Internet Archive, old magazines, and cross-references

I am very happy to be a supporter of the Internet Archive. Not only they provide the Wayback Machine, which allowed me to fix up a significant amount of dangling or broken links in my own blog over time, but also helped me recover content that I thought lost, either because it was my old, ranty teenager blog, or because it was mangled by a botched WordPress migration.

And yet, this does not even begin covering the amount of information that the Archive is preserving and making available to the world for the future. A couple of weeks ago I had some spare time on my hands, that I could not spend writing a blog post or writing code (long story), and instead spent it perusing Wikipedia pages about ‘90s tech (why? because I feel nostalgic sometimes), and found out two interesting things: both Internet Archive and (in a smaller part) Google Books, make available “ancient” issues of old computer magazines, such as PC Magazine (US) or Computer Gaming World.

Indeed, I ended up using this information to extend a bit the Future Wars and The Colonel’s Bequest — mostly thanks to the fact that the (now defunct) Amiga Reviews website provided issue and page numbers for the games’ reviews. It was fun to run some of the articles from these magazines while I was doing these cleanups, and they made me wish I had more time to read through, particularly the technical magazines, and see what kind of information is now not well known or understood. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, despite having a lot of good scans, there is no easy “table of content” for the issues, that could be used to identify which issue may have useful information on a topic.

I’m also now wondering if I should find a way to get to the Internet Archive, or some other organization all the old paper copies of magazines that I’m holding at my mother’s house in Italy, so that they become more accessible to the rest of the world. At least one of those magazines stopped publishing altogether, and there are a few that include very useful information on libraries, APIs and file formats that are hard to find out about nowadays. I even remember one of those magazines talking about programming for the Nintendo GameBoy (in the early noughties!).

In addition to a whole lot of paper, I’m sure at home I have a number of CDs and DVDs that were provided with those magazines, which to be honest nowadays I’m not entirely sure how legal they were. For the most part, they have been redistributing shareware that came from various websites, which in the nineties and early noughties was definitely something useful, as home Internet connections were extremely slow and limited, and having the data on a CD would be much simpler. One of the extra services that at least one of these magazines (simply called Computer Magazine) would also provide monthly updates of common drivers, and antivirus definitions. And sometimes they would end up having an infected file in the CD, and you would only find out a month later, oops.

One of the reasons why I started reading Computer Magazine, anyway, was that they also promised to provide, each month, a complete commercial software release available with the magazine. Indeed, they started with Macromedia software, including xRes 2.0 and following a few months later with Freehand — neither software exist anymore, Macromedia was bought out by Adobe at some point after that and those two particular pieces of software then folded into Photoshop and Illustrator. At some point they also provided Borland C++ Builder (1.0 complete, 3.0 demo), which probably paid off for Borland since at some point I actually bought a license for C++ Builder to write software for one of my customers.

But at some point, one of the sister magazines to this one, also provided in their CDs a DOS-based Gameboy emulator, and a number of ROMs, including Super Mario Land! I know now that this was blatant piracy, but at the time it was just a lot of fun. And the idea that the CDs (except for the “complete software” ones) were redistributable ended up having me polishing the bundled archives of emulator and ROMs (one copy of the emulator executable per ROM), and even played with InstallShield (a demo of which they also provided in one of their CDs) to have an installer for the whole set, that also added entries to the Start Menu. Yes that was what I used to do on my free time as a hobby. You can see I have not changed that much.

What should I do with all those disks? Some of that content would still be relevant enough that you wouldn’t want to just have them online, for instance the GameBoy ROMs. Also, some of the “full software” is probably still usable on modern (32-bit) Windows, and so it might not be of interest to the copyright holders for it not to be completely published. But at the same time, I think these are actually the kind of content that should not just disappear. Historical memory is definitely important.

I also have at least one full box of Italian-edition The Games Machine, but I should probably ask the people I know that still write for that magazine if they might actually have the masters, instead of relying on low-quality scans. Oh well, will do that separately.

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