19 votes

Why use old computers and operating systems?

23 comments

  1. [9]
    Gatonegro
    (edited )
    Link
    I like the (comparative) simplicity of the user experience with old systems. Depending on how far back you go, it's quite possible that multitasking wasn't even a thing, so all that's left is for...

    I like the (comparative) simplicity of the user experience with old systems. Depending on how far back you go, it's quite possible that multitasking wasn't even a thing, so all that's left is for you to focus on the one task that's taking place in front of you.

    I noticed this particulary when writing my thesis: working on my main PC, I usually had music going in the background, a bunch of references on one monitor, my main document on the other, plus a handful of tabs on Firefox, while having conversations with friends on Discord. As an experiment, I exported and copied my main document over to my old Compaq DeskPro, and loaded it into WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS. Left my phone out of reach on purpose. I grabbed one of my music CDs and played it on the PC, because I've never been able to go without music for long.

    It was a surreal feeling. And the weirdest thing was realising that, growing up, that was basically how I did things. I wasn't writing documents when WP 5 was around, but even up until the mid 2000s, I didn't have all these things fighting for my attention all the damn time. I had dial-up Internet, and the only things my phone was capable of doing were making calls and sending texts. It's bizarre to think that an environment like that one, where you can actually focus on a task, is so at odds with how things are these days. You're expected to be available everywhere, all the time, for everyone. Don't want to get into "kids these days" territory, but it's also vaguely horrifying that kids these days probably won't get to experience something like that.

    I think the "user experience" side of old systems is something worth preserving. It's not something that can be emulated, especially not in this thoroughly pedestrian dystopia we're living in. This comment is a bit all over the place, but I've been having a lot of related thoughts lately so my brain is somewhat scattered at the moment (:

    17 votes
    1. [5]
      vord
      Link Parent
      There's a reason that vinyl is one of the best possible ways to listen to music, when viewed through that same lens. It's incredibly tactile, moreso than any other home listening method. Pulling...

      There's a reason that vinyl is one of the best possible ways to listen to music, when viewed through that same lens.

      It's incredibly tactile, moreso than any other home listening method. Pulling the record from the collection, removing from the sleeve, placing on a turntable, setting the needle. Cleaning them, flipping through them to find what to listen to. Looking at the art...good vinyl album art puts all others to shame. Non-portability and flipping sides is a feature that encourages you to stay put and listen. Since each use of the record damages it ever so slightly, no two well-played record will be precisely alike. They're high fidelity, and their physical limitations prevented the ever-escaliting loudness wars that decimated music mastering through the 90's and beyond when that restriction went away.

      And this isn't just nostalgia talking. My only experience as a child with records was a busted toy one with 2-3 horrible ones. I mostly grew up on radio, cassette, cd and digital. I didn't listen to a high quality record setup until over a decade after Napster died. It was like a rebirth of how to listen to music.

      To this day, I still pick up new details in songs I've listened to thousands of times when I sit down and listen with records. Not even with flac on the same setup. Because records increase that burden to change tracks or albums, and the tactile habits that form encourage that deep listening.

      12 votes
      1. [4]
        Gatonegro
        Link Parent
        I was actually telling something similar to a friend a while back. I also grew up with cassettes and radio, but my father had a fairly nice vinyl record collection and a well maintained hi-fi...

        I was actually telling something similar to a friend a while back. I also grew up with cassettes and radio, but my father had a fairly nice vinyl record collection and a well maintained hi-fi setup that I was allowed to use as long as I was careful.

        I got caught up in the convenience of digital music from the start, and basically ignored my small CD collection as soon as it was technically feasible for me to get music on mp3 format.

        Lately I've gone back to listening on CD, and the experience is basically the same as you described. From deciding which CD you're going to play, getting it out, placing it on the CD player... You commit to that one album for the next 40 or 50 minutes, looking at the liner notes, and credits, or the lyrics if the booklet has them. It's a conscious, deliberate activity. You listen to the album from start to finish, and you can hear it flow from one track to the next.

        I've heard all the arguments in favour of digital media a thousand times, and I was really into it when it started, but I find myself more and more interested in going back to physical media, in no small part because of that experience.

        7 votes
        1. [3]
          edoceo
          Link Parent
          Haha, and Beck with those last tracks that have long silence before some crazy noise. If you "fall asleep" listening, snap back like...wtf!? Oh, music.

