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Lost in Cyberspace

Internet a haven for 'vintage' computers

This article was originally published on October 12, 1999 by SignOn San Diego and Copley News Service.

It seems oxymoronic at first: How could the World Wide Web, with all its multimedia bells and whistles, all it's high-end gloss that requires ever-increasing computing power, be a godsend for owners and users of older systems?

If seemingly ironic, though, it is also true: The Internet – and the Web in particular – are making it possible for older computers to stay in service longer than ever before.

Actually, it makes perfect sense. What the Internet does better than anything is let people communicate. And unless you're a wunderkid programmer/electrician, you need a social support system to help you with your personal computer. Whether it's buying a monthly magazine, bumming advice from the systems folks at work, or picking the brain of the cashier where you bought your system, we all depend on others to help us when we're stuck.

With most computer stores having dropped support for everything but the latest Windows and Mac applications, where can someone still using an Apple II, a Tandy Coco or a Commodore Amiga go to find new programs, memory upgrades or a replacement mouse? Who can they ask questions of when a program won't run right anymore, or if they don't know how to use a particular feature of their system?

All of these and more can be found on the Internet.

There are three basic areas on the Internet for finding information and/or support on so-called "obsolete" computer systems:

  • The Web. Many hobbyists have elaborate pages devoted to their favorite system from the past. These "legacy" sites (the preferred term over "obsolete," although some hobbyists also use "vintage" to denote a system long in tooth) are often so fancy that the machines they're dedicated to could never view them directly. No matter – fans of these machine simply visit with the Mac or Windows computer sitting next to the Ti-99, Kaypro or Commodore 64 on their desk.
  • FTP sites. Shorthand for "file transfer protocol," an FTP site is much like the file sections on the older computer bulletin boards popular a decade ago. Many freeware, shareware and public domain programs written for older systems are still floating around on the 'Net. If you have what's known as a shell account, or access the Internet through a BBS, you may be able to get to an FTP site directly with your older machine and get the software that way. Otherwise, you can download it to your more modern computer and move it over to the older system. (If you don't know how to do this, you'll want to see the next entry, on the Usenet.)
  • The Usenet. The Usenet is the message area of the Internet. With more than 45,000 newsgroups on the Usenet (and growing daily), the Usenet is the single largest medium for mass communication ever devised. There are hundreds of newsgroups devoted to various legacy systems, and these are the perfect places to find advice, software and even leads on people who repair old systems. (I found an upgrade to a file manager that would run on my Atari Falcon030 system within 24 hours by posting to the newsgroup.)

Now, it's all well and good to know that this information exists on the 'Net, but how to find it?

The best place to locate Web pages and FTP sites is via search engines. Yahoo's computing pages are among the most complete. The hardware section has good links to most systems, from Atari to Amiga, NeXT to Sinclair. The operating systems page is another good resource for finding info on your computer. The best part about Yahoo is that it includes links to Usenet newsgroups as well as FTP and Web sits.

However, the Yahoo links to the Usenet presume you have a news account. Check with your ISP to see if you have access to the Usenet. If not, you can go to and access it via the Web. And at, you can search the entire Usenet by topic, helping you find every newsgroup associated with a particular platform.

Other good search resources for finding online support of legacy systems are metasites like Savvy Search and which will search through numerous search engines for you, and then sort the results.

No matter which method you use for tracking down information on your legacy system, though, you can be sure that with the resources you'll find you can keep using that computer for the rest of your natural life.