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SoftRAM95: "False and Misleading"
Last updated: August 29, 1996
by Andrew Schulman
Senior Editor, O'Reilly & Associates
SoftRAM95 was probably the only real non-Microsoft success story
related to Windows 95. The vendor, Syncronys Softcorp (SYCR), sold
about 600,000 copies of this supposed "RAM compression" product. Its
stock went from 3 cents to 32 dollars. In late 1995, an investigation
by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) forced Syncronys to recall
the product, the company has failed to issue a much-promised
"upgrade," and now the FTC has charged Syncronys with "false and
misleading" claims. Several independent examinations have concluded
that the product does not even attempt to do what it is
supposed to do. This isn't just another bug. This is a fascinating
story, with many lessons for the PC software industry.
This web page contains links to a huge amount of news and information
related to SoftRAM95 and Syncronys Softcorp, in more or less reverse
chronological order. Click here for an
introduction to the whole bizarre story of Syncronys Softcorp and
press release, August 22: "Syncronys Softcorp will begin external
beta test of SoftRAM 3.0; seeks consumer feedback in beta process."
SoftRAM 3.0 is the new name for what had previously been called
SoftRAM96. The beta test began on Thursday, August 29.
Interestingly, the initial beta includes no RAM compression software,
and nothing for Windows 95. Instead, Syncronys boasts of how its
"modular" approach will allow it to do an incremental release:
"SoftRAM 3.0 is a modular program which lends itself quite
effectively to an incremental beta test approach," Klausner
explained. "This approach should enable Syncronys to gain maximum
feedback from users and should enhance the final product. The first
such module is a beta version of the resource enhancement driver for
Indeed, a later Syncronys
press release (August 29) makes no mention of either Windows 95
or RAM compression. In other words, they are still not ready.
FTC Charges Syncronys with "False and Misleading" Claims (July
10, 1996). Syncronys, and three officers of the company (Rainer
Poertner, Daniel Taylor, and Wendell Brown) has agreed to settle
charges by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that Syncronys
misrepresented SoftRAM and SoftRAM95:
"The FTC's complaint alleges that the company did not possess a
reasonable basis to substantiate the various performance claims
contained on product packaging and in advertisements. The FTC also
alleged that certain performance claims, as well as an endorsement
claim, were false. Under the proposed settlement agreement,
Syncronys Softcorp and its officers would be prohibited from making
the same type of misrepresentations alleged in the complaint
concerning SoftRAM95 for that product or any substantially similar
product. They also would be prohibited from making representations
about the performance, attributes, benefits, or effectiveness of
SoftRAM, SoftRAM95 , or any substantially similar product unless the
representations were true and substantiated. Further, the
respondents would not be able to make claims that any product
intended to improve computer performance had been licensed, endorsed,
or certified by any other organization unless those representations
were true. Finally, the respondents would be barred from making
unsubstantiated claims about the performance, attributes, benefits,
or effectiveness of any product intended to improve computer
The Commission vote to accept the proposed consent agreement for
comment was 5-0.
According to Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of
Consumer Protection, "Syncronys promised consumers an inexpensive
software fix' for a computer hardware problem -- inadequate RAM.
Hundreds of thousands of consumers relied on Syncronys' claims to
double Windows 95 computers' RAM. What they got was a snazzy looking
software package that didn't increase RAM one bit." Bernstein added,
"consumers shopping for high tech products often have to rely on
sellers to have solid evidence to back up their claims. We will
continue to monitor performance claims for high tech products to make
sure that companies have sound reason to believe that consumers will
get the promised performance."
Agreement Containing Consent Order (Text of
the consent decree agreed to by Syncronys and the FTC). This is a
proposed consent decree, upon which the public has 60 days to
comment. Comments should be addressed to the FTC, Office of the
Secretary, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C.
20580. Also available as
files directly from the FTC.
Complaint (FTC, In the Matter of Syncronys
Softcorp, Rainer Poertner, individually and as an officer of the
corporation, Daniel G. Taylor, ditto, Wendell Brown, ditto)
Analysis of Proposed Consent Order to Aid Public
"Syncronys Softcorp Resolves Ftc Product Inquiry" (press release, July
10, 1996). Syncronys's "spin" on the FTC consent decree.
- "Syncronys CEO
seeks to put FTC complaint behind him" (by Maria Seminerio, PC
Week Online, July 10, 1996).
This article on the FTC consent decree has an interesting statement
from Syncronys CEO Rainer Poertner: he still contends that SoftRAM
for Windows 3.x "always worked perfectly."
Note that the consent decree Syncronys just signed with the FTC
prohibits officers of company "from making representations about the
performance, attributes, benefits, or effectiveness of SoftRAM,
SoftRAM95, or any substantially similar product unless the
representations were true and substantiated." Does Poertner's claiming
in an interview that SoftRAM "always worked perfectly" count as a
The article also says that SoftRAM96 is "slated for release next
month, Poertner said." So now, it seems, the much-awaited SoftRAM96
release date has been pushed back yet again, now to August 1996.
