11 Things Computer Users Will Never Experience Again - InformationWeek
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11 Things Computer Users Will Never Experience Again

Once upon a time, microcomputers weren't all-in-one devices. They were put together from standalone components, each with its technical merits -- and we had to know all about every one of them.
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(Image: Esther Schindler)

(Image: Esther Schindler)

Miniaturization is remarkable. The MacBook Air 13 weighs only three pounds. The ASUS C201 Chromebook weighs two pounds. That's an admirable feat of engineering, and has earned undying gratitude from old-school "road warriors," those of us who once bragged about our laptop computers only weighing fifteen pounds. Thanks, hardware folks.

I have been suffering from an unrepentant "Get off my lawn" nostalgia, and a desire to preach to the the kids who don't know what came before. A computer was not always built as a single solid-state device, wherein an errant coffee spill can destroy an entire system. In the high and far-off times, O best beloved, the computer had no all-in-one functionality. We made it happen.

Initially, and until fairly recently, personal computers were boxes that connected several boards, each of which had a dedicated purpose, unique technical features (from "cheap" to "best video resolution"), and a separate price tag.

[Have a new PC? Read 11 Windows 10 Apps For Your Upgraded PC.]

That piecemeal approach had advantages. Primarily, you could build computer systems that met your needs. Let's say connectivity was more important than video quality, such as with an early Web server. In that case, you could invest more money in your network card than your video card. The breadth of options also meant healthy competition. Each vendor was motivated to make its product the preferred brand, ideally through innovation.

The process wasn't always pretty. We had nasty flame wars over which was the "best" video card. Friendships were destroyed over such things. All off us had to cope with uncertainties resulting from battling industry standards, as the "standards" changed long before a computer wore out. It was exhausting.

Plus, when everything was purchased separately, vendors of operating systems had to write dedicated drivers for every single device. If your OS wasn't supported, you couldn't use the hardware. Too often, you learned that the hard way.

Many people turned to established vendors, which would sell a computer as a single system, as they do today. But it was popular -- and less expensive -- to build your own, or to go to a "white box" vendor that would customize the computer exactly the way you wanted it.

Let's take a step into the WABAC machine with a photo retrospective of the old days, when computer hardware was sold as components. Once you've reviewed our history lesson, tell us about your own experiences in the comments section below.

Esther Schindler has been writing for the tech press since 1992. She specializes in translating from Geek into English. Her name is on the cover of about a dozen books, most recently The Complete Idiot's Guide to Twitter Marketing. Esther quilts (with enthusiasm if little ... View Full Bio

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Michelle
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Michelle,
User Rank: Ninja
12/29/2015 | 7:03:40 PM
Re: A Giant leap
Everything was command line launched back in those days. I remember when Windows 3.1 was new. You had to typed Windows in DOS to launch it. Times have changed!
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
12/22/2015 | 9:05:29 PM
Re: A Giant leap
It's interesting to note that electronics recycling is a serious cyber risk issue as well. If a company thinks it is recycling with a not-so-reputable firm, which then instead resells the equipment in the developing world, whatever data was stores on those hard drives, say, is now potentially out there, privacy be darned.
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
12/22/2015 | 9:31:28 AM
Re: A Giant leap
Broadway, Yes, true. It's also good that electronics manufacturers are paying more attention to their recycling programs, which also makes it easier for consumers, not only businesses. -Susan
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
12/22/2015 | 9:24:41 AM
Re: A Giant leap
Jagibbons, not really. I was talking about 3D printed electronics using a new method that uses graphene based inks. I interviewed the researcher behind the new method for an article. It has not been published yet, so I have no link to send you. -Susan
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
12/21/2015 | 10:06:37 AM
Re: A Giant leap
Recycling is imoortant, given the many heavy metals and other toxins in electronics. There need to be more incentives so that it becomes easy for consumers; so easy that they ask "Why wouldn't I?"
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
12/20/2015 | 10:22:43 PM
Re: A Giant leap
Susan, electronica recycling is growing. Perhaps not at the pace it needs to, but if more retailers partner with the major recycling operations and make it easy for consumers, and businesses make it a point to partner with recyclers for their old equipment, there will be continued responsibility on this issue.
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
12/20/2015 | 9:59:15 PM
Re: A Giant leap
Although I don't need to worry about PC desktop anymore - nowdays there are plenty of good products in the market, I miss those days when I assemble PC by myself and try to solve some tricky compatibility issues. It's a kind of fun that you cannot get elsewhere.
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
12/20/2015 | 1:14:21 PM
Re: A Giant leap
Fast and cheap works for many companies, but it is hard to stay in that space and differentiate. To stand out above the rest of the market, it may take some additional customization that demands a higher price.
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
12/20/2015 | 8:00:53 AM
Re: A Giant leap
It's all part of a cycle, Jagibbons. Now you can get printed electronics that are very cheap. Recycling electronics is a problem today, and it will become worse. Fast and cheap manufacturing is what you mostly get today, right? But this is not only In electronics. It's a general tendency In other industries as well. -Susan
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
12/20/2015 | 7:50:18 AM
Coping with storage
One of the things I have always been grateful of is cloud storage. Yes, In computers or in closet storage space you always want more, and more is never enough. -Susan
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