Strange technology. Legends of inefficiency and frustration. The fact that these wonders exist leads us to believe that an otherworldly grudge against humanity may be at play. Did the companies behind these travesties really think this old technology would hold our interest? Join us as we seek to uncover the truth behind these obsolete technology products we’d rather forget.
1. Dial-up internet
If you’re old enough to remember the 1990s, you no doubt experienced this phenomenon firsthand. While it was groundbreaking at the time, dial-up internet disconnected frequently and was painfully slow. (27 years later, I’m still waiting for Hampster Dance to finish loading.)
Worst of all, you had to beg everyone else in your house to let you use the phone line — which meant convincing them you were doing something worthwhile and not just hitting reload on your Angelfire website to increase the visitor counter.
The one upside is that the dulcet dial-up tone at least set a good ambience. Makes you feel like just cracking open a cold can of Surge and settling in for hours of slow-moving fun, doesn’t it?
Go ahead and relive your glory days:
We know what you’re thinking: “Email isn’t obsolete! I use it every day.” Well, the truth is, so do we. But we don’t want to. And this is our article, so we’ll do whatever we want. Mwah ha ha!
But seriously. Email isn’t completely obsolete, but it is pretty outdated technology when you think about it. It’s slow. It’s inefficient. And it isn’t exactly secure. Let’s face facts: Most of us get more spam and phishing emails than legitimate messages. Heck, the only reason I still check my email at this point is to pass our company phishing tests.
And while we’re talking about email security issues, we’d be remiss not to mention Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP). SMTP lacks encryption by default, making emails super hackable and susceptible to machine-in-the-middle (AKA man-in-the-middle) attacks. (To be fair, you can make mail transmission more secure by using Transport Layer Security [TLS] or Secure Sockets Layer [SSL]. But still.)
Bloatware is basically Pandora’s box. It eats up storage space, slows performance, and diminishes the user experience, all while introducing unnecessary security risks.
That said, what we consider bloatware is subjective. For instance, I love that a new iPhone comes preinstalled with Mail, Calendar, Messages, and those other basic apps that most of us use daily. I was less appreciative in 2014 when my new smartphone contained 100% more U2 than I really wanted.
4. Printers and fax machines
Printers gained popularity in the 1980s and have been an office staple ever since. But despite their continued proliferation, most of us have never met a printer we like. They require constant coddling and break down easily and often (much like me). Plus, they present security risks if you don’t configure them correctly.
Fax machines (AKA possessed printers) share most of the same problems as their widely hated cousins with a few extras. First and foremost, anyone anywhere can send anything they want to your fax number, consuming your ink and paper. Even if you receive only legitimate faxes, transmissions could be intercepted, and the quality of the printed document is often lacking. For these reasons, fax machines have faded in popularity. But that leaves anyone desperately clinging to their fax machine with another problem: limited support.
5. Apple’s USB hockey puck mouse
In the eyes of Apple devotees (at least those who love U2), the company can do no wrong … most of the time. But even the most avid Apple aficionados acknowledge that the hockey puck mouse wasn’t the company’s finest idea.
In case you never had the discomfort/emotional trauma of using a hockey puck mouse, let’s explain. In 1998, Apple produced a mouse that was (you guessed it) shaped like a hockey puck. It looked cool enough, but it was neither comfortable nor ergonomic to actually use. As an added drawback, accurately orienting it was challenging at best. TL;DR: There’s a reason why Apple returned to more conventional mouse shapes.
6. Adobe Flash
Oh, Adobe Flash! We knew you not. You were so widespread but so thoroughly loathed. From 1996 until about 2010, Adobe Flash was the go-to multimedia platform for website videos and animations. But the myriad security vulnerabilities were insurmountable, it consumed a lot of energy, it slowed down browsers, and Apple mobile products didn’t support it.
Thankfully, there are lighter and better solutions now. Adobe Flash officially drew its final breath in 2020, but we’ll always remember how fun it was to install a seemingly endless stream of patches. Rest in peace, Adobe Flash. Your contributions to the digital world will never be forgotten.
7. CRT Monitors
CRT monitors were the old hardware heavyweights. Literally. A 21-inch monitor could easily top 50 pounds. But beyond just their overwhelming bulk, CRT monitors had other notable drawbacks. Because of their size, they required more resources, making them pricier to manufacture and a significant sustainability concern. They also used more electricity, let off more heat, and had a notable flicker that could lead to eyestrain. LCD, LED, and OLED displays have taken over the market thanks to their more compact designs, greater energy efficiency, and higher screen resolutions.
But CRT monitors still have a couple of potential uses: museum displays and strength training.
8. AOL discs
America Online (AOL) was one of the largest dial-up ISPs in the earliest days of the internet. In addition, it offered a web portal that basically served as a gateway to the internet. Times were wild back then.
AOL faded from the spotlight as broadband internet became widely available and more user-friendly web services gained popularity. But there’s one thing that will forever live in infamy: AOL discs.
As part of its marketing strategy, AOL widely distributed free discs through direct mail, magazines, retail stores, and basically every other method imaginable. It’s estimated that the company put out a whopping one billion discs. Some people were annoyed at the constant barrage. Others disliked the environmental waste. And still others enjoyed getting free discs to destroy in creative ways. A handful of individuals even used the discs to try AOL.
But one thing’s for certain: Thanks to its ubiquitous discs, AOL is now better known as a running joke than an internet pioneer.
To be fair, commercials like this probably didn’t help:
9. End users
Widespread internet adoption began in the mid-1990s. That’s nearly 30 years ago, yet some users seem to have mysteriously avoided all modern technology up to this point. Little things, like using strong passwords, troubleshooting simple problems, or learning new platforms, are sometimes an epic challenge.
While we may sometimes wonder if these users are time travelers from a pre-internet era, we love ’em anyway. Or at least tolerate them. They’re just one more factor ensuring a sysadmin’s job security.
Keeping old tech products around makes your job infinitely harder. But newer technology can make life so much easier. Case in point: PDQ Deploy & Inventory and PDQ Connect. Deploy & Inventory facilitate on-prem patch and inventory management. Meanwhile, PDQ Connect uses an agent-based approach to support remote devices, allowing you to enjoy the ultimate technological advancement: managing machines around the world from the comfort of your desk chair.