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Computer De-Evolution: Awesome Features We've Lost 662

jfruhlinger writes "If you listened to tech marketing departments, you'd believe that advances in computers have been a nonstop march upwards. But is that really true? What about all the great features early hackers had in the '70s and '80s that are now hard to find or lost forever, like clicky keyboards and customizable screen height? This article looks at much beloved features that lost the evolutionary war."
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Computer De-Evolution: Awesome Features We've Lost

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  • Not-a-concept (Score:5, Insightful)

    by elsurexiste ( 1758620 ) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @12:18PM (#36251944) Journal
    Devolution doesn't have a meaning, because evolution doesn't mean changes for the better.
  • by countertrolling ( 1585477 ) * on Thursday May 26, 2011 @12:18PM (#36251948) Journal

    The reset switch/button!

    A real, mechanical 'off' switch, on the front of the machine, gets an honorable mention.

  • screen height: (Score:5, Insightful)

    the greatest work station epiphany i recently had involved turning my 9:16 monitor 90 degrees

    great for reading code and long articles

    unless the article is stretched out in little snippets over a number of pages, like the article this story links to. i hate that. and apparently its for advertising purposes. how are advertising purposes served by chasing me away from finishing the article?

  • by mikael_j ( 106439 ) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @12:32PM (#36252182)

    Well, one thing I sort of miss is the feeling of it actually being possible to truly understand the computer as a whole, those days are long gone. Back in the days of the C64 and similar machines you really could understand your computer to a point where you had more knowledge about it than was in the reference manuals for the various components it was made up from.

    Today most of your computer, both hardware and software, is a black box with layer upon layer of abstraction. It's more powerful and easier to program but large parts will always remain unknown, there is simply too much you'd need to know with an operating system several gigabytes in size and single hardware components more complex than entire computers in the era of the C64.

  • by hellfire ( 86129 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [vdalived]> on Thursday May 26, 2011 @12:36PM (#36252248) Homepage

    From TFA:

    "What I miss most are keyboards that have some 'omph' to them, and software that makes use of keyboard shortcuts. I really miss the 'clicky' IBM Model M keyboards from the mid and late '80s, for instance. I can type 150+ words per minute and I can move my fingers across a keyboard faster than I can move my hand to a mouse, move the cursor, click, and put my fingers back on the keyboard. I really really really miss customizable keyboard shortcuts."

    WHAT???? You have keyboard shortcuts now, windows has the Windows button and the alt key! For both Windows and Mac you have a ton of shortcut apps that give you access to keyboard shortcuts. Apps that take shortened text you type frequently and expands it to a long word. They are all there, they just moved to third party apps. This Eric Loyd is a dipshit if he misses keyboard shortcuts... go buy a $2 app that gives them back to you you idiot!


    ""The main feature I miss on today's keyboards is having FUNCTION keys (F1, F2, etc) on the left of the main key area, and a CONTROL key in the middle of the left-side column of keys (so it goes from top to bottom: ~/TAB/CTRL/SHIFT/ALT). There are a number of CTRL+F-key and ALT+F-key combinations that can quickly and easily done with one hand in this configuration without looking"

    I agree the layout of the keyboard in this instance is good, but if you have fully customizable shortcuts at your command thru any number of apps, design something that makes sense to you. Don't assign your shortcut to Alt-F12 if you need two hands and want one hand. Undo/cut/copy/paste were brilliantly designed, take a lesson from that and design the same keyboard shortcut for yourself.

    "There is a programmable keyboard available -- the CVT Avant Stellar,"

    Ah fuck me it's a slashvertisement.

    "what he misses is the convenience of DOS's CONTROL-C and CONTROL-Q which could kill an accidentally triggered program, along with the Unix Control-C and kill -9 for command line Unix. I'm not sure if anything exists that can do that as quickly at the GUI level."

