Old computer technology still in regular usage today

I’ll qualify ‘regular usage’ to mean still in daily use, albeit if only by a single person or organization. The usual reason that old tech continues to be used regularly is usually because it still meets some specific need: if it still works, there’s no reason to update or replace it.

I’ve been mentally putting this list together for a while based on articles I’ve come across. It’s not a comprehensive list, and I’m sure there’s far more examples. As someone who likes to tinker with retro computers, I find the fact that people use old tech for legitimate business reasons (and not just for a hobby) particularly interesting. I’ve also added a few links to other related regular activities that revolve around groups interested in using old tech:

  • DNA synthesis using 68000 based Macs running Mac OS 7.5
  • ICBM missile control systems using 8″ floppy disks
  • (up until just a few years back) ATM machines running IBM OS/2
  • New York Subway MetroCard fare card machines running IBM OS/2 (Blonde Guy lists on his site that he still provides OS/2 support to New York Subway)
  • OS/2 is still sold as commercial product today by eComStation with updated drivers for today’s hardware
  • In 2015, a company called Arca Noae announced they had acquired a license from IBM to sell a new distribution of OS/2, with a new version to be released Q3/2016
  • Warpstock, the OS/2 conference still runs annually both in the US and in Europe
  • The popular virtualization software on the Mac, Parallels, was originally developed to virtualize OS/2 on modern PC hardware so that businesses running OS/2 based systems could continue to run their systems on current day hardware
  • A Commodore Amiga is still running the heating and cooling systems for a school district in Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • A car auto shop in Poland that’s still running it’s business systems on a Commodore 64
  • The article “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” on PCWorld lists a number of old computers being used in interesting places, like PDP minicomputers being used for US Navy radar systems and at the UK Atomic Weapons Establishment (there’s no link to sources to confirm if either of these are true, other articles about PDPs being used at either of these only link back to the same article. This article lists 4 known PDP-7s from the 1960s/70s still in existence, but only one is still operational today (as of 2011).

Phones, tablets, laptops, desktops – different form factors with different usage styles. Why Apple won’t compromise and merge iOS and MacOS

Following Apple’s announcement of the new MacBook Pro models today and the impressive looking Touch Bar, cnet have a fascinating interview (and timeline of Apple’s laptops from the original PowerBook through to the latest MacBook Pro models) with Senior VP of Marketing Phil Schiller, software engineering lead Craig Federighi and Apple’s Chief Design Officer Jony Ive.

Although the media focus is predominantly on the new Touch Bar, there’s several interesting quotes in the article on why we won’t be seeing a combined or merged OS or hardware device from Apple that combines iPhone/iPad touchscreen functionality with the laptop format of the MacBook product line – Schiller said:

“We did spend a great deal of time looking at this a number of years ago and came to the conclusion that to make the best personal computer, you can’t try to turn MacOS into an iPhone. Conversely, you can’t turn iOS into a Mac…. So each one is best at what they’re meant to be — and we take what makes sense to add from each, but without fundamentally changing them so they’re compromised.”

I’ve agreed with this line of thought for a while, and discussed this last year when Tim Cook said something very similar.

While it might be immediately obvious to some that the way you interact with a smart phone that fits in your hand is a completely different experience to how you interact with a computer while sitting at a desk, Microsoft’s (failed?) attempt at combining both of these usage styles into a single phone device with Continuum that you can use as a phone or plug into a dock and use as a desktop has always seemed to me to be a massive compromise. How you use a phone with a small screen and limited input capability is so completely and radically different from how you interact with a desktop computer with a keyboard, mouse and large LCD screen, why you would even try to combine these two experiences into one device is just beyond me.

Anyway, I’m pleased to heard Apple reiterating on their understanding of how different devices have different capabilities. Until a radical new approach comes along for how you interact with your devices where the reduced physical size of a portable device is no longer a constraining factor, a phone is still best as a phone, and your desktop or laptop is still best as what they do. Even in this “Post-PC” era, there’s still a place for both.


Dependency management with npm

A few rough usage notes:

  • npm install module : download and install module. Saves dependency in node_modules by default
  • npm install module –save : saves module info in package.json
  • npm install module -g : downloads and installs module globally, not just in the current dir/project, so can be reused by all projects
  • npm init : creates a new package.json from answers to a few questions, plus any existing downloaded modules in node_modules (useful to recreate package.json if you didn’t install modules with –save initially)

Getting past Vagrant’s “Authentication failure” error when starting up OpenShift Origin

For getting up and running quickly with OpenShift Origin, RedHat have an all-in-one VM image you can provision with Vagrant. The instructions mention to not use Vagrant 1.8.5 as there’s an issue with the SSH setup – since I already had 1.8.5 installed for some other projects, I tried anyway, and ran into issues with SSH’ing into the VM with SSH keys.

When provisioning the VM, you’ll see:


Kevins-MacBook-Pro:openshift-origin kev$ vagrant up
Bringing machine 'default' up with 'virtualbox' provider...
==> default: Checking if box 'openshift/origin-all-in-one' is up to date...
==> default: Resuming suspended VM...
==> default: Booting VM...
==> default: Waiting for machine to boot. This may take a few minutes...
    default: SSH address:
    default: SSH username: vagrant
    default: SSH auth method: private key
    default: Warning: Authentication failure. Retrying...
    default: Warning: Authentication failure. Retrying...

There’s a number of posts discussing this issue and a few workarounds, for example, here and here.

The suggestions relate to switching from the ssh authentication to userid/password, by adding this to your Vagrantfile:

config.ssh.username = "vagrant"
config.ssh.password = "vagrant"

I tried this, and when running vagrant up I had different errors about “SSH authentication failed”. Next I tried adding this recommendation:


config.ssh.insert_key = false

This didn’t make any difference initially, but doing a vagrant destroy, and then trying to bring it up again initially ran into the same issue, I Ctrl-C’d out and tried again and then it worked second time. I’m not sure what steps got past the ssh keys issue, but at this point I was up and running. There’s a long discussion in both the linked threads above that describe the cause of the issue, so if you’re interested take a look through those threads.