IT Policies

10 IT relics I really miss

Do you remember the days of BBSes and shareware subscriptions, magazines full of BASIC code for your CoCo, and true desktop cases? Take a techie stroll down memory lane.

A few days ago, I was looking for something in my attic and came across some seriously outdated computer parts. The discovery made me feel a bit nostalgic and made me realize that some IT relics hold a special place in my heart. Here are a few examples.

1: Computer magazines with source code

Out of everything on this list, what I miss more than anything else are the old computer magazines that were full of BASIC code. These types of magazines were a staple of the 80s, and as a kid I spent countless hours entering source code from magazines into my Radio Shack Color Computer. Of course, source code magazines were also available for other machines at the time, such as the Commodore 64, the Amiga, and the PC.

2: Computer stores

I'm assuming that computer stores probably still exist, but there aren't any where I live. Ten years ago, it was easy to walk into a computer store and purchase a high-end video card, a new system board, or a custom case. Today if I want anything beyond the basics, I have to order it off the Internet. While there is something to be said for shopping online, it doesn't give you the instant gratification you get from shopping in a store.

3: True desktop cases

Many years ago, most of the computers that were being sold used desktop cases, as opposed to the tower cases that seem to dominate the PC industry today. Tower cases are nice, and that they don't take up room on your desktop. But in some ways, I miss the old desktop cases. They made it easy to insert removable media and check to see whether your hard disk light was on. Sure, you can do these things with a tower case. But oftentimes, the tower is tucked away under a desk and isn't so easy to reach.

4: Durable keyboards and mice

Maybe it's just me, but most of the mice and keyboards I come across these days just seem flimsy. Whatever happened to quality? I used to like the old IBM keyboards because they weighed about as much as a brick, and the keys were being enough to actually type on. The keyboards felt solid and unlike today's keyboards, they were hard to wear out.

5: In-person help desk visits

Most of the help desk software on the market today allows for remote connectivity. This goes a long way toward making the help desk more productive because the technicians don't have to take the time to physically travel to the user who is having the problem.

Back in the early 90s, I worked as a help desk technician for a large company. At the time, the help desk techs had to make in-person visits to the users who were having problems. I got to know everyone at the company very well. And even though I haven't worked there for almost 18 years, I am still in close contact with a number of those users today. In fact, I met my wife when she made a call to the help desk.

6: Immersive gaming

I have to admit that I'm not a huge gamer, but most of the PC gamers I do know use high-end laptops. While you can't argue with the portability of a laptop, sometimes bigger is better. Back in the mid-90s, for example, my cousin and I used to spend a lot of time playing Wing Commander on a 90-inch projection screen. I also had some huge surround-sound speakers connected to my PC through a 400-watt amplifier. It made for an awesome immersive gaming experience. When you blew up an enemy spaceship, the entire room would shake. It's possible to build a similar setup today, but I don't know anyone who is actually doing it, and large speakers are becoming more and more difficult to find.

7: BBSes

Another relic of the 80s and 90s that I kind of miss are BBSes. For those who have never heard of a BBS, it was similar to a Web site. The difference was that you had to dial directly into the BBS. You couldn't get there by opening a Web browser and entering a URL.

The thing that made BBSes so cool was that there were relatively few people online back then. Most of the BBSes I used were made up of tight-knit communities where everyone online knew each other.

8: Shareware subscriptions

I also miss shareware subscriptions. The idea was that for about 10 dollars a year, you would get a disk or CD in the mail each month containing a variety of shareware programs. Some of the software on the disk was really useful, and some of it was garbage. Even so, the subscriptions were fun because when you did find something good, the software license allowed you to make copies for your friends.

9: Software that didn't have to be installed

Today, most software that is available for purchase is designed to be installed on a computer's hard disk, but that wasn't always the case. There was a time when most software ran from removable media. The nice thing about that type of software was that you never had to worry about running out of hard disk space or about the new software conflicting with something that was already on your system. There was also the portability factor. I can fondly remember taking disks containing my favorite games to friends' houses to play on their computers.

Of course, some software is still portable -- and in some ways, portability seems to be making a comeback. Windows 8, for example, can be installed to a bootable USB flash drive.

