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Hardware

Parallel Ports

A parallel port.
A parallel port.
New computers and printers don't have them, and that's too bad. Parallel ports had some definite advantages for printing, not the least of which was backward compatibility with many older devices. The parallel printer interface was more standardized than the USB one, too. I once tested network printer-sharing devices, and the parallel-port models all worked on the first try; the USB units didn't work, period.
--Lincoln Spector, Contributing Editor

Northgate OmniKey Ultra Keyboard

The Avant Stellar, a metal keyboard that resembles the long-lost Northgate OmniKey Ultra.
Photograph: Courtesy of Creative Vision Technologies
Northgate once made a keyboard composed of real metal. Though it weighed a ton, it stood up to practically any abuse short of liquid spills, and the manufacturer supplied extra keys and a key-pulling doohickey so you could customize your keyboard. Adding to the extravaganza, the OmniKey Ultra had a row of function keys along the left side of the keys as well as along the top. A company called Creative Vision Technologies now makes a similar model (pictured); it weighs 5 pounds and costs $189.
--Dennis O'Reilly, Senior Associate Editor

Macintosh Clones

An advertisement from Power Computing, maker of Mac clones.
Infographic: BAM Advertising
In the mid-1990s, you could run the Mac operating system on an Apple system, or on a clone system made by Power Computing, Motorola, Umax, or one of several other companies. The clone makers were known for building inexpensive systems--often undercutting Apple's prices--and for making high-powered Macs that frequently outperformed Apple's. They also made the Mac market interesting: Power Computing undertook public-relations stunts like staging a bungee-jumping exhibit at a Macworld Expo in Boston, and running over PCs with a Humvee at a Macworld Expo in San Francisco. (The image at left is from one of its campaigns during the 1996 Seybold Publishing Seminar.) Alas, competition was bad for Apple's business, so when Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, one of his first moves was to rescind the licensing agreements and kill the clones.
--Alan Stafford, Senior Writer

LaserDiscs

LaserDisc player.
I can't actually miss LaserDiscs, since I still own several of them, but at some point I will miss LaserDisc players, because no one makes them anymore and I don't know what I'll do when my current one dies. LaserDiscs were the first media to provide letterboxed images, multiple soundtrack options, and commentaries by directors.
--Lincoln Spector, Contributing Editor

Windows CE Handheld PCs

The IBM WorkPad z50 handheld PC.
Photograph: Courtesy of CEGlobe.com
I miss an entire class of products: mini-laptop-size Windows CE handheld PCs, the lovechild of a PDA and an ultraportable laptop. Many top computer makers--including HP, Compaq, HP, HP, and NEC--offered them, and they had some great features: They turned on and off instantly; their batteries often lasted for up to 10 hours on a charge; and they had no moving parts, so you didn't have to worry about a hard-drive crashes and related maladies. Despite weighing (on average) less than 3 pounds, they had nearly full-size keyboards. IBM's WorkPad z50 was my particular favorite in this category--a PDA version of a miniature ThinkPad laptop. But at the time that handheld PCs were available--in the late 1990s and early 2000s--they were expensive (often around $1000). Eventually, regular laptops got smaller and more affordable, PDAs morphed into smart phones, and the PDA laptop faded away. To a degree, Samsung, Sony, and others have tried to re-enter this territory with Ultra Mobile PCs that cost $1000 and up. But I'd rather jump onto eBay and pick up a vintage Win CE handheld for $200 or less.
--James A. Martin, Contributing Editor

Psion Series 5

The Psion Series 5 PDA.
A tiny keyboard with a feel remarkably reminiscent of a notebook's. Office-like applications with clever touches that make them highly usable on the go. One of the best styli ever designed. If all of these features appeared in a handheld computer today, I'd be impressed; the fact that the Psion Series 5 had them in 1997 is downright amazing. Psion no longer makes PDAs, but its software evolved into the Symbian OS, which powers phones such as Nokia's E62. If someone were to revive the Series 5, give it a color screen, and add a phone, I'd buy it in a heartbeat.
--Harry McCracken, Editor in Chief

Toshiba Libretto

The Toshiba Libretto mini-notebook.
From its dotcom-era debut to its brief return in 2005, Toshiba's Libretto always stood as the computer world's equivalent of a tiny, shiny, impractical, expensive, yet sexy sports car: You might lust after it, but you probably wouldn't want to have to depend on it to serve your mundane needs. Reviewers of the initial, late-1990s U.S. model (first sold here in 1997) marveled at the Libretto's bright 6.1-inch display, its sub-2-pound weight, and its bricklike design. But most deplored its incredibly tiny keyboard keys, the less-than-optimum location of its eraserhead mouse and buttons (next to the display and on the outside of the case, respectively), and the unit's $2000-plus price tag. Still, the Libretto name acquired enough cachet to prompt Toshiba to revive the brand last year on a portable with a slightly larger (7.1-inch) screen. Ultraportable fans were delighted, but there were still too few of them to keep the new Libretto line afloat. But someday, I hope, designers will come up with a viable way to produce a full-blown Windows PC that I can toss in my handbag.
--Yardena Arar, Senior Editor

Nokia 8290

Nokia 8290 cell phone.
Of the cell phones I've had, the one I miss the most is the Nokia 8290. Admittedly, I couldn't do much on the five-line black-and-white LCD except make phone calls and send text messages; and the 8290 worked on only one frequency (GSM 1900 MHz). But at 2.8 ounces, it was cute and small--perhaps a little too cute and small. It fit so inconspicuously into my cargo pants pocket that I didn't notice it one day when I threw the pants into the washing machine, and that was the end of my Nokia 8290.
--Narasu Rebbapragada, Senior Associate Editor

Handspring Visor Edge

The Handspring Visor Edge PDA.
The skinniest, sleekest, simplest PDA ever, Handspring's Visor Edge was a wafer of elegance among PDAs that resembled blocks of cheese. It had a monochrome screen and a measly 8MB of RAM, but that was good enough for me. Syncing involved a mere touch of a button on the USB cradle, so I always knew where I was supposed to be and when. That's more than I can say for my tubby BlackBerry, which chokes on all of my recurring meetings.
--Kimberly Brinson, Managing Editor

Palm Tungsten T

The Palm Tungsten T PDA.
The Tungsten T may have been the best Palm PDA ever made. You could collapse its case to fit easily into a shirt pocket, and then expand it to gain access to its Graffiti (stylus input) area. Besides being the first Palm OS 5-based device, the Tungsten T was the first PDA with a four-way navigation pad, and its resolution was twice that of earlier color Palms. The stylus was spring-loaded and nicely hefty, and I could listen to MP3s on my handheld and play a game on it at the same time. I gave my Tungsten T to my wife when I bought a Handspring Treo 600, which I later found to be far inferior as a PDA (it kinda stunk as a phone, too).
--Alan Stafford, Senior Writer

Rio Cali

The Rio Cali portable audio player.
Back before portable audio players sported shiny black, white, or pink aluminum cases, my rubberized Rio Cali handled all the sweat, water, and accidental crash landings of two years' worth of gym workouts. With a stopwatch (including lap timer), an FM radio, and 256MB of flash memory (plus an SD Card expansion slot), it ran longer on one AAA battery than I ever could. Thanks, Cali, for the memories and for helping me lose 5 pounds.
--Narasu Rebbapragada, Senior Associate Editor

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