Author Archives: Jason Scott

Welcome to the Webspace Jam

It stood as either a memorial, embarrassment or in-joke: the promotional website for the 1996 film Space Jam, a comedy-action-sports film starring Michael Jordan and the Warner Brothers Looney Tunes characters.

Created at a time when the exact relevance of websites in the spectrum of mass media promotion was still being worked out, www.spacejam.com held many of the fashionable attributes of a site in 1996: an image map that you could click on, a repeating star background, and a screen resolution that years of advancement have long left in the dust. The limits of HTML coding and computer power were pushed as far as they could go. The intended audience was a group of people primarily using dial-up modems and single-threaded browsers to connect to what was still called The Information Superhighway.

By all rights, the Space Jam site should have died back in the 1990s, lost in the shifting sands of pop culture attention and flashier sites arriving with each passing day.

But it didn’t die, go offline or get replaced with a domain hosting advertisement or a 404.

Unlike a lot of websites from the 1990s, the Space Jam movie site simply didn’t change.

It persisted.

Just as every city seems to have that one bar or restaurant that can trace itself back for over a century, this one website became known, to people who looked for it, as a strange exception – unchanging, unshifting, with someone paying for the hosting and advertising a movie that, while a lot of fun, was not necessarily an oscar-winning cinematic experience. You could go to the site and be instantly transported back to a World Wide Web that in many ways felt like ancient history, absolutely gone.

Years turned into decades.

For those in the know and who paid close attention to this odd online relic, the real mystery was that the site was not actually staticsomeone was making modifications to the code of the website, the settings and web hosting, to jump past several notable shifts in how websites work, to ensure that deprecated features and unaccounted browser issues were handled. That costs money; that’s the work of people. Somehow, this silly movie site represented the held-out flame that with a small bit of care and dedication, a website could live forever, like we were once promised.

It wasn’t just a clickable brochure – it became a beacon in the dark, a touchstone for some who were just children when the World Wide Web was started, and who grew up with this online world, which has shifted and consolidated and closed and tracked us.

Then the unthinkable happened.

In 2021, the sequel arrived.

It is abundantly clear the abnormally long life of the original 1996 site helped see the sequel through the endless mazes and corridors of Hollywood development turnaround.

Because websites and online presence are the way that movies are now promoted, the very place that spawned this consistent brand through decades had to go. A new Space Jam site was created, using the www.spacejam.com domain.

In a nod to its beginnings, the 1996 website still exists, shoved into a back room; adding /1996 to the URL will give you the old site as it used to appear before this year, and a small note in the corner lets you know you could optionally visit this once-dependable hangout.

But now the site is broken.

Links from around the net to the Space Jam site, to specific sub-pages and specific images, now break. A browser arriving at the spacejam.com page from a link elsewhere will see Just Another Movie Promotion Site, utilizing all the current fads: Layered windows to YouTube videos (which will break), javascript calls (which will break) and a dedication to being as flashy, generically designed and film-promoting as literally any other movie site currently up. Links that worked for decades have been cast aside for the spotlight of the moment.

The word is disposable.

There’s still one place you can see the old site, as it was once arranged, though.

The same year the Space Jam movie and website arrived, another website started: The Internet Archive.

Unlike Space Jam, the Internet Archive’s site did change constantly. You can use the Wayback Machine to see all the changes as they came and went; over half-a-million captures have been done on archive.org.

We have changed across the last 25 years, but we also have not.

The ideas that the Web should keep URLs running, that the interdependent linking and reference cooked into it from day one should be a last-resort change, and that the experience of online should be one of flow and not of constant interruptions, still live here.

Hundreds of webpages that have also survived since the time of Space Jam are inside the stacks of the Wayback Machine, some of them still running, and still looking unchanged since those heady days of promises and online wishes.

And if the unthinkable happens to them, we’ll be ready.




The Million Manual March

An arbitrary but still amazing milestone has passed:

The Internet Archive now has over one million manuals, instruction sheets and informational pamphlets in its Manuals collection. They range into every field of study or product and extend back, in some cases, well past a century!

People have been uploading manuals of every stripe into the Internet Archive for well over a decade, not to mention instruction booklets and related works in collections of partner organizations which are not in the main collection. In the past few years, efforts to mirror both manual repositories out in the world as well as documentation collecting by individuals have put our materials into the stratosphere of this staggering number.

While we gaze upon a nine-digit mountain of manuals, let’s talk about why this is so important and what it means.

Since we’ve had technology and tools, we’ve had instructions on how to use them. Passed along by demonstration, discussion or written forms, the critical link between having possessions and making the most of them has been the unit of knowledge called The Manual.

It’s a very general idea, and one that can range wildly in terms of depth, quality, and approach. Some items hand you a scant single printed page with poorly constructed diagrams. Others are multi-volume tomes that give exacting detail down to the smallest theory of operation. (The manuals for a Boeing 747 airplane weigh more than a 747!)

Considering the manual, one impression might be that they’re only of interest to someone in possession or with interest in the specific item or procedures being addressed.

But manuals are much more than just instructions of operation, or a listing of the components inside a product. They’re windows and insights into the priorities and approaches that companies and individuals take with the tools and goods they sell. And in many cases, the artistic and visual efforts to make an item clear to the reader has led to truly breathtaking visual feats.

With this many manuals and documents, a person trying to find the exact manual they need for something they own will always be a little difficult. Here’s some quick suggestions.

  • First try searching for the product name, with just the company and the model number. If the company does not make that many items (as opposed to a large multinational), just putting in the company name may be enough.
  • Sometimes there will be just one manual for an entire product family. If so, searching for the company name and the product type (like “Angelcorp CD Player”) will put you on the right track.
  • There is also a “Full-Text Search” under the search box you can select which will look inside the documents in the manuals, allowing you to search for model numbers or information in a much deeper way.

Naturally, a collection of this size is rather hard to browse through – there are manuals coming in by the thousands every month, and we are working to get them into proper sub-collections and headings, as well as improving metadata. The work is never done with a project like this, but the joy and wonders never cease.

So enjoy a million manuals, and we’ll see you at two million!

A shout out and deep thank you to all the different communities and individuals worldwide who have assembled manuals mirrored from external sites like manualzzz, manualsbase and iFixit, as well as by uploading in some cases scanning and uploading thousands of manuals to the Internet Archive personally, for being the reason this collection has grown so large.

Flash Back! Further Thoughts on Flash at the Internet Archive

A little behind the scenes here at the Archive: this blog is the province of a wide range of sub-groups, from books and partnerships over to development and collaborators. There’s usually a little traffic jam to schedule or make sure entries don’t go over each other, so this “sequel” post is being written before we return you to other Archive news.

The big announcement last week about the Internet Archive hosting Flash animations/games and making them run in the browser thanks to the Emularity and Ruffle made a huge splash. If you haven’t read that entry, you should definitely read it first.

