To celebrate National Library Week 2022, we are taking readers behind the scenes to Meet the Librarians who work at the Internet Archive and in associated programs.
Alexis Rossi has always loved books and connecting others with information. After receiving her undergraduate degree in English and creative writing, she became a book editor and then worked in online news.
In 2006, Rossi joined the staff of the Internet Archive. She was working on the launch of the Open Library project when she recognized the need to learn more about how to best organize materials. She enrolled at San Jose State University and earned her Master’s of Library and Information Science in 2010.
“It gave me a better grasp of how to hierarchically organize information in a way that is sensible and useful to other libraries,” Rossi said. “It also gave me better familiarity with how other more traditional libraries actually work—the types of data and systems they use.”
Rossi concentrated on web interfaces for library information, understanding digital metadata, and how to operate as a digital librarian. In addition to overseeing the Open Library project, at the Internet Archive, Rossi managed a revamp of the organization’s website, ran the Wayback Machine for four years, founded the webwide crawling program, and is currently a librarian and director of media & access.
“One of the themes of my life is trying to empower people to do whatever they want to do,” said Rossi, who grew up in Monterey, California, and now lives in San Francisco. “Giving people the resources to teach themselves—whatever they want to learn—is my driving force.”
Rossi acknowledges she is privileged to have means to avail herself to an abundance of information, while many in other parts of the world do not. There are so many societal problems she cannot solve, Rossi said, but she believes her work is making a contribution.
“We can build a library that allows people to access information for free, wherever they are, and however they can get to it, in whatever way. That, to me, is incredibly important,” Rossi said. It’s also rewarding to help patrons discover new information and recover materials they may have thought were lost, she added.
When she’s not working, Rossi enjoys making funky jewelry and elaborate cakes (a skill she learned on YouTube).
Among the millions of items and collections in the Internet Archive, what is Rossi’s favorite? Video and audio recordings of her dad, now 73, playing the piano, organ and accordion: “It’s just so good. It’s such a perfect little piece of history.”
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.
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:
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.
WE HAVE ONE SIMPLE REQUEST…. DO NOT CLICK ON THE LLAMA.
To help you avoid this llama, we’ll tell you it’s in the upper right corner of any Internet Archive item that has a music player in it. This means the Grateful Dead recordings, radio airchecks, network record labels like monotonik, and all manner of podcasts now have the capability to be turned into a Winamp-like player that becomes your new default.
(If, by mistake, you click on the Llama, clicking on it again will turn off the Webamp player and restore the default player.)
This all got started because of the skins.
As part of our celebration of all things Internet, the Archive now has a large collection of Winamp Skins, which were artistic re-imaginings of the Winamp interface, that allowed all sorts of neat creative works on what could have been a basic media player. These “skins” were contributed to over the years (and new ones are still created!) and now number in the thousands. In the collection you’ll see examples of superheroes, video games, surreal images and a pretty wide array of pop stars and celebrities.
We have added over 5,000 skins (with many more coming), and then someone had the bright idea to make the Webamp player work within the Internet Archive to show off these skins, and here we are.
Thanks to Jordan Eldredge and the Webamp programming community for this new and strange periscope into the 1990s internet past.
The Internet Arcade, our collection of working arcade machines that run in the browser, has gotten a new upgrade in its 4th year. Advancements by both the MAME emulator team and the Emscripten conversion process allowed our team to go through many more potential arcade machines and add them to the site.
The majority of these newly-available games date to the 1990s and early 2000s, as arcade machines both became significantly more complicated and graphically rich, while also suffering from the ever-present and home-based video game consoles that would come to dominate gaming to the present day. Even fervent gamers might have missed some of these arcade machines when they were in the physical world, due to lower distribution numbers and shorter times on the floor.
A somewhat beefy machine and very modern browser will be required to run these games. In general, pressing the 5 key will insert coins, 1 and 2 will start 1 or 2 player games, and the arrow and spacebar keys will control the games themselves.
