Harken back to the late 1990s with this re-creation of the dialup Internet experience

A demonstration of the late 1990s dial-up experience using near-accurate hardware for the time, connecting to modern websites using outdated browsers over a 31.2 kbit/s dial-up connection. Be careful: page loads are in real time.

We all find our coping strategies to get through the pandemic in 2020. Biomedical engineer Gough Liu likes to play with technology, especially old technology, and decided that he would try to recreate what it was like to connect to the Internet via dial-up in the past. late 1990s. He recorded the entire process in agonizing real time, punctuated by occasional commentary.

Those of a certain age (ahem) remember well how it used to be: even just turning on your computer required patience, particularly in the early part of the decade, when one could shower and make coffee in the time it took to turn one’s computer on from a floppy disk. . One needed a dedicated phone line for the Internet connection, because otherwise an incoming call could break the connection, forcing one to repeat the entire dial-up process all over again. Browsing the web was time consuming in the heydays of Netscape and Microsoft Explorer.

Much has changed since then, as the Internet has gone from being a curiosity to a necessity, reshaping our culture in the process. As Liu noted on his blog:

The Internet has become a vital part of our daily lives, but the way we experience it now through high-speed broadband connections is not how it was in my childhood. In the late 1990s to early 2000s, I was dialing from my 133 MHz non-MMX Pentium machine equipped with 48 MB of RAM running Windows 98SE (and later, Windows 2000 Professional). This experience was itself a reflection of the fact that “always connected” to the Internet was not considered a necessity or normality; Back then, “ttyt,” short for “talk to you tomorrow,” was one thing.

Liu needed to use a miniProxy to connect to modern websites.
Enlarge / Liu needed to use a miniProxy to connect to modern websites.

YouTube/Gough Liu

The video begins by showing Liu’s Techway Endeavor II computer (circa 1995) booting up, with no commentary for best dramatic effect. The ironic “credits” provide the basic specs: a 100 MHz Intel Pentium I CPU, 32 MB of RAM, and a 2.6 GB Fujitsu hard drive, augmented with a Sony 3.5-inch floppy drive and a 24-bit modem. 65k voice. Featured software includes Microsoft Windows 98 SE, Netscape Communicator 4.8, and Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.5.

Then comes the telltale static sounds of dialing to connect to the Internet, and voila! We are ready to start browsing with your amazing 31.2k connection. (As Liu explains, “56k is not possible due to the analog nature of the connection.”) This is where things get interesting. In reality, it is not possible to visit most modern websites directly because changes in the https protocols make it impossible to negotiate common encryption. So Liu uses a miniProxy, which connects to the site at https, downloads the content, and sends it back to Liu’s computer with all the links rewritten so they can go through the proxy.

It took 3 minutes and 27 seconds to download an executable file.
Enlarge / It took 3 minutes and 27 seconds to download an executable file.

YouTube/Gough Liu

It takes a while to download a sample page from Slashdot, as the status bar at the bottom provides updates on our progress. “Web navigation technology has advanced quite a bit over the years, and so have html standards; things like CSS and certain types of Javascript didn’t exist at the time Navigator existed, so the site loads, but it looks very different from how you would experience it today in a modern browser,” says Liu.

The rest of the trip includes a visit to the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology (which still uses http), google.com, Wikipedia, xkcd (“we’ll be waiting a while for this comic”) and others, with everything loading in real time. . It takes a full 3 minutes and 27 seconds to download a 120kb executable file for a simple software update. The entire video will make you feel grateful for all the technological advancements of the last 20 years, especially the comparatively large amount of bandwidth that we enjoy today. Kids today don’t know how good they have it.

YouTube listing image/Gough Liu

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