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The Computer Chronicles was an American television series that aired on the country’s public broadcasting network PBS from 1981 until 2002. More than 20 years of technological advancement in consumer electronics was recorded, discussed and now, thanks to the Internet Archive Search Or Browse One Million Public Domain Legal Torrents In The Internet Archive Search Or Browse One Million Public Domain Legal Torrents In The Internet Archive Browse and download over one million public domain movies, audiobooks and live concerts using BitTorrent. It's all thanks to The Internet Archive, who you might know as the organization behind the Wayback Machine. They've started... Read More has been preserved indefinitely for your enjoyment.

Whether you lived through this era of change, remember the original programming or have never heard of The Computer Chronicles before, there’s a good chance you’ll get a kick out of the 500+ episodes found on the Archive. I’ve picked out a few of my favorites, featuring some classic hardware and software examples from what many regard as the “golden age” of home computing.

1985: The Macintosh Computer

Before standardized consumer-friendly systems and the stability afforded by the widespread adoption of DOS and eventually Windows, the computer market was anyone’s for the taking. When new machines arrived on the scene, they were treated with excitement and trepidation because in 1985 the unrealized potential in the market market was huge.

This episode of The Computer Chronicles originally broadcast in 1985 takes a look at the Macintosh computer for the first time, and the disruption it was set to make with its “high resolution graphics”.

1995: Windows 95

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Windows 95 represented a monumental leap forward in home computing. Microsoft truly outdid themselves, and for all the blue screens and viruses, most of us still look back and see Windows 95 in a positive light. Many readers will remember their first PCs running Windows 95, and if that includes you this episode is not just recommended viewing, it’s essential.

In this episode from the year of release we see early versions of Microsoft Office for Windows 95 in an example of true multitasking. In 1995 running early versions of Excel and Word at the same time was one of the most exciting things you could do with a computer.

1992: MIDI Music

MIDI might be the one computer interface that’s changed the least since its inception, and despite some proprietary implementations of the system most of the keyboards and input devices manufactured when this episode aired in 1992 would still work with a modern PC of today. In fact, many might even work with your iPad How to Use CoreMIDI for Music Production on an iPad or iPhone [iOS] How to Use CoreMIDI for Music Production on an iPad or iPhone [iOS] Apple added Core MIDI to iOS 4.2 and since then app developers have been implementing MIDI functionality into their apps. This means you can use your iOS device as both a MIDI controller and with... Read More .

Musicians have had decades to get used to MIDI, but in this video it’s still a relatively new technology. The digitization of music revolutionized the way many producers were creating music and gave birth to a new wave of producers and sounds.

1985: Modems & Bulletin Boards

The Internet was considered “new” in the early 90s, but in the preceding decade people were already using the telephone lines to talk to each other What Is Telnet & What Are Its Uses? [MakeUseOf Explains] What Is Telnet & What Are Its Uses? [MakeUseOf Explains] Telnet is one of those tech terms you may occasionally hear, but not in an ad or a feature laundry list of any product you may buy. That’s because it’s a protocol, or a language... Read More from across the globe using bulletin board systems and simple modems. Bulletin board systems, abbreviated to BBSs, were early examples of forums or newsgroups where users could connect, download and post messages at startlingly slow speeds.

It’s difficult to imagine just how exciting this technology was in the early 80s, but thanks to The Computer Chronicles we can see what kind of waves it was making at the time. One example sees a San Francisco child care facility installing a bulletin board system to better connect with those who depend on the service – something many of us have taken for granted for years through the Web and social media.

1985: Japanese Computers

Japan has a history of doing its own thing, particularly when it comes to technology. Just like Japan’s mobile phone market in the 2000s was virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the world, in the mid 80s the far east computer market also differed considerably.

As if 4:3 NTSC-tinged footage of Akihabara in the mid-80s isn’t enough to get you to click play on the video above, this episode was shot exclusively in Japan and looks at some rather obscure bits of tech that never made it.

1986: Electronic Mail

In 1986, email was still known as electronic mail – which goes some way toward explaining how widespread it had become. This episode of The Computer Chronicles gave many their first glimpse of the future – replacing a courier, mailman or fax with a message on a computer screen.

Highlights include Apple’s original InBox mail application and Lotus Express for IBM compatibles, as well as a rather drawn-out conversation about the ability to send any files you would like – for free!

1997: CES 1997

The Consumer Electronics Show, also known as CES, is held once a year to usher in a new generation of technology. In 1997, Intel’s MMX Pentium processors were the acronym of the show but DVDs were also still making a splash after being the star product the previous year.

In addition to old Pentiums and optical media, the 56K modem was making a splash in 1997, as were the original smart TVs which included very basic web browsers. Pay attention to all the products you see here that never made it, as with most trade show innovations much of this technology was either too refined to be affordable and useful or cast by the wayside.

The Rest

Nearly every single episode of The Computer Chronicles has been made available on the Archive, totaling 561 uploads. That’s a lot of potential reminiscing and there are episodes on a huge range of topics from long-gone platforms like the early Amiga home computers to early network security, several rounds of browser wars and the dawn of widespread online gaming. If you’ve enjoyed this blast from the past, check out the rest of the collection.

Watch: The Computer Chronicles @ Archive.org

Do you have any favorite episodes or similar shows? Share your favorite bits and stories of computers past in the comments, below.

  1. TechnoAngina
    July 10, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    This was an amazingly fun trip down memory lane. Thank you so much for this. My whole department was rolling with the tech that we used to be able to make do with.

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