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Is it possible to use a 1981 IBM PC 5150 for real work?
August 21, 2011 7:43 PM   Subscribe


 
Some of these links and the basic topic are a double. The first link is nice though.
posted by infini at 7:48 PM on August 21, 2011


PINE! Oh, how I've missed you ...
posted by maudlin at 7:50 PM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


So.. you've been pining for PINE?

I'm sorry. That was simple and way too easy.

I admit, at first, I read it as "Pine! (to feel great longing or desire; yearn) Oh, how I've missed you!", and wondered why you'd use a phrase which defined the word you'd just used.

But then I realize that you were talking about something else entirely.

/me is a bit slow

posted by hippybear at 8:00 PM on August 21, 2011


That computer is my age, so I wasn't expecting much of a nostalgia kick.

But then... Grape Bubble Tape!
posted by Sys Rq at 8:02 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Somebody obviously needs to create an email client called Yearn for all those messages you wish you had actually composed.
posted by maudlin at 8:05 PM on August 21, 2011


UGHH the fact he used a terminal emulator to connect to a Linux machine that was connected to the internet makes this way less cool as far as I'm concernend. Sure you can tweet and browse the web from the Linux command line!

Still a totally interesting read though.
posted by capnsue at 8:19 PM on August 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


Using a terminal emulator is a bit of a crutch, but consider that a single TCP/IP packet could take 2k, a 128 packet buffer would be about 1/2 of the available RAM. It's amazing that anyone ever got TCP/IP working on a PC, regardless of the network card.
posted by MikeWarot at 8:26 PM on August 21, 2011


Yeah, after thinking about it for more than 2 seconds I realize it would be next to impossible to actually get a TCP/IP stack going on that thing. BUT STILL
posted by capnsue at 8:30 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm going to fire up my work machines, an Apple ///+ and a TRS-80 Model I Level I
posted by zippy at 8:59 PM on August 21, 2011


After checking out a few tweets from Alyssa Milano, I moved on.

Don't we all.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:01 PM on August 21, 2011


So, he's connecting to a modern linux PC using a null modem cable? I'm unimpressed.

Up next week: I will do all of my work from a VT100.

Hell. I'll do all my work from an actual teleprinter, just to show 'em.
posted by schmod at 9:02 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I fired up my telnet client, connected to my ISP, called up lynx (instead of Alpine, which is usually what I do) and surfed MetaFilter. Now that's how it's done without emulators, kiddies.

I kid, I have to give the writer a lot of credit for getting the IBM up and running anyway he could.
posted by sardonyx at 9:14 PM on August 21, 2011


I believe that the arachne web browser will actually run nativly on a 5150, assuming it has 512kb of ram (which, i admit, was expensive back then - but was an available option for a 5150).
posted by jaymzjulian at 9:19 PM on August 21, 2011


(Although, on a 5150, Minuet probably would be a better choice - despite that it's not a graphical web browser!)
posted by jaymzjulian at 9:22 PM on August 21, 2011


Blah blah technical babble blah blah ... HOLY SHIT he got to play Alley Cat! I am SO JEALOUS.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 9:35 PM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wouldn't consider connecting to a Linux machine much of a crutch. Sure, you could run stuff like Minuet (I did, for "fun"), but to do anything actually useful, you dialed into a Unix shell account and did your internet stuff there. It was much less laggy and downloads over ZModem were faster (SLIP or PPP over a 9600 baud or less modem had a ton of overhead). I first got onto the Internet by dialing into a cluster of NeXT cubes.
posted by zsazsa at 9:50 PM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


You can't even browse the web anymore with Windows 95. I know this because we have it running on a machine at work. All it does is interface with a hand-built Japanese 20 dpi thermal printer (bit maps only please!). We're afraid to upgrade for fear of not being able to interface with it anymore.
posted by Brocktoon at 9:52 PM on August 21, 2011


BTW, full-screen 16-color full motion video with sound on an original IBM PC (with CGA and Sound Blaster).
posted by zsazsa at 10:39 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I remember in 1996 I used to bring my laptop to work and use an acoustic coupler to dial into CompuServe during breaks and grab my e-mails. Then I discovered our 1970s-vintage Univac 1100 mainframes had a telnet command. So I could just log in right there on my terminal and get me a piece of the Internet. It kind of amazes me I was having e-mail conversations through a machine built by guys who were probably humming Shake Your Booty while putting the circuit boards together.

I left in 1998... I sometimes wonder if they're still using that computer.
posted by crapmatic at 12:08 AM on August 22, 2011


MaryDellamorte: Blah blah technical babble blah blah ... HOLY SHIT he got to play Alley Cat! I am SO JEALOUS.

