check for valid licenses, etc.

          6. That is preferred for the consumer, but most digital content providers don’t want the format in an easily pirated format. I’d guess there is some form of license for the viewer and perhaps even some tedious registration process. Could even prevent a Virtual Machine from running the software

            Of course this anti-piracy protection is a double edged sword. This sort of customer service response is the sort of thing that drives normal tech savvy customers into pirating. After the company failed to help initially, It would have been quicker for the customer to pirate his already purchased content than it would have been to contact Christopher Elliott.

          7. The OP purchased the 1998 release, and the PDF Format wasn’t released until 1998, so it wasn’t available when the software was developed.

          8. Alan, a consumer program that was purchased in 2000 and discontinued in 2002, was probably designed for Windows 95/98/ME. Win2k was designed for professional use, not consumer use, so it’s unlikely a Nat Geo collection was targeted towards that OS. (If it was, it’d probably still work.)

          9. The software was released in 1998, and support ended in 2002, so I am guessing it was Windows 3.1 based as 3.11 support was ended in 2002.

          1. In 2000 you already had Windows 95, 98, 98 2nd edition and Milenium. Windows 3.1 was a very old OS in 2000, it was released in 1992.

            The CD set was most probably Win95 compatible.

    2. I’m something of a computer weenie, and that would be my guess. Every CD or DVD you’ve ever bought should be readable in a modern computer, at least from a hardware standpoint. The OP has run up against Microsoft’s planned obsolecence business model.

      I actually have a drive tray with XP on it. I found there was no Win 7 driver for my scanner and Canon’s solution was to try to sell me another scanner. I wasn’t going to do that, since I don’t use the scanner that much, so when I need to use the scanner, I swap trays and boot-up XP.

      I have no intention of even attempting to upgrade to Win 8. When my Win 7 becomes too old, I’ll switch to Linux.

      1. This is hardly “planned obsolescence” at work. Microsoft actually does a decent job supporting old software… they are just now killing support for 12-year-old Windows XP; that’s about standard for commercial-grade “infrastructure” products. This set probably would have run on XP; MS went through quite a bit of effort making most software of the time run on it.

        I’m pretty sure that RedHat will laugh at me if I encounter difficulties getting whatever version they were selling in 2000 up and running on a brand-new machine.

        1. Actually, you wouldn’t ANY problems getting Linux, or Windows 95, or DOS 6.2 to run on a brand new computer, so your last paragraph is irrelevant.

          1. In a HW point of view I may agree, despite of the fact that some devices may not work at full potential, like fullHD displays.

            But if you install an old OS in a brand new machine, several application SWs may not work, making your life (very) difficult. Like trying to internet browsing in a DOS machine…

          2. Oh actually you would. Trust this techie on that. With Win 8 preinstalled, the newer machines are using “windows boot manager” which does a REALLY good job of preventing a person from overwriting the factory installed OS. Now assuming you could get an old OS to install, it would run flawlessly if you could find drivers to support the hardware.

          3. You might get it to boot off of boot media. (And I suspect the keyboard would work.) But I’m not sure you could partition the HDD (addressing issues), or talk to any peripherals besides the keyboard; there’s just no driver support. (Windows 95 could talk to the mouse if you had OSR2.) Video would be limited to text or VGA mode; anything better requires driver support. Networking is a complete non-starter.

            I remember rebuilding my Brother-in-law’s older Windows box (Win 2k3? XP? Can’t remember…) on newer hardware; it couldn’t even finish install without slipstreaming appropriate SATA drivers into the build. Otherwise it failed with “no boot media” when it passed off from initial image loading to the part of the install where it actually has to boot the box.

    3. It depends on the software they put on the CDs to display the content, really. But running in compatibility mode on the newer OSes might work.

    4. My guess is that they used some sort of software to stop you copying or printing them which isn’t supported under modern versions of Windows.

  3. This sure sounds like something that wasn’t used in the last 12 years. If they stopped supporting it in 2002, wouldn’t he have found the problem before now? However, if I had bought a 30 CD-ROM set, my lack of tech knowledge would make me think it was a self contained set which would still be useable if it were supported or not. Though, that is assuming it didn’t say interactive with their website or something. If that is the case, I wouldn’t have assumed this was something that was still working after 12 years of me not using or updating it. I would have assumed that I missed vital updates that rendered my product unusable.
    This does seem to be a lesson in being polite when you are making your complaint. Seems like that could have gone a long way in the first place.

