Do You Use A Vintage Computer for Real Work?

June 8th, 2011 by Benj Edwards

Old Computers Still in Use

Does anybody out there still use an old, obsolete computer for real work?

For example, I've heard tales of TRS-80 Model 100 laptops powering road-side traffic signs, and of companies relying on Apple IIs with custom BASIC software from the 1980s. Some firms still keep ancient mainframes with important databases running deep in the basement, and while others have not yet upgraded from Windows 3.1.

I'm not talking about hobbyist vintage computing here. I'm talking about an individual or company who still uses an old, old machine to get things done. Maybe you've spotted a case of this while out and about, or perhaps you know someone who won't let go of their trusty PC. Obviously, the older the computer, the more interesting the story.

If you guys know of any instances of this, I'd love to hear about them in the comments below! I'll compile the best stories in a future blog post.



31 Responses to “Do You Use A Vintage Computer for Real Work?”

  1. Daniel Auger Says:

    It's been a couple years since I've stopped in there, but if nothing has changed, Raymond Computer in Saint Paul, MN uses a C64 as their cash register / POS terminal.

  2. pdb Says:

    Up until last year (when we had to upgrade because the scanner (not the computer!) broke) the government facility where I work was using a PSION Organiser II CM (Released 1986) to handle inventory of our warehouse.

    That thing is ancient. 8K of RAM, 0.92 Mhz. Programmable in OPL, which is very BASIC-like. It actually used EPROM for removable storage. (Yes, EPROM, not EEPROM). It could write to the DATAPAKs once, after that you had to mail them to PSION (or someone else, now) who has a UV eraser, then you'd get back your newly blanked DATAPAKs.

  3. KillerRabbit Says:

    Once upon an afternoon, a computer tech was fixing an ATM inside the store at which I am employed. I happened upon witnessing him reboot the thing to find it was a 200MHz Pentium II PC. He happened to mention how an ATM at another convenience store in the north part of town was running on an 8086 with the 1MB upgrade. Have 5MHz, will travel.

  4. Bill Carson Says:

    I once came across a doughnut shop that used C64′s as their cash register (the machines weren't hooked up to the cash drawers, though).
    I don't know if they still use them.

  5. Jurgi Says:

    I was using Atari 130XE for writing texts until 2001.
    But… Polish computer Odra 1305 built in 1973 was working until 1st May 2010, it was managing railway traffic constantly from 1974 with no pauses or malfunctions. Many of Odras also was runing only few years ago.
    http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odra_1305
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odra_(computer)

  6. dougie Says:

    I used to work in a big San Jose data center and we had a very old, but still very function DEC VT 100 terminal with original keyboard to talk to the UNIX
    servers!

  7. Carlos Solís Says:

    Not exactly a vintage computer, but I know of a shoe store that still uses a program built for DOS for their stock and sales.

  8. The_WOZ Says:

    I used my C64 and geoPublish for my university papers until early 2000.
    I also had an A500 at that time but print quality was better under GEOS.

  9. lilimist Says:

    Well, I don't know if you'd classify it as "real work", heh — and I doubt whether it's even vintage enough — but I write a good deal of my fiction nowadays on a Z88, or using MS Word 5 for DOS running under dosbox on a Pismo Powerbook (I use different computers/software for different projects, believe it or not). ;)

  10. Cody Says:

    How old is old? I know a few companies running OpenVMS Alpha systems which are a decade or two old.

  11. goto80 Says:

    A bus stop in Brisbane, Australia still used the C-64 a few years ago. Analogik's page about it is not there anymore, but: http://is.gd/25J997

  12. Judith Says:

    I work with an IBM 1401 restoration team, and we're in touch with someone in the Southwest who is still doing his billing on an IBM 402. We can't get it away from him, even though we've offered to transfer all his records to a modern computer - the woman who runs it has been with him for years and he'll probably keep the system running until she retires. If you don't consider that a computer, the best I can offer is a fellow who was still using an IBM 1401 setup for billing about 10 years ago - his machines are now in the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA, where they are operated weekly.

  13. Benj Edwards Says:

    Cody: as old as you think is interesting. That's a pretty good yardstick.

    Great stories so far, by the way. Keep 'em coming!

  14. XCALIBR8 Says:

    At my old job we would log into an old 386 running DOS Shell (4.x) via VPN to monitor call traffic to international call centers. It felt like booting up the W.O.P.R. from War Games every morning.

  15. Braybett Says:

    Growing up, I had an uncle who threw me down a flight of stairs. That's how he would solve all his problems, he'd throw it down a flight of stairs. There are many, many dilapidated old items lying at the bottom of staircases due to my uncle.

    He still does it too, and he keeps track of what he throws down the stairs with an Apple Lisa. One of these days, he'll throw the entire world down the stairs, and when he does, you'll know about it. And so will his Lisa.

  16. CJ Lowery Says:

    Someday I want to compile a book about the rise and fall of the video rental store, and what initially inspired this was working at a Hollywood Video shortly before the chain failed and having to constantly perform minor repairs on the 286 PCs and dot-matrix printers the company used as standard point of sale devices. I know the company never really had the money to begin with, but the tenacity with which they clung to those ancient computers was admirable and kind of hilarious.