Here’s some observations about Flash and the Internet Ecosystem from the last three rambunctious days. Obviously, the story of us including Flash doesn’t end here – we’ll continue to update Ruffle as it improves, and both users and collaborators are adding new animations at a pretty stunning clip. Be sure to keep checking the Flash Collection at the Archive for new additions.

What have we learned so far?

The Idea of Playing Flash in the Browser Past The End of The Year Is Very Popular

It was assumed, and has proven out, that being able to play Flash items, be they animations, toys or games, is an extremely popular idea: Tens of thousands of people have been flooding into the Archive to try things out. The “death” of Flash as a default plugin for browsers and the removal of easy access to it definitely had many people sad and concerned.

That said, assuming that Adobe and any other vendors were not going to throw the significant resources behind security and maintenance that Flash plugins would require, removing default support for it made sense. Sometimes these choices are not great for the historical Web, but sideloading in significant attack surfaces just because people like old games is not ideal either.

Ruffle is not Flash. It is an emulator that takes .SWF files (which worked with Flash) and makes a very good attempt to display what the file means to do. It is written in an entire other language with an entire other team of programmers, and is working with a specification and history that is ossified. In that way, it is hoped that the security issues of Flash can be avoided but the works can live on.

And are they living on!

Even in the very short time that this new feature has been announced, the news was picked up by Boing Boing, Engadget, The Verge, The Register, Gizmodo, PC Gamer, and dozens of other locations (and the top spot at Hacker News for a while). That increased the flood of visitors to our site and we’ve held up pretty well, due to the high compression rates and small file sizes of Flash.

People Have Very Strong Memories of Flash; For Some It Represents Childhood

Everyone has a different timeline with computers and the internet, but for countless people using their phones and connections today, Flash plays as critical a role in their childhood memories as a game console or television show. Students could sneak flash games into the computer labs, or trade USB sticks with Flash, or simply get around filters preventing “obvious” entertainment sites to find a single URL that gave them a racing or RPG game to while away an afternoon on.

And, most notably, not just as players, but as creators. There are, it turns out, a significant amount of professional artists and coders who count Flash and related technologies as their very first “programming language”. Going through our collection, you can find ten-person studio productions side-by-side a game made by a driven teenager at home, and the teenager will have gotten more popular. Intended to be used for creative works, the Flash environments over the years provided the launchpad for thousands of careers and creative outlets.

The Role of Flash Wasn’t Obvious To a Lot of People

An interesting situation as people come face to face with in some of these animations in the Flash collection are that many didn’t know they were Flash.

Video sites, such as Youtube, are a mid to late 2000s addition to the Internet. Previously, with dial-up modems as the main connection to the Internet, streaming video was a distant and hazy dream that seemed impossible to provide beyond a small experimental or well-connected crowd. Filling that need was Flash, which could compress down incredibly small (a full song and video to accompany it could be under five megabytes, or even one megabyte) and they even had quality settings for less powerful computers. Flash animation could “pre-load” the data required that was coming over a modem, giving an update as to progress or a small game to play, until the full “video” was downloaded. This has all been swept away into the dustbin of memory in a world where 4k 60fps video is possible (if still not to everyone).

With the jump to video in the mid 2000s, many Flash animations were transcoded into MPEG files, or animated GIFs, or uploaded to Youtube as fully-realized video, even though Flash was the original medium. As the more well-crafted works gained attention in this new space, the old formats were forgotten.

Since the Ruffle browser has a fullscreen option (right-click, soon to be a button to the right of the animation), if the Flash animation was done using vectors, they will scale up to 4k displays smoothly. Unlike old video, the original works will keep up with the newest technology very nicely and will give added appreciation for the efforts in the original piece.

Flooding All These Old Flash Works Has High and Low Moments

Because nearly anyone could create flash animations and games, nearly anyone did. It also meant that filters on quality, profanity, or unusual subjects were gone.

Sometimes that worked out very nicely: Imagine trying to pitch an animated film like The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny to a studio or backers to make for film festivals. A game like Castle Cat is bizarre and a collage of pop culture but plays as well as a professional game at the time. (it even got a sequel.)

Other times, the works are clunky, poorly programmed, and full of offensive jokes and material. They could literally be after-school projects or whipped up in a weekend to make fun of someone or something and then get trapped in amber to the present day. Wandering the stacks, with what will soon be thousands of items, can be daunting.

As a result, the Showcase was created to highlight the best of the best, the handful that really universally stand out as entertaining, well-made, and uplifting (or at least, thought-provoking).

By the way, if the towering piles of Flash works seems daunting now, imagine what it was like 20 years ago for people slowly moving through page after page, taking minutes to download a given animation, and clicking on it with no idea what they’d be seeing next.

Adding Your Own Flash Is Difficult But Rewarding

It is notably complicated to add new working Flash to our collection. This is a side effect of all the different components that need to be activated in the Internet Archive structure. By far, the best document to read about how to test, upload, and describe SWF files is this document by the Flashpoint project:

https://bluemaxima.org/flashpoint/datahub/Uploading_SWFs_for_the_Internet_Archive

(As a side note, the two most common mistakes are setting “emulator-ext” instead of “emulator_ext” (see the difference?) and not setting the item to be a “software” media type. A script has been written that checks new uploads to find common mistakes and will sometimes tweak the uploads to fix them.)

There’s Still A Long Way to Go To “Perfect” or Wayback Playback

We shoved this entire ecosystem into the Archive “hot”, with known gaps in support for Flash features, and with bugs still being ironed out. Most Flash animations used a rather small set of scripting commands within the potential list, and those have been focused on by the Ruffle team, so a lot of animations do just fine. But more than just a few times, a Flash item will go in and there will be a critical failure, be it the inability to hit buttons or missing video/audio. This reflects the continual improvement of the emulator but also that entire swaths of support are still a way to go.

This also provides the answer to the question some are asking, which is how long before the Wayback Machine “just plays” old Flash items when you go to the page. Ruffle is still way too new to shove into the Wayback and the problems it would cause at this stage would be significant. Many improvements to Wayback and its reach have happened over the last year, with connections to Wikipedia, Cloudflare and Brave, but the day when you go to an old Flash-driven site and have it “just work” in Wayback is going to be a significant time in the future.

Which brings up another tangent:

Flash Interfaces to the Web Were The Worst Idea

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that the fad of making Flash boot up and be the “menu” or selections for a website were unusually cruel to anyone in need of portability or accessibility. What’s thought of as “Web 1.0” (HTML files and simple flat files provided to servers) was extremely good for screen readers and keyboard shortcuts, providing important access to blind or disabled users, as well as expanding the amount of devices and systems that could use the Web. Flash took a lot of that away in the name of.. well, Flashiness. As this small burst of interest in Flash has occurred, a not-insignificant amount of people dependent on accessibility have said “Good Riddance to Flash”, and they’re entirely right. Captured inside little boxes on Internet Archive as displays in a museum, they work fine enough. But the Web should never have depended on Flash for navigation.