    I can agree with this, a keyboard in general is the fastest input device we have, but this is a clever deception, trying to say that just because a GUI is slower it's not evolving. Not true. Once you know what you are doing, and have to perform a repetitive task, a keyboard is always faster. A GUI, however, is always easier if you don't necessarily know what you are looking for or know what you are doing. Remember images and motions towards and area of the screen is easier for a lot of people, rather than trying to remember to put a -9 after the kill, or remembering what grep, awk, and cron do. If you have to look up a command every few minutes, it's not faster, and if you can remember the action faster to do what you want, for you it's faster. GUIs opened up the world of computing to many more people, and that's a fact, because it was easier to remember and perform the tasks they wanted to perform.

    "The CMU Andrew Toolkit had very complex scrollbars that took a while to master,"

    Stop right there, everything in this paragraph is invalidated by the fact that thos was "complex" and "took a while to master." A GUI is supposed to make things simpler, because not everyone has time to master complex scroll bars. If it takes me a half hour to figure out scrolling in a GUI, it's not necessarily faster when all I have to do is scan down a page looking for a simple paragraph. Complex is not necessarily evolution, and making something simplified is not necessary a regression. Simplicity could speed everyone up as a whole.

    The article then degenerates into a bunch of technobabble about a bunch of features developers use to have, but just about every one of them has a modern equivalent they could get by just finding and downloading third party software, most which is probably free. Sure, notepad sucks, notepad is not meant to be an advanced text editor! How long did it take you to figure that

  • This is stupid (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kral_Blbec ( 1201285 ) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @12:38PM (#36252266)
    It's nothing more than a bunch of old farts complaining about how the old days were better, when in fact most of that they want is still available or entirely unnecessary. Keyboards for example. I for one prefer new keyboards. I hated the old clicky style, but as others have shown, they are available for those who want them. Complaining about the scroll bar and not being able to click in the window to recenter? That might have been nice... in the days before the mouse wheel.
  • Re:on/off switches (Score:4, Insightful)

    by berashith ( 222128 ) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @01:04PM (#36252686)

    this is exactly what i want

  • Menu bars (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tony Isaac ( 1301187 ) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @01:08PM (#36252746) Homepage

    Sure, lots of software still has them. But Microsoft/Google/Mozilla are trying really hard to make us forget that menu bars ever existed, by replacing them with those stupid "ribbons" or with minimalist interfaces. Sure, with menus you have to sometimes hunt to find the thing you want. But with the ribbons, you still have to hunt...AND you have to try to figure out what all those little icons mean!

  • by LS ( 57954 ) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @01:08PM (#36252758) Homepage

    Seriously, this is a really ignorant article. Almost all the complaints are bullshit.

    PC-Write, the old DOS text processor I used to write my freelance articles with, and also PEN, a Unix screen-oriented text editor that was at BBN when I worked there, which I used for writing computer documentation and other projects -- could split the screen window as many times as I wanted (e.g., I could have five or six slices of a file showing). For editing long, complex documents, this was a great convenience. By contrast, Microsoft Word can only split the screen in two.

    VI anyone?

    I really miss the 'clicky' IBM Model M keyboards from the mid and late '80s, for instance.

    This is mass hysteria. For every fanboy that raves about their model M, there are 20 people that can't stand 5 minutes typing on these things. I tried it. Your significant other can't sleep at night, and your fingers get tired. They are old outdated pieces of shit.

    This keyboard isn't cheap, Hedtke concedes: "They were nearly $200 when CVT was making them directly, and the current Avant Stellar keyboard is around $325. But for many of us, it's more than worth it."

    You are a fucking moron if you pay $325 for this $20 dollar contraption. Don't believe the hype. The thing has a PS/2 connector for fuck sake!

    CONTROL-C and CONTROL-Q "which could kill an accidentally triggered program, along with the Unix Control-C and kill -9 for command line Unix. I'm not sure if anything exists that can do that as quickly at the GUI level.

    ctrl-c and kill -9 STILL work in *nix. You can even kill GUI apps using the command line, duh. Adding a GUI doesn't prevent you from using a terminal.

