Friday, August 1, 2008

From the RAT FILES circa 2003: Abandonware!

Back in the days when I would make the monthly trek to the George Bowen palatial estate in fashionable Poestenkill, New York, I would sit within the NASA control room that is the W2XBS production center with nothing more than a print copy of my feature and a microphone. At the same time, the RAT played over This Week, I published a text copy for my newsletter THE TELNET NEWS...

The following copy was originally composed as radio copy for THIS WEEK IN AMATEUR RADIO, which first aired in February of 2003. Please click on http://www.twiar.org/ for additional information on this amateur radio audio news service.
I think maybe this whole thing got started with those sometimes cute and sometimes annoying little computer screen mates or screen buddies that I found a bunch of one day on the Web. These are those little animated chunks of digital detritus that do not do much more than dance or scamper or skate or skitter or jump or whatever it is they do across your monitor screen, doing not much else accept maybe tapping off a few extra kilobytes of your memory resources as you perform your most significant and important daily computer tasks and duties. Little flecks of 1's 0's like NEKO, the mouse chasing virtual cat http://odourz.freeservers.com/screenmates.html and ESHEEP http://www.is.lt/viking/index.html , the fat little pixelated virtual puff of fluff first born and delivered onto the primordial desktops of Windows 3.1 machines many years ago, maybe ten. These same early evolutionary if not quite revolutionary bits and bytes eventually wandered onto my own little hard drives and thus stirred the smoldering embers of a slowly but steadily developing curiosity in things of a vintage flavour.
That is to say old, outdated junk software. But it turns out the official label for stuff like this is ABANDONWARE and there is much ABANDONWARE to be found and equally as much that is very hard to find because certain software authors, developers and vendors like Microsoft make it their business to curb the download traffic so that their all-but-forgotten ware, sometimes called WAREZ and you would spell that W-A-R-E-Z should not be had for free even though almost nobody is attempting to use the stuff anymore except for a few freaks, myself included!
And by the way, myself is Bill Baran - N2FNH - with the Random Access File, the usual monthly or sometimes not feature heard exclusively over This Week In Amateur Radio.

So, what's out there ABANDONWARE-wise these days? The answer is: "Quite a bit". But before you go totally ABANDONWARE, first you should page yourself over to http://www.oldversion.com/ to find recently outdated software. Earlier versions of RealAudio, Netscape and Adobe are harbored at this location. Here's a good case-in-point: I still use the original and remarkably still-free-for-the-accessing JUNO e-mail service. Wanting to install JUNO on additional dumpster-baby boxes and having momentarily misplaced the original floppy I got from George W2XBS, how easy was it to scroll over to OLDVERSION and grab a fresh old copy of JUNO that I couldn't even pay money for from JUNO if I even asked nicely!

Now, prepare yourself for a journey back in time and zip over to http://www.winsite.com/ and click on the link for Windows 3.1 stuff and MY OH MY! what stuff there is! A lot of clever little Cleavers cut their byte teeth on 3.1 programs back in early 90's and a lot of unique if not
completely interesting or possibly useless material is archived here. Things like a virtual slide rule and who remembers what one of those things is anymore. Few do. And OY VEY! a Hebrew Calendar, good through the early 2000's is available if you still need it, complete with Jewish calendars and official sunset times for your Shabbat observance. Also, an endless array of games, puzzles, screen savers plus a really cool program called SKYMAP which you should right now as I speak go over and get immediately if astronomy is your scene.

But this is nothing compared to the "gold" that I tapped into at the 1994 level. The first ingot of "gold" was something called CELLO. CELLO was one of the original fledgling browser programs developed for use on the Internet as a means of decoding documentation composed in the then brand-new HTML format. In 1993, the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University in
central New York published and released a one-time only freeware version 1.01a for all interested parties to make use of. So, does CELLO still work after all these years? Yes, well yes, sort of. HTML has gone through a lot a changes over the decade so a lot of source code can not be read but then again some web pages, mostly very simply composed pages still play. When the frames and the JAVA scripting and other newer components of the protocol arrive at the browser, it may commit one of those ILLEGAL operations or lock the machine up completely. Still, it's like finding that old 1939 Buick in a barn somewhere and trying give it a go one more time.

During the course of this ongoing ABANDONWARE archeological excavation, I also unearthed a copy of NCSA MOSAIC version 2. NCSA MOSAIC was an ambitious project underwritten by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The project ran from 1993 through 1996. Downloadable flavors of NCSA MOSAIC from version 0.6 through version 3, the final version are still available at http://browsers.evolt.org/ . Officially identified as an Internet navigation and data retrieval tool, NCSA MOSAIC remains as the template for both the Microsoft Internet Explorer and the Netscape Navigator. Although no longer supported by its creators, the program lives on in these various evolutionary manifestations.

So, does NCSA MOSAIC version 3, the final frontier still play after all these years. Yes, well yes, sort of. Better than CELLO plays. Earlier versions like 0.6, just barely. Any version of NCSA MOSAIC can still crack up the PC. But this should not surprise you. After all, this is Windows we
are talking about here.

Finally, what's the point of all this? Well, if nothing else, I found the searching for and digging up of old stuff a lot of fun, a real gas, like digging through some one's attic or basement in search of...what? Who knows? It's remarkable what's out there. Like finding a copy of Microsoft Windows 1.01 or the Norton Commander version 1.00. The Norton Commander is, still-in-the-year 2003, a fantastically popular DOS shell with legions of Commander devotees, like Moonies and who remembers who Moonies were. And I learned that such shells, both DOS and Windows- related, are officially referred to by their composers and users as "Orthodox File Managers".

Here's another thing I learned and I alluded to this at the start of this monologue. When you do your Google searches, you may find that stateside web pages will offer downloads of copyrighted software but you can't download them. So many pages were like this that I began to suspect corporate thumb-nailing. Sites are there. Downloads are not. SO! Go to your Google and start paging deep. If Google says there are 15 pages of listings, start in the middle at page 7 and scan the European and Asian content very closely. You don't need to read German to figure out where Windows 1.01 is archived. Take the time to mine and the results will be worth it.

Apparently, the love-my-software-and-pay-for-it fascists have not been able to clip the Germans, the Italians and the Japanese. By the way, if you have issues concerning the downloading of copyrighted materials, please turn off your radio and go buy some software at CompUSA. You will feel better for yourself. Maybe I'll study the copyright issue for a future Random Access File so stay tuned! Anyway, this is Bill Baran - N2FNH for This Week In Amateur Radio.

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