12 dated technologies that still work

Despite the race for novelty, some very old technologies, from magnetic tape to mainframes, remain the best. Travel back in time with these tools that are still just as effective today.

The world of technology often feels like an endless parade of incredible ideas, architectures, languages ​​and equipment. But it also sometimes happens that a tool that was once new remains in place longer than expected. Maybe because a gadget never goes out of style. Perhaps because the solution to replace it never sees the light of day. Or because the tool that succeeds it turns out to be less good. So why not celebrate those artifacts of the computer industry that steadfastly deliver on their promise day after day, year after year, sometimes even for decades.

Here’s a look at some of those technologies that refuse to die. Ideas and objects – chips, software, languages ​​- that for one reason or another never left the scene. Often we don’t notice them much anymore. We even forget that they exist. But these tools from another age continue to function, without making any noise.

The Z80 chip

Derived from the hugely popular Intel 8080, the Z80 processor was introduced in 1974. This competing chip had more registers and commands, but was largely binary compatible with the original. Developers could run their 8080 code or modify it to exploit the additional functions and make it a bit faster. As Intel set out to create bigger, better performing, and incredibly faster x86 chips, Zilog’s Z80 continued to thrive in less visible niches like microcontrollers.

Today, electronics manufacturers who want to integrate a stable microprocessor with a greater library richness can choose between several options from Zilog and other vendors. And for those who want to continue in the tradition, some manufacturers like Toshiba have gradually extended the range around the Z80 with larger buses and registers.

Game emulators

Anyone looking to indulge in old video games can turn to a variety of open source emulators to run the original code on newer machines. Robust implementations of popular platforms like the Super Nintendo exist, but there are also more obscure frameworks for the Commodore Amiga for example. Developers have even found a way to run code in the ROM of some arcade games. Certainly, the most recent games give their heroes such a realistic appearance that you can see the smallest pores of their skin. Still, there is something timeless and joyful about winning a game in a game with ASCII visuals like on the screen of an old terminal!

PuTTY

A surprising amount of software written for the first version of Windows continues to run. PuTTY, used to establish an SSH connection, is one of them. It can even run the SUPDUP connection protocol which dates back to the 70s and 80s. A small group of volunteers maintains the original code, originally released in 1999. The easiest way to use PuTTY is to download an executable.

FreeDOS

It might not be quite fair to call FreeDOS old technology. Indeed, a version of Edlin, the classic file-editing program, was released in 2022. And that’s not all, revised and corrected versions of old command-line codes are now part of FreeDOS.

But continued development doesn’t change the fact that the project is dedicated to keeping DOS, the command line, and the programs that run on it alive. If you have old DOS software that you want to continue using, FreeDOS is one of the easiest ways to do so.

BSD Unix

After the creation of Unix by the Bell LAbs, a number of clones began to appear. When ATT attempted to exert control over the OS’s intellectual property, a group of clever programmers wrote their own versions of the most common utilities and released them under the now ubiquitous Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) license.

Today, this code is often found in the Linux world, in Red Hat or Ubuntu distributions for example. A robust kernel still exists under the name BSD, following many conventions established at Berkeley. Builds like OpenBSD, FreeBSD, and NetBSD still run fast, smooth, and lightweight.

IBM M keyboards for PC

IBM’s first personal computer came with a Model M keyboard which remains one of the most popular options for communicating with a computer. When Big Blue stopped making them in 1996, a few loyalists grabbed the tools needed to create Unicomp, which specialized in traditional PC keyboards.

Today, you can find all the versions of mechanical keyboards you want, but with more recent electronic components adapted to current PCs. They have their advantages, but nothing is stronger and more efficient than the original M model.

Matlab

Since its appearance in 1984, this software has been helping scientists and engineers to multiply matrices. Matlab has improved tremendously over the years and now supports object oriented programming and GUIs. But at its core, it remains a programming platform for building and analyzing large matrices.

Cartridges

You would think that magnetic stripe readers have gone out of fashion since the 1960s. On the contrary, although they no longer hold the same market share as they once did, some people still appreciate this technology. It’s easy to ship and store, and it’s much more stable than Flash chips.

It’s also not entirely accurate to say that readers are still running the same old technology. Tape manufacturers have incorporated many of the innovations used by hard drive manufacturers to achieve massive densities. The LTO-9 format, released in 2017, can store 12 terabytes on a cartridge. While IBM manufactures LTO drive heads, Fujifilm and Sony produce the cartridges. Another format from IBM, the 3592 Jaguar, can store up to 10 terabytes.

Beepers

Long before Twitter and texting, doctors, stockbrokers, and anyone else who needed to be reached used a pager capable of sending a few digits. Today’s solutions like WhatsApp go through the mobile network or the Internet. Certainly, they allow to include a photo or an emoji, but are not at all as reliable. That’s why doctors, nurses and paramedics continue to use pagers for critical communications. One of the largest paging systems in the United States says it still handles 100 million messages every month.

Beeper manufacturers have not been idle either. Their latest equipment includes an encryption system and HIPAA protections. Some even allow two-way communication.

SQL databases

Oracle released the first commercial SQL database in 1979. Microsoft released its own in the 1980s. PostgreSQL and MySQL followed in the 1990s. SQL queries. That’s why the business plan of companies like Google, Amazon, Neon and PlanetScale – to name a few – is to reformat a classic SQL database as a service.

To be fair, some cloud database platforms are making significant changes, such as separating the logical layer from the storage layer to speed up certain types of queries and support massively scalable storage. But from a programmer’s perspective, an SQL database in the cloud is no different than the good old interface they’ve been using for years.

ARM processors

ARM is one of the basic architectures for processors born with the RISC revolution in the 1980s. Today, almost 40 years later, ARM cores can be found almost everywhere: in embedded machines as in Raspberry machines Pi appeared in 2012. They are also present in Apple Macs, although in a very different form. The Cupertino company licensed ARM’s instruction sets, not the chip design, to develop its own processors.

ARM’s simple architecture has proven to be remarkably nimble. It is used to design some of the most efficient chips with the best ratio between computing power and consumed energy.

IBM Z mainframes

What better example of old technology that lives on than the iconic computer from IBM, the company that started and led the computer industry in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. It built its first maiframe in 1952, a 70 years! And it’s entirely possible that some code created back then on punched cards still works today in one form or another. If you’ve ever wondered why Cobol developers are always in demand, it’s because of IBM’s mainframes. Many companies still use the same indestructible programs.

However, the operating system and the languages ​​of the Z systems have been improved and enriched over time, even if most of the principles of the code have not changed. It is not for nothing that IBM customers, such as the big banks, continue to use it. Perhaps they gently poke fun at fintechs who brag about their modern software and languages.

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