Epic Alley Cat trailer
posted by Anything at 12:44 AM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


The human brain is a funny thing...It's so often that you don't realize the things that are hiding in there.

When the 5150 frenzy was going on over the last couple weeks, I remembered playing mostly ASCII games moving little smilies around or random-number games (particularly this) - wondering what a biorhythm was or Wildcatting for oil.

But then - Alley Cat is mentioned, a game I wouldn't have listed AT ALL as a game I remember, and suddenly, the entire gameplay comes back - the frustration of not knowing what to do (who read instructions as a child?), and the sense of accomplishment of finally figuring out how to drink the milk, etc etc...

How is all that stuff hiding in there after 30 years?
posted by grajohnt at 2:04 AM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just remember when those emerged like sluglike, stiff-necked Vogons slouching their lumpen way into the world, seeing one for the first time in person at a friend's house.

How can they possibly be this bad?

I mean, even the crappy on screen font looked terrible. The industrial design was terrible, the way they worked was terrible, and just...everything about them just sucked cosmic ass. "Can IBM not do any better than this?" I asked, because that gigantic metal box of sad sitting on my friend's father's desk just seemed like a vast ocean liner-sized joke, but nope, people bought 'em and bought 'em and bought 'em.

Vile machines, and it's telling that I keep my original 1980 vintage Apple ][ plus around because it's still a fun game machine, while I very happily threw a dozen XTs into a dumpster at the dissolution of my former employers, joyously hoping the damage them as much as possible. Utterly worthless, the whole stinking lot of 'em. Hell, I use my Epson Geneva PX-8 more than the lone IBM I keep in my collection of retrocomputers to remind myself how much sad they could dump into one box and foist off on humanity.

The one thing, though—that keyboard. That thing, on the other hand, showed every bit of the engineering money put into it, despite the embarrassing industrial design, and the touch, the tingy-clackety sing-song sound of it...heaven.

With my older tech, but hacker-designed and visionary, Apple ][, I always felt a vague sense of moral superiority as everyone ran screaming to get on the PC train, and then the world chugged along without me, leaving me cursing in the software store as they made my section smaller and smaller and smaller. If I hadn't picked up a C64 along the way, I'd have been stuck with educational software, alas.

Awful, awful, humiliating machines, those PCs. But at least they fixed them with the PC Jr., right?
posted by sonascope at 4:25 AM on August 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Happy birthday IBM
posted by the noob at 4:49 AM on August 22, 2011


I wouldn't consider connecting to a Linux machine much of a crutch. Sure, you could run stuff like Minuet (I did, for "fun"), but to do anything actually useful, you dialed into a Unix shell account and did your internet stuff there. It was much less laggy and downloads over ZModem were faster (SLIP or PPP over a 9600 baud or less modem had a ton of overhead). I first got onto the Internet by dialing into a cluster of NeXT cubes.

I first got on the net… ("…LUXURY! When I was a lad, we lived in a shoebox in the middle of the road…") …on my Atari ST (I'm a musician, and it was an awesome MIDI box) with a 9600 baud modem, using Unix terminal emulation for most things. ZModem, emacs, pine, etc. were the tools. Lynx was brand new, Usenet had less than a couple thousand groups, I even used gopher… Tied up my one phone line, friends would have to break in using the Unix talk function to get a hold of me.

My use of those first 5150's was at my mid-to-late 80's large corporation cubicle day job where they had one or two per department and they were supposed to be used only by the dept.'s resident programmer. Most of our work was input into the mainframe database on an overnight batch system via IBM 5280's and 3270's. I got sick of doing data analyses that had to wait on the batches and talked the programmer into teaching me Lotus 1-2-3 so I could recreate the parts of the (financial) database I wanted to analyze and run projections in minutes and hours that would otherwise take days. He was happy to do so as an alternative to being a bottleneck taking requests for projects from all the other drones in the office. That was probably the high water mark for how useful a DOS box was to me.
posted by Philofacts at 5:57 AM on August 22, 2011


felt a vague sense of moral superiority

Only a vague sense?

posted by smackfu at 6:43 AM on August 22, 2011


Someone who considers editing photos, writing emails, browsing the web and tweeting ‘real work’ might have trouble in a post-petroleum world, although a case for some of those could be made as being more work than hanging out in MetaFilter, which is what I’m doing now at work. However, I do like that he overcame difficulties and succeeded at his stated goal.

You can't even browse the web anymore with Windows 95.
-I find this a suspect statement, however I can't test it at the moment. I'll try tonight if I have the time. I would believe you can't watch YouTubes (or RedTubes), but I suspect you're not trying very hard.