    1. There’s an off-chance that he’s been clinging to XP for all these years, and it probably would have run this; it had a relatively well-tested “compatibility mode” that would run most 16-bit software, which this almost certainly was. MS has finally (after 12 years) pulled the plug on XP and it’s 16-bit software support. The compatibility mode still exists (at least it does in my Windows 7), but I have a funny feeling they don’t do much testing on it.

  4. I can’t get my copy of Quake II to run properly on my PC, and it seems like there aren’t any Quake II multiplayer games set up out there. This opposes the ad on the box that says “Play with anyone at anytime” which is clearly false advertising. Who at id Software can I contact to resolve this issue?

    1. That’s a game. National Geographic is a collection of all their issues which is intended to be saved, even handed down from generation to generation as people have done with the hard copies. You are comparing apples to oranges.

      1. There is not a single media that is future-proof, except possibly paper. Pretending someone is going to hand down CDs to their kids and comparing it to handing down magazines is the real apples-to-oranges. Eight tracks? Betamax? VHS? Video discs? Divx? It’s surprising that CDs are still viable at all!

        1. You may not own an eight-track player or a Betamax machine, but someone does. There are whole businesses dedicated to converting your obsolete format to modern ones so that you may recover the content that you own. The content has no expiration. If it did, we wouldn’t be able to watch Thomas Edison’s “Great Train Robbery” and yet I can find it on YouTube. Funny that.

          1. Yes, there are whole businesses dedicated to letting you resurrect old media so you can watch it on new gear.

            And if running his old CD-ROMs is that important to him, the OP can buy an ancient machine capable of running it off of eBay. The fact that the customer has upgraded his machine way past what the program was designed for is not Nat Geo’s problem.

          2. Fully agree here. Computer tape drives are nearly as old as computers, and I can still buy not only the tapes, but even new drives. In the opinion of a lot of techies, tape drives are still the gold standard in data backup.

  5. In other news, Microsoft is refusing to tell me why my copy of MS-DOS 3.22 keeps freezing when I try to run MS Word 2.0

    And IBM hangs up the phone when I ask them to replace software they sold my company on punch cards back in 1964.

    Ford can’t provide the local collector any more parts for his Edsel. Nor will the dealership technicians touch it.

    This set was made 14 YEARS AGO. I’d say by this point, he got his money’s worth. I’m not aware of any software product that comes with lifetime updates. I have no idea why he thinks Nat. Geo is somehow obligated to make their old software work with his brand-new computer… support requirements work both ways. He can’t upgrade his computer several times, and somehow expect Nat. Geo. make their product work, even though the new machine isn’t remotely listed on the spec sheet on the side of the box.

    Edit: By this point, I’m not surprised… but if I hadn’t been reading your site for so long, I’d be repeating the question: “Where do you FIND some of these people?”

    1. You’re comparing software and hardware to content. What Mr. Corcoran thought he was buying were magazines. That it happened to include viewing software or DRM that could become incompatible with newer operating systems is not his fault.

      Compare this to CDs or vinyl. Anyone can easily convert the content that they bought on those formats to MP3 or newer formats now. What NG did was take content which has no expiration and put it in a proprietary format that does. Had they provided the magazine issues as PDFs, there would be no problem. Even if they had they provided the issues in some obsolete but well known format, WordStar for example, Mr. Corcoran could easily recover the content he believed he owned.

      1. Seems like this response is what could drive customers to digital piracy. If I wanted I could have those pdf’s on my pc in a matter of minutes, with less hassle than calling tech support and certainly less hassle than contacting a consumer advocate to mediate. If your going to prevent unauthorized access to your content through DRM then that DRM can’t get in the way of legal viewing without doing more harm than good.

      2. When you are putting nearly a century of magazines in an entire crate of CD’s, a bunch of discs filled up with .pdf’s (using a rather primitive version of the .pdf standard, no less) would have made for a rather sub-par user experience. (Nor would it have been easy to convert the magazines over to .pdf’s easily…)

        You can do a lot of useful things with custom software that would be utterly impossible with a simple disc ‘o stuff. I suspect this is what Nat Geo did.

        It may not be the customer’s “fault” that eventually his stuff didn’t work on a brand-new machine, but it’s not Nat Geo’s fault either that the computer industry isn’t static. The customer has upgraded his machine, and it’s silly to expect Nat Geo to provide free upgrades in perpetuity to match.

    1. My dad has an old Nat Geo multi disk set and its just hundreds of folders, with hundreds of JPGs in each folder, and some program that sorts it all into magazines. Not sure if its the same version the OP has.

