back to article User asked why CTRL-ALT-DEL restarted PC instead of opening apps

Welcome again to On-Call, The Register’s Friday foray into readers’ recollections of tech support jobs that went janky. This week, meet “Miles” who told us that “back in the 90's I was supporting a DOS-based machine control application that was installed around the world.” “To give us remote access we had pcAnywhere installed …

  1. GlenP Silver badge

    Feeling Old...

    For not needing an explanation of TSR!

    1. TonyJ Silver badge

      Re: Feeling Old...

      Have an upvote from me...also feeling old.

      Remember wrangling with the order things loaded in autoexec.bat and config.sys too, just to be able to get a game or program to run properly. And I used to think that kind of thing was fun!

      Oh and at the early end of my career, one of my prized possessions was an A4 ring bind folder with jumper settings for most IDE HDD's, that gave the correct combination for primary and slave...that folder was gold dust.

      1. Anne-Lise Pasch

        Re: Feeling Old...

        Both have an upvote for making me remember token ring networking, and using IPX/SPX to set up a Doom session.

        1. TonyJ Silver badge

          Re: Feeling Old...

          I seem to recall reading how Doom had crashed WAN links back in the day, as every bullet from the minigun was a data packet

          1. defiler Silver badge

            Re: Feeling Old...

            I seem to recall reading how Doom had crashed WAN links back in the day, as every bullet from the minigun was a data packet

            Indeed it did, but not simply because of that. Because every packet was a broadcast. In DooM 1.0 you could have 3 computers on a network act as left / front / right views, so everything was broadcast.

            I think that was taken out in DooM 1.2, but not before it had tanked the fibre line between George Square and Kings Buildings at Edinburgh University.

            1. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: Feeling Old...

              "Because every packet was a broadcast. In DooM 1.0 you could have 3 computers on a network act as left / front / right views, so everything was broadcast."

              Doom wasn't the only thing doing this.

              NetBeui was wire broadcast. Netbeui over TCP/IP was "only" network broadcast. Any machine with netbeui installed would prefer to use it over all other protocols.

              This is one of the reasons why edge switches have broadcast limit settings per port.

        2. Stoneshop Silver badge

          Re: Feeling Old...

          and using IPX/SPX

          Had to upgrade a bunch of JetDirect cards on a TCP/IP network, LJ4 era. Version was supposed to get upped to 5.something. Cards at 4.low had to do a two-step via 4.high before 5.something could take hold. Then half a dozen or so units turned up that still had 3.medium, and no 4.intermediate version managed to stick. No errors, upgrade appeared to go OK, but on restarting the version still showed 3.whatever. Until, for some obscure reason, and one which I apparently had good reason to forget, I tried IPX. Which wasn't in use anywhere on that network. IPX would allow 4.verylow to be installed for real, then via 4.medium and 4.high to 5.something via TCP/IP. Only two of that bunch of cards failed to upgrade because of lack of memory.

        3. Alistair Silver badge
          Windows

          Re: Feeling Old...

          IPX and DOOM! (oh my memories)

          BNC cable terminators all over the floor.....

        4. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: Feeling Old...

          making me remember token ring networking

          Once done, never forgotten. Especially trying to get the netbeui binding order correct..

      2. defiler Silver badge

        Re: Feeling Old...

        Remember wrangling with the order things loaded in autoexec.bat and config.sys too, just to be able to get a game or program to run properly.

        Worst one I saw was DOS 5 + Falcon 3 + Gravis Ultrasound. Kids these days will never understand the trauma of trying to get 600k of base memory.

        (The Gravis was a really nice card. A friend had it. I saw the pain he had to go through and bought a Soundblaster instead.)

        1. Dave K Silver badge

          Re: Feeling Old...

          Indeed, I remember having two or three different boot floppies around for certain different games. I still remember today that Dune 2 needed 604k of free conventional memory in order to run. DOS 6 then came along and made the process a lot easier by including "memmaker" that could automatically load as much as possible into high memory for you.

          1. Sandtitz Silver badge
            Go

            Re: Feeling Old...

            "DOS 6 then came along and made the process a lot easier by including "memmaker" that could automatically load as much as possible into high memory for you."

            Those of us in the know had used QEMM for many years before Memmaker came to be, and even afterwards QEMM was much more efficient in maximizing the available memory.

            What I really hated was Origin and their stupid own memory managers starting with Ultima 7 which refused to work with QEMM, HIMEM.SYS and others.

            1. Chris King Silver badge

              Re: Feeling Old...

              "What I really hated was Origin and their stupid own memory managers starting with Ultima 7 which refused to work with QEMM, HIMEM.SYS and others".

              Origin always liked to push the hardware harder than everyone else - I still remember my local computer shop forcing anyone who wanted to buy Wing Commander II to rattle off their system specs before he would sell it to them, because so many folks returned it complaining it wouldn't run at any decent speed on a 286.

              "Yeah, you can have it - Man, I'd kill for a 386DX-33 and 2Mb of RAM !"

              Ah, how times change...

              1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

                Re: Feeling Old...

                I played all of WC2 on a 286 - you're not wrong, it was slow, particularly in the capital ship battles. Still fun though..

                Ultima VII was created in the tricky pre DPMI extender days when ways of extending memory were not standardised, I presume using EMS/XMS wasn't fast enough.

                Still, Ultima VII was a ground breaking RPG, so it can be forgiven an awful lot.

                1. Simon Harris Silver badge

                  Re: Feeling Old...

                  "I played all of WC2 on a 286 - you're not wrong, it was slow, particularly in the capital ship battles. Still fun though.."

                  I remember that, on a 12MHz 286 - it took all night to install! And you're right it was slow - in the battles it could take quite a few seconds to update the scene from one frame to the next - and in between frames you'd probably have been shot or crashed or something!

                  1. Chris King Silver badge

                    Re: Feeling Old...

                    "I remember that, on a 12MHz 286 - it took all night to install! And you're right it was slow - in the battles it could take quite a few seconds to update the scene from one frame to the next - and in between frames you'd probably have been shot or crashed or something!"

                    Then you had the exact opposite with Privateer, where asteroids would seemingly loom out of nowhere and kill you if you blinked at the wrong moment. Gothris + Asteroids = mucho dying and reloading.

              2. ChrisC

                Re: Feeling Old...

                "I still remember my local computer shop forcing anyone who wanted to buy Wing Commander II to rattle off their system specs before he would sell it to them, because so many folks returned it complaining it wouldn't run at any decent speed on a 286"

                I remember something similar happening to me when I bought SimCity 2000 for the Amiga, and even on a high-end setup like a 4K/060 with gobs of RAM it was still only just about bearable, so the warnings were entirely justified.

                I think it was only my desire to show some support for a publisher who was still willing to release Amiga titles at a time when many were getting out of the market that made me still buy the Amiga version rather than the Mac version to run under emulation (which would have then taken full advantage of the RTG card in my 4K, something the native Amiga version sadly couldn't do, hence the performance issues)...

                1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
                  Headmaster

                  Re: Feeling Old...

                  And admit it, how many late night network crashes were triggered by DOOM and those two immortal codes - IDDQD and IDKFA.

                  It says something that it's a quarter of a century ago and I can still remember them instantly. And yes, I'm another dinosaur who knew both the DOS and D&D meanings of TSR without any need for explanation...

                  1. Chris King Silver badge

                    Re: Feeling Old...

                    "And admit it, how many late night network crashes were triggered by DOOM and those two immortal codes - IDDQD and IDKFA".

                    Who remembers Hexen, which had some of the same codes but they did the exact opposite of what they did in DOOM ?

                    IDDQD = instant death, IDKFA = lose all weapons except your staff.

            2. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

              Re: Feeling Old...

              "What I really hated was Origin and their stupid own memory managers starting with Ultima 7 which refused to work with QEMM, HIMEM.SYS and others."

              JEMM was the name.