          Haha, and Beck with those last tracks that have long silence before some crazy noise. If you "fall asleep" listening, snap back like...wtf!? Oh, music.

          5 votes
          1. vord
            Link Parent
            I think multi-groove records are the coolest music-related artistic use of a recording medium. I'd love a flag in a digital tracks that would randomly jump a song to a random audio stream in the...

            I think multi-groove records are the coolest music-related artistic use of a recording medium.

            I'd love a flag in a digital tracks that would randomly jump a song to a random audio stream in the same file. It'd be an amazing medium for electronic music, especially psytrance artists like Infected Mushroom.

            A psychadelic album which might never play the same way twice, simply by having 50+ track hops throughout.

            If I was a half-decent musician, I'd create a 3-5 minute perfectly looping track that did just that. I'd call it something like 'Infinite possibilities.'

            4 votes
          2. Gatonegro
            Link Parent
            The days of finding surprises at the end of an album. An unexpected hidden song, or a weird noise to freak you the hell out.

            The days of finding surprises at the end of an album. An unexpected hidden song, or a weird noise to freak you the hell out.

            2 votes
    2. [3]
      Akir
      Link Parent
      I can definitely understand that; the one computer I really miss having is my old Tandy 1000HX. Being able to focus on writing without having a bunch of distractions is almost spiritual in nature,...

      I can definitely understand that; the one computer I really miss having is my old Tandy 1000HX. Being able to focus on writing without having a bunch of distractions is almost spiritual in nature, especially when you are using those pleasing clicky keys. Don't need to worry about quotation marks facing the wrong way, fonts, or anything else, and if you misspell something, you're not going to be bothered with it until you actually tell the program to find mistakes (if your program even has that feature).

      That computer was small enough to put away when you don't need it and capable enough to run almost any DOS program that I would have wanted - including a handful of nostalgic childhood games. It's a shame the secondhand market has made it very expensive.

      9 votes
      1. Gatonegro
        Link Parent
        I could've written another thesis in the time I spent messing about with colours on graphs and charts, heading styles, line heights, and other assorted nonsense. Of course, all that time I told...

        Don't need to worry about quotation marks facing the wrong way, fonts, or anything else

        I could've written another thesis in the time I spent messing about with colours on graphs and charts, heading styles, line heights, and other assorted nonsense. Of course, all that time I told myself I was "working". A blue screen with nothing but text on a white, monospace font has almost a zen-like quality in comparison.

        2 votes
      2. SunSpotter
        Link Parent
        If you're willing to do the legwork, it's possible to snag such a system (or a similar one) by searching through Craigslist, Offerup, FB Marketplace, Estatesales.net, or similar sites depending on...

        If you're willing to do the legwork, it's possible to snag such a system (or a similar one) by searching through Craigslist, Offerup, FB Marketplace, Estatesales.net, or similar sites depending on where you are in the world. There's no guarantee you'll get anything dirt cheap, but anyone with experience on those platforms is well aware they can't compete with eBay prices, so it'll be a little cheaper at least. You might have the best luck parting something together through a combination of watching eBay listings, and loose items that show up on Offerup or CL.

        Not sure how much I recommend it in the pandemic, so obviously take precautions and use your best judgement as far as that goes, but it's how I've managed to collect some of the older systems I own.

  2. [6]
    Akir
    Link
    There are tons of HyperCard clones. I remember when I was in elementary school we had access to HyperStudio because they switched to PC and wanted to have that kind of functionality for the students.

    To me, the most glaring example is HyperCard, a revolutionary application for the Macintosh which literally does not exist on modern operating systems.

    There are tons of HyperCard clones. I remember when I was in elementary school we had access to HyperStudio because they switched to PC and wanted to have that kind of functionality for the students.

    6 votes
    1. [5]
      gpl
      Link Parent
      Having never heard of HyperCard and just reading the wikipedia page, I'm a little unclear on what exactly is great about it (at least, to the extent that one might maintain an old system just to...

      Having never heard of HyperCard and just reading the wikipedia page, I'm a little unclear on what exactly is great about it (at least, to the extent that one might maintain an old system just to run it). On the surface it seems kind of similar to Notion? I must be missing something.

