20 May 2024

Limited resources. A tale of retrocomputing

Having unlimited access to the resources of a computing history museum has diverted my free time activities to different kind of equipment: (retro)computers and (retro)computing. I do miss the hiss of SSB or the smell of soldersmoke, but I don't mind following unexplored lands of lost knowledge. Regardless, there's plenty of stuff to fix, too!

I was going through a stash of 5.25" floppy disks when I found a textual adventure in Italian language for DOS from 1986. On modern Internet I found a person looking for a copy of the game since he had played it back then: why not sharing the joy of my discovery with him?

I had to transfer the file from 5.25" floppy to 3.5" floppy on a 80386 Olivetti machine (circa 1988). Then the floppy went into a modern high-end Compaq Presario 2100 laptop (2003) to be transferred on a USB stick. Finally the USB stick went into an Internet connected machine (2023) for a final backup and delivery to my new friend.

How cool is that? I've used some 40-year old media and time-traveled its content ~20 years ahead, twice.

Since the 5.25" floppies were DS/DD with 360 kB capacity, I could fit 4 of them in a 1.44 MB 3.5" floppy. Why not? So while I was at it I copied another disk with Epic Megagames shareware game, a Tetris from 1986 and a Z80MU (Z80 emulator).

When the USB stick hit the modern computer, the antivirus detected the Junkie virus in TETRIS.COM.


The problem is not the single infection, but all the write-enabled floppies I read on the Olivetti machine once I had played a bit of Tetris myself. And, worse, the infection in the Olivetti machine! I am not sure what was infected first: the PC or the .COM program. Nevermind, now.

While I could reinstall the 80386 computer (DOS 6.x), I chose to try to preserve its content and see what can be done. This means traveling back in time in order to have a functional antivirus software on a single 1.44 MB floppy disk. That was the preferred portable media, so a time-correct antivirus had to fit on a single disk.

Everyone agrees that the free-for-personal-use F-PROT antivirus in 1980's and 1990's was the best choice. The latest version 3.16f from 2009 is just too large at 9.2 MB. Reader, I'll boot the machine off a clean floppy disk and run the antivirus from another floppy. No fiddling with multi-volume .ZIP files, especially since it's not needed.

The biggest challenge for the unexperienced retrocomputing guy that I am, was to locate an F-PROT version released after Spring 1994.

While browsing old software on archive.org I remembered that computer magazines (yes, printed on paper) usually came with a CD full of shareware software. Then in a matter of minutes I have downloaded the .ISO image of a CD and finally found F-PROT 2.24A from August 1996.

When I finally saw the folder with the wanted piece of software (in a .ZIP file, of course) I realised why most of my searches failed. In DOS days, filenames followed the 8.3 format convention. In 8 characters you had to fit both a mnemonic for your product and a version number. So it is not F-PROT_224A.ZIP (11.3) but rather FP-224A.ZIP. "FP" reader, "FP"!

Directory listing of Pegasus 5.0 CD, 1994.

At last the unzipped antivirus went in the USB key and on a 3.5" floppy. Next step will be to scan and clean as many floppies as possible, while I came up with a safe procedure to deal with the hundreds of potentially infected removable media in the warehouse. 

Modern AV detecting 30+ years old threat!

Apologies for the text-only post. At least you know I'm alive and kicking.

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