Take a look at this:

Browservice

“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:

Browservice

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 exageration… 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 new 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.

But this isn't simply displaying a static picture of a website. You can fully interact with the webpages just as you normally would. Which means websites that were previously off limits to older operating systems are fully usable! The only real requirement, on the client, is that you'll need a web browser with at least some early JavaScript support.

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.

Browservice

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).

There are a couple of little gotchas, naturally. File uploads, for example, do not work. So I won't be using Browservice to post pictures to Twitter or upload YouTube videos right now (though typing and copy/paste do work). Sound streaming also 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.

I will be testing out a number of older systems using Browservice in the coming days to see just how deep this rabit hole goes.

Huge thanks to Mike S. for sending along news of this amazing project!


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