Jason Scott, free-range archivist, reporting in as 2017 draws to a close.
As part of our end-of-year fundraising drive, I thought it might be fun to tweet highlighted parts of the vast stacks of content that the Internet Archive makes available for free to millions. A lot of folks know about our Wayback Machine and its 20+ years of website history, but there’s petabytes of media and works available to see throughout the site. I called it “30 Days of Stuff”, and for the last 30 days I’ve been pointing out great items at the Archive, once a day.
You won’t have to swim upstream through my tweets; here on the last day, I’ve compiled the highlighted items in this entry. Enjoy these jewels in the Archive’s collection, a small sample of the wide range of items we provide.
Books and Texts
The Latch Key of my Bookhouse was one of the first books scanned by the Internet Archive in its book scanner tests, and it’s a 1921 directory of Children’s Literature that is filled with really nice illustrations that came out great.
Also in the DTIC collection is The Battalion Commander’s Handbook 1980, which besides the crazy front page of stamps, approvals and sign-offs, is basically a manager’s handbook written from the point of view of the US Army.
There are hundreds of tractor manuals at the Archive. Hundreds! Of all types, languages (a lot of them Russian) and level of information. Tractors are one of those tools that can last generations and keeping the maintenance on them in the field can make a huge difference in livelihood.
A lovely 1904 catalog for plums called The Maynard Plum Catalogue was scanned in with one of our partner organizations and it’s a breathless and inspiring declaration of the future wonder of the plums this wizard of plum-growing, Luther Burbank, was bringing to the world.
Xerox Corporation released “A Metamorphosis of Creative Copying” in 1964, which seems to function as both promotion for Xerox and a weird gift to give to your kids to color in.
In 2014, a short zine called The Tao of Bitcoin was released, telling people the dream of $10,000 bitcoin would be real.
The 1888 chapbook Goody Two-Shoes has lovely illustrations, and a fine short story.
Inside that directory was an ad for a school of whistling that said it taught using the methods of Agnes Woodward, and a quick scan of the Archive’s stacks showed that we had an entire copy of her book Whistling as an Art!
The medical treatise Sleep and Its Derangements, from 1869, is William A. Hammond, MD’s overview of sleep, and what can go wrong. Scanned from the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, it’s one of many thousands of books we’ve scanned with partners.
Let Hartman Feather Your Nest could be described as “A furniture catalog” in the same way the Sistine Chapel could be described as “a place of worship”. The catalog is a thundering, fist-pounding declaration of the superiority of the Hartman enterprise and the quality and breadth of furniture and service that will arrive at your door and be backed up to the far reaches of time.
Photoplay considered itself the magazine for the motion picture industry in the first part of the 20th century, and this multi-volume compilation of photos, articles and advertisements is a truly lovely overview.
A magazine created by the Walt Disney Company to trumpet various parts of Disneyland and its attractions was called Vacationland, and this Fall 1965 issue covers all sorts of stuff about the park’s first decade.
Rescued from a warehouse years ago, a collection of Hollywood movie “B-Roll”, unused secondary scenes often filmed by different crew, has been digitized. My personal favorite is [Western Film Scenes], which is circa 1950s footage of a Western Town, all of it utterly fake but feeling weirdly real, to be used in a western. Don’t miss everyone standing around looking right at you and looking like they agree quite energetically with you!
No compilation could be complete without the legendary Duck and Cover, a cartoon/PSA that explained the simple ways to avoid injury in a nuclear blast. Just lie down! It’ll be fine. Please note: This Probably Won’t Work. But the song is very catchy.
The very weird Electric Film Format Acid Test from 1990 has a semi-interested model holding up a color bar plate in a wide, wide variety of film and video formats. Filmed just a few blocks away from the Internet Archive’s current headquarters.
I snuck in a 1992 interview with the Archive’s founder, Brewster Kahle, back when he was 33 and working at WAIS, a company or two before the Archive and where he is asked about his thoughts on information and gathering of data. It’s quite interesting to hear the consistency of thought.