10: Easily modifiable code

Finally, I miss applications that were based on easily modifiable code. In the 80s, most of the software that was available for the Radio Shack Color Computer and for the Commodore 64 was written in a way that made it possible for amateur programmers to make modifications. For example, when I was a kid, I once modified a flight simulator in a way that equipped a Cessna with missiles.

More nostalgia?

Are there any IT relics you remember fondly? Or are you happy to put all the archaic tech behind you? Share your memories with fellow TechRepublic members.

About

Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.

426 comments
SheltonTech
SheltonTech

Point #1 really hit me.  I remember using Compute! magazine, to type in the programs - I had a CoCo II (short for TRS-80 Color Computer II) with the Extended BASIC chip and 64k RAM installed.  Now Compute! rarely had CoCo programs in it, but Extended BASIC and IBM Advanced BASIC were very similar, and I used to spend days typing in programs from the IBM listing, making syntax corrections along the way, to convert them to working on the CoCo.  So satisfying to get them working! 


Then point #4 - I really miss the Keytronic 9001 keyboard I had on my first 286 system - with 12 function keys along the top, AND 12 programmable ones on the left side (I had these programmed for common commands, ie: "Format A:/s/u"


rmartin60
rmartin60

I was the sysop of South Texas BBS, I had three RBBS nodes running an an IBM-PC. Used an AST 6-pak expanded memory card, and to get three nodes was running QEMM, and internal modem and two external modems. 


That PC was probably the fastest PC made, but I went and took the RAM off the motherboard and soldered the fastest chips I could buy, same with that AST card, it had the fastest chips made at the time. A friend who had just bought a Compaq 386 was bragging about how fast it was, but was shamed when we did a comparison test and my PC blew his 386 out in math functions. Of course I had an 8087 math chip installed but he didn't have the 387 so he was slower.


I doubt anybody remembers my old BBS, South Texas BBS, but if they had anything to do with computers then they would have downloaded one of the most downloaded files around, HDInfo, a listing of thousands of hard drives, their configurations, sizes, and controller types.


The sad thing was that the internet killed the BBS. I did try to bring my BBS back but I could not get RBBS to work on the internet.

Also why is it that of all the articles on older machines that somehow the Panasonic portable is never mentioned? It was similar to a Compaq portable, but it had a printer. I had two of them and they were indestructible.

Julees
Julees

Golly, I remember the BBS.   I enjoyed the K9 Astronomy Echo.   It was there that I met my keypal of 30 yrs now.   I'm in New Zealand in the South Pacific, and he is in Virginia US.   When the WWW arrived we were unsure wether we wanted to swap to it :-)   In the end we had to, because all the hubs closed down.   The BBS hubs were free, and kind keeks used to operate them.   We dialed up on our fax modems.   Our conversations were Courier txt only.   I visitied my Keypal in the US 6 years ago - it has been an enduring friendship.

erri.six
erri.six

I remember much of the commentary on this article from first-hand experience. I also was the sysop of Emergency BBS, coming to you from Chicago, IL.  In particular, I remember trying to connect multiple modems to a "screaming 286," which was running my Galacticom BBS software. WOW!  Long time ago, and far, far away <g>.

 Thanks for the article and the memories.  -- Clark Staten, later webmaster of Emergency.com

Garden Gnome
Garden Gnome

Solder! The first three computers I built, I soldered individual components onto PCBs. Two SWTPCo 6800s which belonged to my then employer: the Polytechnic of North London, and the third was the property of the North London Hobby Computer Club. That last was an 1802 COSMAC Elf2. I still have that one, but am going to donate it to the National Computer Museum http://www.tnmoc.org/ And what about wire wrap? And computer clubs, for that matter?

pgit
pgit

Has anyone mentioned expanded memory yet? You had to swap things in and out of it into the 1 MB system RAM. IIRC it was "translated" rather than "mapped" as extended memory is to this day. It was expensive in both $$ and processing overhead, but a lot cheaper than the newfangled 80386.

johnd126
johnd126

I paid $500 for 16MB (that's 16 MEGAbytes) of RAM at one point so I could try this new operating system Microsoft was putting out called 'Windows NT'.

jeroldo
jeroldo

Yep, I know cuz I paid $440 for a used 40 MB HD. Quality is up and price is down!!

