If you were the type of person who might have read Hackaday had we been around in the late 1980s or early 1990s, it’s a reasonable guess that you would have had a 16-bit home computer on your desk, and furthermore that it might have been a Commodore Amiga. These machines gave the best bang for the buck in those days with their impressive multimedia capabilities, and they gained a fervent following which persists to this day. [Carl Svensson] was one of them, and he’s penned a retrospective on the demise of the platform with the benefit of much hindsight.
The heyday of the Amiga from its 1985 launch until the days of the A1200 in the early-to-mid 1990s saw Moore’s Law show perhaps its fastest effects for the consumer. In that decade the PC world jumped from the 8088 to the Pentium, and from a PC speaker and CGA if you were lucky, to a Sound Blaster 16 and accelerated SVGA. By comparison the Amiga didn’t change much except in model numbers and a few extra graphics modes, and when a faster processor came it was far to little too late.
There’s a well-worn path with some justification of blaming Commodore-s notoriously awful management for the debacle, but the piece goes beyond that into the mid ’90s. His conclusion is that what really killed the Amiga was that the CPU price reductions which defined the x86 world at that time never came to 68k or PowerPC lines, and that along with the architecture zealotry of the fan base meant that there would never be the much-longed-for revival.
He also takes a look at the other home computer platforms of the era, including the “all its killer architecture managed to kill was, sadly, Atari itself” Atari Falcon, and the Acorn Archimedes, which also lives on for enthusiasts and is perhaps the most accessible survivor. From here having also the benefit of hindsight we can’t disagree with him on his assessment, so perhaps it’s best to look at the Amiga not as the platform we should rightfully still be using, but the great stepping stone which provided us a useful computer back in t he day without breaking the bank.
There was a moment in the years spanning the move from 16-bit platforms to 32-bit, during which it looked for a moment as though there might be a few new operating system contenders making a mark on the desktop.
This was the period that gave rise to the “Year of Linux on the desktop” meme as the open source contender just wasn’t ready for the general public, but we all know what happened. The various commercial contenders slipped by the wayside or survived by the skin of their teeth as enthusiast or niche platforms, while Microsoft Windows steamrollered all before it except for the walled garden of Apple users.
It seems that even being seen to talk to the folks from Be was enough to ensure an OEM received a visit from Microsoft goons sales representatives so even though the rival OS was offered for free it received no PC takers. This was the received opinion, but it turns out that the one manufacturer which did include BeOS was Hitachi, in Japan. Their Flora Prius PC was a Pentium II equipped white box typical of late-90s multimedia hardware, and though it booted into Windows it also had a BeOS installation on board that probably very few owners would have even realised existed. It seems Hitachi did the deal with Be but didn’t install the required bootloader to use the Be partition. A Flora Prius owner could run the software if they were prepared to follow some instructions on the Be website and download a floppy image, but it seems very few did so.
All this leads to a fascinating challenge for today’s BeOS enthusiasts, to locate a surviving Flora Prius PC if any can still be found with an intact BeOS partition, and activate the only factory PC BeOS install. We know we have readers in Japan who almost certainly have an eye for an old computer, can any of you help them in this quest?
The HP-200LX palmtop was a fascinating machine for its time, and [Terrence Vergauwen] proves that its time is not yet over, given that one is responsible for serving up the website for Palmtop Tube, a website and YouTube channel dedicated to vintage palmtops.
All by itself a HP-200LX doesn’t have quite what it takes to act as a modern web server, but it doesn’t take much to provide the missing pieces. A PCMCIA network adapter provides an Ethernet connection, and a NAS contains the website content while networking and web server software run locally. Steady power comes from a wall adapter, but two rechargeable AA cells in the 200LX itself act as a mini-UPS, providing backup power in case of outages.
The HP-200LX was a breakthrough product that came just at the right time, preceding other true palm top computers like the IBM PC 110. In the early 90s, it was unimaginable that one could have a fully functional MS-DOS based machine in one’s pocket, let alone one that could last weeks on a couple of AA cells. It didn’t have some proprietary OS and weird ports, and that kind of functionality is part of why, roughly 30 years later, one is able to competently serve up web traffic.
The first order of business was to open the machine up and inspect the internals. Visible corrosion gets cleaned up with oxalic acid, old electrolytic capacitors are replaced as a matter of course, and any corroded traces get careful repair. Removing corrosion from sockets requires desoldering the part for cleaning then re-soldering, so this whole process can be a lot of work. Fortunately, vintage hardware was often designed with hand-assembly in mind, so parts tend to be accessible for servicing with decent visibility in the process. The keyboard was entirely disassembled and de-yellowed, yielding an eye-poppingly attractive result.
Once the computer itself was working properly, it was time for a few modern upgrades. One was to give the machine an adapter to use a CF card in place of an internal IDE hard drive, and [drygol] did a great job of using a 3D-printed piece to make the CF2IDE adapter look like a factory offering. The internal floppy drive was also replaced with a GOTEK floppy emulator (also with a 3D-printed adapter) for another modern upgrade.
The fully refurbished and upgraded machine looks slick, so watch the Acorn Archimedes A3020 show off what it can do in the video (embedded below), and maybe feel a bit of nostalgia.
In the early and mid 1990s there were a host of big players in the nascent public Internet that played their part in guiding the adventurous early Web users on their way. Many of them such as Netscape or Altavista have fallen by the wayside, while players such as Lycos and Yahoo are still in existence but shadows of their former selves. Some other companies broadened their businesses to become profitable and still exist quietly getting on with whatever they do. An example is Tucows, now a major domain name registrar, who have finally announced the closure of their software library that was such an essential destination in those times.
The company name was originally an acronym: “The Ultimate Collection Of Winsock Software”, started in 1993 by a library employee in Flint, Michigan. As its name suggests it was a collection of mostly shareware Windows software, and the “Winsock” refers to Windows Sockets, the API used by Windows versions of the day for accessing network resources. It seems odd to modern eyes, but connecting a 486 PC running Windows 3.1 to the Internet was something of a complex process without any of the built-in software we take for granted today. Meanwhile the fledgling Linux distributions were only for the extremely tech-savvy or adventurous, so the world of open-source software had yet to make a significant impact on consumer-level devices.
The passing of a Windows shareware library would not normally be a story of interest, but it is the part that Tucows played in providing a reliable software source on the early Web that makes it worthy of note. It’s something of a shock to discover that it had survived into the 2020s, it’s been so long since it was relevant, but if you sat bathed in the glow of a CRT monitor as you waited interminably for your CuteFTP download over your 28.8k modem to finish then you probably have a space for Tucows somewhere in your heart. If you fancy a trip down memory lane, the Internet Archive have a very period-ugly-looking version of the site from 1996.