Vintage Computers — 17

Maintaining vintage computers might seem like a waste of time, but there is a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction with configuring and maintaining everything.

There is an appeal to the vintage proprietary operating systems — they are benign with no data mining and tracking. Nothing phones home. There is one Windows 10 system in the house network. The system is not used for anything productive. I cringe when I decide to update the system. Not to forget the system is intentionally designed to be invasive and abusively track users.

Once upon a time I productively used MS-DOS and Windows for Workgroups (WFWG). From an administrative perspective I no longer find much appealing about the operating system software, especially after many years of using the Linux command line and shell scripts. MS-DOS and WFWG seem adequate but clumsy for administration. During my vintage computer revamp I lost count how many times I wanted to run grep or sed and sighed because no such tool exists. I am aware that FreeDOS provides those tools, but that is not Yet Another Side Journey that interests me right now. Moreso, I do not believe Free DOS supports the desktop environment layer.

Shell scripting is a significant feature that attracted me to Linux. When I was deep into WFWG I used the Norton Desktop for Windows. That software came with a wonderful scripting language called ScriptMaker. With that tool I wrote many scripts for myself and others to help automate tasks. That enjoyment of scripting continues to this day. I have written hundreds of shell scripts.

Ignoring modern day internet usage, all of the vintage systems in the house remain functional and useful as office computers, niche usage, and testing.

For example, word processing remains much the same 30 years later. Many to most people never use more than 10% of the features. As I could export PDFs back then, MS Word 6.0 could be useful today. Full support for templates and style tags existed back then. Likewise with FrameMaker 4.0.

Another observation is once upon a time I used a single 540 MB hard disk to store the operating system, application software, and data files. That is MB and not GB or TB. Data files could be stored on 720 KB floppy disks. Entire programs were installed from floppy disks. The word bloat often is misused these days, but the word might be appropriate with a nominal comparison between 16-bit systems and modern 64 bit systems. I remember comfortably surfing the web in Netscape 2.0 on a 486 with 16 MB of RAM using a modem.

While modern computers might seem bloated in some respects, I am grateful they support and do more. That does not negate how much these vintage systems offered with such small packages and footprints.

Counter arguments are possible against using the computers, such as overall speed and energy consumption. Web browsing these days with a vintage computer probably is an exercise in futility that would fully test a person’s patience, but perhaps that is because the modern web is indeed bloated. Some people might argue the current web offers a richer experience, but the modern web is indeed bloated.

Vintage operating systems could be virtualized and I have done that, but there is notable patience required to virtualize an MS-DOS system, something I have not attempted. One caveat with virtualizing is the loss of certain physical hardware, notably floppy disk drives and parallel ports. Those physical components are awkward to use and test inside virtual machines.

Devices such as external USB 3.5 inch floppy drives exist. Yet direct access to legacy hardware resolves challenges too. While few people these days need a 5.25 inch floppy disk drive, having a functional drive is liberating.

There is the argument of maintenance and simplicity.

Arguments aside, all of these computers and operating systems now are integrated into the house network. Much of the time the systems remain powered off. Although all of the operating systems cannot run concurrently because of multi-boot limitations, there is an ability to run several operating systems together along with virtual machines, of which there are several on the home office system. With virtual machines and multi-boot variations, there are about 26 different possible systems in the house network.

There are some additional low priority tasks to pursue with the recently integrated systems, such as configuring the systems to use a network printer rather than a parallel port printer.

Along with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, keeping these devices connected and running is a wee bit fun. I keep these systems running out of nostalgia and “because I can.”

While not a Homeric epic, this vintage computer journey was rewarding despite the clumsiness and limitations of working with vintage operating systems. I triumphed with remembering to juggle hard disk master/slave jumpers, bad disk clusters, boot issues, clueless error messages, and other dragons of the deep sea. Most of all I realized how much I had forgotten from an age when few people were using computers.

I hope you enjoined this journey through yesteryear.

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: General

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