Reuters News story
on FTC action against Syncronys
"Syncronys warns Dr. Dobbs over upcoming review" (PC Week
Online, June 21, 1996). Dr. Dobb's Journal received a fax from
Syncronys's lawyers regarding a then-upcoming article "Inside SoftRAM
95" (by Mark Russinovich, Bryce Cogswell, and Andrew Schulman) in the
August 1996 issue of DDJ. The magazine went ahead with the
article, despite the "warning" from Syncronys: the August 1996 is out
now, and should soon be available on newsstands.
- Professor Jim Storer has filed (June 12,
1996) a "Declaration in support of defendant's opposition to
plaintiff's emergency motion for authorization" in the Florida case
of O'Seep vs. Syncronys (Fifth Judicial Circuit, Marion County FL,
Case No. 96-613-CA-B). The declaration states, in part:
"I have reviewed the SoftRAM 95 code and have performed numerous tests
with the SoftRAM data compression algorithm. I can say without any
hesitation that SoftRAM contains compression code and is capable of
improving the performance and capability of the machine upon which it is
I have asked Dr. Storer for an explanation of how he reached these
conclusions, which I find mind-boggling.
"I have reviewed the allegations of Mr. Andrew Schulman which state
that SoftRAM 95 does not have compression and does not enhance a
machine's performance and capability. Based on my review of SoftRAM
95's code and performance, I can state categorically that Mr.
Schulman's allegations are false."
Well, either mind-boggling, or meaningless. A number of readers have
pointed out to me that the wording in Storer's declaration is
somewhat odd: he doesn't claim that any possible benefits from
SoftRAM are derived from RAM compression. He merely stated that (a)
somewhere SoftRAM contains some compression code; and (b)
(separate thought) it can do something.
No one would dispute such a general claim as this: First, SoftRAM95
might well contain some compression code -- which, however, is never
called during run-time (for example, there's a 3k block of code
in SOFTRAM2.386 which looks like compression
code, but which is never called -- you can overwrite it with
HLT or illegal instructions, for example, without any effect).
Second, as discussed elsewhere on this web page, SoftRAM actually can
do something (albeit only under Win31) because of its incorporation
of freely-available copyrighted code belonging
to PC Magazine, and because of its use of some
freely-available SYSTEM.INI settings.
At first, I thought it was reading too much into Storer's declaration
to view his declaration in this way. However, SoftRAM also filed a
second declaration, by one David Klauser or David Klasner (his name
is spelled both ways on his declaration), which uses almost identical
wording to Prof. Storer's declaration:
"I find that SoftRAM 95 contains compression code and is capable of
improving the performance and capability of the machine upon which it
The only difference is that Dr. Storer "can say without any
hesitation that..." -- the rest of the sentence is identical. Given
the identical wording of the two declarations, it seems likely that
the precise wording does have some significance. I wonder if Dr.
Storer and David Klauser/Klausner realize how little it is they are
actually testifying to. I wonder if the judge realizes how little
Syncronys's experts may be testifying to.
- Latest Syncronys
press releases, from Yahoo! Business News. You can also get
- "Syncronys Softcorp issues SoftRAM96
Technology Progress Report" (press release, May 31, 1996):
"SoftRAM96 is one of several Company software products to be released
in the weeks ahead.... The results of this research and development
and the successful integration of these features within SoftRAM96
remain the principal technical challenges. Contingent upon these
factors, Syncronys believes that it is still on target for meeting
its July introduction schedule for SoftRAM96.
"Syncronys Software Completes Private Placement of $13 Million"
(press release, May 23, 1996): "Syncronys Softcorp is a leader in the
business of providing memory enhancement and other performance-improving
software for PCs."
- "Syncronys Softcorp Posts Third Quarter
Results" (press release, May 15, 1996): "The recent quarter's loss
reflects minimal sales revenues following the Company's recall of
Delayed Until July" by Jodi Mardesich, Computer Reseller News
Poertner said the company "paid a high price for unforeseeable technical
problems that were encountered with the introduction of SoftRAM 95 last
year. We not only lost our momentum in the marketplace but we also lost
Hmm. "Knew its primary product did not perform as advertised" seems
like a mild understatement. But the mention of a shareholder lawsuit
by the famous/infamous Lerach is important.
Syncronys also is attempting to settle all outstanding litigation,
including a shareholder class action suit filed by Milberg Weiss Bershad
Hynes & Lerach. That suit alleges that Syncronys drove up the price of its
stock when it knew its primary product did not perform as advertised.
- All articles on Syncronys Softcorp by Jodi Mardesich (Computer Reseller News).
- William S. Lerach
(a partner in Milberg, Weiss,
Bershad, Hynes & Lerach in San Diego) has brought a shareholder
lawsuit against Syncronys.
Lerach of course is well known for his shareholder
lawsuits, which were recently the target of special legislation
with Lerach, article
"Legal Eagle or Modern Highwayman?" by Gina Smith, and
report on congressional hearing).
Syncronys would seem like the perfect opportunity for Lerach to
show that not all high-flying hi-tech companies are national treasures
deserving protection. On the other hand, Syncronys may not have sufficient
funds to greatly interest Lerach.
