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Young Entrepreneur Keeps Old Software Programs Alive With 'OldVersion.com'

Ad revenues for website he founded at age 12 have covered Alex Levine's UB tuition

Release Date: June 20, 2011

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UB student Alexander Levine is funding his university tuition with revenues from an online entrepreneurial venture.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- At the age of 10, while other children fretted over how they'd fit in at middle school, Alexander Levine was trying to start an online business.

He created three or four websites, including one that offered Web design services and another that reviewed free Internet service providers. Then he launched the site that would fund his college education: OldVersion.com, http://oldversion.com, a clearinghouse for old versions of computer software.

Levine is now a senior at the University at Buffalo, but the idea for OldVersion.com came to him in 2001 when he was just 11 years old.

He and his father were using Napster to download Russian music. When they tried to upgrade to a newer version of the file sharing service, their computer crashed. After scouring the Web for about 45 minutes, Levine managed to locate the old version of Napster -- the one they had been using.

He found the software only by luck, on an outdated website whose owner had clearly stopped updating content some time before.

That's when it struck him: If he was having this problem, maybe others were experiencing it, too. Soon afterwards, at age 12, he registered OldVersion.com with partner Igor Dolgalev, who left the project a few years later.

Today, 10 years later, users download between 10,000 to 15,000 copies of software a day from the OldVersion website. As its name implies, the site offers old versions of nearly 300 programs, including LimeWire, AOL Instant Messenger, Opera, Acrobat Reader, RealPlayer and, of course, Napster.

Levine says some people use the service because their computers don't support new versions of software, while others simply prefer the old versions.

The site's success has made Levine into an entrepreneur. Advertising revenue has paid for his education at UB, and he has ideas for other software-related startups he would like to launch after he graduates in May.

"I just love the process of creating something," said Levine, who has taken several entrepreneurship courses at UB's Millard Fillmore College.

"When I first started the site, it was about making some money," he says, "but now I love the process of creating. I love the hustle of starting a business."

Levine, the son of economists who emigrated from St. Petersburg, Russia in 1995 to Liverpool, N.Y., a suburb of Syracuse, created his own major at UB: "Theatre Anthropology" with a focus on the Russian experience. He studies how different cultures approach theater, with an emphasis on his native Russia, where he studied for a semester.

While theater and business may seem to have little in common, Levine said for him, "It's all connected."

He explains that studying and observing theater has enabled him to become a more confident public speaker -- a useful quality for an entrepreneur. In addition, he says that learning about different cultures and spending time overseas taught him that companies will be more likely to succeed if they respect the unique cultures of the markets they hope to enter.

This June, Levine and his British business partner Travis Dane celebrated the 10th anniversary of OldVersion.com with a redesign of the site.

The new look expanded the site to include abandonware games such as versions of Mortal Kombat, Superfrog and Lemmings. Abandonware is a term used to describe discontinued products for which no product support is available or whose copyright ownership may be unclear for various reasons.

Another new OldVersion feature: Visitors who want to upload software can now fill out an easy-to-use form and win points for prizes by providing the site with clean files and accurate information. Levine screens all uploaded software for viruses on multiple operating systems, by the way, before releasing the software to the public.

Since the redesign, OldVersion.com receives about 100 new registrations per day. To further increase the site's reach, Levine hopes to translate it into several languages.

"I'm really excited to work on the new phase of OldVersion.com," Levine says, noting the irony of OldVersion.com launching something "new." He points out, however, that users whose browsers don't support the new site will automatically be redirected to the old one.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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Charlotte Hsu
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