First of all, I’d just like to thank Kafoopsy from OCAU for making this post possible. Thanks to his post in the Retro Give-away Thread, and his willingness to post me the items, I can show you another little bit of tech history. This will be a slightly long-winded image-heavy post – no problems if you’re on the NBN :).
Microsoft Works (v4.0a) for Windows 95
I think this piece of software deserves a special mention for several reasons. It was the best selling integrated software for Windows (according to the front of the box, but what the hell is that supposed to mean?). Another was that it was bundled with many computers. And finally, it was almost universally hated and caused heaps of problems for end users.
What was it? Well, it’s obviously productivity software, but young guys might have never had to use it. It was called Microsoft Works, and I started using it when it was for MS-DOS. At the time, this was a parallel product to the Office suite, then sold separately, of which Microsoft Word was the (by Windows 95 time) standard.
They decided to make a cheap productivity suite to bundle with OEM machines, and it was almost always bundled because it cost nothing compared to Microsoft Word and they could claim it had an office suite. Problem was that Works was nowhere near as featureful as Word, and it wasn’t very well compatible either.
Documents which were written or composed in Office could (with some limitations) be opened and edited in Works. But the documents written in Works often had problems opening in anything else, including Office. Different versions of Works had different file formats – and back then, when proprietary formats ruled, that was just the “normal” headache. I suppose this is one reason why everyone just stuck to Word and gave Works the cold shoulder. Many of the files that were supported were often imported incompletely (formatting wise) and when exported, may have many subtle changes which destroy the document over time. It’s very much the same issue we have interchanging complicated documents between Libreoffice and Microsoft Office.
The Works suite itself was retired – Microsoft probably realized that users didn’t want it. Good riddance. They wanted the real-deal. They wanted Office.
Enough about the suite – lets take a close look at the box. It looks like this one was packaged in Sydney, Australia.
Interesting for a productivity software, aside from integrating the standard Word Processor, Spreadsheet and Database functionality – this one also provides a terminal emulator for talking with a modem. The box is dated 1995 – and you can see that 9600 baud was the “recommended” modem of the time. It only ran on Windows 95 or later, requiring about 6-8Mb RAM and up to 20Mb of hard disk space.
The side of the box also had a “new” feature – the certificate of authenticity label which helps users verify the “authenticity” of the software. As piracy was a big problem, this was one “feature” amongst many aimed at deterring or making piracy more difficult.
The software came on seven beige 3.5″ floppy disks.
The labelling scheme on these were relatively new, with the Microsoft “watermark” in the background. A further deterrent to piracy was the use of DMF (1.68Mb) format to the disks. This allowed them to squeeze more onto the disks to reduce the number of disks required by using a 21 sector per track layout as opposed to the standard 18 sectors per track. This could not be directly copied using the OS tools, but programs like Winimage made minced meat of it.
This is also one of the formats which a USB floppy drive cannot read. For those with no hardware floppy drive, you’re pretty much on your own.
Thank god I had a Kryoflux.
It read the floppies just fine (as usual) and showed that Disk 1 was NOT in DMF format, and all others were. It also detected modifications to the disk data – this was caused by the installation routine which records the name and company of the first person that installed the disk set and displays it on subsequent installs as a piracy deterrent as well. As a result – my set of floppies is not forensically accurate and hence not a good candidate for preservation.
As I had “inherited” this from another person, I have no idea if this was originally bundled with documentation (I suspect it may have been) – none was included in the box.
While the disks have been imaged – running it under any modern system isn’t possible due to the 16/32 bit nature of the program. I took out my trusty Windows 98SE vmWare VM to give it a spin –
A complete installation was performed, and we managed to access each of the functions – Word Processor:
The About box provides information about the version of the software. For the protection of the original owner, the name and serial have been redacted:
Remember what I said about file formats – well, here are the file formats that Works claims to be able to read –
And here are the ones it claims to be able to save a Word Processing file to:
While it’s true that fidelity seems to be one of the poor points when it comes to format conversion, the value of this software right now cannot be underestimated. It may have been an annoying piece of garbage back in the day – but now that vintage software can be very hard to come by, when you encounter a WordPerfect 5.1 document or an early Word document, this may just be enough to be able to sensibly extract the text and a limited amount of formatting.