              Besides other extended memory managers it hated finicky hardware, uncommon hardware, many TSR's...scratch that, it hated just about everything and everybody. Properly grumpy bastard.

          2. Edwin

            Re: Feeling Old...

            I worked around that with a lot of batch file programming and a dozen or so different versions of CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT that were swapped in and out depending on what it was I wanted to do. Games had their own copies, but there was also a set to back up the PC to my DittomaxPro and then reboot back into the default setup.

            Good days...

            1. DuchessofDukeStreet

              Re: Feeling Old...

              I'm getting the impression that the whole development of personal computing was driven by the desire to play games?

              1. Fading Silver badge
                Coffee/keyboard

                Re: Feeling Old...

                From DOS 5.0 onwards I had a menu set up in Autoexec.bat that allowed half a dozen different configurations for different games. Origin games were the worst for needing maximum base memory and would only recognise expanded memory and not extended memory.

              2. defiler Silver badge

                Re: Feeling Old...

                I'm getting the impression that the whole development of personal computing was driven by the desire to play games?

                Hah - I know one guy whose first word of English was SoundBlaster. Further words came out of the copy-protection schemes that required the game manual...

                1. Zippy's Sausage Factory

                  Re: Feeling Old...

                  I'm getting the impression that the whole development of personal computing was driven by the desire to play games?

                  And porn. Don't forget porn.

                  1. Shadow Systems Silver badge

                    Re: Feeling Old...

                    At Zippy's Sausage Factory, even better were games that featured porn. E.G. Leisure Suit Larry.

                2. MAH

                  Re: Feeling Old...

                  Further words came out of the copy-protection schemes that required the game manual... leisure suit larry came to mind

              3. Spanners Silver badge
                Pint

                Re: Feeling Old...

                @DuchessofDukeStreet The two traditional drivers of IT are games and porn.

                This, at least partly, explains why we are now not improving so fast. The big money for games is either with consoles or with mobile devices (Android and IOS). We have allowed US "standards of decency" to pollute our life that if an MP looks at legal rude stuff, our nasty press tries to force him to resign. Yes, there is stuff that should get people sent to Gruinard or Rockall but what consenting free grown ups do in their free time is not anyone elses' business.

                Get games and adult content back in the mainstream of IT and Moores law will continue!

              4. Commswonk Silver badge

                Re: Feeling Old...

                @ DuchessofDukeStreet:

                I'm getting the impression that the whole development of personal computing was driven by the desire to play games?

                I'm getting the impression that the whole development of personal computing was is driven by the desire to play games?

                FTFY

                Same goes for broadband speed, come to think of it...

                1. A-nonCoward
                  Paris Hilton

                  Re: Feeling Old...

                  Same goes for broadband speed, come to think of it...

                  nope, that's porn....

              5. Natalie Gritpants

                Re: Feeling Old...

                That was because the graphics were not good enough for porn.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Feeling Old...

                  "That was because the graphics were not good enough for porn."

                  Printouts on 2nd generation mainframes - so called ASCII art - could be quite detailed.

                  There was even a pr0n paper tape for an electromechanical Friden Flexowriter. All it did was to move the central small head mechanism up and down in a varying speed rhythmic fashion. Very suggestive. Possibly there was also some scene-setting text printed as a preamble and postamble.

                  1. Stoneshop Silver badge

                    Re: Feeling Old...

                    There was even a pr0n paper tape for an electromechanical Friden Flexowriter.

                    a) this doesn't surprise me in the least.

                    b) as someone who has custody of a few Fridens, this is now something on the 'must have' list

                    1. Anonymous Coward
                      Anonymous Coward

                      Re: Feeling Old...

                      "b) as someone who has custody of a few Fridens, this is now something on the 'must have' list"

                      My memory has refreshed slightly overnight. IIRC the part of the mechanism that moved up and down was the red/black ribbon lifter. It started off slowly - then built up to a higher speed - before finally stopping exhausted. Part of the effect was the thumping sound that the mechanical device made?

                2. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Feeling Old...

                  Do you not remember the nude woman that could be printed out on a dot matrix printer?

                  1. Jan 0

                    Re: Feeling Old...

                    IIRC a prime selling point of the IBM 360 was that it came with a file containing "The Ballad of Eskimo Nell".

                    On the games front: don't forget that without a desire to play games, we wouldn't have Unix.

                  2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                    Re: Feeling Old...

                    "Do you not remember the nude woman that could be printed out on a dot matrix printer?"

                    I had a friend who managed to program a Juki 6100 daisy wheel to print out high res graphics using just the full stop character (by adjusting character and line spacing) and produced a surprisingly detailed nude lady on about 5 feet of wide carriage roll paper from a BBC Micro, so pretty much life size.

                3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                  Re: Feeling Old...

                  "That was because the graphics were not good enough for porn."

                  Yeah, Strip Poker was crap on the CGA PC compared to the less crap version on the Amiga :-)

              6. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                desire to play games

                And still on the cutting edge, as far as driving the demand for VR. But never forget that other great technology driver which may may not be named, driver of demand for the printing press, instant photos, video cameras and, yes, VR.

              7. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

                Re: Feeling Old...

                development of personal computing was driven by the desire to play games

                Yup. In my case, the ability to have the IBM 3270 terminal emulator programme running and still be able to play games in the background (plus quickly toggling back to the still-connected emulator if I saw my boss coming..)

              8. Jonathan Richards 1
                Go

                Re: Feeling Old...

                @Duchess

                > the whole development of personal computing was driven by the desire to play games

                Now you learned something, Your Grace.

                1. DJO Silver badge

                  Re: Feeling Old...

                  the whole development of personal computing was driven by the desire to play games

                  Only until online porn became available.

              9. Chemical Bob

                Re: Feeling Old...

                "I'm getting the impression that the whole development of personal computing was driven by the desire to play games?"

                Not entirely. Shortly after sound cards and CD drives arrived there was a tremendous explosion of low-res porno. Had to be low-res because high end video cards back then only had 1 or 2 megabytes of RAM and most monitors were only 14".

              10. 's water music Silver badge
                Pint

                Re: Feeling Old...

                I'm getting the impression that the whole development of personal computing was driven by the desire to play games?

                8-bit (or text based) graphics were not so well suited to teh pronz so what you gonna do?

                maybe that -------->

              11. A-nonCoward

                Re: Feeling Old...

                I've always blamed the success of Windows on Solitaire.

              12. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                Re: Feeling Old...

                "I'm getting the impression that the whole development of personal computing was driven by the desire to play games?"

                It still is. Gamers are the early adopters for faster CPUs, faster/better GPUs, bigger, higher res screens, water cooler overclocking etc. (with occasional blips from sciency types and cryptocoin miners)

          3. JimboSmith Silver badge

            Re: Feeling Old...

            Indeed, I remember having two or three different boot floppies around for certain different games. I still remember today that Dune 2 needed 604k of free conventional memory in order to run. DOS 6 then came along and made the process a lot easier by including "memmaker" that could automatically load as much as possible into high memory for you.

            Oh goodness I remember trying to get Dune 2 to work. That makes me feel bloody old. I learned a lot from spending time on that game and getting it to work. It's interesting to think that I can run that on my phone now and not some boxy computer and CRT monitor.

            1. David Given

              Re: Feeling Old...

              Dune2's been ported to Android, by the way, cutscenes and all. Sadly it's not on Google Play because... the dev seems to be a jerk... but it's still available as a sideload if you dare.

              http://www.overclock.net/forum/82-video-games-general/1498738-did-anyone-play-dune-2-android-if-so-sorry.html

              http://epicport.com/en/dune2/android

          4. Spanners Silver badge
            Go

            Re: Feeling Old... - memmaker

            I remember when that came along. Pushed as the cure to all memory needs by a senior manager.

            I used to take joy in doing it manually and getting more contiguous free base memory and showing him...

          5. 2Nick3 Bronze badge

            Re: Feeling Old...