The Office of War Information worked with Disney to create “Dental Health“, a film to show to troops about proper dental care. It’s a combination of straightforward animation and industrial film-making worth enjoying.
We have a collection of hours of the radio show The Shadow from 1938-1939, starring Orson Welles at 23, at the height of his performance powers, playing the dual main role.
For Christmas Eve, we pointed to “Christmas Chopsticks”, a 1953 78rpm record of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” performed to the tune of the classic piano piece “Chopsticks”; one of tens of thousands of 78rpm records the Archive has been adding this year.
On Christmas, a user of the Archive uploaded two obscure albums he’d purchased on eBay – remnants of the S. S. Kresge Company, which became K-Mart, and which were played over the PA system for shoppers. He got his hands on Albums #261 and #294.
Earlier in the month before the user uploaded those Christmas albums, I linked to a different holiday collection of K-Mart items, a 1974 Reel-to-Reel that started with a K-Mart jingle and went full holiday from there.
Before he was a (retired) talk show host, and before he was a stand-up comedian, David Letterman worked and trained in radio. Happily, we have recordings of Dave Letterman, DJ, from when he was 22, at Ball State University.
Ron “Boogiemonster” Gerber has been hosting his weekly pop music recycling radio show, “Crap from the Past”, for over 25 years, and he’s been uploading and cataloging his show to the Archive for well over 10 of those years, including all the way back to the beginning of his show. The full Crap From The Past archive is up and is hundreds of hours of fun.
The truly weird “Conquer the Video Craze” is a 1982 record album with straightforward descriptions of how to beat games like Centipede, Defender, Stargate, Dig Dug, and more. This album has been sampled from by multiple DJs to bring that extra spice to a track.
Over 3,000 shows at the DNA Lounge are at the archive, including “Bootie: Gamer Night“, which combines mash-up tracks and video games. Bootie has been playing at DNA Lounge for years, and puts the audio from one song with the singing from another, and… it’s quite addicting, like games. This night was for the nearby Game Developers’ Conference being held the same week.
In 2011, as part of a “retrocomputing” competition, we saw the release of “Paku-Paku”, a pac-clone program which ran in an obscure early PC-Compatible graphics mode that was very colorful and very small (160×100) and was built perfectly for it. You can play the game in your browser by clicking here.
Psion Chess is a game for the Macintosh that can play both you and itself with pretty high levels of skill and really sharp and crisp black and white graphics. It makes a really great screensaver in self-playing mode.
People often overuse a phrase like “Barely scratched the surface”, but I assure you there are millions of amazing items in the archive, and it’s been a pleasure to bring some to light. While the 30 Days of Stuff was a fun way to stretch out a month of fundraising with stuff to see every day, we’re here 24/7 to bring you all these items, and welcome you finding jewels, gems and clunkers throughout our hard drives whenever you want.
The Internet Archive’s emulated Early Mac collection, which was announced last week, has had all its content screenshotted by hand for maximum visual beauty and accuracy.
Normally, we utilize a set of automated scripts that do screenshotting, allowing for a large amount of uploads to be visually described, but the combination of many different permutations of where to click and which folders to open meant we weren’t getting the best shots for each item. Now, they’re doing justice to the unique and interesting early Mac experience.
Like many other cases in computer history, the seeming limitations of black-and-white-only screens on early Macintoshes gave rise to truly beautiful and complicated art, which expressed itself crisply on the 9-inch monitors.
Response to the early Macintosh collection has been resoundingly positive; thanks again to all the volunteers who helped the system work as well as it does. With 60+ titles added and more to come, this is likely to be one of our most memorable and stellar playable software collections on the Archive.
But one more thing….
Throughout the testing process and discussions about emulating Macintosh, a steady drumbeat of requests could be summarized as: “What about HyperCard?”
