There are some things about computers I don’t think I’m ever going to miss. Nostalgia has limits.
I’m not going to miss:
- Programming machine tools using paper tape and a Flexowriter, and copying the paper tape to Mylar tape for production. But only if it was a good program, one that didn't drill holes in the wrong place on an expensive casting or smash the machine tool spindle into the tooling fixture and break really expensive stuff.
- Submitting a punch card deck to the mainframe operators, waiting four hours for the batch scheduler to compile and run the program, only to find a syntax error. Especially for a required assignment the last week of the semester.
- Waiting for a goofy little homemade PDP-8 to assemble, link and load a 50 line assembler program (about 40 minutes of watching tape cartridges spin, if memory serves.)
- Booting CAD/CAM systems by toggling bits and loading instructions from front panel switches. And then programming complex machine tools using a strange path description language, a pen plotter, a teletype, and punched tape. State of the art, at the time. The plotter even waited for you to put a new pen in every time it needed to draw a line in a new color.
- Running CAD/CAM systems from floppies. (A CAD system that could do 3D wire frame views no less). Floppies though, were a vast improvement over paper or magnetic tape. You could access the data on them randomly. Amazing.
- NetWare 2.0a server kernels, each one built from object modules custom linked specifically for the hardware using a linker and modules spread out over boxes of floppies, some of which had to be inserted more than once, and dozens of menu choices, including IRQ's, I/O ports, and memory addresses. If any of them were wrong, the kernel didn't boot. If the kernel didn't boot, you started over with disk #1. If it DID boot, you bought a round at the local pub, because life was good, and celebration was required.
- NetWare client installations, when the Netware drivers were custom linked to match the I/O, IRQ and memory jumpers on the network card. Move a jumper to avoid an IRQ conflict and you'll have to re-run the linker and generate a new driver.
- Using NetWare BRGEN to build routers, and linking the kernel of a four-port Arcnet router made out of an old XT and using it as the core router of a campus network. It worked though, and best of all I didn't have to walk across the building to manage departmental servers. And yes, it was possible to allocate IRQ's and I/O ports for four Arcnet cards in a single PC.
- CGA graphics. The choices were four colors at 320x200 pixels, or two colors at 640x200 pixels(!). For serious CAD/CAM graphics, the 640x200 black & white mode was the preferred choice.
- Endless hours spent moving jumpers on ISA cards, trying to get all the video, memory and interface cards to work together without IRQ, I/O port and memory address conflicts.
- ROM BASIC
- Electronic Typewriters. The ones that cost you two weeks of wages and had one whole line of memory.
- Even more hours spent trying to get the drivers for the interface cards all stuffed into 640k and still have enough memory left to run AutoCAD or Ventura Desktop Publishing.
- Recovering lost files from damaged floppies by manually editing the file allocation table. (Norton Utilities Disk Editor!)
- Writing programs and utilities using 'copy con' and debug scripts copied from magazines.
- Abort, Retry, Fail?
- Early Mac fans and their dot-matrix printed documents that had eight different fonts on a page. Just because you can…doesn’t mean you should….
- Running Linux kernel config scripts, hoping that the dozens of choices that you made, not knowing what most of them meant, would compile and link a bootable kernel. (Bootable kernels tended to be far more useful than non-bootable kernels).
- Installing Linux from Floppies.
- Patching Linux kernel source code to block Ping-of-Death so the primary name server would stay up for more than five minutes.
- Editing X config files, specifying graphics card and monitor dot-clock settings, hoping that your best guess wouldn't smoke your shiny new $2000 NEC 4D 16" monitor.
- OS/2 installations from 30-odd floppy disks, then another 20 or so for the service pack or PTF (or whatever they called it). CD-ROMs were expensive.
- Broadcast storms.
I’m pretty sure that a hole bunch of the things we do today will look pretty archaic a decade or two from now. So what’s this list is going to look like twenty years from now?