No bad deed….

I had access to my first Macintosh computer around 1987. My father brought it home and I spent hours on it playing games and occasionally writing reports for school. The Macintosh Plus computer had one floppy drive and no hard drive. I remember playing the game Orbiter which had two floppy disks and right in the middle of game play it would pause and ask me to insert disk 2, then quickly ask for disk 1 again. The struggle was real. I spent years using many different Macintosh computers and now own more than I wish to admit. I’m preserving them!

The wild world of digital preservation has been a little lacking on the Macintosh side of things as I have come to realize. There still not a great way to manage Resource Forks in many preservation systems and the identification tools are mainly focused on the data bytetreams and not any system specific attributes Macintosh used often.

The PRONOM registry has either referenced early Macintosh specific formats or missed them entirely so I have been slowly working on a few to close that gap.

Interestingly enough, many Microsoft programs initially made their GUI debuts on the early Macintosh before making their way to Windows. Excel is one I am working on, as Version 1 is not identifiable in PRONOM, it was Macintosh only at the time.

Another is PowerPoint, I recently submitted two new signatures to PRONOM.

fmt/1747: Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation v2.x. Full entry added.
fmt/1748: Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation v3.x. Full entry added.
fmt/1866: Microsoft Powerpoint for Macintosh v.2. Full entry added.
fmt/1867: Microsoft Powerpoint for Macintosh v.3. Full entry added.

PowerPoint was initially released in 1987 on the Macintosh platform. It was developed by a company called ForeThought. Version 1.0 on the Macintosh was under this name, until it was bought by Microsoft only three months after being released. The history of PowerPoint can be discovered at Robert Gaskins, one of the original developers, website and book he wrote. The available information provided by Microsoft is only for the OLE format, covering versions 4.0 until 2003.

So, lets take a look at the Powerpoint original file format, before OLE.

   Type/Creator      RF      DF  Date         Filename
f  SLDS/PPNT         0       932 Oct 10 19:10 PowerPoint-v1

Luckily the early PowerPoint files did not have a Resource Fork. The Data Fork, if you haven’t noticed, has an interesting set of hex values at the beginning of the file. 0BADDEED is the first 4 bytes. If we look at a PowerPoint version 2 file from Windows.

The file format is the same, but because of the weird world of endianness, the first few bytes are in reverse order, EDDEAD0B.

Obviously we need to discuss this magic number and the meaning behind “Bad Deed”. This question was asked previously by the digital preservation community. I have a previous blog post about the use of words for the magic number CAFEBEEF as it was used with with JAVA class files and Express Publisher in the 1990’s. BADDEED looks like another clever use of the hex values that formed words. But was there a story behind the words? Joe Carrano asked if this string might be hexspeak. I wanted to know more so I asked some one who might know.

Robert Gaskins was kind enough to chat with me for a bit about the early days of PowerPoint.

I had a theory on the possible meaning behind BADDEED, so I asked him what the feeling was like between Apple and Microsoft at the time. I had heard for years that PowerPoint was originally created for the Macintosh, but Robert informed me:

  In fact, PowerPoint was designed first for Microsoft Windows, 

and its first spec shows that: “All the screen shots, menus, and 

dialogs were set up to look like Microsoft Windows, not like 

Macintosh.”  (Gaskins, Sweating Bullets, p. 92)  You can see that 

spec here.

A year later, we concluded that we would be forced to ship 

on Mac first, although we still thought that Windows was the 

big opportunity and thought that Mac was risky.  “We just didn’t think 

we could successfully ship a product for Windows, yet, though we planned 

to later. (Gaskins, Sweating Bullets, p. 105)  The considerations are 

summarized in my June 1986 product marketing document.

Of course, we turned out to have been right all along.  PowerPoint on 

Mac was much loved, but sales remained poor because Mac sales were 

so poor.  It was only after we shipped on Windows that PowerPoint gained 

the dominant market share which has characterized it ever since, and 

Windows PPT outsold Mac PPT very quickly. (Gaskins, Sweating Bullets, p. 403)

So my original thought was that there was some bad feelings around this Apple, Microsoft battle which has been the sentiment for quite some time. So when I asked if any of that influenced the use of BADDEED, I was told:

So, far from being disgruntled by expanding PowerPoint to Windows, 

that had been our goal all along, and its achievement was the most 

important success we had.

I judge that you are fully aware of all that, and that 

your question is more, “was there any bad deed signified 

by the Mac hex value chosen?”  No, it was just the poverty 

of choice when you only have six letters.

So there you have it. The use of the hex values 0x0BADDEED, was simply chosen from a limited set of values when looking at words hexadecimal could spell. I guess I should never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

I continued to have a wonderful conversation with Robert and also asked him for some details on the rest of the PowerPoint file format. I was hoping there might be some documentation out there explaining the early format before Microsoft took over. Robert said:

 I don’t know of any such documentation apart from the official 

Microsoft support files available online.  I don’t have any such 

information.  I know that Dennis Austin deposited some of our 

working files at the Computer History Museum (not online):

https://archive.computerhistory.org/resources/access/text/finding-aids/102733943-Austin/102733943-Austin.pdf

and it’s likely that some information is there–if nothing 

else, it claims to contain a source code listing for PPT 1.0 

which would contain the code to read the file format.

So there might be some information in at the Computer History Museum worth looking into.

As far as I could tell from the available online information, there is a few differences between Version 1.0 and Version 2.0, the biggest being the fact that 1.0 did not have an option to print in color, amount a few other minor things. Here is a screenshot of a page from the Microsoft PowerPoint 2.0 documentation on archive.org.

I suppose with the signature additions of the Macintosh and Windows versions 2.0 and 3.0 of the PowerPoint file format in PRONOM, that should cover most needs. Currently my PowerPoint 1.0 files identify at 2.0 files, so I may need to have them adjust the PUID to include both versions 1.0 and 2.0 as they are so similar. If I am able to find a difference or get my hands on the original source code I may find a better solution.

Quicktime MooV

During the 1990’s Apple Quicktime became the dominant digital media standard. It is the basis for the MPEG-4 format which is used everywhere now. Technically the Quicktime Movie format is a container or wrapper which can hold a variety of Video and Audio streams.

The basic unit of a Quicktime Movie is an atom. The MooV atom is the most important piece of a Quicktime Movie. Without it and the “mvhd” header atom, all the characteristics of the movie are lost.

Having the MooV atom missing from your movie file seems like it would be a rare thing, but it may happen more often than you think.

What happens when you come across a Quicktime file on an HFS disk, like one of these: https://archive.org/details/quick-clips-cd

If you try and open the movie you might see this.

MediaInfo doesn’t know what to make of the file. You can see the hex values from the beginning of the file, there clearly is no MooV atom.

Enter Macintosh Resource Forks.

Original Quicktime files stored the MOOV atom in a resource fork.