Anyway, here's what I've heard about the Lerach suit; I'll post
details when I get them:
The suit names Poertner, Taylor, Brown and O'Neill specifically,
rather than just Syncronys the company. According to the Lerach suit,
these "Individual Defendants" engaged in a "common course of
misconduct to inflate the market price of Syncronys common stock in
order to perpetuate the appearance of Syncronys as a growth company
with excellent future prospects and unique innovative products." The
suit claims that the defendants "employed devices, schemes and
artifices to defraud, while in possession of material adverse
non-public information" about the company and product.
- Syncronys is at it again! "Syncronys
Softcorp Announces Series of Actions to Regain Market Leadership
Position" (press release, April 23, 1996). While the release of
SoftRAM96 has been pushed back yet again -- now the release date is
July 1996 -- the company has meanwhile announced strategic alliances
with two companies, the Jump
Development Group (makers of RAM Charger Macintosh) and PowerPro Software
(makers of Quick Restart). Syncronys also says it will release two
products, Mac Access and RAM Charger, in June 1996.
The press release also announces that Dr. James Storer
(Brandeis University), author of a well-known textbook, Data
Compression: Methods and Theory (1988), will "assemble a panel of
leading computer and software
technology experts that will serve to evaluate and review all new
settlement of Siegal et al. vs. Syncronys and Computer City, a
class-action suit in Chicago (March 15, 1996). If you
purchased SoftRAM, "you are a member of the Settlement Class," and
might want to download (from Syncronys's web
site) and return the class action notice; or
request a copy by calling 1-800-335-4059.
"Syncronys Hustles to Fix SoftRAM, Find New Revenue", Los Angeles
Daily News, February 22, 1996, by Dawn Yoshitake:
"Syncronys Softcorp, once a high-flying maker of top-selling
memory software SoftRAM, is running low on cash as it struggles to revamp
its recalled product and get it back on store shelves. But can its top
executives pull it off? ...
"Virtually no cash has come into the company since mid-December, when it
recalled SoftRAM, its main product....
"For now, sufficient funds to cover the company's needs are expected
to last two to four months, unless new products are shipped or new
cash-raising plans found....
"[SYCR CEO Rainer Poertner] and the vice president of technology,
Wendell Brown, have a bankruptcy under their belt from when they ran
computer component hardware developer Hydra Systems Inc.
"The company filed for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 1993 when it was
determined that it could not remain viable, said Poertner, who added
that he was hired to evaluate the company and close it down.
"The bankruptcy and Brown's affiliation with Hydra, however, were not
mentioned in Syncronys' prospectus given to shareholders. Poertner said he
could not explain why the information was left out....
"A sale of the company's wholly owned subsidiary, Autoship Systems Corp.,
may soon be reached and would reap a quick $195,000 profit."
- Jodi Mardesich has an article on Syncronys's relations
with a German retailer in the February 20, 1996
Computer Reseller News (the URL points to a number of articles;
you'll have to page down a few times for Jodi's article):
"... distributors in Europe are attempting to return their
inventory for cash. Syncronys wants to issue these distributors a
credit against future orders, but distributors in Germany, England
and Holland will no longer carry the product....
It's important to note that Softline had earlier sued
c't magazine, which first reported
that SoftRAM didn't work.
"Softline GmbH, based in Germany, is faced with losing up to $600,000
because of the Syncronys controversy, according to one Softline
"Under Germany's strict product liability laws, distributors are
directly responsible for reimbursing consumers for defective
"Softline is processing returns and refunding to customers the full
purchase price, but Syncronys is refusing to return Softline's money,
said Peer Blumenschein, managing director of Softline GmbH. Syncronys
is not honoring its return policy, Softline officials said....
"About 14,000 boxes of SoftRAM 95 are sitting in a warehouse in
Germany, according to Softline officials. Syncronys refuses to pay
shipping costs for the return, and Softline is waiting for Syncronys
to put money owed to Softline into an escrow account before returning
- Reverse-engineered disassembly of
SoftRAM95, Win95 version by Mark Russinovich. Full details on
the Syncronys "FakeCompress" scheme, which takes a buffer, copies
it to a new buffer, and prefixes it with a three-byte header.
Also see the disassemblies for the Win31 version
- Syncronys quarterly report (February
15, 1995) for period ending December 31, 1995. Syncronys sales for
the three months ending Dec. 31 were $2.776 million, down sharply
from with $10.543 million in the preceding three months. In
addition, Syncronys has withdrawn its NASDAQ application. Things
are looking very bad for SYCR.
"SoftRAMGate: Placebo software. Who Is The Victim Of Channel
Indifference?", Computer Reseller News, February 5, 1996, by
"Why are some retailers and distributors still selling
SoftRAM? ... If an auto dealership found out a type of car it was
selling--even if it was a top seller--lacked an advertised feature,
such as an engine, do you think the dealership would continue to sell
the car? SoftRAM 95 was analagous to a car without an engine....
One distributor told me later that people wanted SoftRAM, so as long
as there was interest, they would continue to sell it....
I wonder if the short-term gains from selling the popular but
virtually worthless software can possibly offset the long-term legal
costs, negative publicity and loss of trust from customers that
continuing to sell the 'placebo software' has created."