When Flash Is At Its Best, There’s Nothing Like It On The Internet

As people have been sharing the Flash animations they’ve found on the site, as well as providing their own additions, jewels have been coming to the forefront. Most inspiring have been artists and creators who did work 15 or 20 years ago and have been rifling through floppies and stored ZIP files to upload to our collection.

Watching this as they come in, it strikes us anew how much effort, artistic and otherwise, went into a good Flash animation. Crafting custom artwork, adding little touches and flair, and truly bringing something new into the world… this was the promise of Flash and every time someone in the modern age stumbles on a classic for the first time, all the effort is worth it.

Long Live Flash!

Flash Animations Live Forever at the Internet Archive

Great news for everyone concerned about the Flash end of life planned for end of 2020: The Internet Archive is now emulating Flash animations, games and toys in our software collection.

Utilizing an in-development Flash emulator called Ruffle, we have added Flash support to the Internet Archive’s Emularity system, letting a subset of Flash items play in the browser as if you had a Flash plugin installed. While Ruffle’s compatibility with Flash is less than 100%, it will play a very large portion of historical Flash animation in the browser, at both a smooth and accurate rate.

We have a showcase of the hand-picked best or representative Flash items in this collection. If you want to try your best at combing through a collection of over 1,000 flash items uploaded so far, here is the link.

You will not need to have a flash plugin installed, and the system works in all browsers that support Webassembly.

For many people: See you later! Enjoy the Flash stuff!

Others might get this far down and ask “And what exactly is Flash?” or even “I haven’t thought about Flash in a very long time.” For both of these groups, let’s talk about Flash and what it represented in the 1990s and 2000s.

A Short History of of the Rise of Flash

In the early 1990s, web browsers were incredibly powerful compared to what came before – with simple files written in HTML that could generate documents that were mixing images and text, as well as providing links to other websites, it felt like nothing for computers had ever had this level of ease and flexibility. It really did change everything.

But people didn’t stay in a state of wonder.

It quickly became a request, then a demand, then a mission to allow animation, sound, and greater audio/video flexibility into webpages. A huge range of companies were on a mission to make this happen. While looking back it might seem like one or two tried, it was actually a bunch of companies, but out of the wreckage of experimentation and effort came a couple big winners: Shockwave and Flash.

Flash had once been called SmartSketch in 1993, which was rewritten as FutureWave, and was actually a challenger to Shockwave until purchased by Macromedia, who handled creation software and playback software for both products.

Flash had many things going for it – the ability to compress down significantly made it a big advantage in the dial-up web era. It could also shift playback quality to adjust to a wide variety of machines. Finally, it was incredibly easy to use – creation software allowed a beginner or novice to make surprisingly complicated and flexible graphic and sound shows that ran beautifully on web browsers without requiring deep knowledge of individual operating systems and programming languages.

From roughly 2000 to 2005, Flash was the top of the heap for a generation of creative artists, animators and small studios. Literally thousands and thousands of individual works were released on the web. Flash could also be used to make engaging menu and navigation systems for webpages, and this was used by many major and minor players on the Web to bring another layer of experience to their users. (There were, of course, detractors and critics of use of Flash this way – accessibility was a major issue and the locked-in nature of Flash as a menu system meant it was extremely brittle and prone to errors on systems as time went on.)

This period was the height of Flash. Nearly every browser could be expected to have a “Flash Plugin” to make it work, thousands of people were experimenting with Flash to make art and entertainment, and an audience of millions, especially young ones, looked forward to each new release.

However, cracks appeared on the horizon.

The Downfall of Flash

Macromedia was acquired by Adobe in 2005, who renamed Flash to Adobe Flash and began extensive upgrades and changes to the Flash environment. Flash became a near operating system in itself. But these upgrades brought significant headaches and security problems. Backwards compatibility became an issue, as well as losing interest by novice creators. Social networks and platforms became notably hostile to user-created artworks being loaded in their walled gardens.

It all came to a head in 2010, when Apple CEO Steve Jobs released an open letter called “Thoughts on Flash”. The letter was criticized and received strong condemnation from Adobe, and Apple ultimately backed off their plan (although work was done to support alternate tools).

The call-out, even if not initially successful, ended the party.

In November of 2011, Adobe announced it was ending support of Flash for mobile web browsers, and in 2017, announced it was discontinuing Flash altogether for 2020.

Flash’s final death-blow was the introduction of HTML 5 in 2014. With its ground-up acknowledgement of audio and video items being as important as text and images, HTML 5 had significant support for animation, sound and video at the browser level. This mean increased speed, compatibility, and less concern about a specific plugin being installed and from what source – audio/video items just worked and Flash, while still used in some quarters and certainly needed to view older works, stopped being the go-to approach for web designers.

What Are We Losing When We Lose Flash?

Like any container, Flash itself is not as much of a loss as all the art and creativity it held. Without a Flash player, flash animations don’t work. It’s not like an image or sound file where a more modern player could still make the content accessible in the modern era. If there’s no Flash Player, there’s nothing like Flash, which is a tragedy.

As you’ll see in the collection at the Archive, Flash provided a gateway for many young creators to fashion near-professional-level games and animation, giving them the first steps to a later career. Companies created all sorts of unique works that became catchphrases and memes for many, and memories they can still recall. Flash also led to unusual side-paths like “advergames”, banners that played full games to entice you to buy a product. Clones of classic arcade games abounded, as well as truly twisted and unique experiences unfettered by needing a budget or committee to come to reality. A single person working in their home could hack together a convincing program, upload it to a huge clearinghouse like Newgrounds, and get feedback on their work. Some creators even made entire series of games, each improving on the last, until they became full professional releases on consoles and PCs.

Why We Emulate Flash

The Internet Archive has moved aggressively in making a whole range of older software run in the browser over the past decade. We’ve done this project, The Emularity, because one of our fundamental tenets is Access Drives Preservation; being able to immediately experience a version of the software in your browser, while not perfect or universal, makes it many times more likely that support will arrive to preserve these items.

Flash is in true danger of sinking beneath the sea, because of its depending on a specific, proprietary player to be available. As Adobe Flash is discontinued, many operating systems will automatically strip the player out of the browser and system. (As of this writing, it is already coming to fruition a month before the end-of-life deadline.) More than just dropping support, the loss of the player means the ability of anyone to experience Flash is dropping as well. Supporting Ruffle is our line in the sand from oblivion’s gaze.

Credit Where Due

This project is by no means an Internet Archive-only production, although assistance from Dan Brooks, James Baicoianu, Tracey Jacquith, Samuel Stoller and Hank Bromley played a huge part.

