Dust off your Apple Macintosh G3 350, Ars Technica turns 20


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Ars Orbital HQ
The Ars 20th Anniversary logo

If you've ever looked at the whois info for Ars Technica, you might already be in on a little secret: our birthday is December 29, 1998, making 2019 the site's official 20th anniversary year. For a site that wanted to do "bad, bad things like NT, Linux, and BeOS content under the same roof," that's an impressive run—about 7.5 million beats, or more than a lifetime in doge years.

Over the last two decades, well, Ars has definitely expanded. You can find anything from LARPing to archaeology industry trends alongside the latest Linux review on site today. But throughout the site's numerous evolutions, Ars still feels like it has stuck with the ethos of that initial public declaration—"having fun, being productive, and being as informative and as accurate as possible," as Editor in Chief Ken "Caesar" Fisher put it.

So as a small start to what will inevitably be numerous trips down memory lane during our 20th anniversary year, we recently polled the Ars community—aka, staff and readers—to find out what folks consider some of the site's greatest hits. This week's Orbital Transmission is dedicated to a few of the most popular stories mentioned, but you can find a more exhaustive list on site later this week as part of our ongoing anniversary series. (After all, you know all this stuff is an official Big Deal™ when it gets emblazoned on a mug.)

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Orbital Transmission 01.15.2019
Tentacular, Tentacular—an Ars choose-your-own-adventure story

Ars' greatest hits? It's choose-your-own-adventure

If greatest means "favorite" or "most memorable" story, Ars makes it downright difficult to choose. Over two decades, the site has produced some unforgettable longform that combines a truly creative topic with a unique amount of reporting and insight: did you know GTAV players still try to crack the game's embedded mysteries long after release (2016) or that you can pair an '80s toy with an Arduino and create a lifetime of nightmares (2017)? Ars writers have earned end-credits shoutouts from a newly unearthed short films that once ran before Return of the Jedi (2013) and discovered an overlooked bit of Hurricane Katrina heroism (2015) that inspired science fiction. So in truth, the "greatest" thing from Ars' two decades is probably just the utter range exhibited by this site. No one else does the stuff Ars Technica does—where else can you find a choose-your-own-adventure story about Cthulhu barging into the (non-existent) editorial office (2011)? (Eat your heart out, Bandersnatch.)

The original Video Toaster running on an Amiga 2000.

How do you do, fellow kids? Ever hear of the Amiga?

Journalism is prone to hyperbole, but on July 23, 1985 technology genuinely changed forever. At New York's Lincoln Center, as a full orchestra scored the evening and all its employees appeared in tuxedos, Commodore unveiled the work of its newly acquired Amiga subsidiary for the first time. The world finally saw a real Amiga 1000 and all its features. A baboon's face at 640x400 resolution felt life-changing, and icons like Blondie's Debbie Harry and Andy Warhol came onstage to demo state-of-the-art technology like a paint program. The machine has since become the thing of legend, the creative's computer long before any cult of Mac developed. So naturally, Ars has an 11-part series completed over the course of 10 years detailing the machine and its parent company's rise, fall, and legacy.

The Mac OS menu in 1999

In the beginning, there was John Siracusa and Mac OS

Reader @andres_m spoke for many responders. What's the most memorable Ars story? "Every @siracusa OS X review." These may have become as essential as the software itself over the years—book-length manuals devoted to understanding every facet of an OS and just what all the changes meant in the overall arc of Apple and computing. Siracusa's felt so monumental... like because they were. Standard WordPress cannot handle a Siracusa review, and the Ars IT team literally built custom fields on a routine basis. It's a tradition we try to carry-on today, but everyone would acknowledge there's only one John Siracusa (and he was doing it back in 1999).Standard WordPress cannot handle a Siracusa review. You must have custom fields.

The Ars Moonshark

Srsly, Ars Technica wouldn't be still standing without its readers

Once upon a time, Web fora were a big thing, and the Ars OpenForum was one of the biggest. Sure, in the year 2018 forums overall may have slowly faded away, but not so around Ars—24.2 million posts spread out across 987,786 different threads since 1999. In fact, Ars readers have been as responsible for the site's success as anyone. The same goes for some of Ars' most memorable moments. Our beloved 404 mascot (Moonshark) is a direct result of forums. Those pages became a place for communal grieving in the wake of September 11. Even in recent years, a reader made an entire freakin' RPG (Windows Only) about a community of dedicated readers saving the site with a group of enemies capture the Editor in Chief. 

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