I fired up my telnet client, connected to my ISP, called up lynx (instead of Alpine, which is usually what I do) and surfed MetaFilter. Now that's how it's done without emulators, kiddies.
-Was this on a 5150? Curious about the telnet client and connection…details?
I could write documents, send emails, and browse the web on my Commodore. (128, not 64, but that was because I was using DesTerm, which was written for the 128. In principle, I could have done it on the 64) This was dial-up in VT-100 emulation to a BBS at 1200 baud, which provides plenty of speed for browsing if you’re text-only. I haven’t tried it since I lost my free BBS connection. Maybe I could get one of those Ethernet adapters for it.
posted by MtDewd at 6:47 AM on August 22, 2011


Yeah, why wouldn't Windows 95 work? It has a TCP/IP stack and an old version of Netscape will surely run on it.
posted by smackfu at 6:53 AM on August 22, 2011


Mmmm, AUTOEXEC.BAT.

Also, the guy who wrote ZZT, Tim Sweeney, was in my class in high school. Always wondered what happened to that guy.
posted by escabeche at 7:26 AM on August 22, 2011


I used a Windows 95 machine as recently as three years ago: it surfed just fine.

Pine, Elm, Lynx and most of the other stuff he's talking about I used all through grad school in the 90's. Text based machines work, and in fact they'd probably be pretty useful to help with writing/not surfing.
posted by jrochest at 7:49 AM on August 22, 2011


1988 - a 1200 baud modem. PHSBBS. (I also had an old 300 baud Merlin.)

1993 - You could run Winsock 1.1 on Windows 3.11. A'course, that was before the www. Gopher. Archie. Veronica.

Pentiums with the fdiv bug.

Sigh. Good times.
posted by pointless_incessant_barking at 7:49 AM on August 22, 2011


MtDewd,

No it wasn't an ancient IBM. I did it (and took a screen cap of it) a couple of minutes before I posted from my ThinkPad. I did it partly as a joke, but partly to make a real point.

The "point" part was, just as the writer had used old games and old word processing equipment, it would have been nice to see him try a much "older school" (as opposed to hooking up to a Linux emulator) approach to getting online. Now whether that would have been feasible, I don't know. Even though I had limited access to computers reaching back into the 80s I wasn't online until the mid 90s in the gopher/Archie/Veronica/lynx era, so my personal experience with what is feasible with a 5150 is non-existent.

While it may sound like a joke, I do retain one ISP (although not my main one) that does offer subscribers an option to telnet in, use the non-GUI, strictly-text Alpine (marginally update PINE), and even lynx if they so desire. If anybody wants to see a screencap of what this thread looked like in lynx last night, me-mail me and I'll e-mail you a copy.

For those who are debating the issue, the reality is that while you still can use a Win 95/98 machine to surf, you can't do it very well. I finally retired my ten-year-old Toshiba Win 98 laptop because it really couldn't handle the Internet well enough. The thing is tank, and I hated to put it out to pasture, because it could do everything I needed for work -- e-mail, word processing, spreadsheet calculations, photo manipulation, etc. -- and it could even play and download (read torrent) files. Sure it took a bit more effort to find Win 98 compatible software, but it's still out there in pretty much any category you can imagine.

When it came to surfing, however, I just couldn't put up with it anymore. I do a lot of research for work, and I'm always having to hit sites I've never encountered before. Even with trying different browsers, it just got to the point where I couldn't be sure if the next website I needed to visit would work or if it would hang and stall the system to the point where I needed to reboot the machine.

I know I should have tried updating the OS, but the specs of the machine (top of the line when I bought it) just didn't lend themselves to easily accommodating newer OSes. In addition to that, my technical expertise is such that I wasn't sure I could handle finding the correct laptop drivers, especially for critical systems like power management, so I finally pulled the plug and replaced it.

Even now, after a year, I can't type as well on the ThinkPad as I did on that Toshiba, or the Toshiba that came before it (and also lasted about ten years).
posted by sardonyx at 8:20 AM on August 22, 2011


@Maudlin: I still use Pine. Every day. It's much faster than webmail. I have to resort to webmail when I get or need to send an attachment, but that's it. (Oh, and to search body text, and the new webmail has taken away some of the functionality of the old webmail, so I use it even less than before. Sender and subject search is still way faster on Pine.)
posted by bentley at 9:10 AM on August 22, 2011


sardonyx, I was able to run XP just fine on an old Gateway Solo 2550 laptop with a Celeron 450 and 288 MB of RAM that was meant for Win 95/98. I put a bigger hard drive in it, though.
posted by rfs at 9:13 AM on August 22, 2011


I have a working IBM 5150 stuffed away in a closet at my old man's house. 256K ram. DOS 3.0 Hack 1.something. I remember being very sad that I couldn't run Moria on it since I didn't have 512K ram.

