Old data terminals looked like typewriters

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Old data terminals looked like typewriters

Yes, this portable "data terminal" really did require sheets of paper, like a fax machine.


Meet the Radio Shack PT-210, a portable " data terminal" that let you access computer timesharing systems back in 1983.
In some ways, timesharing systems were a forerunner of what we now call cloud computing.
To access them 'on the road', you needed a terminal such as the TI Silent 700 or the somewhat less stylish Radio Shack PT-210, which we spotted thanks to the site BoingBoing.
One important difference was that instead of communicating via the internet, mobile users would normally dial directly into a specific service. Thus, the phone handset pushed into a pair of rubber cups.
And yes, it really did use a thermal printer much like a traditional fax machine did, so if you ran out of paper on a trip, work would grind to a halt until you found a store that stocked the correct sized rolls.
Furthermore, the printouts were a long way from archive quality and exposure to heat such as being left inside a car on a hot day could leave them largely illegible.
Adjusted for inflation, $US995 in 1983 dollars is more enough to buy a 2.3GHz, 15in MacBook Pro with Retina display.
Maybe they weren't the good old days after all...
Here are two other interesting portable computers from decades past:
  • The 12.5kg Compaq Portable was just getting its maker (now part of HP) off the ground, and largely took the place of the Osbourne and Kaypro portables that had driven the idea of portable computing around the turn of the decade.
  • The NEC PC8201a was arguably the forerunner of more modern notebook computers, its small, text-oriented screen clearly reflects an earlier generation of computing.


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