Ancient Computer Screenshots
June 11, 2005 12:28 PM   Subscribe

Each year I try to teach some computer history to my 5th graders, just to put all the technology into a little bit of context. It would be tremendously helpful if I could show them actual screenshots of what computer programs used to look like. Specifically, I've looked for screenshots of Viscalc (some success, but lousy shots), early amber-on-black word processing, and pre-www internet (PINE, Usenet, etc.) Anybody know of a good place for this stuff? Other related suggestions welcome.
posted by carterk to Education (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I just came across this earlier this week. Hope it has what you like.
posted by Sonic_Molson at 12:39 PM on June 11, 2005

For the first part of your question, why not download a copy of Visicalc from Dan Bricklin's site? I'm such a nerd, I often use it for the times when calculator is not enough, but Excel is overkill.
posted by punilux at 12:41 PM on June 11, 2005

A lot of people still use pre-www internet stuff like PINE and Usenet in text environments. I could get you screenshots of these specifically if you'd like, here's one example, here's another [take them if you'd like]
posted by jessamyn at 12:43 PM on June 11, 2005

pre-www internet (PINE, Usenet, etc.)

pine is still alive and kicking, and quite a few people use it. In fact, if I didn't have, I'd probably use either pine or mutt. You could just download pc-pine and demonstrate it. The same is basically true of usenet.
posted by advil at 12:45 PM on June 11, 2005

I don't know what platform you're running on, but there are many OS emulators out there, on which you can run old software. You could take the screenshots you need from that?
posted by AlexReynolds at 12:45 PM on June 11, 2005

Both suggestions are helpful, thanks! It occurs to me that someone oughta create a virtual museum that allows one to relive the experiences of those bare-footed pioneers back in the dark ages. Heck, you coudl even use Java to build functional simulations of stuff like visicalc, couldn't you? It'd be a cool site, and people teaching recent popular culture history would drool...
posted by carterk at 12:47 PM on June 11, 2005

Oops, you guys snuck in. I'm using a mac. OK, I admit to ignorance. I'm sure it's still possible travel the text-based internet from my OSX desktop, but I moved to a GUI so happily when it became possible I'm not sure how I'd go about it. Any pointers for resources that would tell me how, step by step?
posted by carterk at 12:51 PM on June 11, 2005

Thank me later. I can do some of tin and emacs if you really want. I doubt they'd look so exciting. And yes I use pine every day.
posted by shepd at 12:52 PM on June 11, 2005

Use photoshop or some other graphics software to get the amberscreen effect.
Don't forget to add the other artifacts, like there being a large border between the edge of the screen and the useable area, and the useable area being a lighter shade of bronish black :), and the the occaisonal rolling flicker of area that is lighter again. (Same goes with greenscreens)
posted by -harlequin- at 1:21 PM on June 11, 2005

I've been watching The Ascent of Man, from 1972. In it they use some computer graphics, some rotations of a skull and some illustrations of basic physics principles I think.
posted by Chuckles at 1:30 PM on June 11, 2005

WorldWideWeb, by Tim Berners-Lee (who is credited with the start of the internet), was actually the first web browser ever(even before the UNIX text-based ones).

If you open up any UNIX shell, that's pretty much what stuff was like... as the screenshot above shows, putty (ssh) into any posix computer and have a ball. start a gcc build or something & impress them with all the text scrolling by :P
posted by devilsbrigade at 1:56 PM on June 11, 2005



posted by cmonkey at 1:57 PM on June 11, 2005

Although calling these "ancient" programs is silly; I use pine, vi and lynx in my day to day life still.
posted by cmonkey at 1:58 PM on June 11, 2005

Not quite what you were asking, but perhaps worth considering: maybe you could show them the sequential progression of computer technology as fairly accurately portrayed by 2-3 Strongbad emails - they'll probably enjoy the (brief) show, and the computer technology he uses is true to the machines of each era (every dozen or so emails, he upgrades to the next generation of technology, usually because something unfortunate happens to the old machine), though the software is fictional.

An example would be Strongbad video games, where he invents a (bad) video game that is typical of each era of home computer, demonstrates the game, and includes period-accurate packaging and cover art. At the end of the animation, you can click on the games and play them.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:58 PM on June 11, 2005

You might look on emulator sites. I know there are windows emulators for the Apple II, C64 and TRS-80 Model I/III/4 and CoCo -- most of the sites will probably have screenshots of the emulators running, which should be close to the original.

Alternatively, you could just install some emulators (most all are free, though you'd need non-legal but readily available ROM copies for at least some emulation targets) and take screenshots yourself of whatever software you wanted.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:19 PM on June 11, 2005

As other have said, the old Internet software still works fine. For other things, you could try asking in alt.folklore.computers using one of those ancient Usenet clients, were many old time computer scientists such as Dennis Ritchie still answers questions.
posted by rpn at 3:01 PM on June 11, 2005

cartek--What a fun project! When I was teaching computers and media to K-8, I had the 4th and 5th graders do a timeline of "communication and thinking machines" (the context for working up to computers). I made large symbols out of cardboard for everything...speaking, telegraph, telephone, calculators, record players, TV, ATM's and so on. Then I had them try to put the symbols in chronological order. We discussed whether or not the order was right and, if it wasn't right, why did this machine come before that machine. It was a blast! Also, it was pretty humbling. Soon I was getting questions like:

-You had NO ATM's when you were a kid??!! Where did you get your money?
-Your TV only had THREE CHANNELS when you were our age? And it went off at midnight??? What happened after midnight if you pushed the buttons on the remote? (Tried explaining that there was no remote.)
-Your computer had NO MOUSE? You worked in a place where a computer was as large as a ROOM????

Geez Louise. I was only 36 at the time but I felt like Methuselah...
posted by jeanmari at 6:49 PM on June 11, 2005

There's A history of the GUI on Arstechnica which has some illustrations.
posted by rjs at 1:42 AM on June 12, 2005

There's quite a number of screenshot archives out there.

This one looks pretty good.
posted by dodgygeezer at 2:03 AM on June 12, 2005

USENET is still in use, too, and there are GUI newsreaders and whatnot. Here we see a cry for Manly Joe Manfire with ugly fonts.
posted by kenko at 12:18 PM on June 12, 2005

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