The Ruffle Team has been working on their emulator for months and improving it daily. (Ruffle welcomes new contributors for the project at ruffle.rs.)

The BlueMaxima Flashpoint Project has been working for years to provide a desktop solution to playable web animation and multimedia, including Flash. Clocking in at nearly 500 gigabytes of data and growing, the project is located here: https://bluemaxima.org/flashpoint/

A shout-out to Guy Sowden, who first drafted the inclusion of Ruffle in the Emularity before it was refined elsewhere; your efforts set the ball rolling.

And finally, a huge thanks to the community of Flash creators whose creative and wonderful projects over the years led to inspiration in its preservation. We hope you’ll like your new, permanent home.

Bonus Section: Adding Your Own Flash Animations to the Archive!

For the creators, artists and collectors who have .swf files from the era of Flash and would like to see them uploaded to the Archive and working like our collection, here’s some simple instructions to do so.

Please note: Ruffle is a developing emulator, and compatibility with SWF files is continually improving but is not perfect. They have provided a test environment here to see if your SWF file will work. Please take the time to test before uploading to the Archive.

The Archive looks for one mediatype setting (software) and two metadata pairs set (emulator and emulator_ext) to know whether an item can be run in the Ruffle emulator. Here are those two settings:

emulator set to ruffle-swf
emulator_ext set to swf

The emulator only works with a single SWF file at the moment, which should have no spaces in it. With all these conditions in place, the swf item should be offered up to play and the emulator should work.

When uploading to the Archive, accurate or complete descriptions, title, creation date, are all optional but strongly encouraged to provide context for users. Additionally, if you create an image file (jpg, png or gif) and name it itemname_screenshot.ext,, like itemname_screenshot.png, it will become the official screenshot and thumbnail for the item. Notice how we named things here:

https://archive.org/download/flash_loituma

We’re here to help you if you run into any snags or issues. There’s no other location on the internet that does things quite this way, so if you do run into problems, feel free to mail Jason Scott about tech support and whatever assistance can be given will be provided.

Update: Read about how this new adventure of Flash has had an effect on the Web.

The Legend of GayBlade

The recently released video game documentary High Score includes a sequence in the third episode about a game called GayBlade. GayBlade is one of the first commercially-sold LGTBQ-themed video games, a role-playing romp for Windows and Macintosh occasionally referred to as “Dungeons and Drag Queens”. Once thought to have been lost, the game’s software was recently discovered and preserved—and is now available in the Internet Archive!

Although LGTBQ people have been creating video games since the earliest days of the industry, there were very few games before the 21st century that explicitly had LGTBQ themes. Game creator Ryan Best hoped to change that with GayBlade, remarking, “This game gives lesbians and gays—and straight people—a chance to strike back at homophobia from behind our computer screen.”

The game is definitely political, racy and unafraid to make waves, as it definitely did in 1992 when it was released. Players are tasked with exploring a deep dungeon filled with homophobic enemies, trying to rescue the Empress Nelda and return her to Castle GayKeep. Best (and co-creator John Theurer) filled the game with humorous spells, items and antagonists while still keeping it all within the traditional role-playing genre. There are over 13 levels and 1,300 different rooms in this dungeon, reflecting the remarkable amount of work put into it by its creators—truly a unique work of art.

After being lost in a move from Honolulu to San Francisco, the game was thought to have disappeared forever. In High Score, creator Ryan Best laments that he was unable to find any of the game files, and was not very hopeful he would ever find them. But that’s not the end of the story—between the close of filming and the release of the documentary, Best discovered another copy of his game. Thanks to efforts by the LGTBQ Game Archive, Strong Museum of Play, and Internet Archive, it was preserved.

If you want to experience GayBlade for yourself, it’s available in our emulated games collection. You can play it directly in your browser if you’d like, or download the original source code. Additionally, an even earlier LGTBQ game called Caper In The Castro, a mystery adventure dating to 1989, is also emulated in the archive. So hit play and take a look at a little-known slice of LGTBQ history!

An Archive of a Different Type

It was supposed to be magazines.

Elaine Wooton contacted me as many people do – in the middle of a shutdown and discard project, asking if the Internet Archive might want some of what is destined for deep storage or the trash compactor. In this case, she said, there might be some old journals and magazines I’d want. They were centered around the culture and innovations of the modern office, “modern” being the 1970s and 1980s. My general policy is to say yes, and if possible, make my way down to get the materials themselves. This set was in New York City, and as I live outside the metropolis, I said I’d be glad to pop down from my home and pick up these 5-10 banker’s boxes worth, to make it easier.

Elaine brought out the boxes on a cart, and said that if at all possible, I might consider coming upstairs to the office she was cleaning out to see if anything else might be of interest.

I parked my car and came up.

This is what I saw.

I asked a few questions about the nature and story of this office, and based on those answers, I said something that I honestly don’t get a chance to say that often:

We will take all of it.”

A month later, nearly the entire contents of this office and storage were here:

As our team of folks began remixing the collection of boxes from the quick job done by movers into something more manageable for the Archive, Elaine and I were standing at the final chapter of a family history that spanned many decades and represented both a disappearing world and a fascinating story.

Psychoanalysis for your typewriter

Imagine being so well-known for your craft that letters addressed to “Mr. Typewriter, New York” would get delivered by the Post Office to your door. Imagine you mount a letter wrong while crafting a typewriter, and it causes a country (Burma) to change that letter to accommodate your mistake. Or that, through decades, your expert testimony about the accuracy of a brand of typewriter and the characters it types means the difference between guilt, incarceration, freedom or the swapping of fortunes. Such was the life of Pearl and Martin Tytell, of Tytell Typewriter. From a shop on Fulton Street of NYC from 1938 to 2000, the couple oversaw not just endless consultations and repairs, but fabrications and projects that were revolutions in themselves. Hanging from a wall near Martin and his bowtie and lab coat was a sign reading “Psychoanalysis For Your Typewriter.” Many people, famous and not, stood under that sign, hoping their machines could be repaired and tuned by this expert shop.

Besides the repair and care of typewriters, Pearl and Martin also had a thriving and critical business in forensic document analysis, or “Questioned Document Examination” as the discipline is known. When the typewriter business wound down, the Tytell’s son, Peter, became a giant in that field and continued it as his primary vocation. These examinations became critical for researchers, criminal investigations, and courtroom testimony.

It would be a true short-changing of the Tytell legacy for me to cobble together and leave these few paragraphs about the family’s accomplishments and outlook on life, as well as the part they played in the character of New York City. Luckily for all of us, the Tytell story was unique and attractive enough to get a huge amount of stories, especially in the 1990s and 2000s, written in magazines, newspapers and blogs. There was just something incredibly compelling about the discipline and activity the family engaged in.

