back to article Computer says: Stop using MacWrite II, human!

My first proper job was at the university at which I'd been studying; when I graduated in Computing Science there were a couple of tech support jobs going and I managed to bag one of them. I started as the Unix guy (these were the days when SunOS was still SunOS – the Solaris name was yet to come) but later on I gravitated into …


  1. Alan Bourke

    We had a Mac network in college in the late 80s.

    It was great. Immense fun to be had going round the machines and using ResEdit to assign an orgasmic sigh sample on floppy insertion, then watching confused agricultural science students look around the room in a panicked fashion.

    1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

      Re: We had a Mac network in college in the late 80s.

      Did something similar back in the uni days on the student newspaper. Replaced the innocuous warning beepy-bingy noise with the editor loudly proclaiming "Don't do that!" in his best managerial voice (said chap ended up in later life briefly as a government minister, which may allow those with Google-Fu to work out which university and timescale this was).

      Was then quite fun to watch the reaction of the various editors and section writers who used the machines when they made the inevitable small mistakes to elicit the warning.

    2. deadlockvictim Silver badge

      Re: We had a Mac network in college in the late 80s.

      I had fun with that too, only I used John Cleese's 'Are there any women here today?' from 'The Life of Brian'. The consternation it caused was immense. Ah, happy days.

    3. Scaffa

      Re: We had a Mac network in college in the late 80s.

      "Immense fun to be had going round the machines and using ResEdit to assign an orgasmic sigh sample on floppy insertion"

      Mine said "Christ knock it off! I'm up at seven tomorrow!" on insertion.

  2. Conrad Longmore

    Gragh, students and their sodding games

    I worked with students for quite a long time. One irritation was that they would insist on playing games on the lab computers which were meant for.. well, work. Back in those days all the games were DOS games, and they almost all used Mode 13h for graphics (320 x 200 pixels x 256 colours).

    I knocked together a simple TSR that intercepted the interrupt that changed the display mode.. every time you tried to change to 13h it would display an error and reboot. The TSR was pretty well hidden, I don' t think any of the users ever figured it out.

    The other essential DOS tool was an application that replaced the FORMAT command with one that checked to see if the user was trying to format C: (because yes, you could actually do that). If they were it would let off an alarm, which would tend to attract attention. Yes, students actually did this either maliciously or stupidly. If they were just trying to format a floppy disk, it would pass it on to the REAL format command which had simply been renamed.

    What always flabbergasted me was when students were working on their dissertations, they wouldn't ever bother to have a backup copy of the floppy disk they had to store it on. Norton Utilities certainly rescued quite a few academic careers.

    When we upgraded to a Novell network the problem was that the students would never log out, and students would end up with each others dissertations. Eventually, we wrote a screensaver in VB which would log them out automatically. Unfortunately, it would tend to do it while the students were looking up references in their books and it would shut down.. being not very observant, they didn't notice the GREAT BIG RED timer which gave them five minutes grace.

    1. PickledAardvark

      Re: Gragh, students and their sodding games

      I recall the student who followed popular advice.

      When he'd finished a writing session, he copied his new stuff onto his backup floppy disks.

      One day, he left his working disk and backups on the bus.

      He could have stored his essays on central storage. Or today he could have stuffed it into the cloud. Or lost it all on an USB stick which fell out of his pocket.

      1. Adam 1 Silver badge

        Re: Gragh, students and their sodding games

        A USB stick. Falling out someone's pocket? On a bus? Nope, can't see that one ever happening.

  3. arobertson1

    Macwrite, Macdraw and Macpaint - them were the days. Games of Risk and Apache Strike. Fun times. Gently having to pat the Mac II's on the side to get them to boot because of bad graphic cards and the rewarding "bong" as they started up. Shortly followed by "I'll be back" shutdown or "That's all folks". To be honest the SPARC II's were abused more - in those days the whole campus was wired up with little or no security. Port 135 buffer overflows, dictionary password attacks (no salts then), call the same process in an endless loop.... crash. etc. etc.

  4. Lee D Silver badge

    I can only imagine that the guy whose job I now have (after he didn't take backups, or care about THE - yes, the - server RAID failing) used to spend his days running around looking busy.

    Because there was no computer imaging. Every machine was manually built and/or cloned from the one next to it. It caused no end of problems (not least that the clones were hundreds of Gbs because of cache local profiles, etc. but also things like one bit of software slowly propogating around the entire network by this method, not to mention that they didn't even take them off the domain in between or sysprep or anything!). Every patch cable was cut to length, and manually crimped. Every piece of software was installed from scratch if it went wrong. Every PC got its own Windows Updates when it felt like it. And so on. The guy wasn't "managing a network", he was just running around 100 almost-identical PC's, effectively.