  17. Luis Says:

    I have a friend, a novelist and music producer. His only home machine is a fully upgraded Amiga 4000. He's the only person I know who has a computer but does not use the internet "have no use for it, Im self suficcient, if I need something, I program it".

    At his music studio he has a couple of A4000′s, a Pentium Windows 95 machine running a self made mixing program connected to his console and, this is the best, an old Atari machine, one of those with the advanced MIDI chips.

    He claims he was among the group who created the original Office's Excel. While that claim could be a lie, after all the thing I've seen he can do with such "limited" equipment, I tend to believe him.

  18. Lemon Says:

    After spending four, (yes FOUR) terms in school studying RPG for use on an AS/400 system, I thought it was the most ridiculous waste of study time. I mean, who still uses this monstrosity?

    Flash forward seven months after graduation. I am in a local supermarket, (a Giant food store), when they tell me they cannot use my credit card as payment or use their scanners because their system is down. I had to pay cash, and they had to write everything by hand. On the way out, the office door is wide open with two very confused looking minors mulling over what to do, and wouldn't you know it, their faces are aglow with the sickly, green light emanating from an AS/400 screen.

    At the first job I landed after graduation, they were still using Windows 95 on their desktops, and the designers were using G3 Macs. I thought it was always hilarious when the owners were so upset over all of the time wasted on these "stupid f***ing machines". Most of it was wasted on the computers processing an input … I would say most of the time I walked around saw a co-workers screen it had some form of stopwatch-changed cursor and they were sitting there frantically clicking or staring at a wall.

  19. Jeff Says:

    On Friday I replaced the power supply in an old Pentium PC running Windows 95 at a law firm in Minneapolis, MN which they depend upon as their voicemail server. Surprisingly after the replacement the system came right up and booted right into the DOS based voicemail server software.

    Maybe someday they will feel the need to replace it.

  20. K4DSP Says:

    My brother-in-law owns a medical supply company and rents out stuff like hospital beds, oxygen tanks, wheelchairs, etc. He still uses an Apple //e with a couple of Disk ][ floppy drives and accounting software from a company called Manzanita.

  21. Brendan Says:

    I did an internship at an observatory at one point. I brought my netbook with me, and compared it's specs to their "research computer." My netbook had roughly twice the power!

  22. Justin Says:

    As of a few months ago blockbuster video still uses an ancient 386 based system that the manager said they cant even get parts for anymore. they run modern servers with these ancient devices and wonder why the printers don't work right which are also ancient dot matrix ones.

  23. c2588 Says:

    I use an AlphaSmart2000 (1997) for writing. It's lighter than a laptop and provides a really focused writing experience. But it's hard to find a ps2 port on another computer so I can get data off the beastie.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AlphaSmart#AlphaSmart_2000

  24. Sam Says:

    Over here in Australia my local 'Myer' store (Big department store chain over here) were until recently running old Nixdorf Computer POS terminals from the late seventies/early eighties with all the original hardware (a couple of the orange dot matrix displays were replaced with the later green ones though). I really wish that I could have gotten my hands on some of those old terminals when they were retired about 6 months ago.

  25. Matt Says:

    I have a client who still uses an Apple IIe to run an ancient piece of printing press equipment. It's a small shop and they'd need to retool the entire thing and buy all new equipment if they stopped. Still funny to see though.

  26. Chaz Says:

    My father uses a full tower PC from the early '90s…I don't know anything about it other than that it has

    2 types of floppy drives

    multiple hard drives that don't even add up to one gigabyte and you have to type down "bye" or "good bye" before you turn it off so the heads don't crash.

    100 MHz CPU

    The mouse uses an RS232 instead of PS/2 or USB

    The Keyboard uses AT

    It runs on DOS mostly but has Win 3.x on it.

    The thing is an overglorified addressbook/customer database…

    There is an electric trypewriter next to it and a non functional laser printer nearby.

    I recently gave my dad an LCD monitor for this ancient hulking machine.

  27. Jordan Says:

    The ham radio club near where I used to live would use XTs to run radio logging software for large operations (Field Day). They were still doing this in 2000 and might be doing so today. Windows and Gnome/KDE logging programs have taken over the "market" for the most part, but the DOS loggers are easily interconnected to older radio equipment.

  28. tissit Says:

    I used various real coputer Unix workstations as my only (sysadmin/programmer) workstations until something like 2005. By then it had become too hard (slow) to run a web browser on even the heaviest one I could find. Power consumption eventually drove them out of server slots where they got replaced by tiny ARM boxes where hardware was wanted (network, printing, displays) and virtualization where it was just about having multiple CPUs running services.

  29. ruben huizenga Says:

    i'm still using a mac quadra 950 (25 MHz) controlling a 16 channel digidesign nubus audio setup. no in the box mixing, or plugins, just 16 tracks of 16 bit audio in and out. keeps it about the music!

  30. Matt Broam Says:

    About 6 or 7 years ago, I was at the Connecticut DMV with my grandparents, and I noticed that they were still using Windows for Workgroups 3.11.

  31. Alphacentaurian Says:

    A bit while back (2000), I was working at a Wendy's and the order system was still using the old 1702 C64 Commodore monitors on the line. Those things were tanks.

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