          1. Wow! is right! Thank you – I can subscribe (for a fee) to update the contents yearly, too. Now I have to decide if I want to purchase 123 years’ worth and let that sit on my shelf, just like I did with the 111 years’ worth of content. Hmmm. But NatGeo seems to have solved the problem going forward.

          2. Well, every issue through 2011 and the option to buy the yearly updates at $10 each for the years since then.

  6. The standard procedure for tech companies in cases like this is to give out free upgrades for a specified period of time after ditching the old technology, say five years. Buying a full set in 2000 and having it go obsolete and unreadable in 2002 is far too soon.

    National Geographic has been a trusted institution for generations, but I lost all respect for it when, about fifteen years ago, Geographic sent me a totally unsolicited set of videos on VHS. I have never been a subscriber, but I do get some similar magazines that probably exchange mailing lists. I sent the videos back right away, but kept getting repeated requests for payment. Eventually the notices started coming from something called North Shore Collection Agency. Some online checking told me that North Shore was a scam operation, so I just kept ignoring their increasingly nasty requests. I was eventually able to ditch them after leaving my old address behind in a retirement move, but I will never, under any circumstances whatever, have anything to do with National Geographic again.

    1. They didn’t say support was discontinued in 2002, they said the product was discontinued then. Big difference.

    2. I agree on the free or discounted upgrade, but the OP also purchased a two year old product in 2000, so it was actually 4 years old when they stopped selling that version.

        1. I was just going from the OPs story, he said they stopped supporting it in 2002, and he bought it in 2000, and it was the 1998 version.

  7. Okay, have to admit I’ve got a similar collection of NG CDs (but only spent $99.95 for them – no wooden box) that I haven’t stuffed into my computer in years. Pulled out “The 1990s/Install Disk” double CD box and read:

    System requirements:
    Windows 98/95, Pentium 90MHz or faster, 24 MB RAM, 70 MB free hard-disk space, SVGA video card supporting 16 bit color, 16 bit sound card and speakers, 4x CD-ROM drive.

    Nearly fell off my chair laughing at the Optional system requirements: Printer, 14.4 Kbps modem for Internet access, 25 MB hard-disk space for AOL software installation.

    1. The last time I got suckered like this was when I bought a whole set of cassette tapes on Tony Robbin’s motivational speeches. I don’t know whether to slap myself or blame someone else. Maybe I should write Elliott and see if I can get a refund (after maybe 2 decades).

    2. Thank you for this. When the OP has a computer running Windows 95/98, an SVGA card, and a sound card, and it doesn’t work THEN he can ask for some help. But not until then.

  8. If the CD set was simply a collection of images of the pages of the magazine that you could view, then there is nothing that shouldn’t work, and the OP would be justified in his complaint. But I’m betting that there is some software on the CDs that gives you point-and-click access through imbedded links on the images to related articles, content stored on the web and so on and this is what no longer works with the current versions of software. The OP didn’t say if it was only on the one PC (or Mac) that was used where it didn’t work or if he has another PC he could try. Unfortunately, things change over time.

    The line of argument used by the OP is about as logical as me complaining that the Apple Mac I bought in 1989 won’t run the latest version of the OS and therefore Apple should provide me with a brand new machine that wiil simply because technology advanced and I was never told that the computer I bought would not be supported forever because I spent as much on it as I did for the car I bought that year!

    If Nat Geo wanted to be the good guy, they could offer anyone who could provide proof of purchase for the older set a copy of the new one at a reduced price. It would not be an exact replacement because the new set has all of the issues included up to current so the purchaser would get a major addition to their collection. And the new set is 7 DVD disks and is currently on sale directly from Nat Geo for only $20, so how “reduced” could the price be anyway. Maybe the OP is just upset he spent so much on the set he bought compared to the new, improved, set?

    1. Content is not software. While software can become obsolete, content should not. What he bought, or at least what was advertised I’m sure, is the content. My guess is that the content was stored in some proprietary format and/or obscured with DRM. The software included is what became obsolete, but nobody would pay $200 to own that software. NG owes it to their customers to make them whole and, preferably, not use software that makes the content useless after some arbitrary amount of time. Had they simply made each issue a PDF, this would not be a problem at all.

      A telling point is the NG agent mentioning vinyl as being obsolete. Vinyl is not only not obsolete, but has had a resurgence in the last decade. Beyond that, people who own vinyl still own the content and can easily convert it to a more up-to-date format (CD, MP3, etc.)