HyperCard, a hypertext authoring system for the Macintosh, is a legendary environment for creating “Stacks”, which were clickable cards with a wide range of options and features. It is absolutely the inspiration for what ultimately became the World Wide Web.
It was possible to write truly complicated and complete applications in HyperCard, and stacks allowing everything from reference books to games to music – whatever the authors of stacks could come with. It was particularly popular with academics and writers. A great retrospective of HyperCard at its 25th anniversary was written by Ars Technica.
So.. what about HyperCard? Yes, we have HyperCard.
The Emularity Loader utilized by the Internet Archive allows the combining of the content of two items in the Archive’s collections, meaning there can be a “general boot disk” with HyperCard, and then pulling in an uploaded Hypercard Stack.
Adding new stacks is relatively complicated, and we’re working on adding more from such sites as HYPERCARD.ORG who have been gathering amazing Stacks for years. If you’re someone who worked on a HyperCard stack in the past, or oversee a collection of Stacks created by others, please feel free to contact email@example.com to receive assistance in adding your stacks, emulated, to the Archive.
We hope this is the start of a large, quality collection of emulated programs at the Archive around the Macintosh, and thank you for spreading the word about it, and the importance of providing instant worldwide access to historical software.
A shout-out to volunteer Stephen Cole who has taken on the mantle of adding new titles to the Macintosh collection over time, including the ingestion of HyperCard stacks.
After offering in-browser emulation of console games, arcade machines, and a range of other home computers, the Internet Archive can now emulate the early models of the Apple Macintosh, the black-and-white, mouse driven computer that radically shifted the future of home computing in 1984.
While there are certainly predecessors to the computer desktop paradigm, the introduction of the Macintosh brought it to a mass market and in the 30 years since, it has been steadily adapted by every major computing platform and operating system.
The first set of emulated Macintosh software is located in this collection. This is a curated presentation of applications, games, and operating systems from 1984-1989.
If you’ve not experienced the original operating system for the Macintosh family of computers, it’s an interesting combination of well-worn conventions in the modern world, along with choices that might seem strange or off-the-mark. At the time the machine was released, however, they landed new ideas in the hands of a worldwide audience and gained significant fans and followers almost immediately.
As for the programs currently presented, they are in many cases applications that have survived to the present day in various forms, or are the direct ancestors.
While it is a (warning) 40 megabyte download, this compilation of System 7.0.1 includes a large variety of software programs and a rather rich recreation of the MacOS experience of 1991.
Enjoy this (9-inch, black and white) window into computer history!
Jason Scott, Software Curator and Your Emulation Buddy, writing in.
With tens of thousands of items in the archive.org stacks that are in some way running in-browser emulations, we’ve got a pretty strong library of computing history afoot, with many more joining in the future. On top of that, we have thousands of people playing these different programs, consoles, and arcade games from all over the world.
Therefore, if anything goes slightly amiss, we hear it from every angle: twitter, item reviews, e-mails, and even the occasional phone call. People expect to come to a software item on the Internet Archive and have it play in their browser! It’s great this expectation is now considered a critical aspect of computer and game history. But it also means we have to go hunting down what the problem might be when stuff goes awry.
Sometimes, it’s something nice and simple, like “I can’t figure out the keys or the commands” or “How do I find the magic sock in the village.”, which puts us in the position of a sort of 1980s Software Company Help Line. Other times, it’s helping fix situations where some emulated software is configured wrong and certain functions don’t work. (The emulation might run too fast, or show the wrong colors, or not work past a certain point in the game.)
But then sometimes it’s something like this:
In this case, a set of programs were all working just fine a while ago, and then suddenly started sending out weird “Runtime” errors. Or this nostalgia-inducing error:
Here’s the interesting thing: The emulated historic machine would continue to run. In other words, we had a still-functioning, emulated broken machine, as if you’d brought home a damaged 486 PC in 1993 from the store and realized it was made of cheaper parts than you expected.
