Getting old computers back online

Using a DreamPi setup, I got the little Mac online and able to download stuff from an FTP server. Not having to rely on an in-between computer is really neat!

Bonus points, it makes modem noises!

Macintosh System 6 online applications are limited in quantity (the WWW really started getting traction when SSW7 was around, so most apps are for that OS) but I should still be able to BBS and email*, possibly IRC.

Later Classic Macs have it better in that regard: I was able to setup a mostly insecure WiFi connection (WEP) with a first generation Airport card in an iMac G3 and a modern access point device (a VAP11N-300) that I connect when I need it. I could have done the same with the onboard ethernet and the same AP (and infinitely more securely), but using the old wireless is just satisfying.

(Not quite retro friendly board)

Going online with an MS-DOS machine is possible! While I was unable to browse the web, using the mTCP tools I was able to connect to FTPs and BBSes. I’m using a 386-SX16 with no expanded memory, and the tools supposedly work even on the slowest 8088 with 96K!

(No screenshot this time. It’s all text anyway)

Outside of doing the things these old devices were meant to do modern software is needed to access the modern web we have today. I couldn’t find a working System 6 browser, but even if I did it would be useless on a black and white computer with 4MB of RAM.

More modern systems have efforts geared towards making them compatible with the modern internet: I’m using Classilla on Mac OS 9.2.2 and it can render pages better than ie 5.1. though having SSL everywhere really limits its range. I know about Mypal and K-meleon for Windows XP but I haven’t personally used them. For Windows 9x there’s Retrozilla.

SSL/TLS can be bypassed with a local modern computer processing and stripping the secure bits, and pass the non-secure results to the old browsers. There are several tools to do that, like webone, mitmproxy, crypto ancienne. As everything non-secure happens on your LAN, it should still be relatively safe. Still, don’t browse shady websites from your old computers! Keep your modern laptop for this sort of stuff.

I couldn’t find a similar tool for email. Even though the protocols are supposedly the same as 40 years ago, most email servers will refuse to shake hands with a software that doesn’t also send security bits.

That’s about it! Do you also go online with ancient machines? I didn’t delve into 8bit computers like the Apple II, C64 or Amstrad CPC, though I know they have, if limited, some access to the online world through BBSes and direct download. Same for the Amiga and Atari lines of computers, which I know almost nothing about.


Something I forgot: web rendering proxies! These softwares run on a modern computer, render the page internally, and export images for the old browser to display. The result looks quite fantastic, and make pretty much the whole of the internet accessible to any browser that can display pictures. Though some people don’t like them, because they feel it’s too much side processing and the old computer is merely used as a display for a modern computer.

WRP - Web Rendering Proxy the oldest one, still actively worked on. Should work on anything that can render HTML.
Browservice a new one, is apparently faster than WRP and “more immersive”, but needs a Linux server and is more limited in which browser it can be used with as it “requires a newer client browser and more powerful hardware” (meaning from the 90s).

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There’s also (which is kind of like Google’s old/discontinued Mobilizer) it converts modern web pages into something more palatable for less capable - usually old - devices.

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Ah, yes, frogfind is great! It’s made by the same guy who did, that displays Google News in basic HTML.

Another set of tools come from, a front-end for that can be used either basically through the website or by configuring your browser to use it as a proxy (and so any query you make with your browser will display the archive automatically.)

It has also a wikipedia proxy to display current Wikipedia but barebones, because it wouldn’t make sense to browse an archived version of this website.

There’s an interesting thread over on where people try to set a retro standard for websites to be compatible with older browsers and catalogue websites that adhere to it.

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Will try this kind of thing on my classic Mac when I get back round to it. Still have various parts to fix in it though.

The SD card hard drives and bumping up the ram surely makes a difference?

They do.

I went with SD2SCSI, which is a bit of a faff with the war the SD card had to be written. In hindsight I wish I’d have gone for BlueSCSI as it is drag and drop.

There is a common method for making wi-fi modems that can be of use with old computers. It uses a NodeMCU IoT board, and the interface of choice for the computer that you’re connecting to.

As an example, here’s a build using the NodeMCU, a level shifter, and a user-port connector for the C64 and C128 machines. In this case, the creator of it decided to call it a StrikeLink Wi-Fi.

And here’s another example using an RSR232 connector, that would work for some Apple computers as well as others:

There are also other use-cases for machines like old PCs, Tandys, UK 8-bit Micros, etc.

Best part is: You can buy all the parts and solder it up yourself for like $10-$20. Then you can use wifi to connect to your favourite BBSes using authentic hardware, and it acts and sounds like a regular old 9600 baud modem.

You can also hook up those tiny, cheap little OLED screens to get nice readouts of what it’s doing while running too.