Lets take a look a closer look at one of these files.

derez Wildebeest 
data 'moov' (128) {
	$"0000 0465 6D6F 6F76 0000 006C 6D76 6864"            /* ...emoov...lmvhd */
	$"0000 0000 E143 7EF5 E143 7EF5 0000 0258"            /* ....?C~??C~?...X */
	$"0000 1068 0001 0000 00FF 0000 0000 0000"            /* ...h.....?...... */
	$"0000 0000 0001 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000"            /* ................ */
	$"0000 0000 0001 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000"            /* ................ */
	$"0000 0000 4000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000"            /* ....@........... */
	$"0000 0924 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000"            /* ...$............ */
	$"0000 0002 0000 03D9 7472 616B 0000 005C"            /* .......?trak...\ */
	$"746B 6864 0000 000F A5EA 1D89 E143 7EF5"            /* tkhd....??.??C~? */
	$"0000 0001 0000 0000 0000 1068 0000 0000"            /* ...........h.... */
	$"0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0001 0000"            /* ................ */
	$"0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0001 0000"            /* ................ */
	$"0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 4000 0000"            /* ............@... */
	$"00A0 0000 0078 0000 0000 0024 6564 7473"            /* .?...x.....$edts */
	$"0000 001C 656C 7374 0000 0000 0000 0001"            /* ....elst........ */
	$"0000 1068 0000 0000 0001 0000 0000 0351"            /* ...h...........Q */
	$"6D64 6961 0000 0020 6D64 6864 0000 0000"            /* mdia... mdhd.... */
	$"E143 7EF5 E143 7EF5 0000 0258 0000 1068"            /* ?C~??C~?...X...h */
	$"0000 003C 0000 003A 6864 6C72 0000 0000"            /* ...<...:hdlr.... */
	$"6D68 6C72 7669 6465 6170 706C 4000 0000"            /* mhlrvideappl@... */
	$"0001 002C 1941 7070 6C65 2056 6964 656F"            /* ...,.Apple Video */
	$"204D 6564 6961 2048 616E 646C 6572 0000"            /*  Media Handler.. */

The MooV atom is in the Resource Fork. Apple explains why they did it this way.

FILE MOVIE HEADER

Note: the header is safer when stored at the beginning of the file or in the HFS resource fork as type ‘moov’; ID any. The advantage of using another file fork is that the header can be lengthened without recalculating the sample offsets or new header must be written at the end of the file.

QTM-Layout

If you are playing back a movie on an older Macintosh using an earlier version of Quicktime, you won’t have any issues, but if you plan on playing the movie on a newer system or try and preserve the file, then we run into problems. Especially if the file is moved off of the HFS disk onto a system which doesn’t maintain the resource fork. Then you are stuck with just the data with no way to interpret the movie file.

Solutions.

One solution you can follow is to use MacBinary or AppleSingle to combine the Resource Fork and Data Fork together into one file. You are left with a different format, but one which can be preserved and reverted back to the original when needed.

Another way is to create a Single-Fork Movie file, aka a normal QuickTime file.

“single-fork movie file – A QuickTime movie file
that stores both the movie data and the movie
resource in the data fork of the movie file. You
can use single-fork movie files to ease the
exchange of QuickTime movie data between
Macintosh computers and other computer
systems.”

Inside Macintosh – QuickTime

Creating a Single-Fork can be accomplished a couple different ways. One is to use an older version of QuickTime to “Save As” to a self contained file with the box checked to allow playback on a “non-Apple” computer.

Another method is to use a simple utility called Single Fork Flattener. I found a copy on a old QuickTime disc and uploaded to Macintosh Garden if you want to try it out. No QuickTime needed, just open the file and it updates it to include the MooV resource. Also a tool called FlattenMooV.

Once combined, MediaInfo now sees a complete QuickTime file which VLC can play!

mediainfo Wildebeest2 
General
Complete name                            : Wildebeest
Format                                   : QuickTime
Format/Info                              : Original Apple specifications
File size                                : 565 KiB
Duration                                 : 7 s 0 ms
Overall bit rate                         : 661 kb/s
Frame rate                               : 10.000 FPS
Encoded date                             : 2023-10-02 14:15:15 UTC
Tagged date                              : 2023-10-02 14:15:15 UTC
Writing library                          : Apple QuickTime
FileExtension_Invalid                    : braw mov qt

Video
ID                                       : 0
Format                                   : Road Pizza
Codec ID                                 : rpza
Duration                                 : 7 s 0 ms
Bit rate                                 : 659 kb/s
Width                                    : 160 pixels
Height                                   : 120 pixels
Display aspect ratio                     : 4:3
Frame rate mode                          : Constant
Frame rate                               : 10.000 FPS
Bits/(Pixel*Frame)                       : 3.434
Stream size                              : 563 KiB (100%)
Language                                 : English
Encoded date                             : 1992-03-16 09:40:25 UTC
Tagged date                              : 2023-10-02 14:15:15 UTC

I was hoping I could find a method to use a modern tool to combine into a Single-Fork file, but nothing yet. I did find a C++ source that when compiled does indeed merge the two forks together, which in this case merges the MooV atom at the end of the file. Its called qtmerge. QuickTime 7 is your best bet for a GUI tool which works on recent MacOS, but not the last couple versions. There is a reference out there to a tool called RezWack, but I have been unable to verify.

BINHEX

Working with files in todays world is much different than before. Today getting files back and forth from the cloud or through email is relatively easy, unlike the early days when we used FTP sites and needed to encode our data to properly transfer. I remember using an FTP program on my old Mac called Fetch. We had to determine if the content was to be transferred as text or binary.

Picking the right encoding was critical to getting the content transferred correctly, this was even more critical when working with Macintosh files which needed a resource fork and/or finder attributes to work properly. In those cases a MacBinary or BinHex file was required! Fetch would automatically identify those formats and decode them for you.

If you need a refresher on MacBinary and AppleSingle, you can view my iPres 2022 presentation.

One format I didn’t spend much if any time on is the BinHex format. BinHex was a format born out of necessity to move files back and forth across the World Web Web, bulletin boards, AOL, Compuserve, and the like. The FTP program Fetch glossary describes BinHex as:

BinHex (sometimes called BinHex4) is a format for representing a Macintosh file in text form.

The Macintosh file is converted to a series of lines, each made up of letters, numbers, and

punctuation. Because BinHex files are simply text, they can be sent through most electronic mail

systems and stored on most computers. However the conversion to text makes the file larger, so it

takes longer to transmit a file in BinHex format than if the file was represented some other way.

The suffix “.hqx” usually indicates a BinHex format file.

You can still find many of these HQX files floating around the interwebs and on older CDs from the 1990’s. One such CD recently came into my possession. I managed to get a copy of the book “Internet File Formats“, by Tim Kientzie. It came with a CD-ROM with lots of goodies included. Some sample files, specifications, and software. The disc itself is an ISO 9660 partitioned disc, but includes a few Macintosh formats, so the author put many of the software files in the HQX format to maintain the much needed resource fork Macintosh applications need in order to run.