      4 votes
      1. joplin
        Link Parent
        What was great about it was that it was a hyperlinked programming language with an English-like syntax that made it accessible to the masses, it (eventually) shipped for free on all Macs, and it...
        • Exemplary

        What was great about it was that it was a hyperlinked programming language with an English-like syntax that made it accessible to the masses, it (eventually) shipped for free on all Macs, and it was extensible with C or other languages if you wanted to add features it didn't ship with. It had a lot of the same plusses as Microsoft Visual Basic in terms of being accessible and fairly easy to use (for a programming language).

        As an example of what it could do, normal users could very easily create something like a web site would be today, but self-contained on a floppy disk and share it with others (by physically giving them a copy on a disk). They could lay out UI controls, text, images, etc. visually, and then write simple code to hook them together.

        The programs were called stacks because there was a visual metaphor of a stack of cards. A user might have a stack of recipes and the first card would be an index. Click on one of the names of a recipe and it takes you to a card showing how to make it, for example. There were stacks for learning about topics, stacks that were games, stacks for storing data about your CD or video tape collection, etc. But it was also pretty powerful. The video game Myst was originally written in Hypercard and was for many years the best selling game in the world. You could very easily put graphics, sound, and after QuickTime came out, videos into your stack for some pretty easily-created multimedia presentations. (This was at a time when multimedia on the computer was fairly new.) Basically, much of what the web is today was possible with Hypercard a few years before the web became available. (I believe there were some extensions that allowed networking, but I don't know whether it would download a whole stack to your computer over the network.) It was often used for documentation with other software you purchased.

        Overall, it was a really neat tool that was super simple to use. If you wanted to do something more complex and you could write C or Pascal code, you could write an extension to add any functionality the computer supported to your Hypercard stacks. I bought an extension that allowed me to write MIDI data to my synths, for example. There were extensions (called xcmds and xfncs) for generating fractals, and stuff like that.

        8 votes
      2. [3]
        stu2b50
        Link Parent
        It seems more like Macromedia Flash, or kinda like the web stack (html + js), but with a gui to build things with.

        It seems more like Macromedia Flash, or kinda like the web stack (html + js), but with a gui to build things with.

        2 votes
        1. Akir
          Link Parent
          Kind of? I mean, the analogies that it uses are pretty close to what the web would eventually become. The big difference is that the 'cards' you built were always with a GUI (IIRC there wasn't a...

          Kind of? I mean, the analogies that it uses are pretty close to what the web would eventually become. The big difference is that the 'cards' you built were always with a GUI (IIRC there wasn't a way to build it from code directly), and it had a very friendly scripting language that had the benefit of being designed specifically for the application. For a lot of people of a specific age group, HyperCard was how they got introduced to computer programming. Myst was originally built on top of HyperCard (as were Cyan's earlier games).

          2 votes
        2. pseudolobster
          Link Parent
          It was a bit more like Visual Basic, with a WYSIWYG editor that was more like a modern Microsoft Office product than any Microsoft Office products of the time. The usual way it was used back in...

          It was a bit more like Visual Basic, with a WYSIWYG editor that was more like a modern Microsoft Office product than any Microsoft Office products of the time. The usual way it was used back in the day was as a slideshow program, ie: Powerpoint. It could also do some embedding of other programs' data, a la OLE on windows.

          It ended up being capable of a lot more than it was intended for, and people were creating entire games in it, which weren't just choose-your-own-adventure stories. The scripting language behind it, HyperScript, was a lot more capable than the original designers imagined, and there ended up being very sophisticated programs, games, and demoscene demos created in it.

          2 votes
  3. SunSpotter
    Link
    Oh look It's my time to shine I actually collect and restore vintage computer systems as a hobby. Some of them I end up selling once I fix them up if I decide they're not something I can enjoy...

    Oh look
    It's my time to shine

    I actually collect and restore vintage computer systems as a hobby. Some of them I end up selling once I fix them up if I decide they're not something I can enjoy them long term, and I've occasionally been shorted on a system that's basically trashed, but for the most part I have a neat little collection of historic machines that are in good condition. It started partially out of curiosity since my dad had some older stuff laying around from when he first started using computers, and partially as a learning experience.