A Door Closing, Another Opening

Elaine, a protégée of Peter Tytell’s, was overseeing the shutdown of the Forensic Research company this summer. Peter had pleural mesothelioma and was not expected to live for much longer, but he was using his remaining strength to give instructions where he could about the closure. Among the questions were the destination of the racks of material and various artifacts and equipment inside the building.

Elaine reached out to me primarily because of our working together on the 2015 Manuals Plus loadout, an ongoing project to maintain one of the larger paper manual collections in the world. She figured I might take a few extra parts of this considerable collection, while the rest would be split between another forensic group and put into deep storage. When I indicated the Archive would just take it all, this set things into motion in a different direction.

Ultimately, Peter saw it as a good fit and a proper destination, and gave his permission during the final month of cleanup. He died on August 11, a week before the trucks began transporting the boxes of materials away.

Mostly Internet, But Still An Archive

For people who mostly pay attention to the online experience of Internet Archive, it might come as a surprise that we maintain extensive physical materials, primarily printed. It might come as a greater surprise to know these items number in the millions and span many different mediums. A documentary called Recorder touches on the Marion Stokes collection we house, which are thousands of videotapes recorded over decades.

While some of the items in the Tytell Collection might be outside the realm of what we would normally acquire, it seemed right to just accept the entire set, as together it tells a stronger story than having parts of it discarded or stored elsewhere. This was, after all, a multi-generational family business and the already-whittled results of years of maintenance and caretaking by Peter Tytell; there didn’t seem to be a reason to arbitrarily cut it down further.

Two Days of Sorting

Upon arrival, the collection was mostly in large sets of arbitrary piles with some rough markings by the movers, as well as scrawled notes by Peter put there over the years. While some boxes might have seemed crushed, in fact it was because they were housing heavy typewriters, wrapped in bubble wrap, and had combined into a sort of gravity well of cardboard. They’re all fine.

We spent two days inspecting all the boxes, and moving them into rough classifications: Books, Ephemera, Typewriters, Equipment, and so on. In doing so, we got a (very) initial assessment of the treasures within. Some notable examples:

The subject matter of the hundreds of books in the collection range from criminal law (related to the investigative arm of the company) to graphology (study of handwriting) as well as overviews of law enforcement, detective work, and extensive guides of typewriter history. Some of these books are very old; an 1892 treatise on the ins and outs of bookkeeping was particularly beautiful.

Hundreds of samples, both printed and hand-made, of typewriter output, separated by years, brands, and models. This may be one of the most important pieces of the collection, and one that will be digitized as soon as possible; they represent hard knowledge and evidence of what typewriters were capable of or what brands had which abilities at what time. These cards were used by the Tytells in court cases; research into what typewriters were capable of what featured in the Killian Documents Controversy.

Brochures, stand-ups and manuals related to typewriter and print. There are thousands of pages of documents in this collection related to the sale, operation and overview of typewriters. They are incredibly well preserved and very beautiful, and digitizing them will be a chore but also a joy with what comes out the other end.

Typewriters of every description; standard commercial models now long out of production and sale, as well as custom or extremely-low production examples, such as machines that type in Arabic or Hebrew. They will not be stored away never to be seen again; they will, however it is worked out, play a part in telling the story of typewriters and the family that lovingly worked on them for so long.

If the variation and size of this collection seems endless – that’s a natural reaction. In fact, it is exciting on many different levels, with all sorts of disciplines combining into pallets of boxes now sitting quietly in storage. That’s the magic of a acquisition like this; the character and nature of a family of experts breathes out from every container.

It’ll be an extensive project to process and understand everything here, and it’ll be an honor to play a part in its preservation. We mourn those who came before us and thank them, as we can, for the opportunity to keep telling their stories.

Further Reading of Tytell Typewriter Company and Peter, Martin and Pearl Tytell

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1997/11/typewriter-man/376988/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Tytell
https://www.irishtimes.com/business/no-carriage-return-for-the-jurassic-typewriter-1.304472
https://www.nytimes.com/1994/06/12/nyregion/new-yorkers-co-mr-typewriter-new-york.html
https://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/12/nyregion/12tytell.html
https://www.nytimes.com/2001/02/19/nyregion/one-fewer-place-to-unstick-a-inicky-f-key.html
http://algerhiss.com/history/the-hiss-case-the-1940s/the-typewriter/forgery-by-typewriter/forging-a-typewriter/
http://afflictor.com/2012/06/11/he-could-make-an-american-typewriter-speak-145-different-tongues-from-russian-to-homeric-greek/
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/24/obituaries/mary-adelman-89-fixer-of-broken-typewriters-is-dead.html
https://oztypewriter.blogspot.com/2020/08/a-tribute-to-peter-tytell-son-of.html
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/18/us/peter-v-tytell-dead.html

The Whole Earth on CD-ROM in HyperCard in Your Browser

The Whole Earth Catalog, a counterculture magazine that lasted from 1968 to 1998, tried many experiments in bringing the goals and nature of their publication to other media.

Published regularly from 1968 to 1972 with additional editions throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s, Stewart Brand’s magazine covered all sorts of subjects, from nature and politics to technology and human potential. Issues can still be found online and bought used, and are beloved by many, either as a study or just a glimpse into a very idealistic, very technically-oriented view of the world.

The Internet Archive has been hosting a wide amount of references to this project, an index of which is maintained by Robert Horvitz at this item.

One of the many editions was the The Electronic Whole Earth Catalog, a CD-ROM version of the publication produced in 1989.

We have now made The Electronic Whole Earth Catalog emulate inside your browser: Click here to boot up a vintage 1988 Black and White Macintosh running this Catalog.

Weighing in at an impressive 430 megabytes of information, this CD-ROM contained over 9,000 individual pages done in Hypercard, the Web-Before-The-Web version of hyperlinks and document reading created by Bill Atkinson of Apple Computer, and available for Macintosh computers through the 1980s and 1990s. One of the great dead mediums, the power of Hypercard has shown itself to be ahead of its time and providing a deep amount of potential of hyperlinking, one which the World Wide Web would demonstrate.

The Internet Archive has been collecting Hypercard “Stacks” (documents) for years now, in partnership with the site Hypercard Online —a group that has been providing easy ways to upload user-created Hypercard Stacks that might otherwise be very time-consuming and difficult to interact with. As of now, the Hypercard Stacks collection on Internet Archive has over 3,500 examples.

A Quick Tour

Interacting with an emulator acting like a 1988 Macintosh that is then running a CD-ROM’s worth of data as a huge (9,000 page!) Hypercard stack is quite a huge task for a browser, even in 2020. The first issue is the download size and time. Once you click on the “show me the emulation” start button in the preview window, it will take you a while to download all 430 megabytes. For some it’ll be a few minutes, but others may take a whole lot longer.

Once it starts up (with happy mac and the rest), you will find yourself looking at a Macintosh desktop, which has an icon for the Electronic Whole Earth Catalog, which is a floppy disk image named EWEC.

