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    I saw this on some other site recently, and this got me to thinking what would be the “most responsive” machine you could build if you’re OK with not having access to internet stuff.

    My theory is that XP with some lightweight code editor like Dev-C++ can get you pretty far without paying too much of a usability cost (hey, I like easy to use GUIs and being able to click on stuff with my mouse something)

    Then I remembered that Wine is a thing. You can run cygwin under wine…. kinda, though it all feels a bit silly. In any case my gut feeling is that that era of IDEs hit the nice usability-performance matrix.

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      I remember a lot of history through rose-colored glasses. I remembered writing code with no issues whatsoever on a 7.16Mhz Amiga 500 with 1MB of RAM. In my memory, it was perfectly acceptable.

      Yeah, then I went back and emulated it at “true speed”. It could take a disturbingly large amount of time to redraw a large editor window and compilation (SAS/C, IIRC) was sloooow.

      That being said, a 14Mhz Amiga 1200 was absolutely responsive enough that I could write code on it today fairly comfortably.

      As I am an old man and therefore entitled to have a rambling story every now and again, I’m going to insert one here. In the 90’s, I wanted to fly somewhere (I was a teenager, poor, and naive, but that’s beside the point). These were the days where calling the airline or physically going to a travel agent were the ways to buy tickets.

      Well, this was also the dawn of buying tickets online. Supposedly their “best prices were online,” so I went to try it.

      Yeah, try buying a plane ticket on American Airlines website with IBrowse an on Amiga 1200 in 1997. Let me tell you the ways that it wouldn’t work:

      • My browser didn’t support forms.
      • My browser didn’t support frames.
      • My browser didn’t support JavaScript (which was super new at the time, so I don’t know if this one mattered).
      • My browser didn’t support most of HTML2 (and certainly not HTML3).
      • My browser didn’t support SSL.
      • I didn’t have a credit card or any money (this last one wasn’t the fault of my computer).

      So, there was a way to get SSL working with IBrowse involving a lot of chicanery. I kept going to the American Airlines website and going to their “secure page” and the browser would lock up. I thought it as a bug.

      Nope. Encryption on a 14MHz machine is…just not fast. Combine that with a 28.8Kbps (it might have been 56k by that point?) connection and the olden days are much better in your memory, is what I’ve learned.

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        […] I am an old man […] In the 90’s […] I was a teenager.

        That counts as “old” already? :/

        (And travel agencies can optimize for comfort, which the online stuff doesn’t do nearly as well, in my experience)

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          That counts as “old” already? :/

          In terms of computing I feel like I’m bordering on ancient, though not quite old enough to be venerable.

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            I’m in the same ballpark, but I rarely think “gee, I’m getting old”, much more often it’s “gee, don’t these kids know anything?”.

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              Every time I try to think about how far we’ve come, and how much shstuff I’ve seen, all I have to think about is this: the computer I wrote my first real programs on, from scratch, and really learned programming on, is now as old as the VAX was back when I first got it.

              That was a Pentium II 233 machine I got back in 1997 or 1998. It’s now almost 23 years old. Back in 1998, the VAX was 21 years old and while VAX machines were still in use at the time, it was already way past half-dead, it was in dead-dead land.

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              My first computer was 1MHz, 16K RAM and had a cassette tape for storage. The machine I’m using now is around 3000 times faster (3GHz), a million times the RAM (16G) and for all intended purposes, near infinite storage.

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                My first computer was a VIC-20 with 5KB of RAM and a tape drive.

                It was glorious.

                But to compare it to even my watch today would be laughable. It’s a whole different universe.

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              It could take a disturbingly large amount of time to redraw a large editor window and compilation (SAS/C, IIRC) was sloooow.

              Never under-estimate the amount of screw-up-ness you can get to these days: although it definitely doesn’t take as much, Visual Studio Code still takes long enough to open and flow a large enough C file that you can see it happening when you open it for the first time. It’s definitely faster, but nowhere near 500 times faster, even though the CPU is about 500 times faster if you count the MHz alone.

              Of course, you get a lot of things in VS Code that you couldn’t even dream about with memacs, but I for one can’t really say I feel 500 times more productive, despite all the additional functionality, and I’m sure as hell not having 500 times more fun, either…

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                Yes, functionality has definitely gotten better, but responsiveness not so much. This remembers me of the experiments of Dan Luu, who used a high speed camera to measure how long it takes for a letter to appear on screen after a key was pressed, for various (then) current and historic systems: https://danluu.com/input-lag/

                Turns out, sometimes it is faster to send a packet around the world, than sending it from the keyboard to the screen on a machine from 2017. Which I think is rather embarrassing.

