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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A few days ago, I was looking for something in my attic and came across some seriously outdated computer parts.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.

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