      On the other hand, I do not see why software bought in 2000 would not run on Windows 7 or 8. They both have a compatibility mode that can be set for individual executables and installers that will allow programs written for every version of Windows back to Windows 95 to run. Not everything will run under compatibility mode though.

      1. I agree with your points. IF I buy a Nat Geo magazine, no matter the format, I should be able to look at that magazine anytime and anywhere until it crumbles to dust with age. IF they choose to include any type of software with the magazine to “enhance” the viewing experience, that should still not prevent me from viewing the magazine content.

        The DRM used back then was particularly horrendous, at least in my experiences.

        I got a Nat Geo CD and an Encyclopaedia Britannica CD set with a computer I purchased back around 2001. Neither one worked from the start on the machine I bought even though they were supposed to. Both would try and read the disks and fail. Even getting replacement disks did no good. The Nat Geo disk, a “Best Of” collection, did at least have viewable PDF images, but something about the disk prevented me from saving the PDF files elsewhere.

  9. I completely understand tech changes and advancements, but I also know that it is almost always possible to produce some kind of compatibility package that allow for at least limited use of outdated software. Maybe if he could have at least viewed the issues, even if he did lose the search function, he might have been able to deal. I feel that he should have been offered either 1) updating their entire existing digital collection at a reduced cost, or 2) receiving some kind of compatibility package that allows for reasonably limited (at least viewing) used of their existing CDs. I mean, he did already pay for all those digital issues.

    1. Yeah easy. Don’t buy. Just sign up to get free brochures from Lindblad – they are awesome. You get the rain forests and Antarctica delivered in your mailbox on time even if you don’t need it.

      1. Brochures from Linblad are NOT the same as issues of Nat Geo. Not that Linblad doesn’t run awesome expeditions, but these are brochures for their expeditions. Nothing about any place they don’t go. Very cool to read the older Nat Geos. They have been publishing for more than 100 years, first issue in 1888.
        Seriously, Tony, your solution to everything is don’t purchase. You seem to feel anyone who has any problem as a consumer was simply stupid/an idiot. Get off your high horse.

          1. Absolutely, the two options I gave. If he purchased the digital issues, he should not lose the ability to even view them. Almost as if a reference book issued a new, revised edition and the one you had just crumbled away.
            National Geographic is not a typical magazine. Many, many subscribers save all or many issues. Digital copies are a great solution to stacks of hard copies. I purchased the digital collection in 2010 and gave collections to all my friends and relatives for Christmas. It wasn’t cheap, but much appreciated. And I continue to purchase the updates when issued. The 2010 version is still supported and I would be extremely upset if I suddenly couldn’t even view the issues. I would be contacting NG.
            This is an issue I really feel an organization such as National Geographic should have foreseen and worked to find some kind of solution, even if limited.

          2. That would have been great because without the DRM, the LW could have converted to another format including digital and retained the ability to see the purchased content.

          3. Molly, have you any idea what was available then – in 1998?
            What digital issue existed then? I say it is exactly what he bought 🙂
            He simply bought a obsolete piece of technology. Too bad.

      2. OK. I have signed up for many tour company brochures and I enjoy looking at them when I am deciding on a vacation destination. But that is not anywhere close to reading a magazine for in depth discussions about the history or even the current situations in those areas of the world. And I don’t store the brochures for later reference since they are out dated almost before I receive them.

        Yes, I actually read the articles in Nat Geo, I don’t just look at the pictures. 😉

        1. Hey the CONTENT is unimpeachable.
          The problem is the EXECUTION – bunch of jpegs on CD-ROM.
          Nothing like reading the original form – paper – as a magazine.
          Can figure out why anyone will buy this jpegs on a wooden box 🙂

  10. I mean, the answer is to release software that is timeless. Are the CD’s a collection of PDF’s from every magazine? Or is it an application that had extra fluff and media content? PDF’s would be timeless. OS specific application would not.

    1. My dad has a NatGeo CD set from the same era, not sure if its the OPs version, but his is just hundreds of folders, with hundreds of JPGs in each folder, and software that sorts it all out. If the OP bought the 1998 release as they say, than PDFs didn’t exist yet. They actually were released first in 1998, but the software was already developed by then. Timeless sofware really didn’t exist back then, except at the mainframe level, I still work with people who sue mainframes. I still believe this is a windows 3.1 program that sorts the JPGs via it’s interface. And it probably does still work fine on a VM or an old machine.

      1. Oh wow… I didn’t realize PDF’s didn’t exist back then. In ’98 I was a freshman in high school so wasn’t too focused on it, more worried about those laaaadies.

