UX lessons from the Magic Screensaver aka After Dark

I found this kind of interesting, a breakdown from the original guy behind the once popular After Dark screen saver.

As it started as an experiment on Windows 2, it became a product on it’s own, and launched an entire industry, along with being copied by every major OS vendor.  In the 90’s having a screen saver was key, just as having simple games like solitaire, especially a broken shuffle one where the user wins most of the time led to Windows being heavily favored in the work space.

Magic Screen Saver for Windows 2

So for the heck of it, I figured I’d check it out, and as always thanks to Jason Scott, there is a copy of 1.02 on cd.textfiles.com And as reported it’s basically the ‘mystify your mind’ screen saver.

Magic in action

The runaway hit Magic Screensaver became After Dark, which then had several licensed addons like the Simpsons, Star Wars etc.  Back then themes for Windows were popular along with sound effects.  A lot of the functionality is still in Windows, although most people prefer that their machines are silent, only making audible alerts if there really is something wrong.  But back in the day a ‘multimedia desktop’ was a $5,000 noise maker, and not many offices were impressed.  Which of course gave rise to the ‘office sound card’

All Business and no fun!

Naturally under Windows there were virtual device drivers to emulate a sound blaster, as people still wanted to game with this cheaper ‘business audio’ card, although with the rise of Windows 95/Direct X gaming under Windows finally became a thing making Sound Blaster compatibility a thing of the past.

But going back to After Dark, they made a fatal error of teaming up with Berkeley Systems, who eventually started to make their own releases pushing the original team out of their own product.

After Dark 1.0 and the infamous flying toasters.

The toasters became focal in a few lawsuits, namely the Jefferson Airplane album, although it was dismissed as the artwork for the album had not been trademarked!  And they were able to force the Opus ‘n Bill screen saver where Opus shoots the toasters.  Late they changed the toasters to have propellers to avoid being too similar.

Opus shooting a flying toaster

Oddly stuff like screen savers too have largely fallen out of fashion with the rise of power saving monitors that just turn themselves off either from a lack of new images, or a signal from the OS.

One of those weird legacy things that in today’s world really doesn’t have that much meaning, but a scant 20 years ago was a major industry.

DR-DOS 5.0 and Windows 3.0

So I’ve always heard about the incompatibility, and I thought I’d give it a try in PCem.  I know I used to run DR-DOS 5.00 and Windows 3.0 (because of the CGA driver) and it worked fine.

So just to prove it works, here I am installing Windows 3.0 on DR-DOS 5

Installing Windows 3.0

Installing Windows 3.0

And even better, running Word 2.0! Although I did install a whopping 4MB of ram on this virtual 286.

MS Word 2.0

MS Word 2.0

And to make it all the better, I changed to a 386, and re-installed Windows 3.0 and yes it runs in enhanced mode.  And I can run DR-DOS in a windows.

386 enhanced mode

386 enhanced mode

Of course there was the AARD code, in the Windows 3.1 betas, but as far as I know that didn’t make it to release.  I was able to upgrade to a virtual VGA adapter, and update to Windows 3.1 in standard mode on a 286, just fine

Windows 3.1 standard mode on a 286

Windows 3.1 standard mode on a 286

And DR-DOS worked through the standard mode task swapper

DR-DOS in standard mode

DR-DOS in standard mode

But Windows 3.1 in enhanced mode always locked up during setup.  Maybe a PCem bug?  I’m not sure.  But Windows 3.0 works great.

Windows 3.0 Debug Release 1.14

Well from popular request I finally got around to loading this up.  I went ahead with my favourite retro emulator, PCem for this, as it can nicely emulate an EGA display, unlike most emulators which do VGA, however when it comes to older versions of Microsoft products they really can detect the difference between EGA and VGA.

So to start off, I downloaded from the project page, this version of PCem, compiled it, and installed MS-DOS 4.01 , from April of 1989.  The Windows 3.0 Debug Release 1.14 itself is dated from February 22nd, 1989.  Which I figured is close enough to the time period.  I’m using the 486SX2/50 because I’m too impatient for the 386 speeds, but it does work fine on 386 or higher emulators.  It does NOT work with any 286 emulation. I’m also using the HIMEM.SYS from MS-DOS 4.01 vs the one with the Windows 3.0 (Alpha? Beta? Technical Preview?) since it is slightly newer.

There is no setup program per say, rather it just xcopies all the files to a directory, and from there you run ‘d.bat’ and away you go.  This version is hard coded to an EGA display, which again is the reason I went with PCem.  Once you start it up, you are greeted with:


Windows v3.0 Debug Release 1.14

And it identifies itself as Windows Version 2.1


Look at all the memory!

