As I lamented in my last blog post, finding copies of the earliest versions of The Norton Utilities has proven to be surprisingly difficult – virtually impossible.

The oldest version I had – purchased on eBay late last year – was Norton Utilities 3.00, with files dated December 7, 1984. But we know that Peter Norton began selling his utilities more than two years before that, in 1982, so it’s been exasperating to find nothing from 1982 or 1983 so far.

Aside from a purely historical interest in seeing how the utilities evolved over those first few years, Michal Necasek and I were also interested in verifying a claim, made back in 1991 in a Russian computer magazine, that “the very first version of Norton Utilities consisted of COM files processed by SpaceMaker,” an early – if not the earliest – EXE compression utility. Michal discussed SpaceMaker at length in his April 2018 blog post “Realia SpaceMaker”.

The claim could not be verified, because by version 3.00 of The Norton Utilities, Peter Norton was no longer using SpaceMaker – if he ever had. While other programs known to be compressed with SpaceMaker begin and end with small recognizable stubs, all the COM files in Norton Utilities 3.00 (with the exception of BEEP.COM) end with:

Best wishes from Peter Norton

However, as luck would have it, I had also recently purchased a small set of shareware disks produced by PC Magazine that were part of a companion publication called “PC Disk Magazine”, which first went on sale in the summer of 1983.

I had no idea what to expect on the diskettes, and I was a little worried at first, because I had some trouble reading them. The diskettes were slightly warped, and it took several attempts to read them. Once I finally got all the diskettes imaged and User Guides scanned, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Peter Norton had made some contributions to the first two volumes:

PC Disk Magazine Vol. 1 No. 1
PC Disk Magazine Vol. 1 No. 2

The first program, DISKMAP, was described by Peter Norton in the accompanying User Guide as “an element from the Norton Utilities, the widely praised library of DOS tools for the IBM PC.” And the second program, DLABEL, was similarly described as “another element from the widely praised Norton Utilities for the IBM PC.”

Moreover, on closer inspection of these two utilities, I noticed that they both appeared to include decompression stubs that were similar to those generated by SpaceMaker 1.06.

Similar, but different. And smaller (239 bytes vs. 260 bytes in later versions of SpaceMaker). However, the similarities are so striking that I’d say it’s pretty clear that Peter Norton did use an early version of SpaceMaker – but which, like virtually all pre-1984 versions of The Norton Utilities, has also been lost.

Granted, neither DISKMAP nor DLABEL are from any known release of The Norton Utilities, but it seems likely they were built from the same source code used to build his retail product in 1983. This is the closest we’ve come to verifying that early versions of The Norton Utilities were compressed – with SpaceMaker no less – and with a bit more luck, and patience, perhaps we’ll get even closer.

@jeffpar
Jan 10, 2019

PC Disk Magazine Diskettes