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SoftRAM was a PC utility sold by Syncronys Software. According to Syncronys' marketing materials it was a "RAM doubling and resource expansion" product. Claiming to use various on-the-fly memory compression routines, the nifty little package could double your PC's RAM. With physical RAM chips going for about $50 a meg in the mid-'90s and a sudden need to add hundreds of dollars more of RAM to run Windows 95, the utility's $30 price tag was a screaming bargain. By 1996, Syncronys had sold some 700,000 copies. The company's stock price didn't just double, it increased a thousand fold (going from 3 cents to $30).


It was all too good to be true. And it was. Many users, after installing the software, noticed their computers slowed down. With more RAM available, things shouldn't slow down. What was the point in having "extra" RAM then?


People began to funnel complaints to the various PC magazines that had given SoftRAM glowing reviews without actually testing the product. Everyone was mightily impressed by SoftRAM's fancy gauges, wizards, and control panels that seemed to indicate the product was really going to town on wasted memory. The magazines gave SoftRAM a second, harder squint. This time they actually tested the package. PC Magazine, for instance, fed it blocks of data containing the same character. Even the dumbest compression utility should have made mincemeat out of that. It passed untouched through SoftRAM.


People did not just complain to the magazines. Some took their complaints to the FTC, which launched an investigation. Facing mounting criticism and a government investigation, Syncronys defended itself by pointing to customer surveys indicating 82% of purchasers were satisfied with the product. This, of course, was not proof of anything other than 82% of purchasers had been satisfactorily duped. The company also threatened to sue Dr. Dobb's Journal if it published an article examining the technical aspects of the software.


Since Syncronys was claiming a need to protect trade secrets and was unwilling to give reviewers and FTC investigators any details regarding how it was actually doubling RAM, a pair of German hackers set on the task of decompiling the product and looking at the code. They discovered the product was really little more than some example code from a Microsoft development kit with some fancy gauge controls slapped on top. SoftRAM may have hired clever marketers but the Germans discovered SoftRAM failed to hire clever developers. SoftRAM compiled the Microsoft sample code with the debugging switch left on. That meant SoftRAM ran slower than Microsoft's original code!


Caught red handed by the German hackers, Syncronys was forced by the FTC to recall their product and issue refunds to purchasers.


Strangely enough, this company proved to be the Peter Popoff of PC utility makers when it returned a year later with a CD Caching utility. Syncronys claimed it could boost CD load times by a staggering 184%. Tests showed this revolutionary product only managed to save mere seconds.


It made a third try with a shareware disk partitioning utility called BigDisk. The utility lost data. Customers and investors eventually lost it with Syncronys. The company went belly up in 1999, with $4.67 million in debts, $200,000 in assets and a large number of customers still waiting for their SoftRAM rebate.


Curiously, days before seeking Chapter 11, Syncronys tried once more to recapture the SoftRAM days and resell a Microsoft tool as its own. The company released a product called UpgradeAID 98 which let users install Windows 98 but return to Windows 95 if they found Windows 98 unstable. Windows 98, of course, came with a utility that let users deinstall Windows 98 and return to Windows 95.


The web site www.syncronys.com now just redirects to a porn site with endless pop-up windows.


 -- Karl Mamer






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