I initially ran the whole disc through DROID to get an idea what was on the disc and if any sample formats were unidentified (something I do regularly), and found majority of the HQX files didn’t identify as they should have to PRONOM PUID x-fmt/416. The signature is an older one, from 2010, but since the format isn’t updated anymore it should be solid. Or so I thought.

Since BINHEX files are encoded as text, lets take a look at a couple of these from the disc which didn’t identify.

The PRONOM signature currently is:

File extension: hqx	
Name	BinHex Binary Text
Description	Header: (This file must be converted with BinHex
Byte sequences	
Position type	Absolute from BOF
Offset	0	 
Value	28546869732066696C65206D75737420626520636F6E76657274656420776974682042696E486578

That “Value” listed in hexadecimal decodes to: “(This file must be converted with BinHex” as listed in the description. We can see this line in the file above, but the signature assumes the value begins at offset 0 from the beginning of the file. So its looking for that value at the start of the file, but this file seems to have some additional text before the value. What does the specs say?

The BinHex 4.0 format was created in 1985 and defined in RFC 1741.

   The whole file is considered as a stream of bits.  This stream will
   be divided in blocks of 6 bits and then converted to one of 64
   characters contained in a table.  The characters in this table have
   been chosen for maximum noise protection.  The format will start
   with a ":" (first character on a line) and end with a ":".
   There will be a maximum of 64 characters on a line.  It must be
   preceded, by this comment, starting in column 1 (it does not start
   in column 1 in this document):

    (This file must be converted with BinHex 4.0)

   Any text before this comment is to be ignored.

   The characters used is:

    !"#$%&'()*+,- 012345689@ABCDEFGHIJKLMNPQRSTUVXYZ[`abcdefhijklmpqr

Ok, so in the specs we can see the “Value” string must be there, but according to the specification, any text before this comment is to be ignored. So adding some instructions and even an email header at the beginning is ok, as long as the value string is there right before the encoded data.

We also learn a couple interesting things. The first character of the first line after the string should be a “:” and the last line should end with a “:” as well. That could help make the signature more solid. We also learn there are a maximum of 64 characters per line. The last line will probably not have full maximum, but the previous lines should…. I wonder if we could use this fixed position from the initial “:” to add even more strength to the signature.

So an updated PRONOM signature might look like:

BOF: {0-4084}28546869732066696C65206D75737420626520636F6E76657274656420776974682042696E486578{6-9}3A

EOF: 3A (Max Offset 64)

Adding the 4,084 bytes at the beginning allow for additional text. This value worked for my samples but there could be others out there with more. The {6-9} bytes in between the string and the colon account for the various way newlines are encoded. Sometimes is one “0A” byte, other times it is “OD”, and others its both. After testing, adding values in the signature to account for the 64 byte line can fail if the file has only one line, so I left it out.

The EOF should just be the colon (3A), but I found many of my samples had various line endings and other random characters. Hence the 64 bytes for max offset.

Also, the current PRONOM entry doesn’t include the Mime-Type, which is: “application/mac-binhex40”

Hopefully this update will add some strength to the signature and follow the specification closer. The new signature even works on files with extra content at the beginning!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is long-binhex-header.png

There are a number of software titles you can use to encode and decode a BinHex file. On a modern Mac, try using The Unarchiver, or Stuffit Expander. From the commandline, you can use the macutil library or the CLI version of Unarchiver. Although the MacOS has a built in utility to decode BinHex files. If you are using a classic version of Macintosh OS, you can find a number of utilities on Macintosh Garden.

Oh, and also, the CD-ROM I mentioned earlier has a few “fun” features. Not sure if they are on purpose or if errors were made during mastering, but a few filenames have some hidden extra characters and one folder puts any tool traversing the directory into a loop, even droid. Have fun!

Gone in a Flash

This week I am at the annual iPres digital preservation conference. It is an amazing week of meeting colleagues and old friends who share the same passion of digital preservation. Outside of this community and my co-workers, talking about file formats and digital preservation usually bores people to death and I can hear some of them mumble under their breath, “nerd”! I term I am happy to accept.

At the conference, which is in lovely Urbana-Champaign Illinois this year, I am trying to soak in all the amazing talks and conversations about the challenges facing our work. There were a couple great workshops on Persistent Identifiers and Digital Object Storage Criteria. The presentations I made were of course on File Formats, documentation, and obsolescence. One talk before my panel conversation was about the ubiquitous Adobe Flash format.

The paper, “Around for Decades, Gone in a Flash: How we dealt with Flash objects and the National Archives of the Netherlands” was presented by Lotte Wijsman and Marin Rappard. They knew they had flash objects in their web archives and wanted to go through the process of how they might be preserved and accessed. They started out looking for any files with “FLA”, “SWF”, and “FLV” as extensions. This proved problematic as there were references to those extensions within other documents and objects. They then used DROID to identify the flash formats. “SWF” has quite a number of format PUID’s.

PUIDFormat NameFormat VersionExtension
fmt/104Macromedia Flash1swf,
fmt/105Macromedia Flash2swf,
fmt/106Macromedia Flash3swf,
fmt/107Macromedia Flash4swf,
fmt/108Macromedia Flash5swf,
fmt/109Macromedia Flash6swf,
fmt/110Macromedia Flash7swf,
fmt/505Adobe Flash8swf,
fmt/506Adobe Flash9swf,
fmt/507Adobe Flash10swf,
fmt/757Adobe Flash11swf,
fmt/758Adobe Flash12swf,
fmt/759Adobe Flash13swf,
fmt/760Adobe Flash14swf,
fmt/761Adobe Flash15swf,
fmt/762Adobe Flash16swf,
fmt/763Adobe Flash17swf,
fmt/764Adobe Flash18swf,
fmt/765Adobe Flash19swf,
fmt/766Adobe Flash20swf,
fmt/767Adobe Flash21swf,
fmt/768Adobe Flash22swf,
fmt/769Adobe Flash23swf,
fmt/770Adobe Flash24swf,
fmt/771Adobe Flash25swf,
fmt/772Adobe Flash26swf,
fmt/773Adobe Flash27swf,
fmt/774Adobe Flash28swf,
fmt/775Adobe Flash29swf,
fmt/776Adobe Flash30swf,

Even the Macromedia/Adobe Flash Video format has a PRONOM PUID, x-fmt/382.

The format missing from PRONOM is the FLA format. FLA is the native format for Macromedia/Adobe Flash for saving the source project of your Flash document. SWF files are compiled from the FLA source. This means the the SWF will be the most common format found on the web and in public places, but the FLA format might be more often found on local drives and working folders.

The Flash format and software was actually created by Future Wave software in 1996 as FutureSplash Animator, but was shortly bought by Macromedia later that year and Flash 1.0 was born. FutureSplash used the extension .SPA, but Macromedia changed it to FLA.