And first thing to notice is that on my setup with 8MB of ram, I have over 6MB of RAM free.  Compare this to regular Windows 2.1 which gives me 399Kb of ram in my current setup.

Windows 2.1 running in real mode

Windows 2.1 running in real mode

And with Windows/386 Version 2.1 it provides 383Kb of real memory, along with 6.7MB of EMS memory, as the Windows/386 Hypervisor includes EMS emulation.

Windows/386 memory

Windows/386 memory

Of course the major limitation of Windows 2 is that it runs in real mode, or in the case of Windows/386 an 8086VM.  As I mentioned a while back in a post about Windows 3.0,  This was game changing.

As now with Windows running in protected mode, all the memory in my PC is available to Windows, and I am using MS-DOS, with nothing special.

Besides the limitation of being EGA only, the Debug version of 3.0 is that there is no support for MS-DOS applications, as WINOLDAP.MOD is missing.

NO MS-DOS for you!

NO MS-DOS for you!

This is clearly an interim build of Windows 3.0 as mentioned in Murray Sargent’s MSDN blog Saving Windows from the OS/2 Bulldozer.  As mentioned from the article they began their work in the summer of 1988, so considering this is early 1989 it shows just how much progress they had made in getting Windows 2 to run in protected mode.  Along with Larry Osterman’s MSDN blog post Farewell to one of the great ones, which details how the Windows 3.0 skunkworks project was writing the new improved 386 hypervisor, and how Windows 3.0 got the green light, and changed the direction of not only Microsoft but the entire software industry.

I’ve been able to run most of the Windows 2.1 applets, however I’ve not been able to run Excel 2, or Word 1.  I suspect at this point that  only small memory model stuff from Windows 1 or 2 is capable of running.  Although at the same time, when 3.0 did ship, you really needed updated versions of Word 2 and Excel 3 to operate correctly.

Windows 3.0 Debug Release 1.14

Windows 3.0 Debug Release 1.14 on a 12MB system

The applets from Windows 2.1 seem to work a LOT better than the one from Windows/386 2.1 if that helps any.

This is an interesting peek at an exceptionally early build of Microsoft Windows.

Bringing back the WinZork demo via jsDOSBox

So with all the excitement with jsDOSBox it was about time I tried to get something from my old java dosbox stuff running again.

As a quick note, as of right now, you cannot boot into a disk image… Nor can you really run bat files, or any kind of drivers beforehand.  It’s basically either use a script that adds files one by one, or use an image file which gets mounted, and you run your exe/com file from that.

So here we go, back again is the old Fortran Dungeon (zork) compiled with QuickC for Windows, running on the working model version of Windows 3.0.

Dungeon via F2C

Dungeon via F2C

Click here, and enjoy!

For anyone interested my old post about this Fortran/Zork adventure is here.


So I was playing with Watcom C/386 8.5 today

This was the first version of Watcom that included the much beloved DOS4/GW dos extender.  Funny enough it doesn’t bind in a stub for running DOS4/GW by itself, you have to do it manually or I guess write the stub for yourself.  Another fun feature of Watcom C/386 8.5 is that it includes the win386 windows extender.

Basically it does to Windows 3.0 what DOS4/GW does to MS-DOS.  Now I’ve never messed around with win386 that much because by the time I did have a 386sx processor with more than 1MB of ram, Win32s & OS/2 2.1 were all the rage.  But in the world of VM’s I thought I’d give it a shot.

The default example is the game of life.  It compiles trivially, but the moment you got to run it you get this fine error:



It turns out that it is a timing loop error, and effects of all things Microsoft FoxPro!  The solution is provided by Microsoft, in the form of IPatchFP.exe. Naturally it is a console Win32 executable.  But with enough of the HX DOS Extender‘s runtime I can run the patch inside of MS-DOS.

With my executable all patched up, I can now run the game of life!

Conway's game of life

Conway’s game of life

Which is all very exciting.

Win386 was very cool for the time, taking the Win16 API and making their own Win32 set out of it. Another cool thing is that there wasn’t a separate runtime to repackage, as Win386 was just bound to the executable. I’m sure it didn’t fall on deaf ears at Redmond with the disillusion of Cruiser, that Win16 could have a brave new future in Win32.

And I should mention I’ve gone over a lot of the Win32s versions here.

IBM PS/1 preload software

Club PS/1!