            I see your "Dune 2" and raise you a "Comanche CD" - IIRC you needed 608k with the CDROM driver loaded. You couldn't do it if you had a SCSI card, and the Plextor drivers were tough to get to work. There was a generic driver (oakcdrom.sys ??) that was smaller and worked.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Feeling Old...

              ah, yes, oakcdrom came on the later versions of the win95 floppy disk. It was amazingly useful!

          6. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: Feeling Old...

            that could automatically load as much as possible into high memory for you

            My experience of memmaker was that you had to do considerable tweaking afterwards to get stuff to actually work properly. Especially as some drivers & TSRs really, really didn't like being loaded into himem (I have a vague memory that some of the network drivers came into that category - they wouldn't crash but the network would refuse to work. Or work intermittently - which is a token-ring network can cause problems as it might fail during token-release..)

          7. Mark 85 Silver badge

            @Dave K -- Re: Feeling Old...

            But remember that Bill said we the most memory we'll ever need is 650k. Until DOS 6 or so came out, that is.

            1. TonyJ Silver badge

              Re: @Dave K -- Feeling Old...

              "...But remember that Bill said we the most memory we'll ever need is 650k. Until DOS 6 or so came out, that is..."

              Apparently not - just one of many articles over the years I've seen where he completely denies it:

              https://www.computerworld.com/article/2534312/operating-systems/the--640k--quote-won-t-go-away----but-did-gates-really-say-it-.html

              Whilst Gates has occasionally remembered history quite differently to others, shall we say, it's interesting that no one actually seems to know anyone who heard this said.

        2. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
          WTF?

          Re: Feeling Old...

          Kids these days don't understand that we used to have to buy a card specifically to get sound out of a computer, then configure each application for it.

          Those cards were about 4x the size of a Raspberry Pi. And about 4x the cost.

          Damn I feel old too.

          1. AbelSoul
            Trollface

            Re: Feeling Old...

            Kids these days don't understand that we used to have to buy a card specifically to get sound out of a computer

            To be fair, having grown up using a Commodore16 then eventually an Amiga, on encountering an "IBM Compatible" for the first time, I didn't understand that either; "What do you mean, it can only go beep?"

          2. Alister Silver badge

            Re: Feeling Old...

            Kids these days don't understand that we used to have to buy a card specifically to get sound out of a computer,

            And a card to connect the networking!

            Who remembers the joys of setting jumpers on a 3Com Etherlink card to get the IRQ and base address set correctly.

            1. richardcox13

              Re: Feeling Old...

              > Who remembers the joys of setting jumpers on a 3Com Etherlink card to get the IRQ and base address set correctly.

              That is not a definition of "joy" I am familiar with.

              Going systematically through all possibilities and none worked, only to try again from the beginning to realise you didn't start at the beginning the first time and if you had then it would have worked first time.

            2. Steve the Cynic Silver badge

              Re: Feeling Old...

              Who remembers the joys of setting jumpers on a 3Com Etherlink card to get the IRQ and base address set correctly.

              Pfft. I had a pair (for $JOB) in 1989 that would not talk to each other over thinwire even though the IRQs and such were correctly configured. Both ends would talk to their respective cards, but there was the "other" jumper to consider.

              The one that selected thinwire or AUI thickwire.

              And wasn't the same on both cards.

              1. Dabooka Silver badge

                Re: Feeling Old...

                Such happy days, each box has the finely honed boot disc inside. Magazines cover discs bursting with utilities that promised to magically maximise available ram but invariably did naff all. And 640k? Luxury! My first PC (an old one I re-purposed form a skip) had 512 and an Amstrad logo.

                I do remember the day I got a brand new freshly released SouindBlaster AWE 32 sound card. The hassle the tears getting that set up, and that was before we attached a CD rom to one of the (3?) interface options. Panasonic, Soundbalster and.....? Not IDE but can't recall the third one. Any one remember?

                1. Alister Silver badge

                  Re: Feeling Old...

                  ...we attached a CD ROM to one of the (3?) interface options. Panasonic, Soundblaster and.....? Not IDE but can't recall the third one. Any one remember?

                  ATAPI, or SCSI?

                  1. defiler Silver badge

                    Re: Feeling Old...

                    > ...we attached a CD ROM to one of the (3?) interface options. Panasonic, Soundblaster and.....? Not IDE but can't recall the third one. Any one remember?

                    ATAPI, or SCSI?

                    ATAPI?? Pfft. Mitsumi, I believe is the word we're looking for. It was Panasonic / Sony / Mitsumi.

                    1. Dabooka Silver badge

                      Re: Feeling Old...

                      Ah, thanks Defiler.

                      Of course I could just have Googled the answer, but that's not we're here for though is it?!

                  2. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

                    Re: Feeling Old...

                    Mitsumi?

                2. Chris King Silver badge

                  Re: Feeling Old...

                  "The hassle the tears getting that set up, and that was before we attached a CD rom to one of the (3?) interface options. Panasonic, Soundbalster and.....? Not IDE but can't recall the third one. Any one remember?"

                  Some had ATAPI or SCSI as a 3rd option.

                  Panasonic also got referred to as "MKE" (Matsushita-Kotobuki Electronics ?)

                  1. kain preacher Silver badge

                    Re: Feeling Old...

                    Third option was ide

                    it goes Panasonic,ide mitshi, sony

                3. DJO Silver badge

                  Re: Feeling Old...

                  On DOS5.0 with MS LAN MAN and NETBEUI loaded.

                  You utter bastard, I'd managed (with considerable effort and chemical assistance) to forget NETBEUI.

                  Now I'll have to spend another week pissed to try to burn out the afflicted brain cells.

                4. Stoneshop Silver badge

                  Re: Feeling Old...

                  Panasonic, Soundbalster and.....? Not IDE but can't recall the third one. Any one remember?

                  Mitsumi.

                  (where's that cobwebs icon?)

                5. Jerrycan

                  Re: Feeling Old...

                  I think the third cdrom interface was for a mitsumi CD drive, popular at the time.

                6. Charles 9 Silver badge

                  Re: Feeling Old...

                  Probably Mitsumi. Was my first experience with CD-ROMs, and since it was pre-ATAPI, that meant FUN, especially if you wanted maximum performance which meant using a dedicated interface card instead of piggybacking on a sound card.

            3. Andrew Moore Silver badge

              Re: Feeling Old...

              I do remember setting jumpers on Serial Cards - Com1 0x3F8, IRQ4; Com2 0x2F8, IRQ3...

            4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: Feeling Old...

              "on encountering an "IBM Compatible" for the first time, I didn't understand that either; "What do you mean, it can only go beep?"

              To be fair, it could do a lot more than just beep with careful programming of the beeper hardware. It was still pretty crap though I did once download a file from a BBS that played back a recording of someone saying "Help, someone get me oughta here, I'm trapped in this computer" through the beeper. Admittaly mine actually had a 2" speaker attached to the headers and not a puny soldered on beeper.

            5. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: Feeling Old...

              "And a card to connect the networking!"

              As one of the magazines of the day put it (more or less)

              One day the PC makers woke up to find a 900 Pound Gorilla sitting on their lawn. The "PC XT" was laughably slow and had a derisory amount of memory, didn't have sound or graphics and literally everything was an added-cost plugin extra. But what it did have was three magic letters on the front: "IBM"

          3. ChrisC

            Re: Feeling Old...

            "we used to have to buy a card specifically to get sound out of a computer"

            Depending on how far back you want to go, you can also add to that:

            "having to buy a card specifically to hook up a hard drive"

            "having to buy a card specifically to hook up a CD-ROM drive"

            "having to buy a card specifically to hook up a joystick"

            etc. etc.

            And then having bought all those cards and worked up a sweat getting them all physically installed OK (how I never snapped a motherboard in half whilst trying to get some of the larger ISA cards seated properly in their slots I'll never know), you then had the hours of enjoyment figuring out exactly how to get them all configured in a way that manages, somehow, to avoid IRQ conflicts...