    One of the first things I did was put in a proper imaging system. Boot up, press F12 to PXE boot, select the image. Wait ten minutes and you had a working, domain-joined, licensed, clean computer with all the software you need. The number of tickets dropped like a stone (and the first thing I did was put in a proper helpdesk system and forced the users to use it for everything!). Even today - 2 years later - if something goes wrong, it's often quicker to pull out the hard drive, image onto a blank one, and then work out what went wrong with whatever's on the old disk. But because of the cleanliness, because ONE image has had 2 years x 100 machines x 500 users worth of testing, the problems that arise are so much less.

    Then I rewired his cabinets with proper patch cables. So much less hassle with disconnections, instantly.

    Then I rejigged all the networking so that it was resilient anyway, and enabled RSTP (I know!). No more random disconnections and network loops.

    Then I made my bosses run a proper power supply to the server cabinets. No more power cuts because someone plugged in a heater over Christmas.

    And this month, my boss asked me if we intend to replace everything like we have in previous years. Er... why? It's working. "But things fail, etc.". Yes. And we're resilient now. So when they do, we'll replace them as necessary and users will not notice in the meantime. "But client upgrades!" Are the clients slow? Are users complaining (more than normal when they try to download 100Gb of files and it doesn't happen in a fraction of a second)? No. So why bother?

    All I take away from the article or my own experiences is: Do things properly and all the problems go quiet. Be as wary of a full helpdesk as of one that has nothing on it at all. In 150 machines, over two years, I've had about ten drive failures. Apart from that, almost nothing goes wrong with a bog standard "office" system that you can't compensate for (and, hell, I could put SSDs or RAID into the clients if I really wanted to!). So long as you manage it properly and use the proper tools.

    And I don't even do cutting-edge junk. But the second I find myself doing a job twice, that needs to be done properly, or takes a long time, I find a way to automate it. And then my apprentice knows he can just press F12 and - without the potential of losing any client data - get a working system back up in minutes.

    This is hardly rocket-science. If your company isn't doing it, they are basically creating work for themselves and you might want to ask why. Hell, even my previous workplace had the same, and I've done similar using Norton Ghost (as was) from a network boot.

    And, with or without such a system, you shouldn't be having the same causes / kinds of failures for ever and ever, repeatedly. It means you're not fixing the problem.

    1. 2+2=5 Silver badge

      > Even today - 2 years later

      I thought you were going to say *twenty*not two!. I can't believe someone so bad was tolerated so recently.

      1. Lee D Silver badge

        The consultant that come in to rescue them in between this guy going, and me being able to come and start full-time:

        - Didn't know what virtualisation was

        - Didn't know what WDS / SCCM was

        - Didn't use GPO at all (everything was copy-pasted batch file in NETLOGON)

        - Didn't know you could failover things like DHCP.

        - Didn't know what DFS was.

        - Didn't know what spanning-tree was. (He thought that turning on spanning-tree and having multiple routes was going to bring the network down).

        - Had never heard of LACP, let alone used it.

        - Was unable to replicate all the above (because obviously he knew he could sell it to other clients) at his other main customer's sites - in some cases for up to 6-9 months each, even WITH my documentation.

        - Oh, had no documentation except for a password list.

        - Had licensed thousands of copies of iPad apps illicitly which - with iOS 8 - all fell over and stopped working.

        So, no, it's not that surprising at all. Even the guy-brought-in-to-clean-up-after-the-previous-guy had the same kinds of problems but at least understood that backups were necessary.

        1. PrivateCitizen

          @Lee D: I would love to know where you work so I could submit some tenders ;-)

          Even if the pay isnt great, it seems like the hiring standards and work expectations are low enough for it to be profitable.

      2. phuzz Silver badge

        Literally ten minutes ago I was commiserating with a college at a client of ours who is still running into little problems from his predecessor (who was fired a bit less than a year ago).

        The conversation started wondering why he'd bought a fully-managed 100Mbs switch, to connect some desktops, when a cheap, unmanaged Gbs switch worked much better, but we swiftly moved on to the most puzzling recent discovery.

        On all the machines he'd installed (mainly Win 8 desktops with 2-4GB of RAM) he'd set the pagefile, manually, to thirty gig.

        What form of general office work did he anticipate would use the entire two gig of memory, and then proceed to chew up more than twenty gig of virtual mem? When you've cheaped out and bought machines with eighty gig harddrives, this starts to get slightly restrictive.

