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.

Tetris for the IBM PC

Well for some reason I was interested in Tetris (Тетрис), and wanted to find an early version.  Looking around I did manage to find some background by Vadim Gerasimov, on the whole origin of Tetris.  What I never realized is that the first version was written for a Soviet PDP-11 clone, then ported to the IBM PC using Turbo Pascal! Or that it was all done in text mode!  The thought at the time is that every PC could run 40 colum mode, and thus would run Tetris.

Along the way I did manage to find some other early Russian artifacts for the IBM PC, namely MS-DOS 4.01 which not only has its own site, but has an excellent view into the history of localizing MS-DOS, and what the culture was like at the time.  There is even a promo video in Russian of course..

And I did come across a ‘Перевод’ of Windows 2.1 done in 1990, but no luck on Windows 3.0 ..  I wonder if they ever had OS/2 1.x ..?  Which speaking of non english versions of OS/2 1.x seem non existent, but I did find reference to there being a release in Japan, but naturally not even a screen shot.. I did find one rather harsh review of Windows/286 2.1 (Pусский), but seeing as far as I can tell there was no Excel 2 or Word 1 for Windows in Russian it would have been pointless running it back then.. Unless you had the 386 version!

So I figured, I’d mash in as much of the Russian bits into Windows/386, add in Tetris, and include some Amiga MOD files for the music (yes, besides being text based, there was *NO* music in the original tetris!  The Adlib! didn’t exist back then).  I’ve used the excellent 8bitboy to play the music.. You can mute if if you so wish, or skip around to various tracks…

Tetris on Windows/386

So while not all that ‘authentic’ it’s close enough I think…

Enjoy!

Are you 32x’ing?

Without a doubt the 32x was one of the biggest disappointments by SEGA.  Designed in a late night fit of rage in Las Vegas, the 32x was to be the middle step from the Genesis to the 32bit Saturn.  The Saturn got rushed, and what happened is that in America the 32x had less than a six month lifespan.  Not to mention the model 1’s had bus issues with the 32x if the user didn’t have a Sega-CD.

And of course the 32x required ANOTHER power adapter, supplied two SH2 RISC processors much like the Saturn, but included a measly 256kb of RAM, required you to pipe the Genesis video into the 32x where it did its own video genlock (that can’t be cheap right?), and did nothing to the cartridge sizes, so you were still capped at 4MB!

If that wasn’t enough there even was an infomercial.

Yes that is right, an infomercial!!!  I dare you to watch it, in all of it’s 1990’s glory. I made it 90 seconds.  Ugh the horror.  I wonder if this was done by the Windows/386 people.

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:

Wattcp.cfg

Address:10.0.2.15
Netmask:255.255.255.0
Gateway:10.0.2.2
DNS: 10.0.2.3

 

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:

FILES=96
STACKS=0,0
DEVICE=C:\DOS\ANSI.SYS
SHELL=C:\COMMAND.COM /P /E:768

And my autoexec.bat is like this:

PATH C:\WIN386;C:\DOS
PROMPT $P$G
SHARE
SET TEMP=C:\TEMP
CD \PACKET
NE2000 0x60 11 0xC100
RLFOSSIL 0 4 WIN386

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?