The format was initially based on the Microsoft Compound File Format or the OLE container format.

oledir Flash4-S01.fla 
oledir 0.54 - http://decalage.info/python/oletools
OLE directory entries in file Flash4-S01.fla:
----+------+-------+----------------------+-----+-----+-----+--------+------
id  |Status|Type   |Name                  |Left |Right|Child|1st Sect|Size  
----+------+-------+----------------------+-----+-----+-----+--------+------
0   |<Used>|Root   |Root Entry            |-    |-    |1    |5       |4416  
1   |<Used>|Stream |Contents              |2    |-    |-    |6       |4013  
2   |<Used>|Stream |Page 1                |-    |-    |-    |0       |329   
3   |unused|Empty  |                      |-    |-    |-    |0       |0     
----+----------------------------+------+--------------------------------------
id  |Name                        |Size  |CLSID                                 
----+----------------------------+------+--------------------------------------
0   |Root Entry                  |-     |597CAA70-72AA-11CF-831E-524153480000  
1   |Contents                    |4013  |                                      
2   |Page 1                      |329   |   

The FLA format stayed with OLE until Adobe Flash CS5, which the format changed to use a ZIP container to store all the content.

Flash5.5-S01.fla
Type = zip
Physical Size = 216632

   Date      Time    Attr         Size   Compressed  Name
------------------- ----- ------------ ------------  ------------------------
2022-07-09 11:57:46 .....           25           25  mimetype
2022-07-09 11:57:46 .....            9            9  Flash5.5-S01.xfl
2022-07-09 11:57:46 D....            0            0  LIBRARY
2022-07-09 11:57:46 D....            0            0  META-INF
2022-07-09 11:57:46 .....        49267         3936  DOMDocument.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....         9735         1103  META-INF/metadata.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....         8093         2222  PublishSettings.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....            0            0  MobileSettings.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 D....            0            0  LIBRARY/Mouth shape graphic symbols
2022-07-09 11:57:48 D....            0            0  LIBRARY/Voice
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....       151006       151006  bin/M 1 1252032698.dat
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....        99707        15311  LIBRARY/mouth.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....        16510         4534  LIBRARY/Mouth shape graphic symbols/A I.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....        14334         4086  LIBRARY/Mouth shape graphic symbols/C D G K N R S Th Y Z.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....        14531         4040  LIBRARY/Mouth shape graphic symbols/E.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....        15846         4007  LIBRARY/Mouth shape graphic symbols/F V D Th.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....        13093         3542  LIBRARY/Mouth shape graphic symbols/L D Th.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....         2106          751  LIBRARY/Mouth shape graphic symbols/M B P Closed.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....        14130         3949  LIBRARY/Mouth shape graphic symbols/O.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....        11082         2951  LIBRARY/Mouth shape graphic symbols/Open_Rest.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....        14847         4066  LIBRARY/Mouth shape graphic symbols/U.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....         8139         2202  LIBRARY/Mouth shape graphic symbols/W Q.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....        15768         3914  LIBRARY/panda.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....        10477         1064  LIBRARY/sample graph.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....          538          538  bin/SymDepend.cache
------------------- ----- ------------ ------------  ------------------------
2022-07-09 11:57:48             469243       213256  21 files, 4 folders

The move to a ZIP container included a new format, XFL. This XFL file is a simple text file with the text “PROXY-CS5″. In the DOMDocument.xml file we find an XML namespace, xmlns=”http://ns.adobe.com/xfl/2008/” and a version of the XFL structure, xflVersion=”2.1″.

This ZIP compressed FLA file is still being used in the current Adobe Animate software, which no longer uses the flash technology and uses more modern web formats like HTML5 to display the animations.

I took each version and made a PRONOM signature, which you can find here with samples. These container signatures should cover all the major changes for the format, but there is a problem……..

Listing archive: Flash5.5-S01v5.fla

--
Path = Flash5.5-S01v5.fla
Type = zip
ERRORS:
Headers Error
Physical Size = 216581
Embedded Stub Size = 63
Characteristics = Local

   Date      Time    Attr         Size   Compressed  Name
------------------- ----- ------------ ------------  ------------------------
2022-07-09 11:57:46 .....           25           25  mimetype
2022-07-09 11:57:46 D....            0            0  LIBRARY
2022-07-09 11:57:46 D....            0            0  META-INF
2022-07-09 11:57:46 .....        48556         3742  DOMDocument.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....        10133         1112  META-INF/metadata.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....         8115         2219  PublishSettings.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....            0            0  MobileSettings.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 D....            0            0  LIBRARY/Mouth shape graphic symbols
2022-07-09 11:57:48 D....            0            0  LIBRARY/Voice
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....       151006       151006  bin/M 1 1252032698.dat
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....        99551        15319  LIBRARY/mouth.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....        16580         4536  LIBRARY/Mouth shape graphic symbols/A I.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....        14404         4089  LIBRARY/Mouth shape graphic symbols/C D G K N R S Th Y Z.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....        14531         4044  LIBRARY/Mouth shape graphic symbols/E.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....        15848         4008  LIBRARY/Mouth shape graphic symbols/F V D Th.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....        13024         3546  LIBRARY/Mouth shape graphic symbols/L D Th.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....         2106          752  LIBRARY/Mouth shape graphic symbols/M B P Closed.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....        14200         3955  LIBRARY/Mouth shape graphic symbols/O.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....        11152         2963  LIBRARY/Mouth shape graphic symbols/Open_Rest.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....        14777         4069  LIBRARY/Mouth shape graphic symbols/U.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....         8287         2228  LIBRARY/Mouth shape graphic symbols/W Q.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....        15768         3914  LIBRARY/panda.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....        10477         1064  LIBRARY/sample graph.xml
2022-07-09 11:57:48 .....          538          538  bin/SymDepend.cache
2022-07-09 11:57:46 .....           25           25  mimetype
2022-07-09 11:58:18 .....            9            9  Flash5.5-S01v5.xfl
------------------- ----- ------------ ------------  ------------------------
2022-07-09 11:58:18             469112       213163  22 files, 4 folders

Turns out majority of the samples I have from many versions of Adobe Flash after CS5 have a ZIP Header error. When using the new signatures in DROID, the samples with the header errors will fail in the DROID’s zip library processing. The DROID logs shows this issue:

Could not process the potential container format (ZIP): file:///Flash5.5-S01v5.fla	
Expected 25 more entries in the Central Directory!

The Central Directory header in a ZIP file is quite important to the proper function of the ZIP container. Wikipedia has a great explanation of the header. You may notice in the listing above the file “mimetype” is shown twice which is probably the extra entries the parser wasn’t expecting.

So currently the identification of majority of these FLA formats is on hold until a way is discovered to ignore the error and continue the container identification in DROID.

TIFF

Lets talk TIFF, or Tagged Image File Format. It is well documented and accepted by the community. The format has been around since 1986, first developed by Aldus as a image format for scanners. The TIFF format is now used worldwide as a preferred format for scanning and preservation of cultural heritage objects.