To make things even more strange, this was only happening to emulated DOS programs in the Google Chrome browser. And only Google Chrome version 51.x. And only in the 32-bit version of Google Chrome 51.x. (A huge thanks to the growing number of people who helped this get tracked down.)
This is what people should have been seeing, which I think we can agree looks much better:
The short-term fix is to run Firefox instead of Chrome for the moment if you see a crash, but that’s not really a “fix” per se – Chrome has had the bug reported to them and they’re hard at work on it (and working on a bug can be a lot of work). And there’s no guarantee an update to Firefox (or the Edge Browser, or any of the other browsers working today) won’t cause other weird problems going down the line.
All this, then, can remind people how strange, how interlocking, and even fragile our web ecosystem is at the moment. The “Web” is a web of standards dancing with improvisations, hacks, best guesses and a radically moving target of what needs to be obeyed and discarded. With the automatic downloading of new versions of browsers from a small set of makers, we gain security, but more-obscure bugs might change the functioning of a website overnight. We make sure the newest standards are followed as quickly as possible, but we also wake up to finding out an old trusted standard was deemed no longer worthy of use.
Old standards or features (background music in web pages, the gopher protocol, Flash) give way to new plugins or processes, and the web must be expected, as best it can, to deal with the new and the old and fail gracefully when it can’t quite do it. As part of the work of the Decentralized Web Summit was to bring forward the strengths of this world (collaboration, transparency, reproducibility) while pulling back from the weaknesses of this shifting landscape (centralization, gatekeeping, utter and total loss of history), it’s obvious a lot of people recognize this is an ongoing situation, needing vigilance and hard work.
In the meantime, we’ll do our best to keep on how the latest and greatest browsers deal with the still-fresh world of in-browser emulation, and try to emulate hardware that did come working from the factory.
In fact, all the screenshots in this entry link to playable programs!
If you’re not familiar with the Apple II software library that has existed over the past few decades, a very common situation of the most groundbreaking and famous programs produced by this early home computer is that only the “cracked” versions persist. Off the shelf, the programs would include copy protection routines that went so far as to modify the performance of the floppy drive, or force the Apple II’s operating system to rewrite itself to behave in strange ways.
Because hackers (in the “hyper-talented computer programmers” sense) would take the time to walk through the acquired floppy disks and remove copy protection, those programs are still available to use and transfer, play and learn from.
One side effect, however, was that these hackers, young or proud of the work they’d done, would modify the graphics of the programs to announce the effort they’d put behind it, or remove/cleave away particularly troublesome or thorny routines that they couldn’t easily decode, meaning the modern access to these programs were to incomplete or modified versions. For examples of the many ways these “crack screens” might appear, I created an extensive gallery of them a number of years ago. (Note that there are both monochrome and color versions of the same screen, and these are just screen captures, not playable versions.) They would also focus almost exclusively on games, especially arcade games, meaning any programs that didn’t fall into the “arcade entertainment” section of the spectrum of Apple II programs was left by the wayside entirely.
With an agnostic approach to the disks being preserved, 4am has brought to light many programs that fall almost into the realm of lore and legend, only existing as advertisements in old computer magazines or in catalog listings of computer stores long past.
It gets better.
Easily missed if you’re not looking for it are the brilliant and humorous write-ups done by 4am to explain, completely, the process of removing the copy protection routines. The techniques used by software companies to prevent an Apple II floppy drive from making a duplicate while also allowing the program to boot itself were extensive, challenging, and intense. Some examples of these write-ups include this one for “Cause and Effect”, a 1988 education program, as well as this excellent one for “The Quarter Mile”, another educational program. (To find the write-up for a given 4am item in the collection click on the “TEXT” link on the right side of the item’s web page.)
These extensive write-ups shine a light on one of the core situations about these restored computer programs.
