It was better in my day: business IT that I miss

By: John McGarvey

Date: 25 March 2011

Funny thing, nostalgia. It makes you yearn for things from the past, just because you can't have them any more - even though at the time you probably didn't think they were all that.

Of course, in the world of tech, it's only new stuff that's really cool. Just look at the rush to purchase iPad 2 today. Who wants a first generation iPad now?

So, as nostalgia is an underappreciated phenomenon in the world of business IT (and as it's Friday) I've decided to embrace it. Here are the top five pieces of business IT that I miss.

1.The IBM Model M keyboard

IBM keyboard

Built like the proverbial brick outhouse, these keyboards were first manufactured in the early 80s and I bet most of them are still going today. With a unique 'buckling spring' mechanism, the keys make a tactile click as you type. They're responsive and pleasing to use, and I don't think anybody's ever made a better keyboard.

Heavy enough to crush a substandard desk, solid enough to serve as a battering ram and noisy enough to disrupt a quiet office? Every keyboard should be like this. And, believe it or not, you can buy this keyboard today. IBM sold the manufacturing tools to another company - which still produces them. What other business tech has lasted over 25 years?

2. Computer mice with balls in

These seem to have disappeared from our desks with surprising speed. Yet it's only a few years ago that optical mice - with their fancy light on the bottom - were expensive luxuries that needed special mouse pads to work properly.

I miss the 'rolling over rubbers bands' effect that occurred if you didn't clean your mouse often enough. And I miss the strange pleasure that came from cleaning out the rollers. Where did all that fluff come from? But most of all, I miss being able to steal the ball out of a colleague's mouse and feign ignorance when they discover it missing.

3. Big cathode ray tube monitors

The fitness of your average IT worker must have dropped considerably since most people ditched bulky CRT monitors for flat screens. In a former job I once had to shift some 21" monitors. Those things weigh a ton.

But the thing about them was that you really knew when you had a good monitor. You paid a small fortune for it and lifting it into position frequently took two or three people. Nowadays, you can pick up good, big monitors for pennies.

4. Dot matrix printers

I loved the stacatto noise they made, the ink ribbons that produced prints that got gradually fainter and fainter, and the continuous feed paper that was perfect for printing reams of figures that then had to be trawled and annotated by hand.

I guess the equivalent today is office laser printers which run out of paper, then spit out pages of queued print jobs when someone actually bothers to make the trip to the stationery cupboard.

5. Windows 3.1

Windows 3.1 is the first graphical operating system I can remember using. And while it certainly had its limitations, it was also pretty stable, relatively easy to use - and for many of us, was the first time we were able to swap cumbersome keyboard commands for a mouse and clicks.

Sure, it wasn't the first ever graphical user interface (GUI). But it was the first I used. And that's why it's on this list. (If you want to remind yourself just how Windows 3.1 felt and functioned, here it is recreated in your web browser. Some people have too much time on their hands.)

So, there are the five bits of workhorse business IT that I miss. What are yours? We'll give extra points for particularly esoteric or geeky suggestions.

(Images are all from Flickr users under Creative Commons. Keyboard / jhritz. Mouse ball / L. Marie. Monitor / Collin Anderson. Printer / blakespot. Windows 3.1 / Roger Schultz.)

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