The Old Computer: Why We Still Love Them

Vintage computers hold a certain novelty appeal, especially to those who have never seen one. An old computer hums with the history of modern progress, destined to be something more than just a giant paperweight.

In 1977, the first personal computer, the Apple II, was released to the mainstream. By modern standards, it is an archaic machine running on a one megahertz microprocessor and four kilobytes of RAM (Random Access Memory)-not even enough power to view a picture today.

To the masses of the 1970s, though, it was a window into the future; it was a device roughly the size of a small CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) television that bridged a post-moon-landing and technology-optimistic civilization-think Star Trek: The Original Series just ten years before and droves of science fiction paperbacks that filled shelves-to a dream of flying cars and a globe forever connected by a network of cables and invisible data waves.

Their dreams were partially correct. DARPA (The Defensive Advanced Research Projects Agency) collaborated with a number of scientists and professionals to introduce the Internet to the world’s populace in the early 1990s, and we are now forever connected. Globally shared information can be accessed in almost any civilized region on Earth. People oceans away from each other can connect via this World Wide Web at the press of a button. The computer greats of the 1970s-Richard S. Stallman, Denis Ritchie, Steve Wozniak-had no idea how bright the future of technology, particularly computer technology, was going to be.

Yet, despite this astonishing advancement in computers, both software- and hardware-wise, there are still those who prefer to use vintage computers, such as the Apple II or the Commodore 64. It is a question that many ask and few understand: Why?

Old computer gurus who remember what it was like to run an 8-bit system will often have kept their old computers through the years. Writing line after line of BASIC code on the green-on-black screen, a technology call a GUI (Graphical User Interface) that was originally thought of by Xerox for printers and faxes and then implemented in computers by Wozniak, holds a nostalgic value that old-school programmers cannot seem to shake. These antique computers are completely unable to function under the pressure of contemporary uses, but they are kept and used as reminders of a time when everything-including the computer-was much simpler.

Classic computers are not just kept as show toys or as vessels for nostalgic programmers to relive the glory days. They are also commonly used by novice engineering buffs, who use them as one would use a box of building blocks. They take these old computers apart and then put them back together again to learn the basics of computer hardware. Old computers are used because new computers would be too costly and difficult to practice on.

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