Tuesday, 27 January 2015

It's never actually over you know ...

A long time ago, early to mid nineties to be precise, I used to provide a file transfer service at the university I worked at.

5.25" floppies to 3.5", Mac system 7 to PC, Wordstar to Word, NotaBene to WordPertct, in fact just about anything to WordPerfect as we had a WordPerfect 5.1 service running on Vaxes as a student wordprocessing service. WordPerfect had this nice feature that the Vax file format was directly compatible with the PC file format. Macs were slightly more problematical and used their own format, but the Macs came bundled with a file export option to write files as PC format files.

However, this was before PC's were cheap and affordable. People used to turn up with weird machines and files in odd formats. Special dedicated word processors, little KayPro CP/M laptops and the rest. There was a hunger out there for cheap reliable worprocessing

King of the weird  was the Amstrad PCW. Wildly popular with graduate students due to its low cost, it used a non standard 3" disk format and came bundled with Locoscript, which was compatible with just about nothing.

To get the data off the machine we had a serial interface and used kermit to upload it to one of the vax machines and then convert it into a text file for the user to convert and restructure. Later on the uploads were to a Unix host but the data cleaning was still not much better than stripping off the top bit and filtering out control characters. Good enough for basic text but played hell with someone who'd discovered they could embed Byzantine Greek text in their document.

Due to the fact that the fastest we could reliably drive the serial interface was 9600 baud, files took forever to upload and were truly painful to do.

By about 1995 (I can't remember, but if I'm out it's only by a year) the PCW phenomenon had died and we stopped offering file upload/conversions.

And that was the last time I saw a 3" disk.

Until today - apparently our archives division have found some in a box of uncatalogued material ...

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