Otto Roth
Otto Roth

This might be Urban Legend - I doubt if it will feature in Snopes BUT.... At the time that ram chips were developing 4k, 8k, 16k, etc a statement was made by one of the leading manufacturers about the difficulty of ever making a 64k chip followed by a 64k (might have been another k thought impossible at the time) actually being released and if one broke open the chip, there was a heart with a bite out of it (eat your heart out) etched in the chip wafer! There were actually hidden(?) graphics in many chips at one time! :)

Otto Roth
Otto Roth

Maximum CoCo Ram was initially 32kB and the chips were marked A or B and there was a jumper on the motherboard that you had to set for A or B! It turned out that the chips were 64kB chips but due to manufacturing problems they normally only had 32kb "Certified" - hence the A or B! As production became more reliable, one could plug in a full (set of 8 or was it nine for parity?) 64kB chip and leave the jumper off and.... Voila!! you had 64kB of RAM!!! GREAT STUFF!!! The Future has Arrived!!!

patonplace
patonplace

I live in an area that has multiple computer stores that sell multiple versions of 'real' computer cases and video cards and RAM and storage devices. Building my own systems is always more satisfying and less aggravating than trying to customize a Dell or HP. Dial up BBS are a hassle. There are still tight groups of loners around to converse with on-line if necessary. There's still plenty of software that I run off of a USB drive with no install. I do very much miss typing in pages of source code, but not saving to cassette. There are some good, free, on-line tutorials for python and other languages that are very satisfying, though, and it's a rewarding learning experience. Today's keyboards kind of suck, but at lest they're cheap and abundant. Can't beat the true clicky keys for feel and durability. What I miss most about the 80's computer experience is the absolute lack of bloatware that came with those machines or the paid or 'free' software.

sir.ptl
sir.ptl

One of the guys who worked for me way back then bought a "Trash 80" and loaned it to me for the week-end. It was fun to play with. My first computer though was a Compaq "Portable". It was about the same size and weight as a portable sewing machine, and I actually carried it on planes. I was later able to buy a used 20MB hard drive. It squeaked, but I loved it. I paid $100.00 for it and when I first got it I remember thinking, "Man I can store the world on this thing!"

Sphincter_Muscle
Sphincter_Muscle

I remember the CoCo computer's external disk drive. The whiring, clicking and grinding. The other thing I miss was upgrading my Tandy 1000 EX computer. I unsoldered the 8088 processor, and installed an NEC V20 chip. It went from an 8 megahert workhorse to a 12 MEGAHERTZ POWERSE. LOLOLOL. I also bought an upgrade memory card. that upgraded it to 640k of memory and installed an external 20 megabyte hard drive. with my 640x480 CGA monitor, I was BIG CITY for a few months... the the next series came out. THE 286.

coldbrew
coldbrew

The first pc I ever had was "Frankensteined" together. A mother board from here, a case from there, a floppy from a friend, etc. I miss building my own pc's. Sure you can still do it today, but it isn't quite the same.

FortBragg_Surfgoddess
FortBragg_Surfgoddess

Ommni Magazine, first to go on line, and first to die on line... Pordigy, and the 28.8 modem... oh yeah! Getting my Launch Magazine CD-ROM in the mail!!!! Oh yeah back in the day in LA!!!

a1abhishek
a1abhishek

In Dallas, we've got Fry's, Microcenter, the original CompUSA (I believe is still here), and a mom and pop place or 2.

synapseE
synapseE

The classic LAN party. My high school had a lab of brand new 166mhz DIGITAL (brand name) computers. We played Starcraft almost everyday after school for a year or two. Download the bnet updates on the school's T1. copy them to a ZIP disk. take home & install. Why wait hours for 100mb when the sneaker net was in full force. My first computer, a 286 with 4mb ram, had an 86mb double-5.25 HDD. I hooked up a paralled ZIP drive, and it was tons faster, and more space. Walnut Creek.. ordering bootable! CD's of slackware, redhat, and freeBSD. I can safely say that I was the first kid on my street to "rip mp3's". My friends were like.. "what, you copy the cd to the computer, and it plays from a file? Then you keep files on a ZIP disk, and it holds HOW MANY CD's?!" When WinAMP really did whip the llama's ass. Then the Win98 script kiddy toys. WinNUKE anyone?? Ahhh memories, back when new hardware was fun because it was a huge noticable improvement! 33.6 to 56k upgrade. Win 98 upgrade on Win95 OSR2. USB Support!! PC Cards/PCMCIA for CF, Modems, x-jack, k-flex, v.90, etc. When ISDN was something to want. CD-R drives were parallel, and took like an hour to write a disc. And when NES/SNES ROM's were awesome because I had a game pad hooked to the 15-pin game port on the soundcard. And an 8 port 10baseT hub was something to have.. because while it was expensive, it did the job. And PC Anywhere for your poor friend without a dialup account