Click on the desktop, double-click on the EWEC “floppy” icon, and it all begins. There’s a file called “Home” inside this EWEC disk, and you click on that to start the show.

In Hypercard, everything is a “Card” and those cards have “Links”, which go to other cards.

You move through indexes of other cards and read what they have to say, sometimes having to click through multiple cards on a single subject. The nature of the cards is very similar to the original approach of the Whole Earth Catalog that it’s drawn from. If you’ve never read a Whole Earth Catalog, it’s usually presented as a series of short articles and pointers to a range of subjects of interest to those who want to be part of the nature of humanity as seen through a techno-hippie lens.

Many of the paths in this collection are meant to be meandering—moving through straight-up indexes as well and unusually laid-out menus and pictures you can interact with. Back in 1989, it was all experimental and new—you’ll find excitement and frustration, eye-opening approaches and confusing bits. That’s the wild and free part of this era, and we encourage you to try it all.

Thanks to everyone who made this happen: Drew Coffman who started a conversation about it, Kevin Kelly who mentioned he had a copy of the EWEC in his possession, and then a bunch of folks who joined in with technical support to turn that copy into an online disk image, and then a emulated Macintosh: Stephen Cole, Noah Bacon, Natalia Portillo, Claudia Dawson, and others.

Now start clicking!



How Can You Help the Internet Archive?

With the Internet Archive being mentioned prominently in the news for the past couple of weeks, we’ve had thousands of people discuss us in social media, and contact us directly with strong concerns and worries.

Above all, many want, in some way, to “help” and have asked us what they can do, if anything.

While your donations during this time have been appreciated, there’s actually many things you can do beyond that, which will have a lasting effect.

Use The Internet Archive Site

It may sound simple, but just using the Internet Archive for why it exists in the first place is a fulfillment of the dream of the many who have worked on it, past and present. An extraordinary amount of hours of continuing support are behind the simple archive.org address and website. Some of you are already enjoying the archive in its full potential, but many use it just for the Wayback Machine, or for a favorite set of media that you listen to or watch.

Take a walk through our stacks, browse, meander… enter a search term of something that interests you and see what pops up and what collections it’s part of. You’ll find it endlessly rewarding. Tens of millions of items await you.

The collections themselves vary wildly; a driven group will create a collection, or collaborations and partnerships worldwide will lead to a breathtaking amount of material you can enjoy. And, as always, billions of URLs have been mirrored to bring the unique miracle of the Wayback Machine to you for 20 years. We back up every link Wikipedia links out to at the time’s added, to make sure the web doesn’t forget its citations and relevant information anytime soon.

Speaking of the Wayback Machine… the Wayback is our crowning jewel, and we also encourage people who see something to save a copy of it.

To do so, visit the main Wayback page and enter a URL in the Save Page Now form on the lower right. We’ll do the rest (de-duplication, archiving, and so on). It’s how we become aware of to-the-minute URLs that either don’t have a long shelf life or which we would not normally be aware of for a significant amount of time.

Become a Patron

If you haven’t registered with us, it’s incredibly easy to do so and absolutely free, and always will be. Having a virtual library card lets you build lists of favorites, write reviews for any items you have opinions on, and allow you to upload your own items into our collections. During signup, you can also register for our newsletter, which is really great for keeping track of news and events related to the Archive.

You can always browse anonymously, from anywhere, of course; that’s what a library is about. But consider being a member of the archive as well.

Curate and Upload to the Archive

As a member of the Archive, you can upload items into our stacks instantly. Texts, Images, Movies, Audio. Thousands of new items enter into the collection every day. Our Upload Page has helpful information about what you’re uploading to allow you to describe and verify the items you wish for us to store.

A lot of our strength as a collection comes from individuals uploading items they or their community have created, and in need of a hosting space that will provide access to the item continually, without limits. Artists upload their music albums, podcasters upload their episodes, and hundreds of organizations upload their media and meetings to us, to ensure they’re kept safe.

Tell People That the Internet Archive Exists

It’s always a surprise to us to find out that people don’t know about the Wayback Machine or the Internet Archive, but we live here. Buried among hundreds of tweets have been the excited responses of people discovering us for the first time. What a shame if your friends and family don’t know about us and all they need is for you to tell them we’re a few clicks away. Take a little time to spread the word we’re here and waiting for them. (Just link them to https://archive.org or https://web.archive.org – the site is pretty self explanatory).

We have a collection of images and logos from our years of work if you wanted to illustrate or link to examples of who we are and what we do.

And really, nothing makes us happier than others writing about what they discover in expeditions into the stacks; essays and posts have been written about discovered unusual magazines or articles, and citing 18th and 19th century predecessors of technology and schools of thought that are flourishing in the present. Our system allows you to bookmark printed items down to the individual page or music track and link to them.

Browse Our Many, Many Collections.

Our petabytes of data have a lifetime’s worth of things to see; here’s a few highlights of our tens of thousands of collections.

For decades, a group of tapers and fans have created the Live Music Archive, a collection of over 225,000 live performances of music, including the vast majority of all live performances of The Grateful Dead, as well as thousands of other bands.

The Bay Area Reporter, the oldest continuously published lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer weekly newspaper in the United States, made it a mission to scan and upload their entire back catalog of issues from their first to the present day. About 50 years of issues are represented, and are a fascinating deep dive. Other examples of broadsheets and bulletin history that have come to be hosted include the Sparrows’ Nest Library of radical zines and newspapers, as well as the cultural-remix and art potential of thousands of supermarket circulars.

The Netlabels area contains music and performances from “Netlabels”, online-only music groups, “record companies” and communities that have uploaded fully-produced albums with open licenses for years. For example, the Curses from Past Times LP is at 800,000 views and counting. (Be sure to click on the Llama on the right, too.)

The Building Technology Heritage Library is a 11,000 item strong collection of catalogs, layouts and information about all sorts of architecture and aspects of building. Maintained by the Association for Preservation Technology, these readable and downloadable works are a trove of artwork and design that are scanned, including, you’ll soon discover, items that have a tangent to building but also represent massive insights into long-lost items, like this 1,000 page Montgomery Ward Catalog.

Speaking of which.. we’ve partnered with many other libraries, archives, and collectors to mirror or host millions of individual items. Our space and bandwidth are at their service to ensure the maximum audience is ready to interact with them, as needed.

Public Resource hosts 18,000+ Safety and Law Codes with us, allowing individuals to view the laws that affect their lives and functions within society without paying expensive rates to do so. An attempt to prevent this service by the State of Georgia ended up in a legal battle that made its way to the Surpreme Court, which found in favor of Public Resource, allowing you to view these laws immediately. Over 22 million views of these laws have happened over the years.