    What kind of learning experience you might ask? Well, in this day and age, vintage computers require a lot of work to be usable, especially if you didn't grow up using them (like me). I've taught myself some extra coding skills, research skills, soldering skills and also learned a great deal about computer history along the way. I'd also like to gain some skills with an oscilloscope, but those are fairly pricey. In all honesty, while I've learned a lot, I still have a ways to go because school and work have prevented me from really putting as much time into my hobbies as I would have liked.

    Anyways, once you have a nice little system set up, it really is surprising how much you can do with it. Sure you can't use the latest games or programs, but most software you would demand of a computer today was still available back then. If you're coming at it from a programmer/development point of view you will probably be disappointed, but if you think about what you would demand from say a library computer then you'll find you can still do most everything you need. MS Office type products have been around for a while now, as have mice, printers and games to keep you occupied. Sure you probably wouldn't want to run any complexed calculations or excel macros or the like, but it's fine for casual use. Plus, if you're not a fan of the hum or eye strain of an old school CRT, most things can be adapted to display on a modern display anyways. You can even adapt old hard drive standards to an SSD these days so that you don't have to worry about limited storage space. Really, the only thing you can't easily do, in the sense of there being a program you can just run, is browse the modern web on a vintage computer. It's not that it can't be done, from my understanding the problem is that no one is willing to support continuing development of a browser that runs on 30+ year old systems with limited specs.

    I'll finish off by saying that I have a couple systems I'd like to showcase on Tildes in the future once I have them where I want, but I don't know when that will happen due to my tight schedule. If anyone has anything specific they'd like to see out of such a showcase though, let me know!

    6 votes
  4. [5]
    vord
    (edited )
    Link
    I disagree with the author's assessment of creating fewer general-purpose computers. If anything, not being general purpose prevents adaptation. There's no reason to hinder a devices capabilities...

    I disagree with the author's assessment of creating fewer general-purpose computers. If anything, not being general purpose prevents adaptation. There's no reason to hinder a devices capabilities for problems that can be solved by just allowing different software. Android is a good example...I changed to a text-only, white on black app launcher that only allows 6 apps and phone/settings button to be shown. It adds that tiny barrier which hinders infinite app distraction.

    If you want to recapture this style of computing, one of the best ways to do so is using Linux, in particular tiling window managers. They enforce that all screen space is used at once, and after having more than 4 applications open on-screen at once it becomes very hard to use. It's mitigated by allowing multiple virtual desktops, but I've noticed I can hone in on stuff much better when working like that. Material Shell is my current favorite. As an extension of GNOME, it's very easy to get started with as well.

    Hell, just load up a single terminal window fullscreen and you can mono-task like it's 1990, but with modern computing power.

    5 votes
    1. [3]
      mrbig
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      Could you share more details?

      I changed to a text-only, white on black app launcher that only allows 6 apps and phone/settings button to be shown

      Could you share more details?

      3 votes
      1. [2]
        vord
        Link Parent
        Sorry, 1 AM insomnia post. Unlauncher is what I use. It's minimal enough to keep me from constantly cycling apps, but convenient enough to access other apps I occasionally need. I also turn off...

        Sorry, 1 AM insomnia post. Unlauncher is what I use. It's minimal enough to keep me from constantly cycling apps, but convenient enough to access other apps I occasionally need.

        I also turn off all notifications for anything that isn't a phone call or communication from work during business hours or on-call. It's been a godsend for focus.

        3 votes
        1. mrbig
          Link Parent
          Awesome, thank you very much!

          Awesome, thank you very much!

          2 votes
    2. snowcrash
      Link Parent
      For those reading out there using Mac, there are tiling window managers for MacOS too. I'm using Amethyst, but yabai is also popular. I made a thread about it last week:...

      If you want to recapture this style of computing, one of the best ways to do so is using Linux, in particular tiling window managers.

      For those reading out there using Mac, there are tiling window managers for MacOS too. I'm using Amethyst, but yabai is also popular. I made a thread about it last week:

      https://tildes.net/~comp/voh/amethyst_mac_os_tiling_window_manager_like_i3wm

  5. [2]
    Whom
    Link
    Oh no, this isn't working anymore! It was lovely, though, and I completely agree with the sentiment.

    Oh no, this isn't working anymore! It was lovely, though, and I completely agree with the sentiment.

    3 votes