As amazing as the format is, there are a few features of the format which can be a preservation risk. I want to focus on three of those risks.

The Tagged Image File Format has a well known header:

A TIFF file begins with an 8-byte image file header, containing the following
information:
Bytes 0-1: The byte order used within the file. Legal values are:
“II” (4949.H) LSB (IBM)
“MM” (4D4D.H) MSB (Mac)
Bytes 2-3 An arbitrary but carefully chosen number (42).
Bytes 4-7 The offset (in bytes) of the first IFD.

Putting this poster of the TIFF structure in your office will impress your co-workers, guaranteed. Thanks Ange!

The three risks I have been pondering lately are:

  • Multiple IFD’s
  • Metadata
  • DNG format

TIFF version 6.0 was released in 1992 and is the most recent version. Although some vendors are free to add their own private tags. In 1995 Adobe added an addendum which added some additions for use with PageMaker.

One of the main features of the TIFF format is its ability to hold multiple pages. In Adobe’s words:

TIFF has always supported what amounts to a singly linked list of IFD’s in a single TIFF file, via the “next IFD pointer,” though most applications currently ignore any IFD beyond the first one. Probably the best use for a linked list of IFD’s is when you want to store multiple different but related images in the same file—a ‘burst’ of images from a camera, for example.

Adobe PageMaker® 6.0 TIFF Technical Notes

Take note of the highlighted text, software like Adobe Photoshop will ignore any IFD beyond the first one. Even worse, Photoshop won’t even mention there are additional IFD’s. I have used many document scanners which default to multipage TIFF capture and have lost pages because of this. Because of this I have always built my workflows around single page TIFF’s for all scanning and we check against this as a rule.

What also makes this hard is how some capture software uses additional IFD’s. CaptureOne is a popular imaging software used by photographers and cultural heritage institutions. We have used it to connect to our PhaseOne cameras for capture of books and other flat objects. By default the software exports the final TIFF image with a thumbnail.

With the “No Thumbnail” unchecked we get this TIFF structure:

identify _MG_0193.tif 
_MG_0193.tif[0] TIFF 3456x5184 3456x5184+0+0 8-bit sRGB 51.3136MiB 0.030u 0:00.026
_MG_0193.tif[1] TIFF 107x160 107x160+0+0 8-bit sRGB 0.000u 0:00.007

 <IFD0:ImageWidth>3456</IFD0:ImageWidth>
 <IFD0:ImageHeight>5184</IFD0:ImageHeight>
 <IFD1:SubfileType>Reduced-resolution image</IFD1:SubfileType>
 <IFD1:ImageWidth>107</IFD1:ImageWidth>
 <IFD1:ImageHeight>160</IFD1:ImageHeight>
 <IFD1:BitsPerSample>8 8 8</IFD1:BitsPerSample>

So Imagemagick identifies two pages 0 and 1 with the second a much smaller resolution than the first. Exiftool reports back IFD0 and IFD1 with IFD1 having a SubfileType of a Reduced-resolution image. Makes sense, it is a thumbnail. In looking at the specifications for TIFF 6.0, I can find no mention of the word “thumbnail”, but the specification does make mention of “reduced resolution” images:

If multiple subfiles are written, the first one must be the full-resolution image. Subsequent images, such as reduced-resolution images, may be in any order in the TIFF file.

The specification also gives us this warning:

TIFF readers must be prepared for multiple images (subfiles) per TIFF file, although they are not required to do anything with images after the first one.

Scary to think about how a reader is not required to do anything, not even warn against multiple IFD’s (Subfiles).

The EXIF specifications seem to expand on this through attributes:

Attribute information can be recorded in 2 IFDs (0th IFD, 1st IFD) following the TIFF structure, including the File Header. The 0th IFD records compressed image attributes (the image itself). The 1st IFD may be used for thumbnail images. 

Page 97 of EXIF Specification

Take a look at the information and Figure 6 on page 21-22 in the EXIF specification.

Adobe early on decided to use their own tags for thumbnail data. Since Photoshop 5, Adobe has stored the thumbnail in Tag 1036.

 1036 Photoshop Thumbnail             : (Binary data 4625 bytes, use -b option to extract)

There is another TIFF structure sometimes used in older FAX compressed multipage TIFFs and now used in the DNG Specification. The SubIFD tag was writable using the libtiff “thumbnail” tool, but is now depreciated. Originally described in the TIFF/EP specification, DNG files use SubIFD trees.

DNG files are often talked about in the same way TIFF files are, and many tools handle both seamlessly. One of the major differences is that DNG files switch their IFD use. IFD0 is often the reduced-resolution thumbnail and SubIFD the full-resolution image.

<IFD0:SubfileType>Reduced-resolution image</IFD0:SubfileType>
<IFD0:ImageWidth>256</IFD0:ImageWidth>
<IFD0:ImageHeight>171</IFD0:ImageHeight> 

<SubIFD:SubfileType>Full-resolution image</SubIFD:SubfileType>
<SubIFD:ImageWidth>3516</SubIFD:ImageWidth>
<SubIFD:ImageHeight>2328</SubIFD:ImageHeight>

This can cause issues when trying to extract technical metadata from images, knowing which IFD to get the main image details requires a bit of work. I’ll save DNG for another blog post.

TIFF Metadata is a vital part of preservation. The metadata can provide technical properties of the file along with some descriptive information. It amazes me how much the embedded metadata can vary from a scanner or camera capture device. The digitization lab I worked in for years had scanners from Epson, Fujitu, Canon and others. Along with cameras made by Canon, PhaseOne, and Copibooks. Each one with a vastly different set of metadata using different standards. Even when each workflow produced final uncompressed TIFF images, they all varied in metadata.

The TIFF images with the leasT amount of metadata was from the Epson scanners. When using the free Epson Scan software, not a single metadata field was embedded, no dates, scanner model or manufacturer. More was embedded when you used the Silverfast professional software included with each Epson, but even then if you didn’t add any IPTC fields, the metadata was limited.

The most metadata came from the camera systems, especially the PhaseOne/CaptureOne systems. Even though it produced the most and had valuable properties, there were some issues. I already discussed the thumbnail issue, but PhaseOne decided they wanted to change how some of the tags were used.

CaptureOne has quite the list of white balance options. Which is great for the photographer, but not so great for adhering to the TIFF standard.

According to the EXIF TIFF Specification, there are only two values allowed for White Balance, Auto or Manual. A CaptureOne produced TIFF will have this value if Auto or Manual are not chosen:

41987 White Balance                   : Unknown (5)
37384 Light Source                    : Other

The different lighting situations should be identified using the “Light Source” 37384 tag, but alas they chose to add to white balance instead. When I asked about this, they responded that they requested this update to the TIFF spec, but they weren’t willing so they took matters into their own hands. You can read the conversation on the JHOVE issues page.