- Syncronys Softcorp now has a web site. More or less a Potemkin
Village: Nothing much there except large GIF files for two favorable
reviews of SoftRAM that were scanned in from Multimedia World
and PC Today. Like SoftRAM itself, Syncronys's web site is
pretty, but with little behind it. Needless to say the "Download
Files" section, where you might expect to find the much-promised
"updates" to SoftRAM, is empty, except for a note stating that "A
patch to upgrade SoftRAM95 to SoftRAM96 will be posted here as soon
as it is released."
The latest news seems to be that Syncronys is now saying the
"fixed" (i.e., first genuine) version of SoftRAM won't be available
until July. I suppose if you wanted more information, you could try to
contact Syncronys directly.
Oh, the Syncronys web site does also have information on
the class-action settlement in Illinois.
The SYCR web site now has a picture of "SoftRAM96"; the box now
says "expand your memory" instead of "double your memory" and it's
called "Ram software" instead of "Ram doubling software."
"Double, double, toil and trouble" from the UK magazine,
Personal Computer World. The same issue of
Personal Computer World also has an interesting article on the
"Scandal of fake cache memory": it seems that some 486
motherboards are being sold with fake L2 cache chips, and that
the BIOSes (such as Award BIOS) have been doctored to lie
about them at boot time. And, speaking of placebos, see
Bogus (Placebo) Cache Story" for a related fake cache
- "RAM Compression Analysis" by Mark
Russinovich and Bryce Cogswell. A detailed mathematical analysis of
- The Windows 95 logo department at Microsoft has issued a Q&A
"Information Regarding Syncronys SoftRAM95" (November 30,
1995). One section reads:
"There have been allegations that Syncronys copied Microsoft
beta code. Is this true?
Why is Microsoft upset about the use of the beta DYNAPAGE, but
seemingly not upset about SoftRAM's failure to add significant
functionality to Microsoft's own DYNAPAGE? The DDK license
agreement permits use of Microsoft's sample code provided
that the vendor complies with Microsoft's "distribution
requirements," one of which is that the redistributed Microsoft
code form "part of your software product which adds primary
and significant functionality to the redistributable components"
(Microsoft Development Platform software license, italics added).
By no stretch of my imagination can I see how SoftRAM adds
"primary and significant functionality" to the DYNAPAGE, PAGESWAP,
or PAGEFILE code provided by Microsoft.
"This is true. Syncronys used, without permission, beta code
from a Microsoft virtual device driver- DYNAPAGE.VXD - in their
product. This virtual device driver was delivered by Microsoft
in the beta of the Windows 95 Software Developers Kit.
"What actions has Microsoft taken for these issues?
"Microsoft issued Syncronys a cease and desist letter
demanding that Syncronys stop shipping the copied code
and stop using the Windows 95 logo. Syncronys agreed to
take the corrective actions demanded in the letter."
I find Microsoft's position on SoftRAM at best confused. For one
thing, the source code in DYNAPAGE\PAGEFILE.ASM has not changed since
May 1995; what are the differences between the version Syncronys
shipped and the version that Microsoft considers final? Second, it
seems that SoftRAM95 failed to get the Win95 logo solely on a
technicality. Microsoft is clearly trying to distance itself from
SoftRAM95, while doing as little as possible to maintain meaningful
standards for consumers.
When I asked about what implications the SoftRAM fiasco has for the
Win95 logo, one Microsoft employee told me that unfortunately some
people seem to think the Win95 logo is some sort of "Good Housekeeping
Seal of Approval," whereas all the logo means is that the software
is (as the Microsoft employee put it) "kosher." And "kosher," they
reminded me, is not an indication of goodness, but merely an indication
that a certain procedure/ritual has been followed. In other words,
Microsoft's logo program is worthless from a consumer's point of view.
- Speaking of the Win95 logo, there's an excellent article on
the subject in the January 22, 1996 Computer Reseller News:
"Microsoft plans market push as Win 95 sales lag --Focus on ISV
appliactions bearing logo" by Deborah Gage (the article is available
but doesn't have a unique URL; you'll have to search for it):
"[Win95 product manager Suzi] Davidson said Microsoft is anxious to
communicate both its own flexibility and the value of the logo. That
task has been complicated by vendors like Synchronys SoftCorp.
Synchronys recently admitted copying the logo for SoftRAM, which
competitors say does not work."
This article is also a good source of information on how the
slower-than-expected sales of Win95 have affected ISVs, such as
Touchstone Software Corp., who were recently named in a shareholder
lawsuit brought by William Lerach.
On Win95 sales, also see Deborah Gage's article in the January 8,
1996 Computer Reseller News:
"Small ISVs felt pinch as year-end Windows 95 sales ran out of steam --
Sell-through swooned in fall, hurting second-tier software developers."
This discussion of Win95 sales and their effect on ISVs is relevant
to SoftRAM, because SoftRAM appears to have been the only Win95-related
success for a non-Microsoft product: something worth thinking about.
