PCjs Machines

Home of the original IBM PC emulator for browsers.


PCjs Blog


You may recall from my last post that I had tracked down some useful Modula-2 test code, originally published in PC Tech Journal (October 1986), inside a ZIP archive at “THE PROGRAMMER’S CORNER: BBS ARCHIVE FROM THE PAST”.

It turned out that that archive was a rabbit hole I could not not go down.

First, I collected all the other PC Tech Journal ZIP archives there (from December 1985 through January 1989), recreated them as a set of PC Tech Journal Disks, and added them to the PCjs Software Library, so now you can “Load” and “Save” them in any PCx86 machine.

Next, since I was also a fan of PC Magazine back in the day, I decided to do the same for all the PC Magazine ZIP archives. So now there’s a set of PC Magazine Disks you can play with as well.

I’m calling these disks Magware because I can’t be sure exactly how to classify everything on them. Most of it was probably considered free: source code was generally included without any restrictions. But it’s possible that the magazines also redistributed some third-party software that fell into more of a Shareware category.

July 10, 2017 Update

Out of curiosity, I looked through PC Magazine Vol. 6 No. 8 (April 28, 1987) for references to the “PLAY” files contained in one of the older archived PC Magazine Disks. They accompanied the article “A DOS MUSIC GENERATOR”, which included this disclaimer:

“The programs that appear in our Programming/Utilities column (as well as other programs we publish) can be downloaded by modem from the PC Magazine Interactive Reader Service. There is no charge for this service, but users are cautioned that these programs are copyright material and are made available only for individual, noncommercial use. You may make copies for others (including placement on noncommercial electronic bulletin boards), as long as no charge is involved. However, making copies for any commercial purpose is strictly prohibited.”

So it’s clear we’re not dealing only with “free” software, at least as it was considered at the time.

About these collections: I’m thrilled that they exist. Not everyone needs to be (or should be) a collector, but the world needs at least a few dedicated individuals working in every domain (hardware, software, books, magazines, photographs, recordings, etc) along with museums and libraries to support their efforts. So kudos to the folks at The Programmer’s Corner for saving what they could and continuing to make them available.

Sadly, these collections are woefully incomplete. The people who could have done the best job of archiving everything that PC Tech Journal and PC Magazine produced were the publishers themselves, but of course, we don’t live in a society where “archiving” is part of the corporate compact. Corporations care about assets and monetization. Even if an asset is never used and gradually disintegrates over time, your average corporation is fine with that, because the fact that no other corporation was able to use it is just another kind of monetization. Some corporations do build their own archives, but you can never be sure they weren’t edited in self-serving or promotional ways. And other corporations are happy to see their old products archived, provided someone pays them for the privilege.

I’m also a little sad to see these collections being leveraged as a way of making money. For one thing, it goes against the spirit in which the software was originally shared (ie, for free). For another, it’s a real nuisance.

For example, if you visit MAG Files from The Programmer’s Corner, you can’t simply download everything on that page. You have to click on a link to a ZIP file, which takes you to a second page listing the contents of the ZIP file and a “Download File Here” link, which takes you to a third page with a tiny “Click here” link that will finally download the ZIP file. And at every step of the way, you’re also being asked to “Donate”.

So what should have been a quick ONE-click operation becomes a very slow THREE-click operation, giving you lots of opportunities to stare at lots of ads. Three pages of them, with ads across the top, down the right-hand side, and across the bottom. I understand that running a web server has a cost and that ads help defray that cost. But there HAVE to be better ways to do this.

For starters, there are users like me, who are happy to support the preservation efforts of others. I opted to pay the requested $40 donation for “unlimited access” to The Programmer’s Corner. However, that merely allowed me download more than 5 files per hour. I still had to slowly wade through endless pages of ads to get the roughly 200 files I was specifically interested in. This isn’t exactly endearing behavior, which means I probably won’t return to The Programmer’s Corner by choice, but only out of necessity.

On a more philosophical note, I think it’s important for a service to be clear about what we’re paying for; ie, that we’re paying for an archival service and that the money being generated for that service (whether by ads or donations) is purely in support of that service, and that the archived items themselves are not being held hostage (“ransomed”) in order to supplement that income.

It shouldn’t be hard to create a compelling website with useful features and community benefits, apart from the content, that people will want to support and revisit. And when people do support it, they shouldn’t continue to be hounded or stymied in their efforts to access the content.

The Patreon model, where you try to get a handful of people to support your project with small monthly contributions, seems like one possible solution. Of course, that usually requires working on the project on a regular basis, and if a website like The Programmer’s Corner is more or less on auto-pilot, that probably won’t work.

I’ve thought about this problem in the context of PCjs, and what, if anything, I should do to help pay for its monthly operating costs (which are currently around $30/month for hosting and bandwidth). I dislike the idea of using ads, because they’re both unsightly and unseemly, and it’s unlikely they would cover even those small operating costs. I’ve come to conclusion that you have to make money doing something else, and that projects like this just have to survive on good will – and lots of “free time”.

Jeff Parsons
Jul 9, 2017