            1. MAH

              Re: Feeling Old...

              Remember DMA ports....those added additional fun

          4. PM from Hell
            Facepalm

            Re: Feeling Old...

            I'm afraid your memory has blotted out some of the pain

            Kids these days don't understand that we used to have to buy a card specifically to get sound out of a computer, then re-configure each application for it. Then change the card config setting each time we switched applications.

            FTFY

          5. Updraft102 Silver badge

            Re: Feeling Old...

            Kids these days don't understand that we used to have to buy a card specifically to get sound out of a computer, then configure each application for it.

            Not just sound, either. You also had to buy a card specifically if you wanted any I/O ports (serial or parallel), a network card, a floppy drive, a hard drive, or a picture on a screen. The AT keyboard port could be plugged directly into the motherboard, but that was it. Everything else came on an ISA card, though in those days we just called them "8 bit card" or "16 bit card".

            I wouldn't say that kids these days don't get that... while I am sure it's true, it's so far in the past for them that they don't even have a frame of reference with which to think of it at all.

            1. Barry Rueger Silver badge

              Re: Feeling Old...

              You also had to buy a card specifically if you wanted any I/O ports (serial or parallel), a network card, a floppy drive, a hard drive, or a picture on a screen.

              It still pleases me no end that I can just buy a motherboard, CPU, and RAM, and know that everything I need is either on-board or plugs into USB, and "Just Works."

              And that in most cases I can take a USB stick with just about any Linux distro and have a fully functioning system in about 15 minutes.

              Yes, I recall the days when setting up a new PC was a multiple day project with several dozen floppies.

              1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

                Re: Feeling Old...

                You're not wrong - well, at least not until an onboard device burns out. I've managed to kill a USB port in my secondary system, and the video in my pentium 3 based firewall. In the latter case I stuck in an ISA video card, and was glad it still worked!

                (yes, I do need to pony up the cash for a nice pair of apu2c4 firewalls, instead of running crappy old kit, already right on the edge of its onboard storage)

            2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: Feeling Old...

              though in those days we just called them "8 bit card" or "16 bit card".

              Bloody kids today. They won't believe that the first IBM PCs and compatibles didn't need an 8/16 bit differentiator because they only had an 8 bit bus.

              1. Mark 85 Silver badge

                Re: Feeling Old...

                Bloody kids today. They won't believe that the first IBM PCs and compatibles didn't need an 8/16 bit differentiator because they only had an 8 bit bus.

                They'd howl and scream if it were even a 16 bit and had to wait a few milliseconds for their computer or cellphone to do something.

        3. Solviva

          Re: Feeling Old...

          Oh the joys of fiddling and then discovering it was actually possible to have > 640k base memory! Can't for the life of me remember what was needed, I think things loaded in config.sys needed to be somewhat compliant so they didn't start eating up memory at 640k. Fun fun fun

          1. ralphh

            > 640k base memory

            I had a 64k card I could map to the address space directly above the 640k and a .com executable ran on startup changing the top memory address to 704k. The same machine also had a NEC V20 replacing the Intel 8088.

            1. Cab

              Re: > 640k base memory

              Ah the memory allocation table layout, knowing where Windows 3 loaded the CGA driver in memory so you could overwrite them with something else because you were posh and had a VGA card, those where the days.

              At Uni though I had an Amiga and a hardware PC emulator, (an actual board with a 286 on it, you lifted out the Amiga's 68000 chip, stuck it on this board with the 286 and plugged it back into the CPU socket) but this had the fantastic feature that when you booted it into PC mode you could have access to the Amiga's entire 1MB of Ram in DOS, the luxury. Only ever used it for Turbo Pascal and Dbase IV obviously because the games were better on the Amiga side.

          2. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

            Re: Feeling Old...

            You can have >640K of base memory by including memory that might otherwise be used by the graphics adapter, if you know the video mode will not be used. I tried it once and it 'worked' but was incredibly slow. Can't remember the setting in DOS off the top of my head (probably an EMM386 switch), it's also an easily ticked box in OS/2 DOS boxes.

            The record of jumper settings was vital - I had to get a new vesa local bus (horrid bus, my least favourite) I/O card recently as I'd lost the jumper settings for the original one, there were no identifiable markings on the card, and no-one online knew either (eventually I found a photocopy of the page..)

            The Gravis Ultrasound wasn't really that decent a card, other than being essential for sound in a small but select number of demoscene demos. Too many different types, didn't support Adlib/OPL, and game compatibility was hit and miss.

            The good news is that the advent of the FreeDOS project has spawned a load of highly efficient support utilities, such as memory managers, mouse drivers, and networking/packet drivers. It's only the work of one evening to construct a DOS system capable of running anything you'd want. FTP with a packet driver is a lot easier to get going than loading up the ancient SMB client, too.

            I started out by fiddling with DOS 4.01, the least compact DOS version, getting games running in that wasn't fun..

          3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: Feeling Old...

            Can't for the life of me remember what was needed

            An extended memory card (I think it was extended memory that allowed mapping of stuff into the 641K-1024K region).

            Expanded memory could be used (assuming that you had a 386) to sort-of-do multitaking with QEMM. Even on a PS/2 50z (286 processor) you could (sort of) do multitasking as long as you had the right memory card.

            1. Stoneshop Silver badge

              Re: Feeling Old...

              An extended memory card (I think it was extended memory that allowed mapping of stuff into the 641K-1024K region).

              Expanded. Which had a window somewhere in the free space between 640k and 1M (upper memory) that it mapped pages into (LIM-EMS: Lotus-Intel-Microsoft). And if you had a 286 or 386 with particular chipsets, QEMM could move RAM around into upper memory not occupied by ROM so that it could load drivers and TSRs in there.

              Expanded memory could be used (assuming that you had a 386) to sort-of-do multitaking with QEMM. Even on a PS/2 50z (286 processor) you could (sort of) do multitasking as long as you had the right memory card.

              That was DesqView, which wanted extended memory. And it was good enough that it could run two copies of Windows 3.1 in 8086 (real?) mode.

        4. Dan 55 Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: Feeling Old...

          Those of us who had Amigas don't feel old as it just worked (tm).

        5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Feeling Old...

          "Kids these days will never understand the trauma of trying to get 600k of base memory."

          And kids of your days never understood the trauma of 64k with a lump taken out of it for BIOS. Cue Four Yorkshiremen sketch from Dabbsy's latest.

        6. Evil Auditor Silver badge

          Re: Feeling Old...

          The mighty, mighty Gravis Ultrasound! Lots of fiddling. But its wavetable sound was worth everything. And hours, no days!, of tinkering with tracker software and .mod files...

        7. JimC Silver badge

          Re: Feeling Old...

          600: pah. We had a Unisys Office automation application that required about 620, and we needed to run a Netware LAN stack as well.

        8. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: Feeling Old...

          bought a Soundblaster instead

          I got my first sound card (SB16+CDRom drive) as a freebie - went to a computer show and IBM were flogging OS/2 Warp+sound card+CDRom drive at a cost lower than just buying OS/2 on its own.

          Being somewhat cheeky, I managed to get some OS/2 t-shirts thrown into the mix too.. (which I still have - somewhere in a moth-proof bag along with all the music t-shirts that I want to keep).

      3. paulf Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Feeling Old...

        @TonyJ "Remember wrangling with the order things loaded in autoexec.bat and config.sys too, just to be able to get a game or program to run properly. And I used to think that kind of thing was fun!"

        I recall it very well. Back in the day my 486-DX2 50 laptop (the first with an integrated double speed CD-ROM drive no less!) had about 9 different configurations (selected at boot up) in the config.sys and autoexec.bat to either load full fat everything for Win 3.11 and applications or just load the bare minimum tailored for this or that game.