As one reader of this web page eloquently puts it, SoftRAM is only a
particularly egregious example of the "bad, ineffective, incomplete
software that the hype on Windows 95 empowers and indirectly
supports." Yes, Microsoft does "empower" vendors to put out stuff like
PC Magazine review of Windows 3.1 Memory Enhancement Utilities by
Matt Pietrek and Larry Seltzer. This is an
extensive, in-depth comparison of SoftRAM95 2.0 (Syncronys Softcorp),
Hurricane 1.02 (Helix Software), RAM Doubler 1.02 (Connectix),
and QEMM 8/MagnaRAM2 (Quarterdeck):
"Among the products that claim to boost resources, we found that
Hurricane's methods are both the most interesting and the most
effective. Under Hurricane, we simply could not make the test system
run out of resources. At the other end of the spectrum, SoftRAM95
once again floored us. In spite of explicit indications from its
gauge software indicating that it expands resources, we could find no
evidence that SoftRAM95 does anything to affect system resources in
"We've rarely seen such a big gap between what a product claims to do
and what it actually delivers. After careful testing, we found no
evidence that SoftRAM95 performs any of the main functions it claims
"In testing, [Hurricane] provided effectively unlimited Windows
resources and noticeably better performance than plain Windows or any
competing product. Hurricane also gives you an intelligent set of
installation and tuning tools. Its only downside is that setup can be
challenging, and getting optimal results often requires manual
tweaking and mastering of some technical concepts.... Hurricane is a
complex product that will work best in the hands of a proactive user.
But for squeezing every ounce of capacity and performance out of
16-bit Windows, it's hands-down the best package around."
RAM Doubler 1.02:
"Where Hurricane gives you extreme flexibility in configuration and
requires that you master technical concepts to use it, RAM Doubler is
as simple as possible. It has no configuration options whatsoever,
just installed and uninstalled states."
QEMM 8 and MagnaRAM 2:
"Our tests clearly demonstrated that MagnaRAM 2 performs RAM
compression, but its value to the end user is questionable. We were
unable to load additional applications above and beyond what plain
Windows allowed, and the product measurably slowed down the system
under heavy load conditions."
- "Software allegedly doubles trouble instead of memory,"
Technology (January 19, 1996):
"Three independent tests arrived -- after SoftRAM was en route to becoming
a market hit -- that gave the program a resounding thumbs down. One of
those tests was conducted by the labs at a bible of the industry, PC
Magazine. 'I've never seen a product that was so devoid of value as
SoftRAM,' said PC [Magazine]'s technical editor Larry Seltzer.... in
the long run there are questions about the product claims of software
markers. PC Magazine's Seltzer said that the case of SoftRAM is unique,
and most software makers deliver what they promise. Still, befudled
computer owners are often on their own, left to sort out the megabytes
from the mega-hype."
- "SoftRAM: fails to deliver,"
London Daily Telegraph (January 17, 1996) by Paul
"According to the box, '4Mb becomes 8Mb, 8Mb becomes 16Mb...' With
these claims the product has sold some 750,000 copies since last May.
The only drawback is an increasing number of critical reviews in the
computer press. One well-respected magazine after another has said it
could find no benefit in the program.... My test was hampered by an
unusual reluctance of the company to send me a review copy. I had to
buy one, and came to the similar conclusions.... The only 'memory'
gains were achieved by copying more data to disk - something you can
tell Windows to do without using SoftRAM, provided you can stand the
resulting loss in speed. I found no truth in its maker's claims."
- "SoftRAM95 still on shelves. Recall? Software is for sale,"
Mercury News (January 16, 1996) by Dan Gillmor:
month after its publisher announced a recall of the controversial
SoftRAM95 software, the product was still being sold during the
weekend at several major computer, office-supply and mail-order
outlets.... Several major mail-order software outlets, meanwhile,
were more than willing to sell SoftRAM95. A telephone salesperson at
PC Zone said the product was for users of Windows 3.1 only, but a
salesperson at PC Mall did not."
- An attorney in Orange County CA, Martin Anderson,
has filed (January 1996) a class-action suit
against Syncronys in Orange County Superior Court before Judge
Francisco F. Firmat. The key paragraphs appear to be 20 through 26.
Another class-action suit has been filed in Oakland CA by Don Driscoll.
- The January 1996 issue of Marketing Computers has a long
article by David Evans, "Software That Wasn't: Why has the industry
reacted so slowly in the SoftRAM case?"
The article quotes some amazing praise for SoftRAM95 from the trade
press (such as the
October 1995 issue of CMP's HomePC and the December 1995
issue of IDG's Electronic Entertainment), and subsequent
explanations from the editors as to how such credulous articles could
have appeared. For example, asked why HomePC was so
enthusiastic about SoftRAM, the editor-in-chief explained that "the
story was intended to inform our readers of the manufacturer's claim
for its product. It was not an editorial judgement."
Hopefully the SoftRAM affair will urge the computer trade press to take
a more journalistic and consumer-oriented approach in the future. Right
now the trade press is very much part of the computer industry;
its first instinct is to believe vendor's claims for their products.
The absurd praise given SoftRAM in the trade press is only an extreme
example of standard industry practice: I found the same credulity
when I reviewed the computer press coverage of Windows 95 for my book
Unauthorized Windows 95; p. 459 refers,
for example, to "the supposedly independent oversight of an easily confused,
cajoled, and hoodwinked trade press."
Little then did I know how easily.
At the same time, it's important to note that some computer
journalists did do their job: Ingo T.
