my archive of Macintosh software
Wednesday, February 23 2005
Back in the early 1990s I used to make frequent expeditions to college campuses all over the northeast in search of free Macintosh software. I'd roll into town, park my flamboyant Punch Buggy Green in the visitor parking lot, and set off in search of a computer lab. Once I found a Macintosh, I'd power it down, plug in my homemade portable SCSI hard drive (which had as much as 202 Megabytes of storage), and proceed to search the campus computer network for open volumes. Aside from my use of a high-capacity portable storage mechanism, my methods were fairly primitive. I'd fire up the Chooser, see what other computers were available as file servers, attempt to log in, and if they let me in without asking for a password, I'd mount them on the desktop and proceed from there. My explorations of their file systems were conducted in a similarly manual fashion. Despite my use of exotic handmade equipment, nobody ever seemed the slightest bit suspicious of my behavior. I looked like a student and I acted like I owned the place, so onlookers always assumed my behavior was legitimate.
You'd be amazed at the stuff I found. In addition to the usual mainstream software such as the tragicomically-bloated Microsoft Word 6.0, I found many niche programs, such as an early version of Mathematica, a chemistry lab simulator called McBeaker, an Arabic word processor called AlKaatib, and a trove of intriguing programs designed for use on the early internet. A great thing about Macintosh software is that there is no concept analogous to the Windows .DLL. Macintosh programs are self-contained and if you can copy the folders that contain them, you have everything you need to make them work. Or usually you do.
Sometimes, though, my new Macintosh programs would come with various forms of copy protection. This was before the World Wide Web, and (though it might surprise you whipper snappers in the audience) there was no way in those days to conduct a simple web search for a serial number or software crack. In order to use the copy-protected software, I was forced to learn how to patch the code so that it would think it had been registered. Lucky for me, ResEdit by then was already a highly-developed application analysis and editing program, and usually software cracking was a reasonably straightforward process. The procedure turned out to be so intuitive that I managed to learn cracking entirely on my own. I'd look through the alerts or dialogs for the one concerning the entering of a serial number (or else the one protesting the lack of registration), take note of its ID, conduct an automated search through the code blocks for that ID, disassemble the appropriate code block, note the assembly-language branches around the part of the code calling up the alert or dialogue, and then modify one of the branches such that it always permitted the program to operate. This is the basic method for how most cracks are created even today, and it's very difficult to write a copy protection program that cannot be defeated by someone with even the modest cracking skills I managed to develop. I found it a trivial matter, for example, to crack code in a very expensive DNA sequencing program that looked for a hardware "dongle" attached to the Mac's ADB port. The use of hardware made the copy protection look formidable, but ultimately all you had to do was alter the branch instruction that happened after the code looking for the dongle's presence.
The hardest crack I ever successfully achieved was in a disassembler program which (because its intended market consisted mostly of code crackers) had been copy protected unusually well. The code blocks had only a tiny bit of good code in them and the rest was gibberish. But then I realized the whole mess of bytes had been ROL'd (bit-rotated left). Once I'd ROR'd them back right, it was easy to find the place where the copy protection happened, develop the patch, ROL the patch's bytes left, and patch the program for good.
I absolutely loved cracking programs. I would spend hours each day cracking my latest haul and I'd actually be a little disappointed when the cracking went too easily. The cracking was its own reward, and I rarely had interest in the programs after I got them to work. Indeed, only three of the programs I ever cracked received much use. My preferred compression program in those days was a cracked version of CompactPro, and I was delighted when my mother became obsessed with a cracked copy of the game PipeDream. Finally there was that cracked copy of Prince of Persia, which became a several-month addiction that both me and my mother shared. Aside from those "practical" uses, cracking gave me an entirely private form of satisfaction. There was no internet to speak of in those days, so I rarely found anyone who understood software well enough to comprehend any bragging I might be tempted to do.
