Ancient CD-ROM Shovelware

Like Brewster Kahle, Nicola Salmoria, Sarinee Achavanuntakul and other archivists of the computer age, Jason Scott is one of my heroes. He dedicates a large part of his life to preserving the history of the BBS scene, from the amazing collection of vintage textfiles and e-zines, historic audio recordings, artwork packs from the computer art scene, interesting papers and books, a growing list of every BBS that ever existed, a comprehensive timeline, and a work-in-progress documentary with over 200 interviews. (I could write an entire entry about every one of these. Go check them out when you have a chance.)

I briefly chatted with Jason in IRC earlier today about some of his current and upcoming projects. His newest project is CD.TEXTFILES.COM, a collection of over 90 CD-ROMs from the late 1980s and early 1990s. These “shovelware” CDs archived files from the era for easy distribution over fileservers and doors.

Most directories have a FILES.BBS text file, which gives short descriptions of each file. Reading these brings back such a hot flash of nostalgia, it’s like stumbling on all the ephemera of my adolescence on one site.

The graphics archives are a hilarious look back to the years before Photoshop 1.0. The TBBS Carousel’s GIF archives (part 1, 2 and 3), To The Maxx’s categorized GIF archive, and the very retro Swimsuits to the Maxx. Each of the eight “Night Owl” collections from the early-1990s have a GIF and JPG directory. Very bizarre.

There’s legal shareware, games, graphic demos, textfiles, MODs, audio clips, and utilities for the PC, Atari, Amiga, and Commodore 64. The PC-Blue archive is a collection of disk images for IBM PCs from 1983 to 1985.

It’s a treasure chest of pre-Web randomness that would take weeks to explore. Let me know if you find any gems.


    Still mystified why Jason seems to have decided to exclude the whole Coconut story from his BBS Documentary. The Coconut era (COCONET, CocoTalk API, CocoMedia; radically different software from everything else on the market at the time — client/server architecture; EGA/VGA graphics only, with eventual Mac/Win support; first BBS to offer embeded graphical emoticons, which are now so common on web-based BBS’s); Unix-based, not DOS/Windows based) is an important chapter in the whole BBS drama, and no matter what the excuse, his history project will remain incomplete without coverage of it.

    From your Usenet postings at the time, Coconet was intended for larger tech-support and enterprise-level BBSes, and not for hobbyists. Coconet was very innovative, but it sounds like it had relatively little penetration because of its target market and prohibitive cost.

    From what I understand, the BBS documentary is focused on the popular hobbyist scene anyway, so it’s not surprising that Coconet’s not covered.

    Andy, that USENET posting was from October 1992. Coconut was incorporated in 1988, and shipped in early 1989. Between 1988 and 1992 we sold to anyone who wanted to buy. By 1992 we had customers in 24 countries around the world, and were beginning to position ourselves beyond the 2-simultaneous-user licensees who were typically BBS enthusiasts with no money. Software priced anything over “free” was “prohibitive” in those days, because one’s budget had to go to hardware, which was indeed prohibitively priced (we paid $10,000 for an AST Premium 386 20mHz machine with 4 MB of RAM and a 90MB drive, and then spent $3500 to add 3MB more RAM and a 340 MB second hard drive (full-height 5 1/4″ form factor).

    This is great. The times have changed for sure. Was thinking of trying to run an old school type BBS. Like in earlly days.

    Thanks for the kind remarks, Andy. I hope to continue to fight the good fight. Also, the world can’t have too much history available to learn from.

    OMFG. I went to the list of BBS’s and was shouting out the name I remembered from all the town in Ventura County. I keep wishing they still existed as I actually enjoyed the BBS experience more than the impersonal net.

    Btw, what IRC channel?

    A trip down memory lane indeed – I almost feel inspired to blow the dust off my trusty Amiga emulator having browsed past a few old favourite Imagine/Lightwave (3D) objects [AMINET disk]. Takes me back to a more innocent age…

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