I miss the old internet

Long story

January 30, 2024 — ~hnp

It was the height of the Desktop era. Everything ran locally, and that meant Windows. OS X just got started. Everyone was predicting smartphones, but they were a decade out (note time travellers: drop the fucking stylus). Linux was unbelievably shit. Very few drivers, you had to carefully pick your hardware. External devices were a luxury. Printing mostly didn’t work, USB printing was bragging rights. You had to buy modems with a hardware DAC, else it was done in the driver which worked only on Windows. GTK kinda just went from v1 to v2, everything looked 10 years outdated, and even Firefox had glitchy UI on Linux. If you could insert a CD and get it to show up without manually mounting, you were staring into the future.

The Web was on hold, Microsoft having won the browsers wars pt. 1, and proceeding to stall with Internet Explorer 6, correctly predicting that browsers would compete with their hegemony in the client space. There were no services: GMail and Youtube were just getting started. You ran local programs, and there were barely any for Linux. The choice was between booting Windows and dicking with cracks from Astalavista, and booting Linux to rice your E16, then staring at it. General productivity software was almost non-existent — you had a dozen compilers and interpreters instead. Where I’m from, banking required desktop software which required windows, not to mention smart cards, which also required windows.

This was made worse by the proprietary formats, which were the key to maintaining stranglehold. Everyone was emailing .docs around, which you could sometimes open with Abiword or maybe dump just the text and Antiword. Even the PDF viewers were a bit crap. Had to submit a report? You probably booted Windows in a virtual machine to use Office, and the CPU was yet to add instructions helping with that. Media was even worse; everything was MPEG and required royalties. LAME Ain’t an MP3 Encoder because it wasn’t allowed to be. RIAA/MPAA were fighting hard to keep you buying physical shit. Meanwhile, you could only play Tux Racer and Nethack.

Around that time, Microsoft was about to introduce Palladium, an attestation chain rooted in hardware. Everyone was despairing about the same future: in 3-5 years, Microsoft would use it to pull in and segregate an increasing portion of the Internet, until the whole became their walled garden. Hope that sounds familiar.