I have fond memories of the early days of Internet use at home. I can’t give you a year, probably 1995 or 1996, but definitely no later.
We had to use a dial up modem. This was a box you plugged into your telephone socket (so no calls then, of course) and you dialled up a number (and paid appropriately).
One of mine was a unit very similar to this. See, you could send faxes too!
The whole system was very text based, unlike now. We used a system called Almac (not any company that exists now – I think it was named after the man who set it up, Alistair MacIntyre or something similar perhaps, I forget) and you would call in for your e-mails or lists.
Lists? Well yes, there was a text based system called LISTSERV that allowed people with similar interests to communicate. Each day, or perhaps more often, you would read a digest of messages posted to the server. You could read and reply, or create a new topic. I think it still exists in places, but is very outdated. There were also more public discussion groups, named like alt.binaries.uk.fish where the messages, which could include pictures, could be delivered into your e-mail account (or you could use other software). I think these newsgroups are all but dead.
Another big thing was the bulletin board. Again text based, it was a place where you could post messages on a topic and people could reply. Yes, a discussion forum.
File sharing was a big thing, and many academic sites allowed you to download files.
Having bought a new computer recently, I am very aware of how much new/replacement software costs. More companies seem to be moving from a single payment scheme to a rental agreement, pay something every month, which is expensive for me.
It’s useful to have Microsoft Office, but not essential, especially now I’m not working. I do occasionally edit video clips or pictures, maybe once a month so again, Adobe is expensive.
There are free products out there. Many of them come with all the features you could possibly need, and there are plenty of people around the world who can offer support.