on the shoulders of pirates
Sunday, January 21 2007
Spread out between here (Hurley, New York) and my parents' place (south of Staunton, Virginia), I have a massive trove of 3.5 inch hard shell floppy disks, each jammed with classic Macintosh software, programs designed for the old 680X0 architecture. This software ranges from Microsoft Word 4.0 (a genuinely excellent word processor from before Redmond took over the world) to Mathematica (a mind-blowingly comprehensive graphic mathematical modeling program) to early versions of Adobe Photoshop. I have plenty of obscure titles designed to do everything from plotting astrological charts to sequencing DNA. There are games, utilities, and full-blown application suites.
In the years between 1991 and 1996 I'd made numerous software-harvesting expeditions to colleges, usually in the course of road trips to other places. I'd bring along a portable external SCSI hard drive, hook it up to a computer in a campus computer lab, and then investigate all the Macintosh file servers on the school's network, copying anything that looked interesting. A list of the colleges I visited (alone or with Leslie Montalto) included Heidelberg College, the University of Virginia, Marietta College, James Madison University, Washington and Lee University, Oberlin College, Virginia Polytechnic, the University of Charleston, the University of West Virginia, the College of Wooster, and several others. Most of these campus networks were wide open and, even in cases where applications had been set to make them so they couldn't be copied using the Finder, they could usually be copied using an archiver such as CompactPro. The pursuit and hunt of software became a game in itself, and once back home I'd look through my haul to see what gems I'd harvested. This began a second round of self-amusement as I methodically cracked all the programs that had come with copy protection (using a 68000 disassembler plugin for ResEdit 2.1 to analyze the programs' defenses).
I ended up using very little of this software. The collection was an end in itself.
After the release of Windows 95, I gradually stopped using Macintoshes. And as I became comfortable with using the internet, I realized I didn't have to travel to get new and interesting software. Furthermore, I never had to bother learning how to crack copy-protected Windows software, since cracks made by an existing worldwide community of cracking experts were easily found with an internet search (this was back before cracks became a huge conduit for viruses and crapware).
Today I ordered a few bits of vintage hardware to allow me to connect my classic Macintoshes to my local network. Once I've done this I can start the work of consolidating all that classic software into one place. All of it will easily fit onto a DVD, a sort of one-DVD museum preserving a happy time in both my life and in the evolution of the modern GUI-based computer. Of course, copyright laws forbid such collections from being collected, archived, or distributed. But at times in the past books themselves have been contraband, yet even in those dark times librarians maintained collections, collections without which our modern world would not exist. We may see farther because we stand on the shoulders of giants, but some of those giants are themselves standing on the shoulders of pirates, criminals, and drug addicts.
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