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"Browservice" brings modern web browsing to 1990s computers
Take a look at this:
“What am I looking at?”
That, right there, is Windows 3.11 (Windows for Workgroups)… loading up the Google Cloud VM manager. A website that requires a modern web browser.
But, that isn't a modern web browser. That is Internet Explorer 4.0. On Windows 3.11. Seriously.
Now check this bad mama jama out:
That's OS/2 Warp 4. Running Firefox 2. While reading Wikipedia.
Anyone who uses older (think 20+ years) computers knows… this just isn't possible (certainly not with the websites looking… right). While taking many of these older platforms “On-Line” (read: giving them an Internet connection) is certainly doable, browsing modern websites is usually straight out of the question. Webmail, Social Media, most news sites, shopping… none of those things work on web browsers made more than 17 seconds ago (slight exaggeration… but you get my point).
And to do all of this using the existing, old-school web browsers on those aging systems? “What sorcery is this?!” would be a proper response.
So how is this all happening?
Using a project known as “Browservice” which runs an off-screen browser instance on a server of your choosing… and renders it on your client browser. Essentially Browservice acts as a proxy server to do all the real heavy lifting.
You can even run “Browservice” on a Raspberry Pi (full instructions on the GitHub project page). Meaning that you can do something like:
Have a Raspberry Pi that connects to a WiFi network.
Connect the Ethernet of, say, an old laptop running Windows 3.11 to the Rapsberry Pi.
Use an old web browser to browse the entire modern Internet, via Browservice running on the Pi.
This thing is like the Holy Grail of getting mid to late 1990s Operating Systems more effectively On-Line in modern times. Absolutely glorious.
There's a compatibility chart, on the project page, which lists browsers and client Operating Systems known to work with Browservice. It contains things like “Windows 3.11 with IE 4” and “Windows 95 with Firefox 1.5.” But, based on the client requirements, I believe that many (many) other systems are likely compatible as well (including classic Macintosh, Amiga, and older UNIX workstations).
And, here’s a crazy thing: It even supports file uploads! Seriously!
There are a couple of little gotchas, naturally. Sound streaming is not currently possible. So, while watching videos (at a lower framerate) is doable, there's no audio.
Just the same, this is amazing. On a mid-90s computer we can now use anything from Twitter to Gmail (including the ability to download files)… just plain awesome. This opens up a lot of possibilities for what aging computer systems can be used for.
Testing Browservice out is incredibly simple… the developer makes a self-contained AppImage available. Just download, run, and follow the instructions on how to use it. Easy peasy.