    2. DougS Silver badge

      Don't "need" replacements

      The problem with such a reasonable outlook is that when you do need replacements they might not be in the budget, because you didn't spend much money last year so when the budgets were being created yours was cut since it is always easier to cut someone's budget down to what they are spending than to cut someone else's below what they spent and listen to them scream!

      When I was managing IT at a division of a university I had to deal with this, but luckily my boss knew that would happen and cautioned me I needed to find something to spend my money on each year, whether or not I needed it. So one year I got a new RAID when the old one still probably had a couple years of life left it in, which left us with a spare RAID to use for testing and scratch space for some professors playing around with massive data sets while developing a grant proposal. Another year I got a second tape library which avoided the need for manual tape rotation and came in quite handy when the original went on the fritz and it took a week to be fixed due to vendor incompetence.

      Maybe you're lucky and your budgeting doesn't work that way - but even then maybe your boss is getting bonuses based on his ability to save money so when it does come time to spend money he might be a little reluctant knowing that it will cost him personally...

      1. Lord_Beavis

        Re: Don't "need" replacements @DougS

        Every budget I've seen works that way. If you don't spend you get cut.

        One place I was at managed to get a really nice espresso machine to make up the difference so that their budget wouldn't get cut.

  5. To Mars in Man Bras!


    I do feel the pain of you commentards in IT Support, who often write here about your experiences with dumb end-users. But please spare a thought for the other end of the stick; the end users at the mercy of dumb IT departments.

    At a college [in NW England] I worked in up until quite recently, the IT dept. set up a similar thing on our OSX design machines. I can't remember the name of the software used, but obviously a great-great-grandchild of your RevRDist.

    All very well except that, as well as restoring the `Applications` folder from a central image every night, the eejits had also configured it to restore the` /Library` and `~/Library` folders as well [which on OSX contain the system and user preferences].

    That in itself mightn't have been t-o-o-o-o bad had, were it not for the fact that the central image from which everything was being restored had not been configured properly [or at all!]. So every morning, all user preferences had reset to using US Spellcheckers, US time for the clocks and [best of all!] US Letter, instead of A4 for the printers.

    Given that the department was full of expensive Laser Printers which basically jammed if a print job was sent through on the wrong paper size, you can imagine the fun we had unjamming printers several times a day, whenever someone printed from a computer on which they had not remembered to first go into Print Settings and reset the paper size to A4.

    Rinse and repeat every day for an entire term until someone eventually managed to persuade the IT department to allow us to set our own User Preferences without having them wiped out and replaced with the wrong default ones, every night.

    Other gems from the IT department in my time there included:

    1: Installing a System Image which did not allow files to be saved to the root of the users home folder or to the `~/Desktop` folder. This was designed to stop students saving 'stuff' in the wrong places, but unfortunately it also stopped applications like DVD Studio, Toast, etc from being able to create the temporary files they needed for DVD authoring... which, given it was a Media Department effectively prevented the students burning any of their work to DVD to be able to hand it in.

    2: When that cock-up was eventually put right, the IT Dept. came up with another "brainwave"; this time, instead of locking down the student area, all the hard drives on the machines were partitioned into a locked down 20GB `/` parition and an 'access all areas' 480GB `/Student Work` partition. Each student could now create/destroy/mess up whatever they wanted on the work partition, without touching the `/` partition.

    The only problem this time was that there was only about 150MB free space on the tiny `/` partition and [you've guessed it!] IT hadn't thought to change the preferences of any Applications to account for this. So apps like Photoshop and Illustrator and the Print Spool were all using the root partition for their temp files, caches and spool files, etc.

    Result: on computers with 500GB hard drives, most of which was empty, no-one could print any images larger than 150MB, or work with biggish images in Photoshop or Illustrator without seeing "Your hard drive is almost full. Please delete some files to free up space" errors popping up all the time.

    3: I'd also like to give an honourable mention to the time IT introduced a new Firewall to combat dodgy downloading amongst the student fraternity. Highlghts of that fiasco included the firewall blocking Google as a "Gambling" site [Must have been the "I feel lucky" button!] and, on one joyous occasion actually blocking the college's own website as a "Phishing/Malware" site.

    [Although, having worked there for over a decade and seeing what went on behind the scenes, the latter might actually have been justified]

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: TROPPUS TI

      >Highlghts of that fiasco included the firewall blocking Google as a gambling site [Must have been the "I feel lucky" button!]

      Haha! In the nineties there were lots of stories about the trouble caused by 'smut filters' returning false positives. A round-up of the best might be worthy of a Reg article!