  11. I’m curious to know what wouldn’t run. If they distributed CD’s with .jpeg’s or .pdf’s, newer software would be able to easily view them. However, if they had some ugly DRM scheme that required their app to view what was purchased, that would be a different story. If they DRM’d their stuff they have some obligation to make it usable. The moral of that story would be never buy DRM’d stuff, and if you do, learn how to remove the DRM or it isn’t really yours. If I were the one with the original problem and couldn’t get help I would be checking Pirate Bay.

  12. From a customer service standpoint, NG could have alerted customers who bought the CDs ahead of time and at least offered a discount. Surely they have records? The rep should toughen up and not let her feelings get hurt because a dissatisfied customer was upset. The same sort of thing happened to me with an expensive toothbrush and discontinued brush heads. First response was “sorry!” I wrote a nice letter to someone further up the chain and was overnighted the newest model for free. A VP actually CALLED me to apologize. Now that’s good service!

    1. Phone reps are allowed to have feelings. Buying a company’s product is no license to be condescending and rude to the phone reps if they don’t give you the answers you want.

  13. The analogy of this technology to printed collectibles is a gradually vanishing ink. If you bought a collectible book that has gradually vanishing ink, would you consider it appropriate? How about pictures, paintings? What determines outdated? The examples of change provided by the customer service representative mostly refer to the items to be purchased anew, not grandfathered in or existing items. The cell phone example is even worse. I can still use my Nokia 6820 on AT&T without any problem after 10 years. It may not be a smartphone, but it still works. Same with vinyl records and players, existing A/C units with lower R values, grandfathered in classic trucks with no seat belts and other amenities.

    If the customer had misused or damaged the CDs, a replacement is not warranted. For anything that just ‘expired’ because the company did not support it anymore, should be replaced for free. Even Microsoft is not shutting down Windows XP, just discontinuing the support. It would still run, just would not be very safe.

    I am glad Chris could intervene and get the OP the replacement CDs at no cost.

    1. I bought a full price version of Microsoft Office a few years ago (not an upgrade, not a student version, not a pirated clone). Tried to install something off of it yesterday that I previously didn’t feel I needed. The installer program said no, the disk had expired – not that my version of Windows didn’t support it anymore, not that I exceeded the number of installs allowed, just that an arbitrary point in time has passed. Now what? I bought the software and, as long as I’m not trying to violate the license terms, why should it have an expiration date? So, using your logic, Microsoft should just give me the latest version of Office? .

      1. If it had an expiration date, it should have been listed somewhere, at least in the ‘small font’ agreement you accepted while purchasing. If it is not, MS should either unlock the file or offer you a workable copy, may not be the latest one. Have all your existing installed softwares stopped working though they are past that date?
        All I am saying is, unless declared at the time of sales, the collectible items should not have an automatic expiry. National Geographic books/magazines/CDs are collectible items.

        1. Nope, nothing stopped working that I had already installed (actually just got an automatic update to the installed parts this morning), nothing is anywhere on the box or in the documentation either printed or electronic that states you cannot install this software after any given date. So I set the computer date back to a couple years ago and tried it again. The install worked perfectly.

          And i don’t think that the Nat Geo disk had a similar expiration date. Computers have simply evolved beyond whatever was required to run the software to view the disks.

          1. I don’t think the software is the issue, but rather the content. Imagine how pissed you’d be if you couldn’t read your old files

          2. What scares me are that Apple and Amazon’s files are not owned by their customers. I can buy music from both sides, and if I ever have a dispute with them, they can remotely revoke my right to listen to music I purchased.

            I know that’s now what Nat Geo did here. But it is a little scary.

            I think the OP can still use the disk on an old computer or in a VM. But software doesn’t work forever, and must eventually be upgraded, which is seldom free. I have some similar programs tot eh OPs, and can’t use them any more because the platform they were written for is obsolete.

    2. Wait a minute… a one-time software purchase obligates the company to provide free upgrades in perpetuity? Seriously? Why would anybody ever sell software for only a one-time fee if this were the case? Everything would be subscription-based… after all, if I’m going to be on the hook until the end of time, I need to collect money to pay for it.

      His original software most likely still would works just fine with a computer meeting the specifications on the side of the box. The customer purchased a new computer (likely several new computers in the last 12 years), and his old software won’t work on it… why is that Nat Geo’s problem?