        When I went to university I took up the option of a network connection in my Hall bedroom (a 10MBps always on 10baseT ja.net connection for £50 was incredible compared to the V.90 modems of the day). I left my computer with the config guys to install the network card and required software+drivers and returned after lectures to find machine all sorted and working. Then the config guy cheerfully told me he'd run "memmaker"* to ensure DOS loaded the network stuff optimally. I almost used his head to test how robust the solid metal display casing was (the CF-41 was an early Panasonic tough book).

        *Those who didn't know what a TSR is, probably won't be familiar with memmaker - a DOS tool for "optimising" the stuff loaded at boot up. Fine for simple configs but it totally mangled setups like mine

        1. Peter2 Silver badge

          Re: Feeling Old...

          I'm getting the impression that the whole development of personal computing was driven by the desire to play games?

          Pretty much. "The 7th Guest" was the killer app that sold the CD-ROM drive in it's infancy.

          1. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

            All together now:

            640k ought to be enough for everybody

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: All together now:

              640k ought to be enough for everybody

              Don't forget the weird memory addressing scheme, where you had the 64K page and then the offset.

              I did read somewhere that the reason that they did that and why 640K was chosen was for backwards compatibility with 8 bit CP/M programs. The idea was that each program could run in a 64K and not interfere while multitasking. Ten pages for 640K memory.

              I read this and thought this sounds a lot like virtualisation! Just like modern PCs!

            2. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: All together now:

              "640k ought to be enough for everybody"

              And 4 billion IP addresses ought to be enough whilst we wait for IPX to be released.

              Didn't you ever wonder why there's no IPv5?

          2. Helldesk Dogsbody

            Re: 7th Guest

            Still one of my fonder gaming experiences. Privateer 2 (yes, the one with the HUGE for the time FMV segments on the disc) was another one somewhere back then that took a bit of a spannering :D

            1. Chris King Silver badge

              Re: 7th Guest

              For those of you who haven't had the "pleasure" of playing Privateer 2, save yourself the grief and check out Spoony's review.

              The FMV movie stuff can all be found here

              .

        2. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Feeling Old...

          "Then the config guy cheerfully told me he'd run "memmaker"* to ensure DOS loaded the network stuff optimally."

          And you laughed as you copied the old config in from backups elswehere on the disk.

          Except you didn't do that, did you?

      4. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Feeling Old...

        Token Ring...the bane of my existence for about five years. A networking technology whose time took too long in going. Way too much pain for way too little performance.

        And I also remember the joys of QEMM...the extended (or was it "expanded"?) memory manager that worked...most of the time...until you really needed it, then it crashed the whole system.

        Of course, Windows 3.1 with the "optional" TCP/IP package, which had to be obtained from a third party, because Microsoft couldn't imagine why anyone needed networking.

        Good times...

    2. Trygve Henriksen

      Re: Feeling Old...

      I used to manually edit Config.sys and Autoexec bat to push free RAM to more than 600KB so that AutoCAD would run...

      On DOS5.0 with MS LAN MAN and NETBEUI loaded.

      Then we added Wollogong Pathway TCP/IP(took 40KB)

      On DOS 6.0 it got easier, and I often got it to 639KB.

      The CADders worshipped me.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Feeling Old... For not needing an explanation of TSR!

      Tactical Studies Rules, wasn't it? I always preferred 2nd edition D&D, myself, but that's just because its what I started off with.

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: Feeling Old... For not needing an explanation of TSR!

        preferred 2nd edition D&D, myself, but that's just because its what I started off with

        AD&D for me.. (now Pathfinder - dug out the old AD&D rulebooks recently - I'd forgotten how limiting they were.)

    4. Tinslave_the_Barelegged Silver badge

      Re: Feeling Old...

      > For not needing an explanation of TSR!

      My Sidekick agrees too....

      1. Black Betty

        Re: Feeling Old...

        I see what you did there. And now I feel old too.

      2. elDog Silver badge

        Re: Feeling Old... Sidekick and PC-Outilne

        Now I'm really old - IBM 1401 variety and prior to that tabulators and plug-boards, etc.

        However getting back to TSRs (they're still here, just called device drivers, etc.), I was very careful to get Sidekick loaded and then PC-Outline (PCO). PCO was the absolute best outliner and it probably still could run rings around any MS Word/etc..

        As in many of these TSRs, the big problems were enough memory to keep them all and the constant battle for hot keys.

      3. Colin Bull 1

        My Sidekick agrees too..

        That was the ultimate TSR program. I do not think there has ever been anything to better it. It was always your best friend on a boot floppy. And it was free with an AST 6 pack.

    5. WallMeerkat Bronze badge

      Re: Feeling Old...

      Ah the old boot disks for that game that, despite having an early-mid 90s adequate amount of 12mb RAM needed that extra 5k of base 640k.

      Then realising that a menu driven autoexec.bat/config.sys would allow to do away with boot disks.

    6. Roj Blake Silver badge

      Re: Feeling Old...

      Wasn't it TSR who back in the day published Dungeons & Dragons?

      1. albegadeep

        Re: Feeling Old...

        Wasn't it TSR who back in the day published Dungeons & Dragons?

        Ah, memories of the Gold Box Games. Produced by SSI (Strategic Simulations, Inc.), they used 2nd Edition AD&D, licensed from TSR (Tactical Studies Rules). The last game actually used VGA graphics and sound cards. Ah, the stacks of 5.25" floppy disks those used. I still play the series occasionally, though I use the Forgotten Realms Silver Archives version and DOSBox.

      2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: Feeling Old...

        Wasn't it TSR who back in the day published Dungeons & Dragons?

        Yup. They then got borged by Wizards of the Coast. (Actually - more accurately "thrown a lifeline" since TSR were about to go out of business).

    7. Proud Father

      Re: Feeling Old...

      >> For not needing an explanation of TSR!

      Same.

      I also did some 8088 assembler programming for local company as an intern.

      No virtual memory, just segments. Still find "FAR CALL" humorous today ;)

    8. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Feeling Old...

      For not needing an explanation of TSR!

      Feeling even older - I wrote one at one point.

      Can't remember what for - I think it was to help with automating testing..

      1. Simon Harris Silver badge

        Re: Feeling Old...

        "Feeling even older - I wrote [a TSR] at one point."

        I wrote a few - some were just to annoy people by meddling with the palette settings on timer interrupts. One was actual real work to control a data-logger in a weather station, download its readings hourly and save them to disc.

        Back in the day (mid 80s) when PCs were expensive so it ran as background task on a computer that might well be used for other things.

        I seem to remember file operations in TSRs were a pain as MS-DOS INT 21 calls weren't re-entrant.

      2. ma1010 Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Feeling Old...

        Yes, TSR's. I wrote one, too. A friend of mine who edited video wanted a calculator that would take a time and add/subtract so much time from it. I wrote him a TSR on-screen calculator app that he used along with Multimate (remember that?) on his PC. The video editing at that time was NOT done on computer - not for years, yet.

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Feeling Old...

        "Feeling even older - I wrote one at one point."

        Me too. Mine was for doing screen captures of user selected portions of the screen for computer based training authoring package I wrote. $Deity, how primitive it was back then! But you could bang the hardware and write a complex system alone without having to resort to 3rd party libraries.

    9. Dr Who

      Re: Feeling Old...

      device=himem.sys

      device=emm386.exe noems

      dos=high,umb

      devicehigh=ansi.sys

      files=40

      buffers=20

      Happy days spent crafting config.sys

    10. Andy A

      Re: Feeling Old...

      Not only do I remember TSRs, but I wrote a few.

      The ultimate combination program had differing, but related, effects when (a) installed as a device driver, (b) run in DOS to become a TSR (c) run in DOS to pass information for the TSR to process and (d) run inside Windows 3.x.

    11. A-nonCoward
      Coffee/keyboard

      Feeling TOO old Re: Feeling Old...

      for forgetting what TSR meant. Of course I knew it, but.it.was.gone. Wjhere's my glasses, now?

