Windows XP Professional – unsung hero O/S

I’ve been writing of my adventures with a Z80 singleboard computer (kit supplied by CPUVille) for some time now. I’ve also mentioned how I had to ditch the flakey USB-serial connections and return to ‘real’ RS232 connections using an old Toshiba laptop.

What I may not have mentioned is the O/S on that Toshiba. It came with Windows XP Professional, and is still running that operating system all these decades later. It simply works.

I originally kept the Toshiba because it was the last laptop I owned that had a dedicated DB-9 Serial port connection on the back. Everything I’ve owned since removed the printer (DB-25) and serial (DB-9) connectors in favor of USB ports. While USB is great for almost everything, it is not always great for serial communications. Frankly, the USB-serial chips in the cables rely on flaky drivers that don’t always work.

I kept the Toshiba with it’s serial port to run Fuji controller software, which talked via serial connection (RS232-RS485) to my two Fuji glassblowing controllers (PXR3 series). The software from Fuji ran on Windows 95 thru XP, but not on newer versions. As a result, the Toshiba remained the ‘Fuji controller laptop’ complete with Win XP ever since.

The thing is, it still ‘just works’. After many years on a shelf, I installed the battery (it was stored separate), found the charger and plugged it in. After pressing ‘power on’, it simply worked. I found an RS232 cable (DB-9 ends) and plugged it into the Z80 singleboard. I downloaded a decent terminal program (Teraterm) and again, things just worked. Not only that, but they have continued to work ever since.

The laptop has a network adapter (not wifi) so I plugged it in, and was immediately able to access my shared data folders so I can edit on my main development PC (Windows 7) and access the files on the Toshiba to sent via Teraterm to the Z80. All quite easy and slick.

Using modern windows ‘Remote Desktop Connection’ (RDP), I am able to fully operate the Toshiba via a remote RDP window on my devel PC. Windows XP supported RDP, and it hasn’t changed in all this time – or at least, it’s backward compatible to XP.

The reason I was thinking about this recently is that a couple of days ago we caught a show on Knowledge Network about the 1990’s. This episode was all about tech in the 90s, and was a real trip down memory lane for me. In the 90s I was teaching C programming at SAIT in Calgary in the evening (Continuing Education courses) as well as full-time consulting in the daytime. I worked on some of the first computers to get Windows 95 when it came out. I remember programming for Windows 95. I was ‘there’ when Win 95 led to Win98, then Win ME (millenium edition), or “meh” (or mill-enema edition) as we often said. Win ME was a horrible, rushed OS that could not die fast enough. But Windows XP – that was beautiful, at the time. It simply worked. Most of the driver glitches had been tamed, and the PC slot and USB ports worked. The PC slot was quite cool for the time – I had a TV card (turned the laptop into a real TV) and a Wifi card, and several others. They were expensive but cool. And now they are long-gone history.

Still, it’s nice to be using something for a specific purpose and have it still work perfectly after all these years.

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