Vintage Computers — 1

About 15 years ago I archived my collection of floppy disks. I copied the floppy disk contents or image to a hard disk. The conventional wisdom is magnetic media degrades. The data becomes unreadable. Unlike hard disks with various error-checking and correction mechanisms that help avoid bit rot, floppy disks are less fortunate. Archiving the floppy disks seemed prudent.

After these many years I noticed with some of the floppy disks I did not create full disk images but copied files. That is acceptable except some of those disks are intended to be boot disks rather than data or installation disks. I decided to remedy the situation and create full disk images.

Fast forward to today means some of the floppy disks now are about 30 years old. Would senile floppy disk drives be able to read elderly floppy disks? Would magnetic bit rot betray me?

The short story is I was pleased but somewhat amazed that almost all of the floppy disks read fine. That I can still read floppy disks from 20 to 30 years ago is remarkable.

The longer story is amusing in a Keystone Kops kind of way. This simple exercise of imaging floppy disks lured me into the proverbial rabbit hole of several side projects. I had to brush aside mental cobwebs to remember forgotten technology.

The side projects included tinkering with bootable MS-DOS disks, both floppy and hard disks. That led into tinkering with disks in virtual and physical machines. That led into wanting to reconfigure a 486 hard disk. That led into merging inactive computers into the house network. That led into changing how some test computers are used.

Along the way I found some ignored quarter-inch cartridge (QIC) tapes sitting on the shelf. As long as I was resurrecting inactive computers and archiving floppy disks, I wondered about a discarded flat bed scanner sitting idle on the shelf.

Some years ago I disabled the floppy disk drive on the office desktop. While restoring the drive is straightforward, I decided to use computers from an era when floppy drives were common.

Some of the floppy disks are 5.25 inch. In the house the original 486 office system is the only computer with a drive to read those disks.

Traditionally I have powered on inactive computers in the house once or twice a year to exercise the electronic components and update the systems. Partly I do this because there is the allure of keeping retro objects functional. Especially “vintage” computers from a time when most people were not yet using computers.

The longer story begins more than 30 years ago. The core of this particular story is using free/libre software to solve challenges rather than the proprietary software of yesteryear.

Please join me for a stroll through memory lane.

More to come.

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: General

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