You may not realize it, but the backwards compatibility of the present Microsoft Word barely spans back to Word 97 if memory serves me right – think of all those older documents which may “float” to the surface one day …
Microsoft PowerPoint v4.0 Upgrade
I guess this one illustrates my point about Office being several pieces of separate software quite well. In this case, this was an upgrade package for users of PowerPoint 3.0 or earlier. This was provided sealed – unusued – so I know it is definitely complete and of forensic quality. Unfortunately, as I don’t have the requisite license, I won’t be able to get this copy going.
This special upgrade offer was likely provided at a lower cost than the full retail edition as a “thank you” to those who purchased the earlier versions. This one was a 3.5″ disk set (with 5.25″ available by mail-in card). It seems to have been packed in Singapore in 1994.
The software required Windows 3.1 or better running on top of MS-DOS 3.1 or better. It recommends 8MB of RAM and up to 33Mb of Hard Disk. The rear also features an “up-sell” to the full Office suite (by buying all the component products).
This is an older Microsoft package with the more simpler black 3.5″ HD floppies. The formatting is the regular 1.44Mb (80 track/18 sectors) format, and there is no serial number or Certificate of Authenticity. However, Disk 1 was packed separately in its own plastic wrap, with Disks 2-6 in another and 7-11 in the last. I think this may be because the first disk may have been the difference between the full edition and the upgrade edition – and by packing it separately, it improved logistical efficiency when it came to packaging the software.
The software is placed within plastic pockets which implore you to register with them – and reminds you that you have one license to use the software. They didn’t fuss around with DRM or take your rights away – nor were there fancy complicated activation mechanisms either. Those were the simpler days.
Instead, they rewarded you for buying genuine software. They did hassle you to register – but there was often something in it for you if you did. This often took the form of being able to access upgrades, special offers and technical support, being able to provide feedback or wishes to improve the software, or being able to win something.
It’s been ages since I’ve seen something like this. It makes me nostalgic to think that software companies like Microsoft at least appeared to care about their users.
Speaking of which, if you were rocking that Sharp PC3000 palm-top in 1994, you would have been pretty damn cool! Who said mobile computing was a new thing?
Of course, in order to actually get you off your butt and get the damn things mailed in, they often covered the postage as well. They just needed you to seal up the card in a way such that only the one address for your country showed on the outside of the envelope.
This is something that I had only heard of but had never seen in person, until now. This form allowed you to claim a 5.25″ media set – and Microsoft seemed generous too, as you didn’t need to trade your 3.5″s for it. If you had claimed it, you could have ended up with both media so you could install it on virtually any machine at the time. Of course, they were less generous in the sense that you needed to put it in a stamped envelope, but it looks like they covered return delivery.
A mandatory inclusion is always the license agreement printed in “squint to read” font. Most of the time, you have to find which agreement applies to you first – before even attempting to dissect it. This is included mainly for posterity.
Finally, what would probably be one of the main rewards and incentives for users to “stay genuine” would be the documentation provided. This was a quality illustrated colour-printed glossy book – and not an insignificant sized one too. I guess, for what they charged for software back then, you really expected to have it.
The back of the book doubles up as a quick reference guide as well. Good work!
What a shame I can’t actually run it – but at least I managed a forensic dump of all of the floppies, confirming a non-modified status with no errored sectors. The disks have stood the test of time (19 years) in semi-ideal conditions. I wonder how many more years they might have in front of them …
Just in case anyone still has a PowerPoint v1.0-v3.0 for Windows set that they’re willing to donate … give me a yell :).