Storm of c't magazine in Germany wrote the first in-depth
technical expose of SoftRAM, and Larry Seltzer
of PC Magazine wrote the first in-depth examination of SoftRAM
in the US. Both journalists have campaigned heavily to publicize the SoftRAM
Strom's Web Informant has an interesting article,
"Syncronys' SoftRAM Scam: What took us so long?" (January 2, 1996).
In addition to giving this page his "Be.Here.Now Award" (thanks!),
Strom uses the SoftRAM mess to ask some interesting questions about
the PC software industry:
"This week, I look at how our industry tests products
and tracks breaking news about these tests using print and on-line
Also see the follow-up in
the January 8, 1996 issue of Web Informant.
"I decided to go on-line and see if I could get to the bottom of this,
and came to the conclusion that the print trade pubs have done our
readers a tremendous disservice. The best reporting is happening
on-line... on-line is the place to be for tracking this issue."
Family PC (February 1996) article on SoftRAM95 by Deborah
Branscum: "Is SoftRAM heaven-sent or the devil's handiwork? On
December 18, Syncronys recalled all SoftRAM inventory and offered
customers refunds even as it continued to claim that the program
delivers compression under Windows 3.1. The Federal Trade Commission
has made inquiries into SoftRAM. The company also faces a
class-action lawsuit. It appears that SoftRAM's memory compression,
like the Emperor's new clothes, simply doesn't exist."
- All messages posted to Usenet newsgroups by Syncronys CEO
list generated by DejaNews.
Actually, not all messages,
because Poertner also posts messages from the address
firstname.lastname@example.org and for some reason DejaNews doesn't seem to be
picking these up.
Also see Poertner's
Win95 message board message (October 23, 1995): "I thought I let
you know that the benefits of SR95 especially in its 3.1 version have
now been confirmed by XXCAL Labs, one of the largest labs in the US
and also according to a glowing review in Windows sources, November
issue, page 324." But what does Syncronys say, now that Windows
Sources has retracted its glowing review,
which apparently was based on superficial and casual observation of
SoftRAM, and now that XXCAL has "clarified"
that its tests were conducted entirely under direction from
Syncronys? (The SoftRAM story reveals a lot about the PC software
industry, including the role of the trade press and the testing labs.
The industry is definitely not yet ready for the average consumer.)
- Rainer doesn't seem to have been posting anything in the
newsgroups recently. But by combining the web services provided by
DejaNews and NetMind, you can register to receive an email notification
if Rainer ever gets back on Usenet:
While it's amusing to know you'll receive email if Rainer posts again,
my real purpose here was to demonstrate one of the cool things that are
possible because of the web's Common Gateway Interface (CGI). In this
case, I've combined DejaNews (CGI method=GET access to a .tcl script
Apache/1.0.3) with the NetMind URL-minder (CGI method=POST
to a machine running
NCSA/1.5). This is distributed computation, folks! And it's
available today, using utterly simple tools: I suspect that most of what
developers think they need ActiveX or DCOM or even Java for, they could
be doing with some silly CGI script (server) and an HTML form (client).
So what's that have to do with SoftRAM? Well, SoftRAM seems to epitomize
(in an admittedly extreme way) how limited conventional Windows desktop
software is. In contrast, by using the absurdly simple client-server
programming web provided by the web, you can produce a new kind of
application. This web page on SoftRAM is a good example, I think, of the
new sort of application that the web makes possible. Yes, it's a document,
but it's also an application: note the embedded stock-quote button, the
forms to fill in to receive email notifications, and so on. For some
further thoughts on all this, see my little slide show on
Windows and the Web: Which API Do You Want to Use Today? and my
Can Microsoft Catch Up to the Internet? A Software Developer's
SoftRAM -- Frequently Asked Questions from PC Magazine Trends
Online (December 14, 1995). For example:
"Q: We've read that SoftRAM95 copies code from a PC Magazine utility.
Is this true?
"A: ... We examined the code ourselves to determine whether it was
the same as our utility, and it does appear to be the same one. We
are currently evaluating our alternatives. PC Magazine did not, and
does not, license these utilities for inclusion in commercial
- An attorney in Oakland CA, Don Driscoll
(510-834-4500), has filed suit against Syncronys and a large number
of major retailer defendants: CompUSA, the QVC Network, Wal-Mart
(owners of Sam's Clubs), Tiger Direct, and Ingram Micro, on behalf of
a class composed of customer purchasers of SoftRAM95 on November 1,
under California's private "FTC" act. Interestingly, Driscoll also
does homeopathy cases.
Driscoll has a web page solicitation: "Giving Vaporware a Bad
A copy of the complaint
(January 2, 1996) is available here.
- The case of Tiger Direct
is particularly interesting.
As of January 5, 1996, Tiger Direct was still selling
SoftRAM (1-800-395-TIGER, item #S97-1100, $34.99, or $129.99 bundled
with Windows 95); however, on January 9 I received a call from a
TigerDirect salesman asking me to return the product to them.
Tiger has made claims for SoftRAM apart from those contained in the
regular Syncronys advertising. For example, the "Tiger Direct"
software catalog says:
"We tried out Softram ourselves - what an incredible difference it
makes! We installed Softram in our Tiger lab 486 after having
beta-tested Windows 95 without it - and found that we could run even
more applications, and at greater speeds, than with Windows 95
alone.... Rick Catarineau, who heads up our lab, called it 'One of
the most effective - and cost-effective - solutions to the
memory-gobbling demands of today's most sizzling 32-bit applications.