      I remember reading in New Scientist reported that Beaver University in Pennsylvania eventually changed its name because it fell foul of these smut filters. (Though this report suggests that 'smut filters' were just another straw on the camel's back: )

      The trouble with filtering based on key words is our human tendancy to make almost *any* word a slang term for something naughty!

      1. nijam

        Re: TROPPUS TI

        > ... human tendency to make almost *any* word a slang term for something naughty!


        1. hammarbtyp Silver badge

          Re: TROPPUS TI

          Yep, I remember well the issues in Industry support trying to access our Hot strip mill customers

        2. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

          Re: TROPPUS TI

          If typhoo put the 'T' in Britain who put the...... Well it's Scunthorpe you figure out the rest.

          See also 'Penistone'

          1. Roq D. Kasba

            Re: TROPPUS TI


            University of



          2. To Mars in Man Bras!

            Re: TROPPUS TI

            *"...See also 'Penistone'..."*

            ... and Muff in Co. Donegal Ireland.

            Although, sadly, myths that there are signs in the village, pointing the way to the sea and emblazoned with "Muff Diving" are sadly just that.

            I know because I once spent about an hour driving round the village and its environs seeking out this Holy Grail of photo opportunities.

            1. Anonymous C0ward

              Re: TROPPUS TI

              "Dildo" in Newfoundland, and of course "Fucking" in Austria, are my favourites.

            2. Vic

              Re: TROPPUS TI

              myths that there are signs in the village, pointing the way to the sea and emblazoned with "Muff Diving" are sadly just that.

              There is a Muff Diving Club, though...


          3. Fibbles


            The website for the island of Pen has the same problem.

            1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge


              To this day our work mail filters routinely block about 1 in 4 of the reg weekly digest summaries and new post notifications from Simon Traviglia.

              I just love the juicy irony of BOFH setting off such things (as is invariably the underlying cause). They're prudish enough to object to the B-word...

            2. 's water music Silver badge


              The website for the island of Pen has the same problem.

              One man's problem is another mans Best. SEO. Ever.

        3. BurnT'offering

          Re: > ... human tendency to make almost *any* word a slang term for something naughty!

          What a load of faraging trump!

        4. David 132 Silver badge

          Re: TROPPUS TI



          1. Anonymous C0ward

            Re: TROPPUS TI

            > Belgium!

            Somebody always has to take it too far. Reported.

          2. magickmark

            Re: TROPPUS TI

            Holy Zarquon's singing fish!!

        5. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Anonymous Coward
        1. PNGuinn

          Re: TROPPUS TI

          I'll see your Pratt's Bottom and raise you the neighbouring Badgers Mount in Sevenoaks.

    2. Callam McMillan

      Re: TROPPUS TI

      You are of course assuming that this wasn't the university the BOFH originally worked at before he moved to the corporate world!

    3. Sam Jelfs

      Re: TROPPUS TI

      Back around 2001/2002 I was a student in the 6th form trying to apply for universities... UCAS applications had to be done on the school computer system using some custom software, just a shame the network firewall as also set up to block any site with the word 'sex' in it... Want to study at middlesex university, sussex university, et al, tough, can't look at their websites. (not necessarily a bad thing mind ;) )

  6. 45RPM Silver badge

    40MB? Luxury! My first Mac was an SE, which rocked a whole MB of RAM, System 5 (I think - it may have been 4), and a 20MB hard disk. I later bought an 80MB external drive

    1. Just Enough

      You had it easy

      20MB? The first hard drive I ever owned was a external Mac HD; big as a shoe box and a whole 10MB. And I seem to recall it cost something like £400.

      I loved that HD like no other peripheral storage since.

      1. PNGuinn

        Re: You had it easy

        Shoebox? Luxury!

        When we 're kids our dad'd 'av us sweep up bits 'an store 'em in't sack on't shelf in't outside karzy nex't s'ook wi newspaper...

        Yew kids ... d'n't know y've bin born.

        1. big_D Silver badge

          Re: You had it easy

          My first personal computer had 8192 hard earned bits of memory! And a whole 1 Mhz clock speed!

          Outside karzy? Luxury! We had to dig ourselves a hole!

      2. The First Dave

        Re: You had it easy

        Luxury, mine (my Dad's actually) had twin floppies (720k) and later on had a 10MB external HD, that cost about a grand.

        Oh, and why the hell would you replace MacWrite II with Word ? Even the original MacWrite was better than Word.

    2. big_D Silver badge

      My first PC had a 10MB hard drive - which was enough space for the ACT GUI, 2 C compilers, a C interpreter(!!), Basic compiler and interpreter, dBase, Multimate, Multiword and Multicalc, as well as source code and documents, and there was still about a third unused! (Act Apricot Xi).