The TIFF format is very accepted in the Cultural Heritage community as a preferred preservation format. The specification is well understood and documented. I just hope we can continue to openly discuss issues that arise in preservation which add risk to our collections. Some issues are minor compared to others. Sometimes it’s the tools we use to validate formats like TIFF which are wrong and need to be corrected. The talk more about these issues and how to manage them.

HighMAT

Before the days of streaming and devices likeSmart TVs, AppleTV and Fire sticks, a few companies tried their best to come up with ways to make viewing your media on your TV mainstream. In a previous blog post I touched on the Kodak PhotoCD method, but there is one you are probably even less familiar with. HighMAT. HighMAT, or High-Performance Media Access Technology was a technology co-developed by Microsoft and Panasonic. You may have at one point owned a DVD player which had the technology built-in, but may have never used it. It came on the scene around 2002, but was abandoned by 2008.

Panasonic DVD/CD Player with HighMAT playback.

There were quite a few devices stamped with the HighMAT logo. The technology allow you to playback any Audio and Images like a DVD, with a menu and everything.

There was three different types of HighMAT compatible devices, Audio, Audio-Image, and Audio-Image-Video.

Writing data to the HighMAT format could be done with a plugin for Windows which added the functionality to Windows Media Player for burning audio playlists to the HighMAT format or through the standard CD Writing Wizard built-in to Windows XP. An extra screen would come up asking if you would like to make the CD HighMAT compatible. Making video compatible HighMAT CDs could be done through Movie Maker.

When a HighMAT CD-R/CD-RW is authored we get an interesting CD. It appears to be a Mode 2 Form 1 format:

/dev/disk10 (internal, physical):
   #:                       TYPE NAME                    SIZE       IDENTIFIER
   0:        CD_partition_scheme                        *846.4 MB   disk10
   1:       CD_ROM_Mode_2_Form_1 Highmat02               2.7 MB     disk10s0

If you would like to check out a sample disc, you can grab the ISO or BIN/CUE here.

tree /Volumes/Highmat02
/Volumes/Highmat02
├── Audio\ Samples
│   ├── 17\ [no\ artist]\ -\ Speaker\ Identification\ Test.wma
│   └── sine.wma
├── HIGHMAT
│   ├── AUTHOR.XML
│   ├── CONTENTS.HMT
│   ├── IMAGES
│   │   ├── T0.HMT
│   │   ├── T1.HMT
│   │   ├── T10.HMT
│   │   ├── T11.HMT
│   │   ├── T12.HMT
│   │   ├── T13.HMT
│   │   ├── T2.HMT
│   │   ├── T3.HMT
│   │   ├── T4.HMT
│   │   ├── T5.HMT
│   │   ├── T6.HMT
│   │   ├── T7.HMT
│   │   ├── T8.HMT
│   │   └── T9.HMT
│   ├── MENU.HMT
│   ├── PLAYLIST
│   │   ├── 00000001.HMT
│   │   ├── 00000002.HMT
│   │   ├── 00000003.HMT
│   │   ├── 00000004.HMT
│   │   ├── 00000005.HMT
│   │   ├── 00000006.HMT
│   │   └── 00000007.HMT
│   └── TEXT.HMT
└── My\ Pics
    ├── Blue\ hills.jpg
    ├── Sunset.jpg
    ├── Water\ lilies.jpg
    └── Winter.jpg

5 directories, 31 files

There is a lot going on here, lets take a look at a few of the formats we find in this disc structure. The files added to the CD are converted to WMA if you checked the “Convert Files” feature and are accessible like a normal data CD. The HighMAT folder is created to make a compatible HighMAT disc. Except for one XML file the rest of the files in the HighMAT folder all have an HMT extension. The author.xml file contains the root element <HMT> with some filenames indicating some of the HMT files may be thumbnails. If we open one of the HMT thumbnail files in a hex editor we can see:

Just a plain old JPG header. Exiftool tells us it is small 160×120 pixel image, must be a thumbnail. But lets take a look at another HMT file.

Even though the Menu.hmt file has the same extension as the thumbnails, this file is definitely not a JPG file with pixel data. Same goes for the Contents and Text files as well, unique formats.

The files in the playlist folder also have a unique format.

So it seems all the HighMAT folder really does is add compatibility for hardware to provide a menu to access the original data, providing playlists and thumbnails to navigate the data on your TV screen.

I came across one of these discs while processing a collection of CD-R discs donated to our library. Normally I would copy the images and other data off the disc to our preservation system, but this disc made me stop to think about the best way to preserve the data. Is a disc image appropriate or is the HighMAT folder even worth preserving if we have the original files from the disc? Finding hardware or a software player to present the disc as intended is getting harder to do. I am curious what others think of the value of this content.

I chose not to submit any signatures to PRONOM for the moment as we assess. It would be difficult to properly identify each format with all of them having the same extension, especially the JPG thumbnails as HMT is not a valid extension for the format. Take a look at my sample files and if you have come across this format before, let me know.

Apple Package Format

Let’s talk about Apple’s iWork software. Apple’s Office Suite of applications was first released in 2005 and provided a WordProcessor (Pages), Presentations (Keynote), and a little later, Spreadsheet (Numbers). They are exclusive to the Macintosh and iOS devices.

iWork was released in a few different versions. They get a little confusing as each application has its own version which all seemed to unify and stabilize in 2020. Here is a matrix of major versions.

VersionPackage or ZIP
iWork ’05Package
iWork ’06Package
iWork ’08Package
iWork ’09ZIP
iWork 2013Package
iWork 2014ZIP
iWork 2019ZIP
iWork 2020ZIP

You may already be aware but MacOS can sometimes be weird. I use the term weird in a loving, sometimes proud way, but I admit, there was some “odd” choices made in regards to how applications and documents are used and stored files on a Mac.

On early Macintosh computers Apple used an interesting method of storing resources for applications and some file formats. The Resource Fork for an application contained all the “resources” needed to run in the operating system. It would contain all the icons, warning screens, graphics, sounds, etc. This help true until Mac OS X came along and then Apple started using a bundle or package format. Still in use today, what appears to be a single file or application is actually a folder of all the resources needed to run the application.

Show Package Contents

By right clicking or control clicking on the icon you can open the folder and see all the contents which make up the Application.

Directory listing of Pages.app on MacOS

Nifty right? The MacOS which knows which extensions to treat as a package. If you were to move the application over to another system it would be a folder with the extension “.app”.

For an application I can see how this makes sense as it will only execute in the MacOS environment. The problem comes in when you use the same package method for the documents the application creates.

Contents of Pages version 1 sample file.

So instead of a single “file” with a bytestream, you get a folder of files which make up the file format. Here is Apple’s description:

Document Packages

If your document file formats are getting too complex to manage because of several disparate types of data, you might consider adopting a package format for your documents. Document packages give the illusion of a single document to users but provide you with flexibility in how you store the document data internally. Especially if you use several different types of standard data formats, such as JPEG, GIF, or XML, document packages make accessing and managing that data much easier.