  14. An upgrade discount is the best solution for all concerned. And good work, Chris, for coming to this solution, although I doubt anyone else who has the displaced cd set will receive the same consideration, unless they go through you to get it. Still, progress. And thank you for your full disclosure about your relationship with NG. Nothing wrong with such relationships as long as they are fully disclosed, something a lot of travel writers fail to do when they get special consideration about something they are writing about. Peace.

  15. Just an idea – maybe national geographic can sell the cd set or downloads with PDFS of the issues which would solve most compatibility issues.

  16. On the other hand, print versions of NG published in 1909 are still readable. Since then, technology maintaining high density archival storage of data has passed through a few different epochs. Start with microfiche, for example. Regardless of the accelerating flow of technology, for long-term access of data, print data continues to have advantages.

    I expect that detractors will tell me about this technology or that technology that is enduring. Maybe so, but are those technologies readily accessible to the reading public? Let me provide an example, if a company has documents written in Mass 11 and are stored on streaming tape formatted by a proprietary operating system, how will the company easily retrieve the documents? Another example. A century from now, will .jpeg files be easily readable by our descendants sitting around their kitchen table talking about granny and grandpa when they were infants? By contrast, Civil War daguerrotype glass plate negatives, about 150 years old, are still printable using very rudimentary darkroom equipment (flat surface, sheet of glass, cheap reflector light) and ordinary photographic paper developing chemicals.

  17. Wait a minute – what did he ‘buy?’ Did he actually purchase the CD’s with the media on them, or did he buy a license to view the CD material from NG?

    If he bought a license to view the material, then he has an absolute right to view the material – and NG needs to provide him the means of doing so . . . even if it changed the way it displays the media. I promise you that none of the media licensing from the mid 90’s provided that the media license is limited to the media provided . . . . so he [and everyone else] has a right to view the media in perpetuity and they have to give him a new means to do so . . .

    Plus -they sold him CD-Roms and they now wanted him to buy other CD’s? Whats the difference? Is it a program that is installed to display the media? Again we circle back to ‘what did he actually purchase?’ The media itself or a license to view the media?

    1. While the story is somewhat humorous, you’ve hit the heart of the matter square on the head. (Very mixed metaphor, sorry.)

      I got rid of all of those magazines I used to have and was thrilled to be able to save all that space by going to CDs. While I haven’t looked at those CDs in years, I’ve always treasured the fact that I could go back and look at them – until this article came along. I can read the CDs, but the organizing software isn’t compatible with my OS, unless I go through all the hassle of running compatibility mode just for this one program.

      I would be happy to purchase – yes, purchase – an upgrade from NatGeo to update what I considered to be an investment. I have a lot of courses from what used to be the Teaching Company (now Great Courses) and they have allowed me to update my formats from VHS to DVD or cassette to CD or MP3 at a fixed price. I purchased the content, and that company has allowed me to access that content, even with changing technology, albeit at a modest cost to do so. Why not NatGeo?

  18. Ah! Another learning experience. Those of us from earlier generations are not use to the obsolescence of items we buy other than “wearing out.”

    I guess we’ll just have to change and be aware of the lack of permanence. I use to think that if I took good care of something, used it properly according to instructions, and afforded the item proper maintenance, it would last. Now we just have to add technological obsolescence to our thinking.

    So if we see some software on sale, we ought ask what year it came out and how long it will be supported. The length of support should be part of the sales literature. We see this in fresh produce and other food items, where manufacturers must put a “use before,” on the package. How about a “Mfg. will not support after 1/2018?”

    1. “Mfg. support” and “end user useability” are two completely different things.

      I have an old Atari computer that still functions fine and does everything it did when it was brand new back in the 1980’s (which really isn’t much compared to today’s computers). Nothing on it has been updated since last century. No new software will ever be written for it (except if I write it myself). But what happens when it quits working? There is no support available to troubleshoot or repair it from Atari or anyone else. I doubt if the components I would need to fix anything that would die at this point are even still made.

      My point: Electronics, such as computers, may continue to work forever with no support. But if you need support for obsolete electronics, you are on your own and might just have to give up and move on when something no longer works.

  19. Just the other day, I wanted to listen to my 8-track collection. I called the record label, and was outraged, outraged I tell you, to hear find out that they wouldn’t tell me how to play them on my current equipment!


    It’s not completely clear whether the issue is that the CDs do some license check on a server, or his current system just won’t play them. If the former, I agree the company is obligated to support that, but technical support for a 14 year old software product is not realistic. I’m sure the box doesn’t even list his current OS as being supported.

