15 years of tech nostalgia

As the decade comes to a close, a stroll down memory lane takes us back as far as the mid-1990s

The IT industry always looks ahead to the next technology, the next CPU speed breakthrough, the next storage breakthrough, and so forth. But it's instructive to remember the good old days. Remember, for instance, when printer drivers were smaller than 150MB and could be downloaded over a 56k modem in a few minutes? Or when Adobe Acrobat Reader wasn't 45MB in size?

On balance, of course, most folks in IT consider the past to be the bad old days. Remember when 9GB drives were hugely expensive and building a terabyte of storage required significant power and floorspace upgrades? I recall getting a Compaq Alpha OSF/1 box that had 8GB of RAM in it, and we had to do nasty things to it to fully address all that memory. How about the many times when I had to bond four or six 100Mbit copper links from an edge switch to handle the bandwidth requirements to the core?

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How about when changing the IP address of a Windows NT server required several days notice because of the required reboot? Remember fixed black-and-white X terminals? The days when you could somehow handle 5,000 e-mail accounts on a single Pentium-90 system with two 4GB SCSI hard drives, but had to sprinkle fairy dust on your SCSI chain every few days to make sure everything worked?

Remember when there was no spam to speak of?

In the mid-1990s, I ran an ISP, my workstation had a public IP address, and there was no need for a firewall or even NAT. Then again, I can remember the abject horror of having to re-IP an entire company in a single night because they had apparently picked their IP subnet out of a hat. Remember when NAT didn't exist?

Remember when a full Usenet feed could fit on a single (5.25 inches, full height) 9GB SCSI drive and could be refreshed over a single T1 without any problems? And, uh, remember when people actually used Usenet?

Remember Trumpet Winsock, the Chameleon browser, and AOL offers showing up on 3.5-inch disks? Remember when compressing your hard drive was all the rage? And you could buy those terribly unwieldy RAM doublers that shoved four SIMM chips into a single slot?

Remember Evergreen's 586 upgrade for 486 systems? Or Cyrix's 6x86? Remember when the Pentium-133 was released and it seemed that the world had gone plaid? Or that the DEC guys were laughing at the rest of us for thinking that?

Remember token ring? Or ARCNet? Passive 10Mbit Ethernet hubs that cost $2,000? Remember when U.S. Robotics' Courier v.34 modems were simply the best of the best? Remember when most of the people you talked with online were intimately familiar with the AT command set?

Remember FIDONet?

How about the days of PC Board, Citadel, Galacticomm, Major BBS, and Remote Access? The utter frustration at getting busy signals for an hour, only to finally get into the BBS at 2,400bps and your favorite door wasn't working for whatever reason? Which was that: Yankee Trader, Kannons and Katapults, Trade Wars, or The Pit?

I can recall the excitement when I brought the Internet to a newspaper for the first time. It was a 56k frame-relay circuit. They were beyond thrilled. I wonder if anyone there saw the handwriting on the wall.

Were you even aware that the first DSL rollouts used telephone company alarm circuits (BANA circuits)? That was the only way to get a telco to provision a point-to-point pair that would work. Those were the days before DSLAMs -- we had individual Aware DSL modems on each end of the link.

Remember when a T1 was all the bandwidth in the world and a T3 was just crazy talk? Then remember when a T3 wasn't nearly enough?

Remember when VMware was a really cool way to boot Windows 98 on your Windows NT Workstation and shock your coworkers?

Yes, the Internet and IT itself were once the Wild West, but things are much more gentrified now. We take some technologies for granted that we would have killed for just a few years ago -- everything from cheap gigabit Ethernet to JQuery, SAS to 10G. Once in a while, it's a good idea to remember where we came from -- and appreciate where we're going.

This story, "15 years of tech nostalgia," was originally published at InfoWorld.com.