Apple actually defines two similar methods:

Although bundles and packages are sometimes referred to interchangeably, they actually represent very distinct concepts:

  • package is any directory that the Finder presents to the user as if it were a single file.
  • bundle is a directory with a standardized hierarchical structure that holds executable code and the resources used by that code.

A couple years ago a processed digital collection made its way down to me. It had been processed by a new digital archivist and when I went to prepare the collection for preservation, I found a folder with the extension .pages and inside the folder a whole directory of files. Many of which they had renamed and arranged. Needless to say, I had to track down the original disk so I could properly preserve the file.

So looking back at the earlier table, iWork switched back and forth between the package format and a ZIP container. For preservation purposes, the ZIP container is easier to maintain outside the MacOS. Lets look a little closer at each. If you would like to follow along I have copied a few samples onto a hybrid ISO.

iWork ’05 through iWork ’08 used the same package format and structure. Because they are a package format, they are difficult to preserve as original files. I suppose you could zip them up, but probably the best option is to open with a current version of Pages and save to the newer ZIP container format.

tree iWork08/Keynote-06.key 
├── Contents
│   └── PkgInfo
├── QuickLook
│   └── Thumbnail.jpg
├── index.apxl.gz
└── theme-files
    ├── Blue 2.jpg
    ├── Blue 2.tif
    ├── Cool Gray-2.jpg
    ├── Cool Gray.tif
    ├── Green-8.jpg
    ├── Green.tif
    ├── Headlines_bullet.pdf
    ├── Headlines_star.pdf
    ├── Orange 2.tif
    ├── Orange_2.jpg
    ├── Purple-6.jpg
    ├── Purple.tif
    ├── Red.jpg
    ├── Red.tif
    ├── endpoints.pdf
    └── headlines_hi-res.jpg

iWork ’09 changed this practice. The documents saved from Pages, Keynote, and Numbers were contained in a ZIP file and can be identified using the PRONOM registry container signatures.

filename : 'iWork 2013/Pages2013-Sample09.pages'
filesize : 105900
modified : 2019-11-21T20:36:00-07:00
matches  :
  - ns      : 'pronom'
    id      : 'fmt/1439'
    format  : 'Apple iWork Pages'
    version : '09'
    class   : 'Word Processor'
    basis   : 'extension match pages; container name index.xml with byte match at 195, 76' 
Sample09.pages
Type = zip
WARNINGS:
Headers Error
Physical Size = 105900

   Date      Time    Attr         Size   Compressed  Name
------------------- ----- ------------ ------------  ------------------------
2019-11-21 20:36:00 .....       364773        22413  index.xml
2019-11-21 20:36:00 .....         7007         7007  Hardcover_bullet_black.png
2019-11-21 20:36:00 .....        69176        69176  Simple_Noise_2x.jpg
2019-11-21 20:36:00 .....          232          232  buildVersionHistory.plist
2019-11-21 20:36:00 .....         6406         6406  QuickLook/Thumbnail.png
------------------- ----- ------------ ------------  ------------------------
2019-11-21 20:36:00             447594       105234  5 files

Then Apple went back to a Package format with iWork 2013. For reasons unknown. But the content and structure changed. Its a package format with a Index.zip instead of index.xml

Pages2013-Sample.pages
├── Data
│   └── Hardcover_bullet_black-13.png
├── Index.zip
├── Metadata
│   ├── BuildVersionHistory.plist
│   ├── DocumentIdentifier
│   └── Properties.plist
├── preview-micro.jpg
├── preview-web.jpg
└── preview.jpg

3 directories, 8 files

The ZIP within the package contains a new Apple format. IWA

Pages2013-Sample.pages/Index.zip
Type = zip
Physical Size = 39361

   Date      Time    Attr         Size   Compressed  Name
------------------- ----- ------------ ------------  ------------------------
2019-11-21 20:47:14 .....         3860         3860  Index/Document.iwa
2019-11-21 20:47:14 .....           26           26  Index/Tables/DataList.iwa
2019-11-21 20:47:14 .....          336          336  Index/ViewState.iwa
2019-11-21 20:47:14 .....          160          160  Index/CalculationEngine.iwa
2019-11-21 20:47:14 .....          121          121  Index/DocumentStylesheet.iwa
2019-11-21 20:47:14 .....        31931        31931  Index/ThemeStylesheet.iwa
2019-11-21 20:47:14 .....           22           22  Index/AnnotationAuthorStorage.iwa
2019-11-21 20:47:14 .....         1889         1889  Index/Metadata.iwa
------------------- ----- ------------ ------------  ------------------------
2019-11-21 20:47:14              38345        38345  8 files

Luckily Apple came to their senses and went back to the ZIP container format for iWork 2014 and later. The container signature looks for the IWA file Apple started using with iWork 2013.

filename : 'iWork 2014/Pages2014-Sample.pages'
filesize : 66256
modified : 2019-11-22T00:03:56-07:00
errors   : 
matches  :
  - ns      : 'pronom'
    id      : 'fmt/1441'
    format  : 'Apple iWork Document'
    version : '14'
    class   : 'Presentation, Spreadsheet, Word Processor'
    basis   : 'extension match pages; container name Index/Document.iwa with byte match at 16, 6; name Metadata/Properties.plist with name only'
Path = iWork 2014/Pages2014-Sample.pages
Type = zip
Physical Size = 66256

   Date      Time    Attr         Size   Compressed  Name
------------------- ----- ------------ ------------  ------------------------
2019-11-22 00:03:54 .....         3930         3930  Index/Document.iwa
2019-11-22 00:03:54 .....          364          364  Index/ViewState.iwa
2019-11-22 00:03:54 .....          206          206  Index/CalculationEngine.iwa
2019-11-22 00:03:54 .....        33573        33573  Index/DocumentStylesheet.iwa
2019-11-22 00:03:54 .....           22           22  Index/AnnotationAuthorStorage.iwa
2019-11-22 00:03:54 .....           23           23  Index/DocumentMetadata.iwa
2019-11-22 00:03:54 .....         8761         8761  Index/Metadata.iwa
2019-11-22 00:03:54 .....          322          322  Metadata/Properties.plist
2019-11-22 00:03:54 .....           36           36  Metadata/DocumentIdentifier
2019-11-22 00:03:54 .....          273          273  Metadata/BuildVersionHistory.plist
2019-11-22 00:03:54 .....        14611        14611  preview.jpg
2019-11-22 00:03:54 .....          838          838  preview-micro.jpg
2019-11-22 00:03:54 .....         1571         1571  preview-web.jpg
------------------- ----- ------------ ------------  ------------------------
2019-11-22 00:03:54              64530        64530  13 files

Now iWork was not the only Apple software to use the Package/Bundle format for their documents. Be advised the following software may save to the package format.

I remember a few years ago, Trent Reznor (NIN) decided to release a few of his tracks in the Garageband format. A little harder to find these days, but the good old wayback machine kept a copy for us! Grab them here. Be warned, they may be in the package format. Thanks Apple!