  20. If the OP used the CDs in computer that met the system requirements listed on the box, NG should have worked with him to fix it. However, its doubtful that the computer he attempted to run it on met those requirement (2000 would have been Windows ME if I remember right and were 4 generations moved on from that).

  21. Unless the original purchase came with a lifetime guarantee, technically NG needs to do nothing. But it would be good PR for them to offer an upgrade at a discounted rate to anyone with old CDs.

  22. I’m still laughing about the “hostile and condescending” attitude perceived by the CS rep. Just a reminder to all of us to BE NICE when we talk to people.

  23. So I guess I shouldn’t spend the money to convert my VHS tapes to CDs because they will be just as obsolete as the VHS tapes are now. I wonder if the tapes will still run on the VHS machine I’m sure I have packed away in some box in the basement. Maybe being a pack rat will finally pay off.

    1. Just a heads up; the VHS tape itself deteriorates with time. So while you might still have that player in the basement, the tape itself may break or otherwise not play properly. I’m going through the process of converting my tapes of my boys’ games and school plays and concerts to DVD. That way I can properly embarrass them when they get around to having kids. 🙂

        1. Well, at the rate *they’re* going, DVDs will be a couple of generations’ worth of technology behind by then. 🙂 I’ll keep upgrading over time.

        2. The first time I bought a Blu-Ray player, the cheapest one available was $250, which was good because a year prior they were $500. It conked out this Jan and I went to Best Buy to find Blue-Ray players as low as $49.

          1. We have a TV that is going out. What one of us has wanted was well over $1500 is now about $500. Then over the last weekend, a comment was made on the news that TV’s as we know them are going to change and current TV’s will be obsolete. So I guess we will wait to see what that will be as we still have another TV in the house we can use if needed. I would be happy with the 12 inch one we had in college, no additional box, just 5 stations…but I would like a remote. We have over 300 channels now and can’t find anything to watch.

          2. With the new TV’s coming out, Netflix will be out of business…or so ‘they’ say. If one of us didn’t need all the Fox Sports packages, I would dump Direct TV (we can’t get cable here without paying a fortune to have them trench and string it to the house). I REALLY want to go back to an antenna.

          3. We only have one TV, and I cut back cable to the smallest package. I do miss the discovery channel, and Nat Geo, but I am fine without them.

    2. I use CD’s in my DVD player all the time. I’m not aware of CD’s being unusable in computers or even most players.

      I think the reason why the CD’s no longer worked was that the software that NatGeo used for searching and viewing the CD’s was supported on an older version of Microsoft Windows and doesn’t run on the newer systems. There IS A way to view the CD’s even then: There are programs such as vmware or virtualbox that let you load previous operating systems that run as a virtual machine on your existing system. There’s some speed issues, but for software such as this they are usually not noticable.

      No need to spend money to convert video CD’s to newer formats. Your CD’s should be easily copied over to your PC and then a good software such as popcorn or toast should be able to make a nicely formatted DVD out of about 8 of them. Or you can simply load it into itunes or another streaming media software product and stream it to your TV.

  24. While at most the ability to read some CD’s is a inconvenience. The real issue is that HUGE amounts of important data is no longer accessible. Maybe not important in day to day business, but historically important. My favorite example is that the plans for the Saturn V rocket were stored on magnetic tape. Currently no tape reader is in existence to read the tapes, which is OK because the tapes have disintegrated.

    When I inquired about what was the best solution for long term storage of digital data I was told by the Library of Congress they recommend updating the storage media every decade or so.

    I am old enough to have had some undergraduate research stored on an 11″ floppy disk and my master’s research was on a Zip disk. Neither are very useful these days.

    1. I have thumb drives bigger than my old zip disks. My original programming was on cards. I remember how happy I was to go to the 11″ floppies. I still have an “A” disk reader with a USB cable around here somewhere for those fancy schmancy 3.5″ disks.

      1. I held onto floppy drives for so long, I even made sure to get a 3.5″ floppy for my last desktop PC just in case, although I have never used it. I even have my old emergency doc boot disks. I did quickly move from the 11″ to the 5.5″ and then to the 3.5″ as smaller is better.

        My brother is in the music industry and just bough an old sampler that has a built in ZIP disk drive, which neither of us have media for. We found an interface online that you can attach to a ZIP bus and allow an old ZIP drive to read SD cards as if they were ZIP disks. Pretty cool!

        1. I have a stack of about 10 ZIP discs in the original wrappers never used before. Maybe I should find a way to sell them. 😉

  25. I personally would rather have the magazines. Looking at an old magazine on a computer sounds boring. Something is lost in all this and that is sad! But then I still get my digital photos printed at Walgreens.