I'd recommend Softram to anyone, hands down.'"
- The financial side of the Syncronys SoftRAM story was
first picked up by the New York Times: Floyd Norris, "A Great
Wall St. Success Story Unravels," New York Times, October 10,
1995. A copy of the article was posted to the newsgroup
documents on Syncronys (US Securities and Exchange Commission)
Also see my rough notes on the
financial history of Syncronys Softcorp.
- XXCAL Testing
Laboratories press release (November 29, 1995) to "clarify
various issues concering its role in the testing of SoftRAM95." The
copy here was provided with permission to reprint by Troy Sukert of
XXCAL. The clarification states:
"In the case of SoftRAM95, XXCAL's conclusion of utility is
valid only within the context of the observed test results upon
specific test configurations.... The conclusion reached was based
upon specific test configurations as proffered by Syncronys for use
in testing.... Syncronys specified the desired 8MB physical
RAM and 4MB temporary swap file configurations under which observed
results led to a conclusion of substantial utility."
In other words, the XXCAL testing, the results of which Syncronys has been
so fond of referring to in its press releases, was
based entirely on test configurations created by Syncronys.
- Analysis of disassembled
code in SOFTRAM1.386: "Softram1.386 is virtually identical to
pagefile.386 from the Windows 3.1 DDK."
- Analysis of disassembled code in
SOFTRAM2.386: "Softram2.386 is virtually identical to
pageswap.386 from the Windows 3.1 DDK."
- Detailed comparison of
code in SR-START.EXE with copyrighted code from PC
- Some interesting tidbits about
- Well-disguised compression code?
- SoftRAM version 1.03
- The XXCAL report
- Growing the swap file
- In a press release dated December 11, Syncronys Softcorp is
still claiming that "SoftRAM is an innovative software product
that effectively doubles the amount of memory available to Windows
applications. Unique among memory products, SoftRAM uses proprietary
technology that actually enhances physical RAM." According to
Syncronys CEO Rainer Poertner, "XXCAL Labs, an internationally
recognized software testing lab, also said that SoftRAM effectively
doubles RAM for the configurations it tested." It is interesting
to contrast this statement with the "clarification"
issued by XXCAL on November 29.
Syncronys's December 11 press release also states that SoftRAM "was rated
first in a review of its SoftRAM product against all
competitors in the November issue of PC Today, a prestigious national
computer publication. Another competitor, RAM Doubler, received the lowest
rating with PC Today stating that RAM Doubler has no interface and
failed to open key test applications."
The Syncronys press release also notes that "For the fourth time,
SoftRAM was ranked number one on PC Magazine's Top Retail Software
chart. The listing appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of PC Magazine. In
its most recent issue, SoftRAM's shipment volume ranked ahead of
Netscape Navigator and WordPerfect 6.1. The list is compiled by
Unfortunately, the press release doesn't mention something else
that's appeared recently in PC Magazine: the magazine's testing labs (which actually are prestigious) found
no evidence that SoftRAM performs RAM compression under either
Windows 95 or 3.1.
Nor does Syncronys mention that Windows Sources magazine
has retracted the favorable review it originally
Now, another magazine -- PC Novice -- appears to be backing
away from SoftRAM. Many shrinkwrapped SoftRAM boxes on store shelves
have a sticker with a quotation from PC Novice, hailing
SoftRAM as the "real RAM doubler for Windows." But now, in the January 1996
issue of PC Novice, Alan Phelps asks the question "Fake RAM:
Does it Fulfill Real RAM Promises?," and answers NO. Without getting
into the merits of "Fake RAM" products in general, it's
certainly interesting to see what PC Novice says of
PC Today (whose favorable review Syncronys holds up) and PC
Novice (whose initial favorable review appears on the SoftRAM box,
but which now can't find any evidence that SoftRAM does
anything) are published by the same company, Peed Corporation. Its
publications at times appear somewhat more advertiser-driven that
most computer publications.
- "A computer limping along on 4MB of RAM won't automatically operate
at 8MB by installing SoftRAM95. In fact, the program didn't appear
to make much difference whatsoever on the computers we tested."
- "The SoftRAM95-equipped machine did no better than the machine
What's next, a favorable review on Bunting's Window? (In case
you haven't seen this, Bunting's Window is an "advertorial"
featured by United Airlines.)
- Speaking of Bunting's Window,
a direct-mail piece sent
out by a company called DataCal (Brent Payne, president;
1-800-521-8769; fax 602-545-8090) includes many wonderful claims for
SoftRAM, and some "rave reviews" -- including one from Mark Bunting
of Bunting's Window: "Here is one of the greatest new products
I have seen in a long time. Whether you use a desktop PC or a
notebook computer, you're gonna love SoftRAM".
- Continuing with the "Bunting's World" theme, a reader of this
page sent in an "article" he typed in from "Bunting's World" in
the November 1995 issue of United Airlines'
barf-bag mag ("in-flight magazine"), Hemispheres.