    12. Shadow Systems Silver badge

      Re: Feeling Old...

      Bah!

      Danged whippersnappers and your newfangled universe.

      *Shakes a palsied & fossilized tentacle*

      Get off my Big Bang!

      =-)p

    13. cutterman

      Re: Feeling Old...

      TSRs - such fun watching them fight over the interrupts…NOT!

      And the fun of trying to shoehorn a bunch into the boot sequence.

      I remember that some would temporarily need a much larger chunk of memory to initialise than they eventually occupied and you had to get the loading order just right.

      Not to speak of getting the interrupts hooked in the right sequence!

      Mac

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Feeling Old...

        "Not to speak of getting the interrupts hooked in the right sequence!"

        I'd forgotten about that! A bloody TSR written by someone arrogant enough to think theirs would be the only one loaded so didn't gracefully pass on activation key-presses properly to next in line. If you only had one like that, you could load it last. If you had two like that you were either stuffed or had to find some way to patch it.

    14. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Feeling Old...

      If you're even older you'll remember it as a D&D games company

    15. henryd

      Re: Feeling Old...

      I still remember pre-DOS and even pre-CPM when the input device was a teletype, so no on-screen detection.

      We had a program (weren't call apps back then) where you had to type OFF to leave it. As there was no way of correcting typos the program just looked at the last 3 characters typed in.

      A technician using the program forgot the OFF sequence and tried typing in EXIT, BYE, DONE etc all to no avail. Finally in a fit of rage he typed in F*** OFF. Bingo!

    16. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Feeling Old...

      Feeling Old...

      For not needing an explanation of TSR!

      Feeling even older for associating "TSR" with Dungeons and Dragons.

  2. Dr_N Silver badge

    Engineer?

    “the long-serving engineer with plenty of experience of this process forgot ALT-CTRL-F10 and used CTRL-ALT-DEL as the shortcut instead.”

    Obviously not a real engineer if they were using a PC instead of a real workstation?

  3. chivo243 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Book on the keyboard

    That's a facepalm I've seen a few times. One user was even a bit angry that I pointed it out! I guess nobody wants to look foolish...

    1. Simon Harris Silver badge

      Re: Book on the keyboard

      Done that a few times, gone away, come back and then wondered why my program won't compile when it turns out a keyword is bisected by 3,000 spaces.

  4. defiler Silver badge

    Typo? We have it all the time

    User phones up.

    "The system's not working"

    Remote into their terminal. Watch them put in the wrong password 3 times. Advise to restart their terminal.

    ...

    2 mins later - "It's fine now - I guess it's fixed itself", only with the undertone that we've been spending our spare time just breaking shit for laughs, and we shouldn't be mucking about with it...

  5. Tezfair
    Happy

    Ahh yes

    Many a time I have had calls from customers saying the server was making a beeping noise and upon hearing said noise over the phone asked if there was anything on the keyboard.

    1. A-nonCoward

      Re: Ahh yes

      >asked if there was anything on the keyboard.

      cheers to that honest poor guy who's going nuts because he spilled coffee on the keyboard, thinking he had broken the $5,000 computer (and keyboards in those days could take a good wash and be fine after hanging out to dry. Even had to do that once with a dozen 5 1/4 floppies - with data (ahem, games) that had fallen into a puddle when running out of the rain - they all worked)

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Ahh yes

        Keyboards today are still decently sturdy. Managed to delouse one after a soda spill. Keys pulled out easily for a tumble job, housing could be hosed, contact membrane came off for a handjob, and the board itself cleaned up nicely with 91% isopropanol.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Ahh yes

          Hmmm..... Ocause the membrane comes of for the handjob, it is only in more direct contact it is needed....

          In both cases, you often go "Ahh yes"..

      2. TonyJ Silver badge

        Re: Ahh yes

        In my absence one day a guy's secretary called our workshop. They had a repair contract with the company I worked for.

        So I come back in and this guy is on the phone ranting and wanting to speak with me, personally.

        Ok..

        He explained that he'd spilled coffee on his keyboard and when his secretary called about it she was instructed to rinse it under a tap and put in a warm dry place to dry off.

        Ok, says I - perfectly sound advice. What's wrong?

        "It's a effing ThinkPad...."

        Apparently the whole laptop angle wasn't brought up.

        Oops

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Memmaker, bleh!

    I remember, many moons ago, attending some education at Dell (I was working for an IT retail company at the time), where they recommended Memmaker to make as much 640K memory space as possible. As we had multiple machines with the same spec, we decided to have "a race", a human (me) vs Memmaker. Not only did I re-write the config.sys and autoexec.bat files faster, but I also freed up more 640k space (I confess to also being a trained typist). DOS6 also introduced the Multiconfig file which was great (choose the memory configuration you want on startup).

    I made my employer a lot of money as they charged 25 pounds a shot to re-write the config.sys/autoexec.bat but for the machines the store had sold, I just created a bootable floppy disk with all the different files for the different PCs and you could just choose which one you wanted to copy over.

    Strangely enough our configurations service was very popular (even at 25 pounds in the early 90s) but I never had a single customer come back to complain..... then Windows 95 happened and opened a whole new "box of worms".

    God, I miss the old DOS/Windows, 386/486 processor days (now I really sound old!)

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Incompatible Hands

    I can remember being called up to the firm owner's office as his machine wasn't doing what he wanted.

    I asked him to show me what was happening, on the second or third attempt I noticed his typing style and large hands meant he was triggering other keys.

    Thankfully he was a really nice guy and saw the funny side, he was far nicer than many line managers I've suffered with over the years, as I suggested he changed his typing style or went for hand reduction surgery.

  8. BebopWeBop Silver badge

    Wull

    knowing real users, I can't help feeling that ctrl-alt-F10 was not the best key combination to choose.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Fat Finger Syndrome

      I worked for a utilities company who had given hand held pc's to the field engineers. User acceptance testing went like a dream then the app hit the field. It was almost unusable. It turns out that engineers who spend most of their life in ditches moving gas mains or high voltage cables have huge hands. The only fix available was to issue them with dainty little stylus's. The sight of a middle aged beefy gas engineer trying to use the tiny screen and stylus was a joy to behold. Thank god for devices like the toughbook which came along much later.

    2. gcla72
      Facepalm

      Re: Wull

      I recall a brand new Dell in 1992 where Ctrl+Alt+Enter opened up the bios settings. A bout of panicked keyboard stabbing followed by a manual power down (pulling the cable out the back) led the the disk cyclinders etc. settings being wrong. Took a while to work that one out.

      1. Simon Harris Silver badge

        Re: Wull

        Ah, the BIOS settings key combination.

        Why does every PC seem to have its own key combination to get into the BIOS?

        1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

          Re: Wull

          "Why does every PC seem to have its own key combination to get into the BIOS?"

          And why do none of them bother to accept more than one combination? I mean, there are only half a dozen combinations in common use. No other key combinations are meaningful at that point in time, and it can't take more than a few dozen bytes of code space in the ROM.

        2. elDog Silver badge

          Re: Wull - Ah, the BIOS settings key combination.

          Even all of my ThinkPads (around 10 varieties) have different sequences to get into (or stay out of ) the BIOS.

          And naturally, the BIOS is not just one monolithic well-behaved POS. It includes a whole lot of RAID, SCSI, special HW, video, etc. drivers that may have their own keystrokes to activate.

          And you are given somewhere between 0.25 and 1.50 seconds to decide if you want to interact with some ancient arcane bit of cursors.h software that will probably brick you machine if you answer the questions in some fashion it doesn't like. (Since I'm on a rant - this is the way the POS POS (second POS is for Point-Of-Sale) terminals/card-readers work in the USofA. They ask you a series of stupid questions and if you answer one of them incorrectly, you start all over again with the acne-faced clerk laughing and the line of customers behind wishing you were dead.)