    1. I still can’t do the whole Kindle or e-Magazine thing either. I need solid paper. A friend of mine writes for a magazine and they have been pushing their e-version. She promised me the print version isn’t going to go away any time soon. I hope she is right.

  26. One person’s “hostile and condescending” is another person’s “annoyed with indifferent customer service”. Who knows what really transpired. I know when I feel the CSR I’m dealing with isn’t doing right, I find it really difficult sometimes to keep calm (because obviously calm, rational discussion is not working).

    I voted for offering the discount. Someone upthread said you are paying for two things: software/media type and content. The content, yes, I do believe that should be available in perpetuity. The OP didn’t pay for 16 years of use, he (thought he) paid for an entire collection of magazines that he could read at any time. That the media type became obsolete – not his problem really. Now there is a portion of his $200 that went to the media type, which is why I voted for letting him purchase the new set at a discount. OTOH he would additionally get all the NG issues from 1998-2014. Seems the comparable NG set now is $20 now it wouldn’t be much out of either NG’s pocket or the OP’s either way.

  27. This situation appears to be analogous to my continuing reliance on film, not JPEGs, as the medium of choice for photographs. Film is an analog medium, and will always be usable (i.e., viewable) regardless of technological advances. JPEGs are digital, and will always depend on some supporting system in order to be usable, supporting systems that are subject to technological change and obsolescence.

    Most of my photography is of transportation subjects (largely buses and trains). I readily encounter the similar photography of others from one hundred years ago. I would like future generations to be able to view my photography one hundred years from now. I have no doubt that my film will be viewable one hundred years from now. I strongly doubt that my JPEGs will be readily viewable one hundred years from now.

  28. So, I guess I need to go demand a refund for all of the cassette and VHS tapes I ever bought…
    I don’t understand the “principle” here. Media formats become outdated. Move on with life.

  29. It was moronic of National Geographic not to offer upgrades and/or updates to this collection over time. They had a customer relationship they could have maintained and could have made a lot of money.

    What most bothered me about this story is the failure to indicate the dollars involved. That high $200 price was mentioned, but had the OP been offered the chance to upgrade to the latest version including all issues through 2012 for just $35 he probably would have been happy to do that. Well, he can do just that. Just order it from Amazon.com for $35.80 including (dare I say it) free shipping! Stick the new disks in that velvet-lined box and it’s an instant upgrade.

    BTW, in 10 years or maybe less, there will be about has many computers with DVD players as there are computers with floppy drives now. Will he be griping about his new DVD’s being obsolete?

  30. Wait, so he had CDs that worked on one computer, then he bought a new computer and the CDs don’t work on that computer? So, basically, he bought software, then bought a new computer that doesn’t support the software? How is that NGS’s fault? I bought Appleworks for our Apple IIe back in the 80s. It doesn’t work on my 2013 MacBookAir. Does Apple owe me some software???

    Look: the 7-disc set is NOT the same thing as the 30-disc set. One doesn’t work on newer operating systems, like a lot of old software.

  31. With a bit of understanding of what’s actually going on, from the p.o.v.’s of both for National Geographic and its customers, the fair solution to this problem is obvious. First of all, with his original purchase the customer *got* CD-ROMs – but what he actually *bought* (because he obviously wanted it) was the CONTENT on those CD-ROMs. Leaving out for the moment the question of later updates (which are, fairly, a separate matter), if the technology has changed and the customer can no longer enjoy the content on his copy at this point, then National Geographic should offer the customer a replacement set (with the same content) on the “new” technology, for the cost of producing his copy on the new storage medium, plus a small handling fee (with a BIT of profit), for having gone to the trouble of doing so. In this way, the customer gets to keep on enjoying the content he had originally bought (without having to buy that content all over again, which would be truly annoying and unfair!), and National Geographic has the opportunity to cover its cost for the replacement set while keep the customer happy, hopefully to be able to sell him lots of new stuff (including those updates I had mentioned) in the future. Everyone wins; case closed!

  32. I realize this is a very old topic but one thing I didn’t notice was anyone talking about how to retrieve the info on the discs. I am presently downloading each individual disc to my hard drive. Or rather just a couple files from each disc. I insert the disc, right click the disc when it comes up to open it to the basic files and then right click “copy” the “images” and “intro” folders and then paste them to the file I have created on my hard drive. I get only the .jpegs but at least I get something.

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