Whatever happened to the floppy disk? 8 tech blasts from the past

Modern philosophers have suggested that the rate of technological innovation increases exponentially (see Moore’s Law). That means most of us, even those under 25, remember a certain tool or product that was once vital and is now just a faded memory.

Here’s a look at what happened to a few icons of the late 20th century, many of them the forerunners and trailblazers of today’s digital world.

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  1. Wordperfect
  2. In the late 80s and early 90s, Wordperfect was the automatic choice when it came to word processing, especially since it worked across a variety of operating systems. Its popularity declined largely due to Microsoft bundling MS Word with Windows, which led to a lawsuit against Microsoft for anti-competitive behaviour. Corel bought Wordperfect in 2005 and it’s still used today by some law firms and academics.

  3. Commodore 64
  4. Still the best-selling single computer model of all time, the Commodore 64 (C64) came with an amazing 64K memory and helped make the personal computer a standard feature in the average home. It was launched in 1982 and only discontinued in 1994 when the parent company filed for bankruptcy. Nostalgic geeks can buy a C64 emulator and games in Apple’s App Store.

  5. Encarta
  6. If you were born before 1985, you probably used the World Book or Encyclopaedia Brittanica as a source of information for school projects. Then along came Microsoft Encarta – a searchable multimedia CD-ROM filled with articles and pictures. Of course it wasn’t long before the internet made Encarta obsolete, and even though an online version had been introduced, it was discontinued in 2009.

  7. Netscape Navigator
  8. As the first commercial web browser, Netscape Navigator had a 90% market share and was instrumental in driving the growth and development of the web in the 1990s. It was eventually overwhelmed by the dominance of Internet Explorer (thanks to Windows bundling), and was one of the plaintiffs in the American government’s Microsoft antitrust trial. Today it lives on in Firefox, which was originally based on its source code.

  9. Joysticks
  10. Before Playstation and Xbox, there was the humble joystick. Originally a flight and elevator control, the first video game version of the joystick was made by Sega in 1969 for their arcade game “Missile”. It remained a popular controller for video and computer games right up to the late 1980s, but has now been almost completely replaced by the game pad.

  11. Floppy disks
  12. Data sharing and storage was dominated by this IBM invention for nearly 30 years – aeons for a computer device. The three and half inch 1.44MB disk was an ubiquitous part of the 1990s, with millions of documents and files passed along in its little plastic casing. But the rise of the CD-RW and USB flash drive, driven by online access and the resulting demand for transferring greater amounts of data, quickly killed the floppy. It was virtually redundant by 2001 and discontinued in 2007.

  13. AltaVista
  14. Remember the web before Google? Altavista was the first search engine where every word of every single HTML was stored in a searchable index, forever changing the way people found stuff online. By the end of 1996 (a year after going public), AltaVista was handling 19 million requests a day. However, the rise of Google and a series of poor business decisions saw it decline dramatically. It was eventually bought by Yahoo, but is likely to be closed down pretty soon.

  15. Modems
  16. The iconic sound of a modem dialling and connecting has virtually passed into online history thanks to ADSL and 3G networks. But for a long time this device opened up the world wide web (albeit very slowly) to anybody with a phone line. The name was an abbreviation of “modulator-demodulater”, referring to the encoding and decoding of digital data received via an analog device i.e. your phone line.

It’s unsettling to think how much has become obsolete in such a short space of time. As that ancient philosopher Heraclitus once said, “The only constant is change.” Perhaps today’s ten-year-olds will reminisce about Facebook…

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