I don’t think it’ll do anyone any good, but for some reason I’ve gotten two requests since I’ve mentioned that I’ve got a PS/1 and if I could dump all the weird software that it comes with…

Not that prodigy even exists anymore, or there is anything you can do with it, so I figured I’d just add it in with jdosbox, and you can just click along..

I guess it was unique at the time when most OEMs just slapped together some stuff and shipped without going that extra crazy mile of doing some custom programs, or even trying to foster their own online community even if it was just too forward looking, and too much of an Island for 1991.

So pastel, so Miami Vice!

There is some very 90’s feeling Learning Windows that also came with the system.. I’ve never heard of it before.  What is more interesting is that it is a Windows program, unlike the later introduction/tutors for Windows that were MS-DOS programs.  It’ll even run in real mode, which makes me wonder was it just such a major pain to put together that they swore to never do again, or was it specially made for IBM?

Introduction to the PS/1

At any rate most of the programs are MS-DOS based, there is a version of AOL that sits in between the time of Quantium Link & AOL called Promenade.  Again since the service is dead there isn’t much you can do with the dialer software.  It does use GEOS like the later AOL software, but its skinned to look like Windows (SAA?).

Oh well its a look at a distant OEM past, now IBM doesn’t make PC’s and I would almost guess that OEM’s would be forbidden or heavily shunned to make their own online social type thing, as of course everyone would be on face book ….

PS/1 2121 doing what it does best..

At any rate, I’ve upgraded mine with a semi compatible sound blaster, and a network card.. With rlfossil an Conex, its a nice BBS terminal, with good ansi support.  Sadly the bigger DJGPP stuff won’t run as I don’t have a math coprocessor, and I’m just not going to go through the motion of finding an 80387sx .. Assuming the PS/1 even has a socket for one (I haven’t seen it, but I didn’t look too hard).  But I’ve found it good with old era games, as there is some things that just don’t seem to cooperate just right with emulation.. And sometimes it is nice to have some real machines… Sometimes.

Video of Fortran Dungeon…

I forget how I got linked back to this, but I figured in the new year vogue, I’d make a video to show how … convaluted it is to build dungeon via f2c.

As you can see, first I have to compile f2c as a Windows QuickWin exe as the MS-DOS version just runs out of memory without some kind of DOS Extender, and Windows 3.0 makes a suitable extender..

Next, I had to make a ‘list’ program that then exectued f2c against the Fortran converting them to C.  Then finally I just compile the libf2c components, then statically add in the Dungeon source that was just converted.  There is some ‘out of range’ case statement, not sure why, but it works… as you can see.

It builds/runs in 286 enhanced mode and beyond..  Obviously the more memory the better.

This was on Qemu 0.15.0 with MS-DOS 4.01 & Windows 3.0

Setting up a permanent swapfile under Windows 3.0

So while I was playing around with the idea of a Windows 3.0 powered (lol) BBS I ran into one weird thing with it swapping like crazy, and eventually depleting all my disk space!

Well when I actually used Windows 3.0 back in the day, I had a 286 so I never got to play with virtual memory.  By the time I got a 386, I was using Windows 3.11 & OS/2 which in Windows you configure it with the 386 icon in the control panel.  On OS/2 it’s a line in the config.sys.

But for Windows 3.0 it’s a standalone program, swapfile.exe.  And the best part is that you cannot run it in 386 Enhanced mode, nor in standard (286) mode.  You have to first start Windows in realmode.

So now I could force it to swap on a secondary drive, or more importantly contain it’s filegrowth so it doesn’t take up the entire disk.

Idling under MS-DOS 4.01 & Windows 3.0

Well I was playing some more with my MS-DOS setup, and the annoying thing is that it doesn’t idle worth anything.

And of course running old DOS doesn’t help that most everything needs MS-DOS 5.0 or higher.

But then I found WQGHLT, which is a VXD to support idling under Windows 3.1.  And happily it works on Windows 3.0 …

The only pain is that running MS-DOS applications kills the CPU (again).  Which means that the DOS programs themselves need to idle.  And yes I did check the ‘detect idle’ but it seems that it doesn’t do what I’d hope.

Maybe it’s just the software, I should try some more and see what I get.

BBS’ing with Windows/386 & Windows 3.0 under Qemu or how I learned to love rlfossil

A while back I had seen this fantastic site, “Hates the internet” with a great write up on setting up a BBS on Qemu.  In retrospect it did inspire me a bit later to get my BBS going with Qemu, but I chose to use OS/2 once I found out about SIO’s vmodem feature.

HTI (Hates the internet) chose this program called rlfossil, which is for MS-DOS..