Magazine Trends Online (December 1, 1995): "SoftRAM95 Fails PC
Labs Tests, Again":
"On another test, PC Labs used Nu-Mega
Technologies Inc.'s Soft-Ice for Windows to analyze SoftRAM95 as it
was executing. The test found no evidence that SoftRAM95 did
anything to affect system resources."
Windows Sources retraction/correction to its initial favorable
review of SoftRAM95. In its November 1995 issue, Windows
Sources reviewed SoftRAM95: "This one-trick pony works as
advertised." Now the magazine has issued this correction:
"After further discussion with PC Magazine Labs, we have
concluded that the results of our SoftRAM testing cited in the
November 1995 issue were aberrant and we cannot directly attribute
them to any specific activity taken by the product."
Also see the
November 7 online discussion from the Microsoft Network (MSN)
between Syncronys CEO Rainer Poertner, Windows Sources
reviewer Lori Grunin, and PC Magazine Technical Director Larry
- Time magazine (November 27, 1995)
article, "A Trick of Memory?" by Julian Dibbell; reporting by William
"One of the most dazzlingly successful new software companies
faces charges that it is peddling thin air.... if the harshest of these
attacks are true, SoftRAM95 isn't just one more computer product that
fails to live up to its hype; it's a hollow piece of Potemkin programming,
devoid of the advanced, patent-pending compression technology touted in
its packaging. In short, says Mark Russinovich, a University of Oregon
computer scientist, 'the thing is a fraud.'"
Software Testing Labs (NSTL) report on Windows Memory Managers,
November 1995. This report was prepared under contract for
Connectix. In addition to SoftRAM95, the report also discusses
Quarterdeck's MagnaRAM2 product.
PC Magazine special report, "SoftRAM95 Does Not Compress RAM In PC
Magazine Lab Tests" (November 7, 1995); by Larry Seltzer:
"Just-completed PC Magazine Lab tests indicate Syncronys Softcorp's
top-selling SoftRAM95 product, which the company calls a 'RAM
doubling and resource expansion' product, does not compress memory or
increase systems resources under Microsoft Windows 3.x.
"The company, which has received numerous criticisms of the product,
already has stated that SoftRAM95 does not deliver RAM compression
under Windows 95."
- Article on
SoftRAM95 from the great German computer magazine, Magazine fur
computer technik (c't) (October 12, 1995). By Ingo T. Storm. This
was the first in-depth technical expose of SoftRAM.
Update (October 30) to c't article: "SoftRAM is a bluff".
By Ingo T. Storm.
A major in-depth analysis of SoftRAM95 from c't. By Ingo
T. Storm and Christian Persson:
"A software product is being sold a
couple of hundred thousand times. Nevertheless c't lab tests
indicate that it is useless. We therefore found it appropriate to
call it 'Placebo Software'. The distributor sued us. In a summary
proceeding the court decides that the short review lacked sufficient
facts to enable the reader to assess our judgement. Thus we will
now provide more data. We have disassembled the program: it does not
even contain code that would be able to provide the advertised
- Latest Syncronys
(SYCR) stock quote (using the Security APL Quote
- Summary of results from "Double
Scan", a "RAM Doubler" performance/compression analyzer, by Mark
Russinovich and Bryce Cogswell. (Russinovich and Cogswell are
authors of an excellent Dr. Dobb's Journal
article on the Windows 95 file system.)
- "Double Scan": In addition to the
DblScan program (December 15, 1995 version), this zip file also
includes sample output from the analyzer with SoftRAM: "From the
results, it is clear that no compression at all is detected for
SoftRAM, while MagnaRAM, and RAM Doubler compress so well that no
paging to disk is necessary. This of course, leads to dramatic time
savings versus the native and identical to native SoftRAM case."
- "Double Scan" including all source
code (December 15, 1995 version).
- Syncronys Softcorp press release,
October 20, 1995: "Syncronys has, however, indicated that a
problem exists with the Windows 95 version, the net result of which
is that RAM compression is not being delivered to the operating
system." (A month later, Syncronys CEO Rainer Portner added the
phrase "on a consistent basis.")
- Syncronys press release,
November 13: XXCAL says that "SoftRAM95 effectively doubles
system RAM." Dataquest says most SoftRAM users are happy with the product.
- Yes, most SnakeOil users prefer SnakeOil 2-to-1 over the other
the RAM doubler that doesn't" from c|net (November 4, 1995) by Tinoo
- Associated Press wire story, November 2, 1995: "Microsoft has
quietly removed SoftRAM95 from its list of companies licensed to
carry the Windows 95 logo on their products, a company spokeswoman
said Wednesday in answer to a query.... The president of the Software
Council of Southern California, Bill Manassero, was surprised to hear
the criticism. He said he had tried SoftRAM's product for Windows
3.1 and it freed up memory. 'What do you say to all of the reviewers
out there who say this is the greatest thing since sliced bread?' he
asked." What indeed.
- SoftRAM archives page: includes some
rough notes on the
financial history of Syncronys Softcorp.
The digits.com Web-Counter
claims that this page has been accessed times since February 4, 1996.
NOTE: I have done some paid consulting for Connectix, whose
RAM Doubler product competes directly with SoftRAM.
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