iheatseekeri
iheatseekeri

I had a Commodore 64. There was a computer store that would rent games for 3 days at a time (and if we rented on a Thursday night, we had an extra day to bring it back!) We would rent a game that had some type of code wheel or code book. For the youngin's here, in order to play the game, at some point in the loading process, you needed to type a code found only by matching up symbols or finding the right passage in a book before you could continue, otherwise the game didn't load (Look to "Pool of Radiance" or "Bards Tale" or "Zak McCracken"). The best part of renting the game was copying the program and then spending the rest of the weekend trying to copy the wheel (only time we ever really used paper plates) or finding a way to copy a huge sheet of black text on dark brown paper to get the codes.

kennelucas
kennelucas

During my college days I remember having a Tandy TRS computer sitting across the room. I would turn the room lights off and enjoy the computer's soft glimmer casting shadows on the wall. Of course, it also reminded me I had a paper due. :-)

wendygoerl
wendygoerl

Actually, desktop cases are making a comeback. Guess they realize it's easier to plug in a flashdrive or headphones in at desk level instead of bending down to get at an under-desk tower. I, for one, never understood the attraction of towers: I didn't have room for one under my desk, and I had to pile a bunch of books under my monitor to get it to a proper height (come to think of it, even with the desktop case, it's a little low, but I don't need as many books.)

VicDemo
VicDemo

Although I'm sure you've heard of this I had to reply: IBM Model M keyboards are still available through private sellers such as on EBay. I use them all the time as I simply prefer the feel/sound of using them. I even found one in a furniture store being used as a display "prop"; I traded a used "flimsy" keyboard for it.

Charlie_pop
Charlie_pop

My first computer was built from an article in a magazine based on the RCA Cosmac 1802 microprocessor. Code was input using switches it input hex code. First code execution was to flash a red LED.

ma7314
ma7314

I first learned how to do everything on an 8088 and knew the DOS commands by heart. When the first Windows came around I hated it so I would just bring up a DOS prompt and go to town. You can still do some DOS commands like that today but they are very limited.

myangeldust
myangeldust

So I was thinking if someone had a security system installed with remote access it would be open for anyone else to hack into it, perhaps disable it or view through its cameras. Then I thought of routing a secondary network through the house but not connected to the Internet or the home's regular network as an alternative. This secondary net would be tied to a modem and could be accessed using an app to dial into it to access it similar to RDP. Is there still a way to remote computer via dial-up? Has anyone tried this? How could this be made to work?

myangeldust
myangeldust

Dude, argh! It's like those chain letters from baby-boomers waxing nostalgic about some those things they actually hated... and lots we didn't even know existed. What's a source code magazine? I would like to replace the author's #10 with: 10. Computer Magazines on paper - Remember those times when magazines were printed on paper and because the process of printing was relatively costly only the best articles made their way to us? Remember those days of informative articles, do ya?

LeSpot
LeSpot

Remember when Ward Christenson's "handshake" code was first published? I spent a couple of months coding it in and then another month compiling and debugging it so that I could connect with another computer. First "modem" was a converted TTY machine that had rubber cups that you put the telephone handset in.....gee, does anyone even remember telephone handsets? It ran at about 105 baud. You could actually see the little green letters forming on the screen. My first hard drive was about as big as a washing machine and held 10MB. I thought at the time that I would NEVER fill that up! Remember CP\M and bank switching when you only had 64MB of memory and the actual program was sectioned so that it was loaded in chunks that would fit in your memory? It was helpful if you were married and already accustomed to waiting. Sorry if that sounds sexist but I'm 80 years old.....I'm allowed. I remember fondly when I brought my first "real computer, not something I cobbled together my self. It was a TRASH 80. Remember those? I remember when I first went on-line as a hub.......and waited (not so) patently for my first call after getting listed in a computer magazine. I waited for two weeks!