RLFOSSIL is an implementation of multi-line serial port driver corresponding to the Fido/Opus/Seadog level 5 specification and a simple HAYES-compatible modem emulator. It allows applications usually worked through BBS’s to run on the Internet, or in IP-based local net.er, and rlogin and telnet emulation using IP services numbers 513 & 23. RLFOSSIL allows combined work with other FOSSIL drivers (X00,BNU etc.).

So I thought between that, and all the Windows/386 excitement I’d try for something even more insane.  How about running a multiline BBS on Windows?

So in the same effort, I was going to use Qemu 0.14.1, with MS-DOS 4.01 (the first version I could find that came with share.exe), and Windows/386 2.11.  The installation of MS-DOS 4.01 worked fine on an 80MB disk image, thankfully it was one of the things that DOS 4 could do better then 3 is large disk images… Yes I know 3.31 could as well, but it didn’t come with share so it was out.  One strange thing after install was this message…

It is kind of forboding that DOS is warning me that because of my “large” disk I better run share.  Since I plan on having a multi node BBS all in one computer, I need to run share anyways.


The next exciting part was installing Windows/386 2.11.  The installation went pretty smooth, and with Qemu the mouse worked fine.  So far, so good.  I couldn’t use himem.sys that comes with Windows/386, nor could I use the himem.sys that comes with MS-DOS as the Windows/386 version complains that that A20 line is already active (?) and the MS-DOS one has Windows complaining that the HMA is already in use.  Sadly then my conventional memory footprint will be unsatisfactory, but I don’t see any way around it.

The next part is configuring rlfossil.  rlfossil needs a driver to talk to the network card, and you can find them on crynwr, namely the ‘other‘ packet archive, which contains NE2000 drivers.  Keeping with HTI, I’m going to use the NE2000 and configure Qemu with the PCI NE2000 driver.

Packet drivers are loaded from the command line something like this:

ne2000 0x60 11 0xc100

This loads the driver on software interrupt 0x60, and by default the PCI NE2000 is configured for IRQ 11, port 0xc100.  Qemu 1.6.0 changed the PCI NE2000 to use port 0xc000 for what it is worth..

So keeping with the HTI tradition, I’m going to put my packet driver (ne2000.com) and unpack the rlfossil archive in c:\packet.  The next thing to do is configure rlfossile which uses the wattcp configuration file.  Since I’m going to use the usermode NAT and a redirect, I configure my VM like this:




With that all in place now it’s time to configure the config.sys/autoexec.bat.  Some things are going to be different from a normal install because we plan to run a BBS, and multiple instances of it!

So my config.sys looks like:


And my autoexec.bat is like this:

NE2000 0x60 11 0xC100

And of course launching Qemu I do it like this:

qemu.exe -L pc-bios -m 16 -net nic,model=ne2k_pci -net user-redir tcp:23::23 -hda telegard.qcow2

This configures the VM for 16MB of ram (which would have cost a FORTUNE back then), the PCI NE2000, and it’ll redirect telnet from my host machine into the VM.

And just like HTI, I went with telegard, because it supports fossil based ports.

Well that sure was a *LOT* of work, and surprisingly testing it with a single node, actually works.  And you can bring up a few other MS-DOS prompts and it’ll work fine. But if you launch the second node…

Disaster struck.  So needless to say, while Windows/386 was pretty slick for the day it just couldn’t measure up.  So I figured for the hell of it, I’d try Windows 3.0  I mean I would have imagined that Windows 3.0 most certainly could NOT handle this kind of challenge.

So with some disks shuffled, I fired it up and..

Two node telegard under Windows 3.0

It actually worked!  So with a LOT of chaos going on I managed to get Trade Wars 2002 running, although I couldn’t figure out how to automatically figure out the node.. Hell the whole door configuration thing is.. bizarre. Synchronet really kicks ass in regards to easy of configuration.

Running TW2002, two copies

And using PIF’s to configure each node for some easy of launching, and some reduced memory, I could easily run all four nodes that rlfossil can support.

Four Nodes!

I have to admit, Windows 3.0 really is impressive considering all the UAE’s and how generally crappy we thought it was at the time.  I’m sure even emulated having a multiple Ghz cpu helps quite a bit.

460KB free!

And look at all that memory.. I guess it’s pretty impressive it even works.  Since Windows anything throttles the CPU at 100% I’m not going to put this online…. Although at the same time combined with an CPU idle program (is there a Windows 3.0 idle vxd?) it sits ok, but who wants a single user system in 2011?