IBM Model M PC keyboard, sold until 1996. (Photo: Wikipedia/Raymangold22)
Despite the race for novelty, some very old technologies, frommagnetic tape for mainframes,stay the best. Travel back in time with these tools that are just as effective today.
The world of technology often seems like an endless parade of incredible ideas, architectures, languages, and devices. But it also sometimes happens that a tool that was once new stays in place longer than expected. Maybe because the gadget never goes out of fashion. Perhaps because the decision to replace it will never see the light of day. Or because the tool that does well is less good. So why not celebrate those artifacts of the computer industry that resolutely deliver on their promises day after day, year after year, and sometimes even decades.
Here’s a look at some of those technologies that refuse to die. Ideas and objects — chips, software, languages — that, for one reason or another, never left the scene. Often we don’t notice them. We forget that they even exist. But these tools of another era continue to operate, albeit quietly.
The Z80 processor, a derivative of the hugely popular Intel 8080, was introduced in 1974. This competing chip had more registers and instructions, but was mostly binary compatible with the original. Developers could run their 8080 code or modify it to take advantage of additional features and make it a bit faster. While Intel set out to create bigger, more powerful and blazingly fast x86 chips, the Zilog Z80 continued to thrive in less visible niches like microcontrollers.
Today, electronics manufacturers who want to integrate a stable microprocessor with a large number of libraries can choose between several options from Zilog and other vendors. And for those who want to continue the tradition, some manufacturers like Toshiba have gradually expanded their range around the Z80 with larger tires and registers.
Anyone who wants to play old video games can turn to various open source emulators to run the source code on new machines. There are reliable implementations of popular platforms such as the Super Nintendo, but there are also more obscure platforms such as those for the Commodore Amiga. Developers have even found a way to run code in the ROM of some arcade games. Of course, in the most recent games, their characters look so realistic that you can see every pore of their skin. However, there is something timeless and joyful about winning a game.in the game with ASCII visualization like on the screen of an old terminal!
A surprising amount of software written for the first version of Windows continues to work. PuTTY, used to establish an SSH connection, is one of them. It can even run the SUPDUP connection protocol, which dates back to the 70s and 80s. A small group of volunteers maintain the source code, originally released in 1999. The easiest way to use PuTTY is to download the executable.
It wouldn’t be entirely fair to call FreeDOS an old technology. Indeed, in 2022, a new version of the classic Edlin file editing program was released. And that’s not all, revised and fixed versions of old command line codes are now part of FreeDOS.
But continued development doesn’t change the fact that the project aims to keep DOS, the command line, and programs running on it running. If you have old DOS software that you want to keep using, FreeDOS is one of the easiest ways to do so.
After Bell LAbs created Unix, several clones began to appear. When ATT tried to take control of the OS intellectual property, a group of smart programmers wrote their own versions of the most common utilities and released them under the now ubiquitous Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) license.
Today, this code is often found in the Linux world, for example in Red Hat or Ubuntu distributions. A trusted kernel still exists under the name BSD, following many established Berkeley conventions. Builds like OpenBSD, FreeBSD, and NetBSD are still fast, smooth, and economical.
IBM keyboards for PC
The first IBM personal computer came with the Model M keyboard, which remains one of the most popular ways to communicate with a computer. When Big Blue stopped making them in 1996, a few backers grabbed the tools needed to build Unicomp, which specialized in traditional PC keyboards.
Today, you can find all the versions of mechanical keyboards you need, but with more modern electronic components adapted to modern PCs. They have their advantages, but nothing is stronger and more efficient than the original M.
Since its introduction in 1984, this software has been helping scientists and engineers to multiply matrices. Matlab has improved a lot over the years and now supports object oriented programming and GUIs. But the software platform for building and analyzing large matrices remains the basis.
You might think that tape recorders have gone out of fashion since the 1960s. On the contrary, although they no longer hold the same market share as they used to, some people still appreciate the technology. They are easy to transport and store and are much more stable than flash chips.
It’s also not entirely correct to say that readers are still using the same old technology. Tape manufacturers have adopted many of the innovations used by hard drive manufacturers to achieve tremendous density. The new LTO-9 format, released in 2017, can store 12 terabytes on tape. Another format from IBM, the 3592 Jaguar, can store up to 10 terabytes.
Long before Twitter and text messaging, doctors, stockbrokers, and anyone else who needed to be contacted used a paging system capable of sending multiple numbers. Modern solutions such as WhatsApp work through the mobile network or the Internet. Of course, they allow you to include a photo or a smiley face, but they are not at all as reliable. That’s why doctors, nurses, and paramedics continue to use pagers for mission-critical communications. One of the largest paging systems in the US claims to handle 100 million messages per month.
Manufacturers of beepers also did not stay idle. Their latest equipment includes encryption and HIPAA security. Some even allow two-way communication.
Oracle released the first commercial SQL database in 1979. Microsoft released their own database in the 1980s, PostgreSQL and MySQL followed in the 1990s. That’s why the business plans of companies like Google, Amazon, Neon and PlanetScale – to name but a few – are to reformat the traditional SQL database as a service.
To be fair, some cloud database platforms make significant changes, such as separating the logical tier from the storage tier, to speed up certain types of queries and support scalable storage. But from a programmer’s perspective, a SQL database in the cloud is no different than the good old interface they’ve been using for years.
ARM is one of the core architectures for processors, born from the RISC revolution in the 1980s. Today, almost 40 years later, ARM cores can be found almost everywhere: in embedded machines, as well as in Raspberry Pi machines that appeared in 2012. in Apple’s high-end MacBook Pro, albeit in a completely different form.
The simple ARM architecture proved remarkably flexible. It is used to develop some of the most efficient chips with the best ratio between computing power and energy consumption.
What better example of ancient technology that lives on than the iconic computer from IBM, the company that founded and spearheaded the computer industry in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. It built its first mainframe in 1952, 70 years later! And it is quite possible that some code created then on punched cards still works in one form or another today. If you’ve ever wondered why Cobol developers are always in demand, it’s because of IBM mainframes. Many companies are still using the same indestructible programs.
However, operating system and mainframe languages have improved and enriched themselves over time, even if most of the principles of the code have not changed. It’s no coincidence that IBM customers, such as large banks, continue to use it. Perhaps they are gently mocking fintechs who brag about their modern software and languages.