As 4am has wryly said over the years, “Copy Protection Works!” – if the copy protection of a floppy disk-based Apple II program was strong and the program did not have the attention of obsessed fans or fall into the hands of collectors, its disappearance and loss was almost guaranteed. Because many educational and productivity software programs were specialized and not as intensely pursued/wanted as “games” in all their forms, those less-popular genres suffer from huge gaps in recovered history. Sold in small numbers, these floppy disks are subject to bit rot, neglect, and being tossed out with the inevitably turning of the wheels of time.
This collection upends that situation: by focusing on acquiring as many different unduplicated Apple II programs as possible, 4am are using their skills to ensure an extended life and documented reference materials for what would otherwise disappear.
In a few cases, the amount of effort behind the copy protection schemes and the concerned engineering involved in removing the copy protection are epics in themselves.
As an example, this educational program Speed Reader II contains extensive copy protection routines, using tricks and traps to resist any attempts to understand its inner workings and misleading any potential parties who are duplicating it. 4am do their best to walk the user through what’s going on, and even if you might not understand the exact code and engineering involved, it leaves the reader smarter for having browsed through it.
This project has been underway for years and is now at the 500 newly-preserved program mark – that’s 500 different obscure programs preserved for the first time, which you can play and experience on the archive.
Microsoft Windows was, to some people, too little, too late.
Released as Version 1.0 in 1985, the graphic revolution was already happening elsewhere, with other computer operating systems – but Microsoft was determined to catch up, no matter what it cost or took. Version 1.0 of their new multi-tasking navigation program (it was not quite an “Operating System”) appeared and immediately got marks for being a step in the right direction, but not quite a leap. Later versions, including versions 2.0 and 2.1, finished out the late 1980s with a set of graphics-oriented programs that could be run from DOS and allow the use of a mouse/keyboard combination (still new at the time) and a chance for Microsoft to be one of the dominant players in graphical interfaces. It also got them a lawsuit from Apple, which ultimately resulted in a many-years court case and a settlement in 1997 that possibly saved Apple.
Meanwhile, the Windows shell started to become more an more like an operating system, and the introduction of Windows 3.0 and 3.1 brought stability, flexibility, and ease-of-programming to a very wide audience, and cemented the still-dominant desktop paradigms in use today.
In 2015, the Internet Archive started the year with the arrival of the DOS Collection, where thousands of games, applications and utilities for DOS became playable in the browser with a single click. The result has been many hundreds of thousands of visitors to the programs, and many hours of research and entertainment.
We’ve now added over 1,000 programs that run, in your browser, in a Windows 3.1 environment. This includes many games, lots of utilities and business software, and what would best be called “Apps” of the 1990s – programs that did something simple, like provide a calculator or a looping animation, that could be done by an individual or small company to great success.
Indeed, the colorful and unique look of Windows 3/3.1 is a 16-bit window into what programs used to be like, and depending on the graphical whims of the programmers, could look futuristic or incredibly basic. For many who might remember working in that environment, the view of the screenshots of some of the hosted programs will bring back long-forgotten memories. And clicking on these screenshots will make them come alive in your browser.
When they focused on it, a developer could produce something truly unique and beautiful within the Windows 3.x environment. Observe this Role-Playing Game “Merlin”:
But on the whole, the simple libraries for generating clickable boxes and rendering fonts, and an intent to “get the job done” meant that a lot of the programs would look like this instead:
(Then again, how complicated and arty does a program to calculate amortization amounts have to be?)
Windows 3.1 continues to be in use in a few corners of the world – those easily-written buttons-and-boxes programs drive companies, restaurants, and individual businesses with a dogged determination and extremely low hardware requirements (a recent news story revealed at least one French airport that depended on one).
Many people, though, moved on to Microsoft’s later operating systems, like Windows 95, ME, Vista, 7, and so on. Microsoft itself stopped officially supporting Windows 3.1 in 2001, 15 years ago.
If you need a place to start without being overwhelmed, come visit the Windows Showcase, where we have curated out a sample set of particularly interesting software programs from 20 years ago.