Worth2Cents
Worth2Cents

Who remembers getting your system put all back together, only to drop that one, stupid screw down inside the case? Reaching down in the case only meant you would shread your fingers on the sharp contacts and solder on the riser boards, unless you were willing to unplug half-a-dozen ribbons, remove the harddrive, take out the power supply, and unscrew 2 to 3 of the add-on cards. SHOOT--It rolled between the case and the motherboard. Of course, if I could just remember to buy insulated needle-nose pliers the next time I go to the computer store, I could avoid this hassle.

mugugaibu
mugugaibu

Great article Brien. I had a total moment of nostalgia reading it. My first computer was a TI994a, then the Tandy Coco 2. Couldn't count the hours I spent typing in code from magazines, then modifying it to make it to my liking. BBSes were awesome. I had the chance to CoSysOp on a few, oh the power. Haha. Speaking of portability... We used to use the original 8 bit SoundBlaster hooked up to a stereo to record music into .VOC format and store on disks to take to friends places. We didn't have MP3, or even WAV yet. Immersive gaming is a thing of the past. Although I didn't have the huge TV, I had a 19" CRT and a 400 watt stereo. X-Com used to scare the crap out of me when the aliens would pop out of the darkness and take shots at my team. And those Quest games by Sierra where you had to learn to spell everything properly or your actions would fail. Thanks to Ken and Roberta Williams for teaching me to spell.

WLaddR
WLaddR

I started out with an AppleII+, typing in Basic code from several Apple II magazines and saving to the cassette deck I'd high-jacked from my son. Then I'd spend hours trouble-shooting both my and the magazines mistakes. Was a charter member of AOL which started out as an Apple only BBS on a 300 baud modem. It was long distance so I'd give myself a closely monitored 2 hours a month.

rkhoury
rkhoury

I miss the fact I didn't have to reboot a dumb terminal. My programs worked the same on all of them (IBM 5250). And yes, the great IBM keyboards, one reason the were so good was they used to make typewriters.

lassiter12
lassiter12

Anybody remember the Commodore Vic 20? About 1981 I wanted to check out the new PC craze without spending much money in case I didn't relate. So I bought the Vic with 2K RAM! Of course you could plug in cassettes with additional memory and programs. I learned DOS and a little machine code on that thing, and even created an Executive Decision Maker program that worked pretty well. In 85 I upgraded to the SX1000, and it's been onward and upward every since! Oh - and I once told my son I thought a 40K hard drive would be plenty. He's never let me forget that one.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Lord, I remember that crap. Now I'm going to have nightmares!

rjeuch
rjeuch

You thought you paid a lot. I paid $3,900 for 4MB at the height of the stupid embargo.

myangeldust
myangeldust

I remember telecoms saying speeds higher than 56k were not possible because telephone wires couldn't handle it. I wonder if they actually believed that or was it used to create this tiered system of very slow Internet plans we currently "enjoy".

JCitizen
JCitizen

4.7Mhz was smokin'!! But then the work it was doing compared to human effort WAS smokin'!! I can't remember the piddly little RAM it had, but no hard drive, and the "new and improved" micro floppy! WOW! 1.44 Mbs of storage!!! It wasn't gonna get any better'n that! Was it? HA! :^0

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

fired up and going, great fun - even do it with Diablo II LOD

Suresh Mukhi
Suresh Mukhi

It took me a LONG time to let go of those commands even when my OS was already Windows 98. I would still go to the command prompt, CD to the directory ( that's what they were called then ) where my files were, and use COPY *.xyz a: from there or vice versa.

synapseE
synapseE

We used it back in the last century.. with Win98. I would call a friend that lived down the road. He'd set his computer to answer the next call on the software, then it would remote desktop. This was dial-up on 33.6 modems, before 56k. You could transfer files and all sorts of cool stuff. We would play 2 player games like chess, alternating turns and sharing the mouse pointer. This was back when AOL charged by the hour, or shortly after. idk, never used aol except for the free floppy disks.

