Microsoft Bookshelf (1991)

I found this online a while ago, although it’s taken about half a year to pick it up, but here we are.

What is kind of cool about this, is that being from 1991 this is not for Windows, that this reference library instead targets MS-DOS using the MSL/Microsoft Library from the Programmer’s Library.  So the same advantage holds true, that the content can be scraped from the text mode video RAM.

Factbook: Hong Kong

So yeah, back in the day this was some really amazing stuff, the ability to search a few books in some incredibly fast and convenient, although as always lacking super depth.

Back then online services were crazy expensive, charging by the minute, and of course just like the stock MS-DOS client preventing you from being able to easily copy the text.  Outside of anything beyond gradeschool I couldn’t imagine the ‘encyclopedia’ being of all that much worth but the dictionary/thesaurus & quotations is okay enough, although in 2018 it really is showing it’s age.

Having your own private reference back then was a big deal, something like this would have been more apt in a library, but you’d have to wait in line, no doubt as the ability to look up stuff just by typing would have been great.  While using this online would have cost quite a bit quickly justifying the cost of a CD-ROM drive along with the program.

The common carrier and lower costs of delivering content over the internet has really made something like this an oddity of time, but for anyone that needs to work 100% offline, these are a real gem.

Another great use of extracting the books from the CD-ROM, is that you can take, say the “American Heritage Dictionary“, a 30MB file, and compress it with 7zip, yielding a file just under 4MB, or an 87%, or a 7.76:1 compression ratio.  So unlike other ‘dictionary’ test compression sets, this is using an actual dictionary.

For anyone wanting to take a dive, I put it on

11 thoughts on “Microsoft Bookshelf (1991)

  1. I also have some bookshelf CDs from MSDN series of CDs. I am going to upload them to as well. Maybe interesting to some, will leave a note here again, when it’s done.

    • Hi Phillip

      I had a go with the Advisor Extractor against the Microsoft Programmers library (

      $ java -cp ./advisor-extractor-1.0.0-SNAPSHOT.jar ./MSLIB/C.HLP ./test/

      But no luck:

      Exception in thread “main” Incorrect magic number: 480, expected 20044

      I’m not sure they’re the files it is supposed to work with or not, or whether it’s just the “Quick Help” files.

  2. Nice Find Neozeed there is a lot Microsoft product that Microsoft made 80’s and 90’s. Some was famous other not famous. I’m currently looking for Microsoft Learning DOS ebay have Microsoft Learning DOS 2.0 and they want $20 dollars for it that is not bad. Microsoft Bookshelf have interface as Microsoft Programming’s Library. Microsoft Bookshelf was reference library for MS-DOS Operation System. There was Microsoft Programming’s Library was release in 1989 that version 1.1b. In version 1.1b there is lot SDK Kit code sample for Windows 1.xx and 2.xx. Microsoft Programming’s Library version 1.1b iso is in old cd format will not open modern cd tool. Microsoft Programming’s Library version 1.1b will work on Virtualbox There download link for anyone who want download Microsoft Programming’s Library version 1.1b

    • Yes, years ago I’d written a TSR specifically to dump the data from the MSPL by dumping the contents of the text buffer to a file, hitting page down, and repeating the process. It took a while but after all of that work I now had an ASCII version of the MSPL aptly named “Microsoft Programmers Library.7z“, in which I can search or index or do whatever I want on a modern machine.

      I’ve seen the 1.1b stuff floating around, and never really got around to dumping it, as most of the MS-DOS contents align with the 1.3 version, although the Windows is 2.x while 1.3 is 3.0 and the 4th volume of the OS/2 Reference update for OS/2 1.2 had not been written yet.

  3. I regularly visit your blog, this is one of the reasons why. Absolutely great find you dug out, thank you for sharing.

    Tried to mount/burn the image, but unfortunately, I can’t read that MDF file without a Windows machine. Neither Disk nor mdf2iso 0.3.0 support this MDF (version?) only unpacking with works. Would it be possible for you to upload a CUE/TOC/BIN file or anything similar less proprietary? Or at least an older MDF that works with mdf2iso 😉


    • It’s the ‘not quite ISO9660’ format that Microsoft was using at the time. Which really is quite annoying as either I preserve the image as it was, but you are correct anything modern will refuse to read it, as it’s got junk in the headder, and it’s just not ‘right’. Meanwhile MSCDEX will read it just fine.

      Daemon tools + Windows will read it, although in my case, I just used a MS-DOS VM + Network share to copy the CD off of, and then mounted it about 50 times in dosbox to extract the contents.

      At any rate the files are in a 7z file named msbookshelf91.7z over on

      I’ve had this issue with quite a few CD-ROM’s dating from the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The CSRG set are another that mount incorrectly on Windows, but fine on Linux/BSD.

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