Right now I’m looking at Google when it was just another student project at Stanford, streamed from a virtual version of a 90s-era Macintosh 4.0.
With Old Web Today, which serves up archived web pages as they would display on old browsers and operating systems, you too can be a digital retronaut.
The service, created by developer Ilya Kreymer in conjunction with media arts foundation Rhizome, lets you view webpages in their 90s incarnations in the most authentic way possible. It feeds you archived versions of sites as they’d appear on a suite of old browsers, including Netscape, Internet Explorer, and the oldest versions of Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. These browsers run on their respective operating systems: classic Mac, Windows, and Linux.
You enter the URL you want to see, request a date, and the site will pull up the archived version of the site closest to that date. I could see Google before it even moved off Stanford’s servers, Facebook when it was known as “TheFacebook.”
What’s novel about the project isn’t that it’s a well-made archive; it’s that it’s strikingly committed to rendering these pages as accurately (read: slowly) as you’d imagine they'd be at that time. So while you can load pages almost instantaneously on the Chrome viewer, Netscape on Mac 4 will chug along while pulling up that 2006 Reddit front page as it looked before it became the “front page of the internet.”
Unlike archive sites like the Wayback Machine, which are faster and usually ask your browser to render basic HTML, Old Web Today relies on emulators like Wine and Sheepshaver to stream virtual versions of historical operating systems onto your modern machine.
The site is digital nostalgia in the purest sense. There are fewer broken images than archive sites. It’s slow as molasses. And it’s solving every problem I had with retrocomputing: There’s no setup, barely any errors, it’s free, and it’s all very authentic.