Could the Windows Active Desktop Have Saved Internet Explorer?

Socket 5 | Saturday, August 8, 2020 |

Had Microsoft really capitalised upon Internet Explorer's deep Windows integration, Google Chrome may well today have been sitting alongside Google Buzz and Google Friend Connect in the file of discontinued Google brainwaves.


Article by Bob Leggitt
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The Windows Active Desktop in Windows Millennium Edition
The Windows Active Desktop was deeply dependent on Internet Explorer. Had Microsoft got people more engaged with, and dare I say *dependent* on the Active Desktop, could Internet Explorer have fought off the invasions of Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome? Above, you can see an Active Desktop demo courtesy of Windows Millennium Edition.

If ever there was an example of aggressive marketers going soft, it must surely have been the story of the Windows Active Desktop. Here was an idea that put unparallelled scope for a tailored user experience right at the epicentre of the PC owner’s world – on the Desktop.

The Active Desktop, which ran from Windows 98 to the original Windows XP inclusive, had incredible potential for combining customised local and web-based functions all on one screen. The ability to combine and aesthetically arrange was always its real strength.

Typically, user Desktops have tended to be either a chaotic clutter of icons, or a mass of empty space. But the Active Desktop supported scrollable iframes, which meant that your Desktop could be much more effectively and neatly filled. Not just a pointless waste of space or an assault of icons, but a highly organised arrangement of useful folders, functions and feeds. Much, much clearer than a random barrage of icons, and always using the space rather than wasting it.

A 100% Uncontaminated 1998 Internet Browsing Experience

Socket 5 | Wednesday, August 5, 2020 |

CD-ROMs can't be edited, and when it comes to looking back into history, that is their most commendable property...


Article by Bob Leggitt
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Packard Bell - Internet on a CD 1998

If you’ve ever wondered why there was such an explosion in Internet use forward from the Christmas of 1998, the artefact I’m talking about is this post serves as a perfect illustration. It’s called Internet on a CD, and it was the home PC vendor Packard Bell’s bid to turn each computer sale into a recurring revenue stream.

Internet on a CD was given away to purchasers of new Packard Bell PCs in the run up to Christmas 1998. I got mine with a Club 30 model. The concept of the CD was to collect a representative cross section of websites, put their pages onto local media, and reassign their internal links so that clicking them served the new page from the CD rather than from the Web. Essentially just give consumers the feel of using the Internet. Get them hooked. Add to that a front end comprising Packard Bell’s own introductory and tutorial material, and you had something along the lines of…

Browsing the Web With a MEGA Low Resource 1998 PC in the 2020s

Socket 5 | Sunday, August 2, 2020 |

Does your ancient Windows 98 or Windows ME PC fancy an outing round the World Wide Web? Go on... Give it a day out. For old time's sake...


Article by Bob Leggitt
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RetroZilla Wikipedia in Windows 98
Online with Windows 98 in 2020.

If you thought it was impossible to browse the Internet with a 300MHz CPU and 128MB of RAM, you are wrong. At least, you are as I write this post in August 2020. That’s exactly what I’ve just been doing on a late 1990s PC. Let’s not kid ourselves – with those resources, browsing is not lightning fast, but it’s faster than dial-up, and it’s really useful to have any PC connected to the World Wide Web – however ancient it may be.

The experience is possible thanks to the updating of a very old browser, which makes it compatible with contemporary Transport Layer Security – normally abbreviated to TLS. Using the browser feels a bit like surfing the Web back in the early 2000s, except you can access sites that didn’t exist back then – like Twitter, for example. More on that in a moment.

A Theme Upgrade For Windows 3.1 and Windows For Workgroups 3.11

Socket 5 | Wednesday, July 29, 2020 |

Give your old Windows 3.1 or Windows For Workgroups 3.11 installation a facelift, with the info and download from this post...


Article by Bob Leggitt
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Windows 3.1 and Windows For Workgroups 3.11 theme Summer of Love
The new theme Summer of Love comes with a colourful desktop wallpaper background, in the original 8-bit bitmap format, and reproduces in either 16 colour or 256 colour mode.

It may sound like a superficial detail, but the visual theme you use on your PC is tres important. It's the virtual world's equivalent to the decor in your home. It affects your psyche, so it needs to be welcoming, attractive and conducive to positive thought. In fact, the refreshing visuals are one of the reasons we return to old computing systems.

Ten Reasons Why 1990s PCs Have a Bright Future

Socket 5 | Thursday, July 23, 2020 |

"it’s often hard or increasingly expensive to get hold of original 1990s software. So this free application, via which enthusiasts can make their own '90s software, is really useful."


Article by Bob Leggitt
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MS Encarta in Windows 95

Okay, so you can’t meaningfully get around the Internet with them anymore (well, you can still do a bit of browsing with them). But most of us didn’t use 1990s PCs for web surfing anyway. As late as 1998, only about 9% of UK households had an internet connection, and that figure stayed more or less static over the course of the year. More than double this percentage of households had a computer, but no connection to the web. Meaning that even in early 1999, only about 30% of UK home computer owners used their machines to surf the net.

Those figures changed dramatically in the short period between early ’99 and the end of 2000, with vast ISP uptake, and 1998’s 30% minority of web-using computer owners, increasing to around a 75% majority. So there was a seismic shift in PC users’ behaviour between 1998 and 2001.

The Midiman Winman: PC Expansion Card Installations Before Plug and Play

Socket 5 | Tuesday, July 21, 2020 |

"You need to actually enter the IRQ and memory address settings into Windows when you install the driver (no, I'm serious!)...".


Article by Bob Leggitt
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“GUARANTEED FOR LIFE”. Now there’s a phrase you don’t hear much these days. But back when the Spice Girls were just another bunch of hopefuls wondering if they could crack mainstream pop, the Midiman company of Arcadia, California, were happy to offer their tech hardware with such bold assurance.

And their confidence was not misguided. My Midiman Winman 2x2, bought in the mid ‘90s, is still soldiering on, and frankly I’m now much more concerned for the welfare of the ISA-slot-fitted PCs that are able to accept it than I am for the Winman card itself. Don't wanna tempt fate, but it clearly is gonna live forever.

The Winman 2x2 card was very much a product of its time. An old-school PC MIDI interface providing two classic MIDI cable inputs and two classic MIDI cable outputs. Predating the widespread adoption of PCI expansion slots, the Winman was manufactured to fit into an old-school Industry Standard Architecture (or ISA) slot on the motherboard.

The card recalls a period during which home-based PCs were regularly used by musicians and producers to sequence MIDI hardware instruments such as synths, beatboxes, digital pianos and the like, but were typically not powerful enough to handle audio recording.

Windows ME: Why the Critics Were Wrong

Socket 5 | Monday, July 20, 2020 |

For some home PC users in late 2001, Windows ME was probably better value for money than Windows XP. There, I've said it...


Article by Bob Leggitt
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Windows ME looking classy with the custom theme Serendipity, and the oldest surviving page on the Internet loaded into Firefox. Does that *really* look like the worst PC operating system of all time?

Flick back through a PC magazine from early autumn 2001, and you’ll see something which, today, looks quite bizarre. You’ll find new PCs being advertised by retailers with this proud boast headlining the software spec…

“Operating system: Windows 98SE”

Latter 2001? Windows 98? Doesn’t sound right, does it?...