      Our Mac was so old, it was a Mac, not a Mac Plus, which meant the external hard drive (20MB) was driven over the external floppy disk connector!

      I took a spare 40MB external SCSI drive from Apple home and ran it on my Amiga 500 for a while (attached to an A590 unit).

      1. Ol'Peculier

        Ah, memories. My first proper PC was a Apricot Xi too. Wonderful machine.

        1. 45RPM Silver badge

          Well if it's PCs you're after, my first was a 4.77 MHz 8086 equipped Compaq Deskpro with 256K RAM and 5 MB hard disk.

          1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

            I just find it ironic that compared to the storage capacity that was available when I left university (a bit under 20 years ago), the whole Physics Department where I worked had less total storage capacity than I currently have about my person, between my phone and the various USB sticks on my keyring and loose in my jeans pockets.

            1. TeeCee Gold badge

              I remember getting my paws on my first machine with a 5 1/4 ", full-height 10Mb disk in it. A cheap[1] XT clone.

              I vividly recall wondering what the fuck I was going to do with all that space, shortly after being amazed at how fast it booted up.......

              [1] When compared to an actual XT that is.

  7. Admiral Grace Hopper


    None of your Macs, we were given a BBC Model B to use as a terminal emulator with which to connect to the PRIME. Of course, someone *coff* wrote a screen scraper in 6502 assembler to gather passwords and thereby gain access to the tutor's account and the unpublished exam papers.

    Teacher, because he had a similar look on his face when I told him.

    1. Anonymous C0ward


      Little bit before my time, but I understand one can passively sniff passwords over Econet too.

  8. Aslan

    War with the idiots of IT

    Why couldn't you be bothered to do something sensible like provide all the computers with properly licensed copies of MacWrite II? If the users are supplying their own regardless of the legality why do you feel a need to stop them from getting work done? Now I'll agree they shouldn't have copied their own programs to the universities computers, or deleted the ones present. The obvious solution the the loud pronouncements of "Stop installing MacWriteII" was a dead end audio plug, it plugged into a lineout jack and had a little plastic cap on it. It made the Mac believe it was plugged into external speakers so it shut off the internal speaker. LOL.

    I do appreciate your solution in the end with the Macs, it's quite elegant, and still allows the users the freedom to use their own software. I prefer working with environments like that. Give the users a clean image restored each day and let them do what they will. Not appropriate for all environments, but it works well for schools and libraries.

    My experience with school IT was they insisted on running programs a year or two old with no patches installed. I requested they fix this, they refused. One of the assholes even had one of those new more than $1000 USD Apple LCD screens when they were first new right after the first ones Apple ever shipped, (Disregarding the 30th anniversary Mac) had been announced, and everyone else had CRT's which were absolutely fine really, but the money could have been better spent. Web browsers at the time were changing at such a rate that this would cause websites to fail to load and the old versions of the browsers were generally much slower than the newer versions. The solution was to disable their security software and install the updates (within the same major version) / new versions of the webbrowsers myself and put the security back in place afterwards. I also tossed a freely licensed image editor on the computers. By using a different computer each time I needed a computer eventually all the computers I had access to were within 3 months of the current patch.

    I also had a way to redirect all my webbrowing through a site that wrapped it in SSL which opened up the full version of the internet instead of the censored blocked one the school provided.

    They tracked down the students who changed grades (Most teaches kept a copy on paper) and the ones who stole the mice, but they never accused me of anything. I'm somewhat surprised by that. I didn't tell people what I was doing and I kept the prompts out of sight, I never actively touched IT's computers though I knew where they were and about them. This was a silent campaign against IT.

    I was once accused of modifying the software on the computers by a friend, they often sat next to me and had caught a hint of what I was up to. I had really, really upset them one day. I played off the accusation totally innocent with a "I tried to install a copy of Bolo, (a game) at the start of the year, but it didn't work. I think there's something protecting the computers." They totally bought it.

    I wish IT had been responsive to the students. I wish they had provided a good software environment, not just good computers. I'm proud of my accomplishments in 3.5 years of keeping the computers up to date while facing hostile IT.

    1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

      Re: War with the idiots of IT

      They weren't 'stopping the students from getting work done', they were stopping them from running unlicensed software that didn't meet the word processing standard used elsewhere, risks prosecution, and most probably didn't fall under the academic licensing programme, costing real money.

      If you were a draughtsman, in a team of ten, and felt that although the supplied Autocad LT would technically do the job, full Autocad was occasionally quite useful, is it still appropriate to risk a visit from FAST by sticking on an unlicensed copy for all members of your team, and diddle Adobe out of 14,500 GBP a year?


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