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).

Ars Technica: Connecting a TRS-80 model 100 to the internet

For some reason I find connecting any dial-up modem era computer or earlier to the internet rather interesting. Not because a computer this old would make a great device to use to surf the net, because of course it doesn’t. It’s a terrible user experience. This article therefore over at Ars Technica caught my attention, about connecting a TRS-80 model 100 laptop to the internet, using homebrew serial cable connections and various other technical noodlery to get working.

Maybe it was this intro to the article that got my attention:

The true test of a man’s patience is crimping pins onto the end of a cable that leads to building a custom serial cable—especially if it’s the first time you’ve even handled a serial cable in a decade.

Yep, been there recently. I posted a while back on G+ about connecting an Kantronics Packet Radio TNC (Terminal Network Controller) to my Atari 1040ST, for no other reason than at the time that this was the only computer I had available on my desk that still had an old school style DB25 serial port connector.

I’ve been shopping for a while to add network and/or SD Card disk support to my Atari ST, but still wondering if I really want to spend this much on adding support to something that I only tinker with occasionally? On my shopping list is either one of these or one of these, but maybe a better option would be one of these FPGA boards with support for a number of different hardware devices. This will probably give me more flexibility to tinker with a number of platforms. Choices choices. 🙂

Creating Atari ST disks from disk image files on Linux

Steps taken from article here.

Check disk geometry of disk image file – copy this to a .sh file and run it against a .st disk image:

#!/bin/sh od -v -Ad -t u1 -w1 $1 | awk 'NR==20 {sl=$2} NR==21 {sh=$2}
 NR==25 {spt=$2} NR==27 {s=$2; 
print "Sides: " s " Sectors: " spt " Tracks: " (sh * 256 + sl) / spt / s; exit}'

Format a 720k floppy using the sector and cylinder numbers from the prior step:

superformat /dev/fd0 dd ds sect=10 cyl=80

Copy the image to the disk:

cp image.st /dev/fd0