The Media History Digital Library has a collection in our stacks of film theory, cinema periodicals, and related documents and writings, which can be viewed from the Media History Project site. These scans of industry trade magazines, announcements and advertising related to the film and television industries are instantly available and accessible by students, researchers and writers, as are all our collections.

And we don’t just host music and texts. Among our most storied and referenced items are the uploads of the Prelinger Library, which include government public health films, commercials, instructional movies, and a growing set of home movies, which allow us to parts of visual history that didn’t have a commercial aspect. This work is done, among other ways, by a large-scale digitizing process hosted in the Archive’s Physical Archive.

In our software collections, we have brought back thousands of hypercard stacks that used to be easily available for Macintosh computers in the 1980s and 1990s – they will boot in your browser and let you enjoy them near-instantly.

Just go in any direction in the Archive and you will spend weekends, days and nights finding and sharing what you discover.

However… if passively consuming media doesn’t feel like it’s “helping” us (although it is), there’s an even more active set of roles you can take:

Get Involved In Our Many Projects, Including The Wayback Machine

We’ve made an effort to work with many volunteers and collaborators over the years to ensure the Wayback Machine is capable of playing back as much of the now-lost and forgotten World Wide Web as possible. As you can imagine, the web is a moving target, and the terabytes a day of shifting websites presents one of the hardest technical challenges out there.

We have hundreds of guests in our Slack and other communication channels, working on open-source code and helping us improve the software that drives us.

We have also moved into the real world where we can (even if we, like many others, are taking a break right now). We have co-hosted events like DWebCamp, provided space for book readings, and engaged in a variety of Artist-in-Residency programs; we expect to do more in the future and would love for you to be involved.

You can write us if you have an interest in participating in any of these many and ongoing efforts.

But Most of All, Please Help Yourself First.

We’re touched by everyone who has spoken of their love and support of the Archive and its many missions, but this is also a time of much general uncertainty: economic, health concerns, and upheaval in society.

The Internet Archive is our job and mission. Your job and mission is to take care of yourself and those closest to you. Without you, we’re a bunch of hard drives on the Internet.

We’ll be here when you’re ready.

A Boot Camp for Booting Up: Education and Games at the Internet Archive

Greetings to everyone getting by at home, especially those looking to teach remotely, entertain your family, or find connections to your own past that used to live in programs from the 1980s and 1990s.

Perhaps, locked at home with your computer, you’ve finally got enough time to try out our collections of games for classic Sega and Atari consoles for the very first time. Or you find yourself longing for a simpler time in your history, when Prince of Persia, Pac Man and SimCity could make your troubles disappear, if only for a few hours. Or more likely, your kids have been assigned to set off on the Oregon Trail, but you can’t figure out how to begin that “long, difficult journey…that often resulted in failure and death.”

For all of you video game first time explorers, here’s a little boot camp for booting up Oregon Trail, and much, much more!

Jason Scott (aka “Textfiles”) is the Free Range Archivist at the Internet Archive.

I’m Jason Scott, software curator at the Internet Archive, and I want to help introduce (or re-introduce) you to one of our more unique features—the ability to boot computers in your browser!

What Is Emulation in The Browser?

For more than five years, the ability to boot software, including video game consoles, computers and even handheld plastic games has brought millions through the Internet Archive’s doors. It’s been so extensive and even routine that it hardly gets mentioned now – it’s just something that happens. But for many who suddenly find themselves online a lot more than they used to be, this feature may not be something you’re aware of.

In the same way that music can be listened to inside your web browser and movies can be watched or books read, it is possible at the Internet Archive to “start” up a computer inside your browser that is running software, and that computer can be something completely different than what you’re running.

Imagine an Apple II (1980s) or a Windows 3.1 (1990s) or any of a number of long-gone systems, and the software they used to run that can’t be found or easily used anymore, coming back very quickly and easily, simply by clicking on a screenshot of the program and then playing it. That’s what people do by the thousands every day at the Archive.

Bringing back hundreds of thousands of old software packages brings multiple advantages—the games are generally simpler and extremely clear in goals and play, and have very little connection to later phenomenons like free-to-play, advertising or social media; they’re self-contained worlds, which is ideal for setting up games for children and education.


How to Use Emulation at the Archive

Any software item that can be activated will have a “Play” icon over the screenshot at the top. It looks kind of like a big power button – it’s green and transparent. This means that emulation is available for that program, and you just have to click in the general area of the button for the system to start “booting up” in the browser.

Try it out now! Visit this URL: https://archive.org/details/a2_Childrens_Carrousel_1982_Dynacomp_PD using a desktop or laptop computer (mobile devices will work, but there’s no keyboard to do anything). Click on the icon as it appears above, and watch as the system starts up an Apple II computer running a simple educational program called Children’s Carrousel from 1982.

There are a number of messages being shown while the system is booting, meant to indicate if something has gone wrong or how long it will take for data to be loaded to your browser. If you see red error messages, or the loading seems to stop, don’t worry—move onto other titles or contact me for tech support.

Where to Start Finding Software?

The hardest part of bringing materials to your students or family is finding appropriate or useful software packages out of a field of potential titles that can range from outdated or broken to simply difficult to use.

There are over 150,000 software at the Archive that can theoretically run in the browser, and naturally the collection runs from timeless classics to best-forgotten past experiments.

To help, I’ve assembled a collection called the Software Kids Zone: https://archive.org/details/softwarelibrary_kids – which has a bunch of chosen software packages that I have found are generally easy to use, self-explanatory, fun to play and in some way educational.

Things to Keep in Mind

Here are some tips and advice to bringing your classes or family into programs at the Archive:

  • Always test the software yourself, clicking on items or using keyboard commands, to make sure everything works like you expect it to. There’s always a chance a program has issues past “it runs”, and taking a quick tour beforehand helps remove a lot of chance and issues later.
  • Try to find several versions of software you want to share, or have a list that can be switched to, in case the first doesn’t work. Being able to go from one geography game to another quickly is much better than having to start another search from scratch.
  • The best games and programs feel contemporary, even when 20 years old – it means they weren’t chasing graphics or trends and were trying to build something from the ground up. If you find a program hard to use or not intuitive, skip it, and move on.
  • If you are working with a collection of kids or families, have videos they can watch or music they can listen to instead of using these programs, in case they run into technical issues.

And speaking of technical issues:

Some Common Problems with Emuation in the Browser and Potential Solutions

The most common issues related to emulation in the browser is that it requires a more recent desktop or laptop – the older the machine, the more likely to run into slowdowns, crackling in audio, and other issues.

Another issue is that some software is just not intuitive or needs a lengthy introduction to get working, which is not what kids or really anyone is looking for. The simpler the program, the better it generally is, so don’t hesitate to switch to other titles if playing a game or package is not enjoyable or easy. There’s many, many to choose from!

As above, if you need support or information or even want to ask some general questions, I’m available via e-mail at jscott@archive.org.