          Then, after the BIOS Inquisition, you are entered into some newly devised OS questionnaire. Altho MS has made this easier by recently not making the fact that you need to recover a f'd up OS by pressing F8(!??) to bring up their own little selection window.

          I'll leave now since one of my MS/Lenovo machines refuses to install some new "VERY IMPORTANT" update even tho I've gone through the fantastically-shitty help pages a few times. Does anyone know if I can run Linux on a Yoga 900?

  9. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    Bah. I used OS/2 (from 2.1 up to 4) - the DOS session had most of the 640k available.

    No more struggling to get preciouses RAM to be freed...

    But I still remember the fun to be had by trying to optimize a Novell Netware 3.1 boot image for maximum RAM, and have IPX/SPX loaded... Netware 4 changed the rules of the game by foisting an entirely diffferent method upon us, and we had to redo the boot images until we got a working one with enough RAM for the DOS apps to run....

  10. gotes

    On call

    I love the On Call comments section, it's often better than the article itself, there's no tiresome "mine's better than yours" debates, and not a downvote in sight!

    1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: On call

      oh yeah?

      ps : upvoted it, some other barsteward downvoted it

      1. gotes

        Re: On call

        I was kind of asking for it, really.

    2. Korev Silver badge
      Coffee/keyboard

      Re: On call

      "and not a downvote in sight!"

      I'm afraid this was my reaction when I saw it -->

  11. Chris Miller

    The DP manager's secretary complained that erroneous characters kept appearing in her documents. She was a well-endowed young lady, and we deduced that the keyboard was being depressed by parts of her anatomy that nature had not intended for such a purpose ...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "the keyboard was being depressed by parts of her anatomy "

      Really? Some people would be very happy with that rubbing all over them!

    2. Simon Harris Silver badge

      I suspect her workstation may have contravened the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 - either that or she needed a better bra!

  12. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    Now that VLB got mentioned, anybody who managed to get rock solid performance from that piece of duff?

    I managed to scrounge a PC together from parts and! VLB!!! video!

    Suffice to say I tossed said VLB video card and installed a PCI video card - was much more reliabler (and faster).

    In another instance, Novell Netware and an VLB IDE card = disaster, had to reinstall that thing twice before tossing said VLB card and installing a normal IDE card - never had any issue from that any more. And yes, the VLB NLM was loaded.

    1. Alistair Silver badge
      Windows

      @ASAC

      I had a couple of Vesa local bus video cards that worked rather well for me, but at the time I was contracted to the guys that marketed the Rage+ VLB cards. I kinda had a good idea of the way the code was wired.....

    2. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
      Linux

      > Now that VLB got mentioned, anybody who managed to get rock solid performance from that piece of duff?

      Yes. You needed to stay away from 50 MHz boards (just out of spec AFAIR), get a good mainboard and good VLB components. A very good test for whether your computer was stable (with, importantly, sound and VLB graphics both simultaneously active) was running DOOM overnight. Unstable systems would crash or hang within the first two minutes, somewhat stable systems would survive 30 minutes or so, solid systems would survive the overnight run.

      Said stable systems, and only those, would also survive running Linux.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        That was because 50MHz was a nonstandard bus speed. VLB was built with a 33MHz bus in mind. As long as you stuck to doubled 66MHz or tripled 100Mhz CPUs you should be OK.

    3. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

      Yes. My 486 system was a DX33 and was solid as a rock. I still think VLB is a horrid system and a pain to insert and remove, but the 486 had everything thrown at it - OS/2 (bought specifically for that purpose..), Linux, BSD, DOS, Windows NT...

    4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Now that VLB got mentioned, anybody who managed to get rock solid performance from that piece of duff?"

      Speaking of which, anyone remember MicroChannel on IBM PS2 computers? That was a pain in the arse!

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      VESA was the "cheaper" system compared to PCI.

      PCI was touted as the bus of the future - along with something called Universal Serial Bus. For quite a while both those seemed to be destined to be dead end branches of PC hardware.

      1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

        Nah. It took a while for USB to become established, but it was clear from quite early on that PCI would win.

        I bought my 486 at the time when PCI was only just being introduced, and had an appreciable price premium, one that many buyers and builders weren't too happy about paying. However, everyone knew that VLB was tied to the processor speed and this wasn't sustainable. Not to mention VLB was limited to an absolute maximum of three slots, and most people ran with a graphics card and an I/O card.

        It wasn't a huge issue for most people to buy VLB systems, though, early PCI implementations had quirks, and for anything unusual that needed throughput EISA or Microchannel was already being used. ISA was still fast enough for any non graphics/IO work a general user needed.

  13. Smoking Man

    Even the classical UNIX workstations.

    Had a customer call me why the disk of one UNIX workstation filled up to 99, maybe 100%.

    Lucky me, I could connect via modem and kermit to that system.

    Turned out that during the managers two weeks vacation his secretary started the daily backup.

    Backup device: /dev/rmt/0m

    Since she was used to a PC keyboard, not to that somewhat special UNIX keyboard, she specified the backup device file as CTRL-7devCTRL-7rmtCTRL-70m

    The backup ran until the disk was full..

    But it was quick!

    1. elDog Silver badge

      Re: Even the classical UNIX workstations.

      Oh, Kermit. I loved you - you were my friend and I'm sure we would rule the world together, benevolently of course.

      That makes me wonder how many shortcut keys my little amygdala has tried to keep track of depending on the typing context.

      WordStar, WordPro, Ami, Lotus xxx, Brief, CodeWright, Visual Studio ad nauseum, browsers, shells, desktops, three-fingers, etc.

      Some become really second nature (Slow Thinking?) and if someone asks me how I did that I couldn't explain.

      Some are constant retreats to cheat sheets or just using the f'in mouse.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Even the classical UNIX workstations.

        "WordStar, WordPro, Ami, Lotus xxx, Brief, CodeWright, Visual Studio ad nauseum, browsers, shells, desktops, three-fingers, etc."

        I know the human brain has a defrag function (dreaming) but does it have a delete function? Or are all those now useless keyboard shortcuts just wasting space? Anyone know the cluster size used in the brains high level format?

  14. J P
    Coat

    TSR?

    Always preferred TSR-2 myself...

    1. La Barbe D'Action

      Re: TSR?

      The TSR-2 was great, as was its predecessor, the TSR1....

  15. Steve Cooper

    Re sound cards and CD ROMs - I don't think I ever saw a Sony (non IDE) CDROM drive. I remember the Mitsumi ones though!

    And re TokenRing/3com - 3c619b was a card that still gives me nightmares.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Re sound cards and CD ROMs - I don't think I ever saw a Sony (non IDE) CDROM drive. I remember the Mitsumi ones though!"

      That's because the Sony ones were fucking expensive!!!

      1. kain preacher Silver badge

        IF you had a mac you had a scsi Sony CDROM. My first CD ROM writer was a a SCSI Sony. It cost me a mere $600 back in 1995

  16. Herring` Silver badge

    Well, I remember wondering what the hell use the BCD stuff on a 6502 was for. It only had about 12 instructions in the first place.

    Supplying stuff to connect to machine tools for sending/receiving NC programs involved having to get multiple series ports and a network card (and often a CD) to play nice with limited IRQs. Also I won't miss having to make up custom serial cables with the pins shorted in a way that would suit a particular machine tool.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The 6502 op code set was "orthogonal" though - like the IBM 360. You could predict which addressing modes you could use with any op code. Intel cpus seemed to have an illogical op code set that was like Topsy and just grow'd and grow'd with each new processor.

      I wonder what difference it would have made if the 80286 had not appeared - and the 80386 proper virtual memory architecture had been available for Windows 2?

  17. juice Bronze badge

    The warm glow of nostalgia...

    Until you realise how much easier life is these days.

    Back in the early noughties, I was working for a large telecomms company which was having a major kit clearout. I acquired a few things from this, such as a nice SCSI card and a caddy-based CD-ROM drive.