That all serves as background to the situation that exists today, when it's a simple matter to download cracked copies of software from file sharing networks. Furthermore, patches, cracks, and serial numbers are freely available for demo-ware and pirated software installations. It doesn't make much sense to bother learning how to crack software these days; anything you'd ever want has already been cracked by somebody a lot smarter than you. Recently, of course, there's been a huge increase in the risk of viruses (and more importantly) spyware, so one has to be careful with software obtained from dubious sources. (I'd venture to say that if you're not an idiot with your email and don't download pirated software, you probably have no use for anti-virus software at all.) Still, sometimes, for whatever reason, you just want to play around with some vintage Mac software from the days of yore. Where do you go? There are precious few of those old programs available online. And many of them died without leaving us any modern descendants.
For me, it's a simple matter of opening up an old metal case whose contents have remained unchanged since 1993. I brought it up with me from Staunton, Virginia after my last visit to my childhood home. It's a trove of some of those old programs pillaged from campus computer networks, including the University of Virginia, James Madison University, Washington and Lee University, Marietta College, Wooster College, Heidelberg College, and the University of Charleston, WV. The software is all on carefully-labeled 3.5 inch floppy disks, stored ten or twelve to a box according to when the disks were created. The boxes are each labeled with a cryptic phrase designed to conjure up the time period, though some of the phrases (such as "baltimore girlfriend") have a granularity of as much as two years. Other phrases include "Being the Boy," "Living for Cigarettes," "Hermit by Time," "Weasle Couple," "Adequate Choice," and (with my first tentative use of the new high density disks in 1991) "King Tutula." Considering the huge amount of time I spent collecting, cracking, and archiving all these programs, and also considering the space taken up by their media, it's eerie to think that the fruits of that all-consuming hobby could fit on a single CD.
But just getting that data onto a modern computer, the kind that might be able to burn a CD, presents its own hassles. I can't read most of the ancient floppies on my PC or with either of my modern Macs. I'm forced to read them on a fifteen year old Macintosh SE, compress the data into an archive there, and then copy the files onto a DOS-compatible floppy (a cross-platform capability that didn't arrive until the Mac SE) which my PC can read. Today I found myself going through this awkward process to resurrect an early ancestor of the Macintosh music editing program known as Finale. I know there are modern versions of this program, but in the use for which I needed it, a thirteen year old copy would suffice. One of many reasons to not hate the Macintosh is that all the programs I archived more than a dozen years ago run perfectly on even the most modern Mac hardware (as long as you're not in OSX).
My collection of old Mac software provides a valuable snapshot of the state of the art in the early 90s, before the Windows platform had a serious GUI. In a logically-governed world, I'd be able to make a museum where people could fondle (and copy) the software at will. Though most of it is too obsolete to have monetary value, America's draconian copyright laws unfortunately forbid me from making it available online. Nevertheless, I'm convinced I performed a minor service to humanity by collecting and perserving it.
My trusty fifteen year old Mac SE, where it sits next to my main workstation.
Note the reset and NMI switch I added on the front to help me when the damn thing crashed.
The rubber feet on top of it are to keep things from sliding off. I mostly use it as a
table for raising up a laptop to something close to typing level, though sometimes I need to
fire it up to resurrect data from an old Mac-format disk.
My collection of old Macintosh disks. This is actually only about a third of my collection, most of which is still in Virginia.
The outside of my old portable SCSI hard drive. I made it from a cassette case that I bought at a Walmart.
The inside of that same portable hard drive unit. Just to the left of the hinge
is the homemade linear power supply with its huge transformer and simple capacitor/regulator
system (two 7805s soldered in parallel to give me five volts
at two amps). Also notice the fan, which I knew from the start would be necessary.
There was enough extra room inside this box to house five or ten floppy disks, usually
having specialized boot systems and hacker tools.
I've been wearing overalls a lot lately. They're a jestful
though surprisingly practical gift from my brother-in-law.
I would have never thought to buy them myself.
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