Dev$Null
Dev$Null

Terminals that I have used, loved and hated. The Beehive, HP 2647, Dec VT100/220 and the biggest boat anchor of them all the IBM 3270 Terminal (You could heat a small apartment and dry your wet sweat socks at the same time with one). In fact one of the biggest uses of the original IBM PCXT in large corporations was to run 3270/3279 and HP 26XX terminal emulation because it was 1/2 the price, 1/2 the weight of a real 3270/3279 and about same the cost of a real HP terminal.

WxManII
WxManII

I still have mine. Purchased new in 1982, I think... along with a tape drive for about $350. It was WAY cooler than the Timex ZX81 because it had color and sound - and a REAL keyboard!

pgit
pgit

I used to work with a fellow who has a sense of humor that spans the gamut, he comes up with the perfect crack in every circumstance, it seems effortless. He had a customer that he swore was trying to find some way to sue my coworker for screwing up his computer, eg losing his data. The guy would haul the computer to the shop 2-3 time a month complaining about something, and warning us he had very important data! We normally didn't look at people's data but this guy was always threatening us. We were stunned, he only had a dozen or so documents, but all of them were threats to various businesses that he was going to sue them! My buddy has a good sense of people, I don't doubt he was right, the guy was probably stumping for a lawsuit. I set this up so as not to indict my friend for professional malpractice, but this day when the fellow showed up my friend explained how he "fixed" the guy's computer: "...you had a problem with your REM lines again." I of course waited for the guy to leave before I asked. My buddy told the guy that there were these special lines in autoexec.bat that were critical for proper operation of the machine, that all began with the "REM command." The guy, in an effort to try to "safely" break his computer for another shot at a lawsuit would tinker with autoexec, altering or removing one or more of those ever-important "REM lines." I don't know how long this went on, but the guy did pay the full shop rate (one hour minimum) every time. I saw him at least 3 times during my stint in that shop. I remember jabbing newbies with the "REM lines" joke, but they'd get it pretty much right away and we'd have a modest laugh over it. But this guy was a major rube, I suppose he got what he deserved.

jsargent
jsargent

When they said that they forgot that they had already twisted the copper pairs.

JCitizen
JCitizen

we were friends - I just think his frustration boiled over when I wasn't on station. He and all other training NCO's were replaced by administrator computers - The full time AGR is merciless to wasting tax payer dollars, it only took one person and some good PC software to replace all other active personnel on station. Cest la vie! :D

pgit
pgit

Was this guy a threat to flesh and blood, too? I've dealt with some pissed off people before but never to the point of physical damage!

JCitizen
JCitizen

I once had an NCOIC, that I suspect was jealous of my PC, skills put a combat boot through my laptop keyboard, and declared it an "accident"! Yeah right! ;) In hind sight, I guess I can't blame him really - when I toured out - I declared that the PC had replaced me - and I was right - it replaced him too! HA!

greatnewproducts
greatnewproducts

I was up for a promotion, and my boss went and hired a guy younger than me, he had lots of mainframe experience, but had NO PC or Microcomputer background at ALL!! My boss told him to modify a particular PC for a specific software package, and first he had to learn how to use the EDIT program, then he "butchered" the Autoexec.bat, after taking forever trying, my boss finally told me "could you please go help him" I was so MAD, this guy that was earning at least twice more than me, had no idea how to EDIT a batch file! It came up to be that he had removed a CLS line, and now the batch file would show all the lines and stay on the screen or something, All I had to do was write the CLS line and add a couple of REMs at the beginning of a couple of lines. For some reason he did not like those REM statements, or maybe someone told him to remove the REMs and maybe he thought just removing the word will do?? Another time I got called to a location where he had totally disabled a processing plant!! He was trying to make room for more software on the hard drive, and he removed the folder(directory) that contained the Ethernet drivers, because he claimed he did not know what it was for. The PC hang, and then on restart(reboot) all kind of errors came up and the PC could not connect to the network to control the plant... GEEZZZ!! I ran the UNDELETE command and restored the folder... Back in business. This guy was dangerous, but was my boss's pet... go figure!