    Sadly, while it all powered up after installation, the CD drive would only work if you held down the space bar - a DIR command would slowly spit out the contents, line by ponderously slow line. After a painfully expensive phone call[*] to the US support line, it transpired that this indicated some sort of IRQ issue; somehow, the keyboard handler was blocking whatever was holding onto the IRQ long enough for the CD-ROM to briefly burst back into life.

    A bit of dabbling with jumpers later, and I finally had a working system. So sometimes, holding a key down can be useful ;)

    Beyond that, I can remember visiting a friend's house once; they were a fairly extreme tekky and had a monstrous PC setup with a drive on pretty much every letter of the alphabet. And on the wall, a piece of graph paper, on which they'd hand-drawn their 640kb memory-map, to show exactly where all the drivers and TSR data was held.

    I've never been sure if I wanted to aspire to that level of tekkiness, or whether it was better to back away slowly...

    [*] Albeit still cheaper than buying a new SCSI card and CD-ROM drive...

  18. pɹɐʍoɔ snoɯʎuouɐ
    Facepalm

    Ah. The BSD old dsys....

    I too remember the bad old days of computing. ISA slots, SCSI cards for a CD writer that ran at single speed and if as much as a little bit of defragmentation of data was read, it would scrap your £20 blank CD...

    BUT....

    Back in those times, the people actually using computers at least had a clue. When the interwebs was let loose on us, we all knew how to behave online...

    Back in those days, you didn't have clueless masses able to go online in a few pokes at a fondlephone and post idiotic crap that other clueless morons repeat over and over. Clueless idiots who would think it would be a good idea to do a online survey on some webshite to find out what their pornstar name was without realising it was a exercise in data gathering....

    Back in the day when people understood that if you put it online the world and his wife and his dog and cat can get to see it. It was understood that privacy settings were that you dont put it online....

    windows 95 was the beginning of the end when plug 'n' prey worked half of the time, but enough that the masses could start tinkering where they should not be allowed...

    There should be two levels of interwebs.... one a sanitised sandbox for the masses.... and a second that is for those who at least have a clue !!!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ah. The BSD old dsys....

      "There should be two levels of interwebs.... one a sanitised sandbox for the masses.... and a second that is for those who at least have a clue !!!"

      For the lucky people in the US of A, soon you will have many many more than 2 levels :)

      Please thank Mr Pai and the fun loving people at the FCC.

      And the real 'kick in the teeth' will be, they will be full of the same 'Dingbats' that have to post their lives in real-time for the rest of the world to know 'how many times they flushed the toilet' today & other interesting facts. !!!??? :) :)

      :) ;)

      P.S. Oops ....... wrong sense of 'Sanitised Sandbox' :)

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Ah. The BSD old dsys....

      "Back in those times, the people actually using computers at least had a clue."

      Not necessarily but they'd probably got one by November.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Ah. The BSD old dsys....

        Not necessarily but they'd probably got one by November."

        But, but, but, November never arrived. It was eternally September.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ah. The BSD old dsys....

      "[...] one a sanitised sandbox for the masses [...]"

      That was called AOL.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ah. The BSD old dsys....

        "[...] one a sanitised sandbox for the masses [...]"

        "That was called AOL."

        Probably where all the cat pictures started.

  19. vincent himpe

    mode con lines=50

    mode con cols=132

    on a 1600x1200 21 inch nokia monitor driven from a Number nine systems card wit 4 meg of video ram

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      ah yes, MODE and CTTY, two of the most underused DOS commands and the two most likely to get that really awkward task done on those rare occasions they were needed, especially if you needed to get two incompatible devices to talk to each other over RS232C and didn't have any proper software tools to hand, especially in the early days of MS-DOS computers that were not necessarily IBM compatibles.

  20. pɹɐʍoɔ snoɯʎuouɐ
    Facepalm

    one paying customer.....

    Back in the days, I had a thriving business building and selling computers to the general public.

    I had one customer, (A cousin of a well known footballer, known to the fans of his club as GOD**) time and time again his computer kept coming back with issues with windows failing to load and screwed up to such a point that the only fix was a format and a reinstall files were scattered all over the place... deleted and renamed....

    after the 5th time it came back I said to him that this was getting ridiculous... I was spending a ridiculous amount of time getting his computer to work and stay working. Identical machines worked flawlessly. so the only thing could be somthing he was doing... so I asked,," what are you doing before it goes TITSUP?" the replay was a "Nothing, it worked, then I would switch it off and then start it again, and nothing would work".... "OK,,, what were you doing prior to switching it off" again,,," NOTHING"... so I got annoyed... and said "OK, I have gotta get to the bottom of this, the only option is to do a deep forensic search of the computer to find traces of what is going on... then if its something you are doing, I am going to bill you for it,,, and it wont be cheap....

    It was at this point, he said he had just been tidying up files... putting all the DLL's in one folder EXE's in another....

    I fixed it one last time.....an told him never to call me again...

    **no bonus points for anyone who knows the player

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Custom Int 14 TSRs were a staple in my toolkit for interfacing to PC DOS applications that were only sold for connection via the two standard hardware async terminal COM ports.

    Can't remember all the bodgesworkrounds I did: joining applications back to back for data interchange; remote control over a LAN.

  22. ricardian

    The Commodore PET had a loudspeaker which had its own memory address. You could peek/poke it and create sounds of various pitches and volumes. I created a 6502 machine code routine which produced the sound of a police car siren or a WW2 air raid siren - very dramatic and very loud! I cannot remember whether the first IBM PCs had the same facility or not

    1. Steve D

      There was no audio on the original PETs

      I am pretty certain that there was no audio at all on the original PETs. My school replaced our PDP8f with a handful of PETs . The magazines of the time had articles about connecting a loudspeaker through a simple transistor amplifier to the 6522VIA serial data line to make sound. This line was available on the user port, and could loaded with data and clocked out by setting internal 6522 registers. It was never used for serial communications though.

    2. A-nonCoward

      cannot remember whether the first IBM PCs had the same facility or not

      yes, sort of, somewhat to slow beyond some very basic stuff.

      What I loved was the realization that I could peek/poke the video memory, manipulate things and load to video memory direct

  23. Mark 85 Silver badge
    Flame

    How have users’ typos made your life a misery?

    Just about every...single.. one... of them. <walks over kicks trashcan.>

  24. tygrus.au

    RE: keyboard errors & TSR's

    POK or BOK (Paper or book on keyboard) happened several times to my users at work.

    I consider some dictators as TSR's. Either they change title and keep a puppet as PM or they terminate others to remain in residence.

  25. wrangler

    All sorts of old stuff surfaces from my memory, reading the comments here: MFM, RLL, DOS4GL, XMODEM, IRQ conflict/sharing, not enough files/buffers, CGA. . .

  26. Graham 25

    Voodoo graphics Cards

    Re : driven by games ......

    I worked for a large British defence contractor in the 90's (yes I am that old) and the company spent years developing its hardware and software for a airport simulator whereby you walked into a small room on a stand and there were four of five huge projected TV screens around you each with a simulation of the view from a airport control tower. You could see ground vehicle movements, aircraft landing and taking off and it was designed to train ATC staff in operating an airport.

    All highly impressive for its time. I then saw the same setup in an exhibition a year later and it all looked the same except the large rack of equipment was gone, and under the displays in a cupboard were a few computers each with a pair Voodoo (2?) graphics card in them which had overnight wiped out millions in hardware and software development.

    Apparently the company had tried to engage with the Voodoo manufacturer to get the software rewritten but they werent interested, so they gave it to a couple of game-obsessed technicians from the apprentice scheme to rewrote the entire system to use the new graphics cards in a few months. I recall Purchasing trying to negotiate with the Voodoo supplier who were not bothered in the slightest about ISO this and that and UK MOD commercial terms - just 'how many cards do you want mate and we will dispatch them tomorrow', and send us a cheque first.

    I have never seen such a good example of the games community taking over and going past the commercial companies in my life.

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