If you are old enough to have bought your first computer as an adult, you probably had several instances in your life when you thought, “Wow, nothing could ever be more technologically advanced than this!” Maybe the first time was when your college switched from using punch cards to using terminals. Perhaps you thought your 486 was the pinnacle of technological achievement, or you thought you’d really arrived when you started using 3.5 inch floppies.
Here are 10 obsolete computers and accessories relegated to the dusty storage rooms of obsolescence.
1. The Commodore Datasette
If you had one of these bad boys for your Vic 20, you could spend a week typing in “PEEK” and “POKE” followed by strings of numbers and eventually have something vaguely resembling a word processor (if you define “word processing” as the ability to backspace and type again to correct errors).
2. AOL Free Trial CDs
These were everywhere in the mid-1990s: your mail, your Sunday newspaper, the checkout counter at your local mass retailer — and they were free! AOL spent an estimated $300 million shipping free trial CDs out to pretty much every man, woman, and child in the US, and caught some flak for all the waste those discs represented. Fortunately, your mailbox is now safe from this particular direct marketing push.
3. The Xerox Mouse
The mechanical ball mouse came with the Xerox Alto computer, and could rotate in any direction. Made by Jack Hawley in his Berkeley, California company The Mouse House, these mice had literal balls of steel, which were covered with a rubber surface to transmit the mouse’s movement accurately.
4. The First Apple Macintosh
The late Steve Jobs introduced the first Mac in January 1984. It was the first commercial hit computer featuring a mouse and a graphical user interface. While IBM users were stuck using the DOS command line, Mac users could mouse all over the place and generally feel superior to DOS users. By the end of the 80s, the Mac started dropping in popularity, but the seeds were planted for the cult following Apple developed starting in the late 1990s.
5. Pen Plotters
Plotters were computer printers made to draw vector graphics. They used to be used extensively in computer-aided design and mapmaking, but have been replaced with wide format printers. Because they worked by moving a physical pen across a sheet of paper, pen plotters were limited to line graphics. In recent years, some artists have found old pen plotters on eBay and used them to create art.
6. Mainframe Computers
If the words “job control language” make you break out into a cold sweat, you probably used a terminal to connect to a mainframe computer to run software back in the day. Thankfully, the mainframe era is over. In early 2012, NASA powered down the last mainframe computer it was using, an IBM Z9 that was installed at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.
7. SGI Visual Workstations
SGI Visual Workstations, manufactured by Silicon Graphics, Inc. ran Windows NT, Windows 2000, and Linux, and used Pentium II and III processors. In some ways, these workstations (models 320 and 540) were ahead of their time, with Firewire ports, USB keyboards, and USB mice. Though they often outperformed similarly-configured Intel PCs of the era, nonstandard components made it cheaper for people to switch to other PCs rather than upgrading.
8. The Apple Lisa
The Lisa predated the Macintosh by a year, and for the low, low price of $9,995 you got a 5MHz Motorola 68000 chip, a cool megabyte of RAM, and two 5.25-inch floppy disk drives. For some reason, only 100,000 of these rock stars were made during the two-year production run.
9. Floppy Disks
Floppy disks consisted of thin, flexible (floppy) magnetic storage sealed in a plastic, square container. The first ones were 8 inches on a side, with the second and third generation floppies measuring 5.25 and 3.5 inches on a side, respectively. From the mid-1970s to the turn of the 21st century, floppy disks were the default form of data storage and exchange.
10. Zip Drives
Introduced in 1994, the Zip drive used disks that held up to 100MB, while later versions used disks that could hold up to 750MB. The Zip disk was a popular portable storage device during the late 1990s, but it never really replaced the 3.5-inch floppy. Once CDs, DVDs, and USB thumb drives came along, it was Game Over for the Zip drive.
At Samanage, we stay on the leading edge cloud computing technology, though we’ve definitely seen our share of obsolete equipment. Which obsolete computer technology brings back memories (good or bad) for you? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments section.
Photo Credits: All photos Wikimedia Commons