Some Suggested Titles

Finally, here are some programs at the Archive that are really fun and easy, and which can tell you if this great feature is right for your purposes.

Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess is an educational chess program that can not just play the game of chess, but teach all the rules about it and give historical information. It’s perfect for a family to learn the game utterly from a true master. It’s located here.

MathOSaurus is a dinosaur-themed mathematics educational game that quizzes you on a range of math concepts with a colorful and fun cartoon dinosaur theme. Originally for the Apple II and with great thematic elements and easy. It’s located here.

The Oregon Trail is still our most popular emulated title on the Archive, and with good reason—it’s well designed, a challenging and interesting experience, and kids love it. I suggest The Oregon Trail Deluxe, which has a more engaging graphical style while maintaining all the fun of the original works, which date back to the 1970s. You can find it here.

2,500 More MS-DOS Games Playable at the Archive

Another few thousand DOS Games are playable at the Internet Archive! Since our initial announcement in 2015, we’ve added occasional new games here and there to the collection, but this will be our biggest update yet, ranging from tiny recent independent productions to long-forgotten big-name releases from decades ago.

To browse the latest collection, hit this link and look around.

The usual caveats apply: Sometimes the emulations are slower than they should be, especially on older machines. Not all games are enjoyable to play. And of course, we are linking manuals where we can but not every game has a manual.

If you’ve been enjoying our “emulation in the browser” system over the years, then this is more of that. If you’re new to it or want to hear more about all this, keep reading.

A Recognition of Hard Work, and A Breathtaking View

The update of these MS-DOS games comes from a project called eXoDOS, which has expanded over the years in the realm of collecting DOS games for easy playability on modern systems to tracking down and capturing, as best as can be done, the full context of DOS games – from the earliest simple games in the first couple years of the IBM PC to recently created independent productions that still work in the MS-DOS environment.

What makes the collection more than just a pile of old, now-playable games, is how it has to take head-on the problems of software preservation and history. Having an old executable and a scanned copy of the manual represents only the first few steps. DOS has remained consistent in some ways over the last (nearly) 40 years, but a lot has changed under the hood and programs were sometimes only written to work on very specific hardware and a very specific setup. They were released, sold some amount of copies, and then disappeared off the shelves, if not everyone’s memories.

It is all these extra steps, under the hood, of acquisition and configuration, that represents the hardest work by the eXoDOS project, and I recognize that long-time and Herculean effort. As a result, the eXoDOS project has over 7,000 titles they’ve made work dependably and consistently.

Separately from the eXoDOS project, I’ve been putting a percentage of these games into the Emularity system on the Internet Archive for research, entertainment and quick online access to the programs. The issues that are introduced by this are mine and mine alone, and eXoDOS is not able to help with them. You can always mail me at jscott@archive.org with questions or technical concerns.

This should be all that needs to be said, but since the Archive is doing things a little strangely, there’s a lot to keep in mind before you really dive in (or to realize, when you come back with questions).

That Hilarious Problem With CD-ROMs

Putting these games into the Internet Archive has, over time, brought into sharp focus particular issues with browser-based emulation. For example, keyboard collision, where the input needs of the emulator are taken over by the browser itself, and the problems of a program needing a lot more horsepower to run in a browser emulator than a user’s system can handle.

Some of these have solutions that aren’t always great (Buy faster hardware!) and in some cases the problem is currently terminal (these programs have been taken offline for a future date). But the most obvious and pressing is that games based off CD-ROMs take a significant, huge amount of time to load.

CD-ROMs were a boon to the early-to-late 1990s, allowing games to have audio and video like never before. Depending on the tricks used, you got full-motion video (FMV), the playing of CD audio tracks for background music, and levels and variation of content for the games far beyond what floppy disks could ever hope.

But it was also a very large amount of data (up to 700 megabytes per CD) and it’s one thing to have the data sitting on a plastic disc in a local machine, and yet another to have a network connection pull the entire contents of the CD-ROM into memory and hold it there as a virtual file resources. This is going to be an enormous lean on the vast majority of Internet users out there – downloading multi-hundred-megabyte files into memory and then keeping them there, and then losing it all when the browser window closes. Network speeds will improve over time, but this is probably the biggest show-stopper of them all for many folks.

If you find yourself loading up one of these games and facing down a hundred-megabyte download, consider one of the smaller games instead, unless it’s a title you really, really want to try out. Maybe in a few years we’ll look back at cable-modem speeds and laugh at the crawling, but for now, they’re pretty significant.

Some Jewels in the Mix

Luckily, there are some smaller-sized games in this new update that will load relatively quickly and are really enjoyable to look at and to play. Here’s some of my recommendations:

First, a game special to me: the IBM DOS version of Adventure, calling itself “Microsoft Adventure”. It’s actually a small rebranding of the original start of the text adventure world, “Colossal Cave” or ADVENT, by Don Woods and Will Crowther. Remixed to be sold by IBM and Microsoft, this is how I first got into these, and it boots up instantly, providing hours of fun if you’ve never tried it before.

Mr. Blobby, a 1994 DOS Platform game, has all the hallmarks of the genre – bonkers physics, bright and lovely graphics, and joyful music. Be sure to redefine the keys before you try to play it, because besides running and jumping, you can spin and take things. The game does not get less weird as you go along.

Super Munchers: The Challenge Continues is a 1991 remix of the original educational game that sent your “muncher” gathering up words representing a given topic or idea. The speed of the game, along with the learning aspect, make this one of the more zesty “edutainment” titles available from the time.

Street Rod is a wonderfully compact 1989 racing game where it’s the 1960s and you’re going to buy your first hot-rod, tune it up, and race it for money to buy better and better rides. It’s a mouse-driven interface and loaded with all sorts of tricks to make the game fit into a “mere” 600 kilobytes compressed. Initially simple and then well worth the effort!

Digger from 1983 is a Dig-Dug-Clone-but-Not that came out right as IBM PCs were starting to take off, and it’s a lovely little game, steering around a mining machine while avoiding enemies and picking up diamonds. The most unintuitive thing is you need to fire using the “F1” key, so hopefully your keyboard has one.

I’m also going to suggest Floppy Frenzy from Windmill Software because it’s so much closer to the beginning of the IBM PC’s reign and you can see the difference in what the authors were comfortable with – the graphics are simpler, the game movement a little more rough, and the theme is geekiness incarnate: You’re a floppy disk avoiding magnets to leave traps for them, so you can gather the magnets up before the time runs out. If you don’t make it, an angel comes down and brings you to Floppy Disk Heaven. Again, F1 is the unusual key to leave traps.

There’s many more and I suggest people browse around and try things out, really soak in that MS-DOS joy. (And feel free to leave comments with suggestions.)

Thanks so much for coming along on this emulation journey!

  • Jason Scott, Internet Archive Software Curator