    "One, moving 'Destroy Window' -- usually indicated by a square icon with an 'X' in it -- from the opposite end of the title bar where I'd only click on it when I MEANT it, to right next to 'Iconify' and 'Maximize.'" This window control problem is now universal, according to Cattey: "It's on Windows, Linux and MacOS, as well as Solaris."

    What??? It is NOT universal. It depends on what window decorator you use. There is no "standard" for linux. Every distribution is different, and it's always configurable.

    Before there were scrollbars, command-line interfaces to Unix and DOS would paginate output and pause when the screen was full, until you requested the next screenful with the "more" command

    "more" is still there, but remember, "less" is "more".

    "As a developer, I found it very useful for when I ran scripts that produced a surprisingly large amount of output or a lot of error messages," says Franklin. "I did not need to run the command [more] over again in order to see it all. This feature has never been in another version of UNIX or Linux since."

    Umm, this actually sounds annoying as hell. There is a reason more and less are separate commands. If you REALLY wanted to have an automatic "more" command, you could write a shell wrapper. But in the end, some programs require a TTY, and having this automatic "more" functionality will break them.

    "XEDIT had the ability to restrict the file to a part, and have all editing commands, such as 'go to top/search and replace/select to bottom,' only work on that part of the file."

    Once again, VI. While not exactly the same, you can do analogous functionality in VI. And much more.

    "It could overlay hardware, firmware and regular memory as needed, and had no reserved memory sections. This let me write macros that were globally available."

    This is the dumbest comment of all. Can you imagine if modern computers were implemented this way? You'd be rebooting 10 times a day.

    When he switched to PCs, he used DOS's TSR (Terminate and Stay-Resident) feature. "Now, I'm

  • Re:But are we? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Altus ( 1034 ) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @01:18PM (#36252906) Homepage

    The one about the close button having migrated to be next to the min and max buttons (on the mac anyway, they were always together on windows right?) is a pretty good point. A destructive button like that should be isolated from other controls.

    But yea, a lot of the other ones I have seen in there were just crap.

  • Re:This is stupid (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bigstrat2003 ( 1058574 ) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @01:34PM (#36253178)
    Someone who only works on one thing at a time, and switches infrequently? There's no reason not to maximize use of your display space if you only need the space to be taken up by one thing.
  • by ortholattice ( 175065 ) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @03:16PM (#36254540)
    A feature I've missed, which was on my first Gateway laptop in the mid-90s, is a potentiometer-type volume control. It was just a simple thumbwheel on the side of the laptop, like the ones on cheap transistor radios dating back to the 60s. Since it was connected to the final audio stages, it was easy to get the volume you wanted immediately, with instant feedback. Most important, if you accidentally went to an obnoxious site playing loud backgroud audio, a quick flick would lower the volume to a quiet, tolerable level or dismiss it completely (important while at work...).

    Fast-forward to around 2000, and the potentiometer was replaced with 3 buttons on the side, volume up, down, and mute. These buttons where sluggish in responding, especially if the computer was busy. I kept forgetting which was the mute when I was panicked by an obnoxious site at work. Trying all 3 wasn't useful since it took a couple of seconds to see if they worked, and looking for the low-contrast mute icon embossed in the plastic required lifting the laptop so I could see it in the light. More than once, my panicked solution was to hold down the power button for several seconds to force power-down. But those several seconds could be embarrassing. There was one point where I planned to add a physical switch to the actual speaker wires, although I never got around to that.

    Now, of course, even the volume side buttons are gone. The mute function key does work and responds quickly, but there's still that slight extra delay finding it - it's not something I use so often that it comes naturally. Usually, I just leave the computer always in mute unless there is something specific I want to listen to.

Machines that have broken down will work perfectly when the repairman arrives.