Cut my teeth on that box. read the DOS 3.0 manual from cover to cover ("This page intentionally left blank"). Wrote really bad teenage angsty poetry in a wordstar-like editor called "The SLIC Works" (saddens me to this day that I cannot find a copy of this program ANYWHERE). And the IBM 5150 instilled forever in me a love of mechanical keyswitches and the control key being in the correct place (on the home row, instead of capslock).

For those of you surprised about TCP/IP working on a machine of that vintage, check out contiki, an os with tcp/ip, a web browser, web server, telnet client, and more - all made to run on an unmodified C64.
posted by namewithoutwords at 9:16 AM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


...it would have been nice to see him try a much "older school" (as opposed to hooking up to a Linux emulator) approach to getting online.
That was my first impression, but then he said it's not that much different than dialing up a BBS, and I had to agree. I didn't start taking my Commodore onto the net until after I had a Win95 (back when it worked) connection already, so it was just sort of a joke as well.
So what would be a good old-school approach? '81 was before token ring and I'm pretty sure you couldn't have gotten Ethernet for the 5150 then, so that pretty much means a serial port connection, and either connected to some kind of [non-Linux] system like a VAX, or more likely to a modem. But where do you call these days? Are there still dial-ups you can call?
Maybe it would have been less cheating if he'd just used 2 modems (and not over 4800 bps, either) to call up his Linux server instead of using a null modem.

On preview- "This page intentionally left blank" - Ha. I remember IBM t-shirts that said IBM on the front and "This side intentionally left blank" on the back.
posted by MtDewd at 9:29 AM on August 22, 2011


...and I guess you can tweet from a C64 as well.
posted by MtDewd at 9:37 AM on August 22, 2011


But where do you call these days? Are there still dial-ups you can call?

The same ISP I mentioned above still displays its modem dial-up number on its homepage. I haven't tried calling it in two or three years, but the last time I tried, it was still accessible.

My main ISP sill allows dial-up service. I have family members who use it, and I've resorted to it while having DSL issues. It's a great lifeline for when you really need access.

Bentley is absolutely correct, for simple text-based e-mail Pine/Alpine beats webmail by leaps and bounds in terms of speed. I'd really miss it if I couldn't access it anymore.
posted by sardonyx at 9:50 AM on August 22, 2011


UGHH the fact he used a terminal emulator to connect to a Linux machine that was connected to the internet makes this way less cool as far as I'm concernend

I agree wholeheartedly. I pretty much just skimmed from that point on, as using the PC as a dumb terminal is not very interesting at all. I was all prepared to see him fight battle with a DOS based TCP/IP stack.

You can't even browse the web anymore with Windows 95

Firefox 2.0 dropped support for Windows 95, but 1.5 should still work fine. However, that doesn't mean you can successfully browse the modern web. A lot of sites out there have completely dropped support for Firefox older than 3.0 or 3.5. For example, if you try to view a tweet, twitter will just stare at you blankly without displaying anything because there is no native JSON support prior to Gecko 1.9.1 (Firefox 3.5) and there's no eval-type fallback. And a lot more sites use some of the more unglamorous semantic bits of HTML5 (such as <section>, <article>, <nav>, <header>, <datalist>, etc) to make menus and such, which means they will look like vomit on Fx 1.x or 2.x. However, as long as you stick to websites that are conservative in their design and don't try to do too much heavy scripting or use advanced features, you will be mostly fine.

Using a terminal emulator is a bit of a crutch, but consider that a single TCP/IP packet could take 2k, a 128 packet buffer would be about 1/2 of the available RAM.

That's quite a distortion. The standard says that all connected hosts have to be able to deal with a MTU down to 576 which corresponds to a MSS of 536. In this day and age most things have the don't-fragment bit set, which means that a stack that doesn't want to handle the normal 1500 MTU can just send an ICMP type 3 (destination unreachable) code 4 (fragmentation required) packet and the sending end will reduce their MSS down until it's acceptible (path MTU), assuming that such ICMP messages aren't blocked by some hop along the way. And beyond that, nobody necessarily needs 128 packets in memory. Since performance doesn't really matter you could simply set your RWIN (receive window) to be very small and disable the modern features like window scaling.

Even the Commodore 64 eventually had a working TCP/IP stack. If they can do it there, surely this guy could get it working on a machine with ten times the memory and approximately five times the CPU.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:31 AM on August 23, 2011


But where do you call these days? Are there still dial-ups you can call?

AT&T still has plenty of dialup sites for corporate networks. Up until recently, they were useful in places where you didn't have any access other than a phone line, like on-site at a customer office where they wouldn't let you plug into their intranet. With 3G broadband cards, not much point nowadays.
posted by smackfu at 9:58 AM on August 23, 2011


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