Nine technologies that faded into history

SYLVIA PENNINGTON
Last updated 05:00 03/02/2014

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This year marks the 30th birthday of the Apple Mac, the personal computer marketed with the promise of being simple enough for ordinary people to use when it hit the shelves back in 1984.

As the Mac powers into its fourth decade, we take a look at products and technologies that dropped out on the path to longevity the have not been so lucky to survive and faded into the annals of high-tech history.

1. The Atari console

Game Boy, PlayStation, Xbox and Wii … before them all came the Atari, a rudimentary console bundled with two joysticks, paddle controllers and a cartridge game.

Launched in 1977 as the Atari Video Computer System (VCS) and later rebranded the Atari 2600, it was the most popular system of the early '80s, its name synonymous with gaming for much of the decade. The company met its demise following the American video game crash of 1983, when customers and retailers lost confidence in a market which that had become saturated with low-cost rip-offs.

2. The dot matrix printer

Draft or near letter quality? It’s a moot question in these days of low-cost laser printing technology.

Not so in the '80s and early '90s when dot matrix printers were churning out carefully aligned pages, line by line, in millions of small businesses and home offices around the world. Although superseded by the inkjet in the mid '90s, dot matrix technology is still used in some cash registers, ATMs and other point-of-sales terminals.

3. The floppy disk

Store your whole life on a USB stick that fits in a change pocket?

Who would have thunk it, back in the days when data storage, transfer and back-up meant confining a couple of hundred kilobytes to a fragile 5.25-inch floppy disk or its more robust counterpart, the 3.5 inch disk?

Ubiquitous until well into the noughties, floppies have been made obsolete by flash and external hard disk drives, memory cards and networks; all of which have much greater storage capacity.

 4. The Commodore 64

Got one of these gathering dust in the attic? The first computer to gain serious traction in the home market, the low-priced 8-bit Commodore 64 outsold competitors IBM and Apple in the early '80s, following its 1982 launch.

Marketed through retail stores, rather than specialist dealers, for an introductory price of US$595 - around half the price of an Apple machine - it had sold 3.5 million units by 1986.

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Commodore saw off a slew of competitors, including Timex and Texas Instruments, before demand dropped in the early nineties'90s The firm filed for bankruptcy in 1994.

5.  The PDA that couldn’t

Does your life fall apart temporarily when you misplace your mobile? While the rise of the smartphone has put a powerful personal digital assistant into an estimated 1.5 billion pockets and counting, worldwide, Apple’s earlier efforts to develop a PDA sank without trace.

Launched in 1993, the Apple Newton featured a touch screen and handwriting recognition technology and came with a pen stylus. Rudimentary applications included a notes file, personal calendar, calculator and currency converter.

The product was consigned to the tech trash can in 1998.

6. In the Palm of your hand

Twentieth-century gadget lovers who didn’t want to go Newton could manage their affairs on the run using a Palm Pilot, or Palm for short. Launched in 1996, early-model Palms boasted 128kb or 512kb of RAM and ran a proprietary operating system known as Palm OS.

After a series of spin-offs and remarriages through the noughties, Palm was acquired by Hewlett Packard in 2010. The vendor pulled the pin on the devices and their operating system the following year.

7. The CD-Rom bundle

Remember when a new PC or console came with a pile of CDs you had to store somewhere safe, in case the operating system ever had to be re-installed?

Downloadable software and the rise of iTunes has seen these CD-Rom bundles go the way of the dodo. Hardware vendors began phasing out the optical drive as standard around five years ago and today few new machines come with one.

8. The not-so-smart phone

Apple iOS or Google Android? While the debate between smartphone users shows no sign of ending, the once popular operating system whichthat preceded both has gone gently into the good night. Formerly used by major brands including Samsung, Motorola, Sony Ericsson and Nokia, Nokia's own Symbian was toppled from its marketing-leading perch by Android in 2010.

The platform was officially retired when Nokia decided on replacingto replace it with Microsoft's Windows Phone OS. Ongoing development and support for existing installations are to be carried out by Accenture under contract until 2016.

9. And before Windows we had…

Black screens and green writing … If you remember the high-school computer lab this way then congratulations - you’re officially middle aged.

Released in 1981, the Microsoft Disk Operating System known as MS-DOS was the main operating system for PCs until the mid '90s, when the Windows graphical user interface upended the way desktop computers looked and felt. Development on MS-DOS ceased in 2000.

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