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.