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                  “Software is getting slower faster than computers are getting faster.” - Niklaus Wirth

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                  My school in the 90s had a T1 link to the internet and a campus-wide token-ring network (I think it was only 4Mbit/s, but still, not bad considering). Problem was that the majority PC there (and the best one that students could generally get access to) was the IBM EduQuest Model 40 (a PS/2 variant in a funky form factor with a 486SX and somewhere between 4 and 20MB of RAM). You could fire up Windows on them, open up Netscape, and browse the web — but just getting into Windows and opening the browser took a good 15 minutes, and page load speeds weren’t exactly snappy either. Megabits don’t matter when rendering a single kilobyte of HTML takes a noticeable time.

                  I did a lot of my earliest “real” coding work on a 486DX4 laptop (IBM, again — ThinkPad 755C) running Linux. That was a pretty decent experience, but I do remember that with really large source files you would have to turn off syntax highlighting to avoid having everything slow to a crawl. Guess it promoted good code organization, at least :)

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                    Were these machines booting from the network? We had a similar setup at my school in the ‘90s with mostly 386 and a few 286 PS/2s and a token ring network with a big 386 machine running Netware server as a file store. The machines booted from a floppy disk with a tiny bootloader that was just enough to do a chain boot over a network share. At the start of the class, every student would go through a little menu thing and if we were doing anything in Windows, we’d have 20 machines all hammering that token ring network trying to grab the same few megs of Windows 3.11 that they needed to get into Windows (and then run Word or Works or whatever). The file server had something like 16MiB of RAM, so was able to keep all of that in cache, but it didn’t really matter with a 4Mb/s token ring - it was still going to be slow. It was often 10 minutes before the very last machine had finally made it into Windows. It was much better when the class was about Logo, where the Logo environment was only a few hundred K and so loaded across the network in a few seconds, even under moderate contention.

                    I recently tried booting a 2013 MacBook Pro into recovery mode. This uses some stuff in UEFI ROM (well, flash) to give me a WiFi configuration GUI and then to grab a 1.8GiB disk image from an Apple web server and then boot from that disk image in RAM. I like living in the future.

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                      Yup, but the floppy wasn’t needed, they had the netboot code in ROM.

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                    Yeah, then I went back and emulated it at “true speed”. It could take a disturbingly large amount of time to redraw a large editor window and compilation (SAS/C, IIRC) was sloooow.

                    On the A500 I grew up with, compilation’s still slow, sure, but text rendering is still fast today given:

                    • Bitplanes not stepping into CPU CHIP RAM access cycles. (that is, max 2 bitplanes on hires, which is the default)
                    • Fast text rendering routines: Kickstart 37+ or old kickstart with font rendering patches loaded.

                    And you’re right, A1200 screams.

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                  I often really miss my old PowerMac 8600. It was a great computer and significantly more capable than my old Sparcstation or Next cube were. It mostly makes me wonder about paths not taken — there is no technical reason my phone runs Unix; it’s path dependence all the way down.

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                    The Quadra 700 is a great Mac. It’s rom is one of the ones most commonly emulated by Amigas running Fusion and Shapeshifter. I used to have a Quadra 650 to run A/UX. A/UX is definitely not worth anything more than a quick look as a curio, but System 7 screams on these.

                    I have no doubt you could do proper work on these. I do proper work on my Amiga 4000 all the time. In fact this week I’ve been doing proper work on a CP/M system I’m shipping this week. I’ve used a ton of different programming languages while writing a manual and while things like compiling C and file access are noticably slower, the overall responsiveness is fine.

                    As long as you’re handling period-correct levels of complexity, you’ll be fine with whatever you use. It’s when you try to do stuff like editing SLR-exported full-sized jpegs in photoshop that you’ll have problems because even if you have the RAM the CPU and whatever bus mechanism was never designed to cope with those data volumes.

                    As an experiment a while back I set up Windows 98 on a Pentium III 800. Office 97 was lightning fast, as was everything I threw at it. Software expands to fill hardware, or as Bill and Andy’s law used to say, “What Intel giveth, Microsoft taketh away”.