Student Writing Center

When it comes to difficult file formats, one of the more difficult groups of formats are word processing text files. Difficult for many reasons, one being the shear number of them, the other is their lack of identifiable headers. Just when you think you have seen them all another pops up to add to the mix.

In a batch of other known word processing formats I came across a few files with no extension and with the following header:

The rest of the file was binary so the only thing I had to go one was the string “TLC” and “FF”. A few searches across the interwebs didn’t reveal much, seems it wasn’t a well documented format. From the names of the files and the fact they were with other word processing formats led me to assume they were also some sort of document format. The date stamps were still intact and I could see they were from the mid 1990’s. It took a few creative searches before I wondered if the “TLC” might have something to do with “The Learning Company“. If it was, I still had quite a bit of work ahead as the software developer had produced quite a few titles over the years. You probably remember the “Reader Rabbit” series of educational games.

After a bit of time I narrowed it down to a few titles and started looking for samples of each. Software was hard to find as well. I tried opening the file in a few different software until I finally came to one called “Student Writing Center”. Which may sound familiar to some of you, but there was some variations on this name out there. Some of which are:

  • Student Writing Center
  • Student Writing & Publishing Center 
  • The Children’s Writing & Publishing Center
  • The Writing Center
  • Ultimate Writing & Creativity Center

There were probably others, considering the budget software company started in 1980 and made titles for a few computer platforms starting with the Apple II. The story behind the company is a fun read.

The Student Writing Center was a simple word processor aimed at students 10 years old and older. It was found in many schools right along side Kid Pix, another very popular graphic program for kids. The software had a few different document types to help students get started writing their book reports or journal entries.

The Student Writing Center ran on both Macintosh and Windows allowing it to be one of the more popular writing tools for the younger crowd.

Each document type had a unique interface and save menu, which on Windows would save with the extensions, .RP, .NL, .JN, .LT, and .SG. They also had a slightly different header.

Reports:        1A544C43 01464600 0000
Newsletters:    1A544C43 00464600 0300
Journals:       1A544C43 00464600 0100
Letters:        1A544C43 00464600 0400
Signs:          1A544C43 00464600 0200

The signatures submitted to PRONOM take into account endianness for Windows and Macintosh with the last two byte locations being swapped. Also every document had the values “46461A” “FF” at the end of the file.

But wait! Just when you think you had it figured out…….

This file may look similar, but they are two different formats and are not compatible with each other. The little brother to the Student Writing Center was called “Ultimate Writing & Creativity Center” and was made for younger kids, ages 6-10. It had more of a cartoon interface and a cute little fountain pen teacher to walk you through the writing process.

When you saved your file in UWCC, you could choose between formats and I guess move your documents up to the more advanced program once you turned 10! If you would like to experience or re-live the opening sequence, enjoy.

I’m not done yet………

To complicate things even more The Learning Company also released another word processor called “The Writing Center“. This gets confused with Student Writing Center frequently.

But unlike the two others, this format is very different.

We’ll have to save this format for another day.

There seems to be a never ending list of word processor formats, with no end in sight. But if you used a school computer back in the early 1990’s and still have your floppy disk from back then, hopefully now you can open that report you wrote on Abraham Lincoln.

DiskDoubler

A few years ago I had someone contact me with a desperate plea. They had a disk which contained years of journal entries and letters to loved ones she could no longer access. She had used a Macintosh in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s to create all these files, but wanted to convert them all to PDF so she could make a book. She said she had tried everything, contacted a lot of people and her son had told her it was a lost cause. In talking with others at my institution, they knew I had a background in older Macintosh formats and so she contacted me. I made no promises, but offered to try.

The files she provided were indeed early Macintosh files. One obvious trait was the lack of an extension. One might think a lack of an extension was poor planning for Apple, but they choose a different method for the operating system to know the relationship between files and applications. They did this through the use of a Type/Creator code. If you were a software developer for the Macintosh you could register a four character “Creator” code, then for all the different files you used with your software you could register a “Type” code. This told the Macintosh operating system exactly which software created the file and the type so it could be opened properly. Unlike today where an extension is defaulted to one application even if it isn’t the software which created the file.

ResEdit view of Hypercard Stack Info

In some ways this was a superior identification method as there was many software titles which could all create the same file format, but this way the correct software would open the file and render it correctly.

Looking at the files provided to me, there was a few which at first seemed like they were damaged somehow, they were extremely small compared to the other files. About half the size. When I opened them in a hex editor this is what I saw.

Usually document formats during this time would keep the text in plain ascii, but these files were different, they had binary data. In the header was the only plain text strings in the file, “WDBNMSWD”. I had seen these codes before, a Microsoft Word Document! But they weren’t….. What are they?

The head of the file has the hex values “ABCD0054”, so I started searching the internet for some help. There were others having the same problem I was having. I finally came across a tool called the “Unarchiver“. Running the command line version of the software “unar”, suddenly I had a file twice the size and could be opened by Microsoft Word!

unar Letter 
Letter: DiskDoubler
"./Letter" already exists.
Successfully extracted to "./Letter-1".

Remember back in the 1990’s when storage was expensive? Instead of dropping another $20 for a 100MB ZIP Disk, you could use Symantec’s DiskDoubler. The software would be installed on your Macintosh and then a window would come up showing you all the files on your drive. With one click you could compress a single file or a directory of files saving you tons of space. When you needed the file, just double click and the software would uncompress on the fly and then open the correct application to edit the file.

With a few clicks I was able to uncompress all the affected files and provide a PDF of all the letters and journals my new friend had tried so desperately for years to open. She was thrilled to say the least.

But why stop there? PRONOM needs to know about this format!

Once I had DiskDoubler installed I could make a few more samples, where is where I found there was a few different compression methods used by the software. They are labeled AD 1 & 2 and DD 1, 2 & 3. Making samples of each of the different types I was able to confirm the first 4 bytes of every file was the hex values “ABCD0054”. I was able to submit the format to PRONOM and it was added and given the PUID fmt/1399.

One of the other features of DiskDoubler was an ability to create a Self Extracting Archive (SEA). An sea file could contain a compressed file but also contained the code to uncompress itself. This was mostly seen with the Stuffit software, but there were many other compression tools which could write to this format. The Stuffit formats have been added to PRONOM which include identification of an SEA created by stuffit, but the SEA created by DiskDoubler is different and needs to be added.

Shockwave Audio

Ok, confession time.

There is only a couple moments in my tech history which had a profound effect on me, enough to sear the memory of the moment into my brain. When I was in college around 1997 I had a decent CD collection and I had learned how to copy those AIFF files off the disc and use them on my trusty PowerCenter Pro. These files were huge, at the time. I knew a regular size song would take up around 50MB on my hard drive. This was a lot of space back in 1997, but I could then mix them with other songs, something I did sometimes for friends I had on the dance team. I didn’t have a CD burner at the time so I would transfer them to cassette tape. I know, but remember this was the 1990’s when everything was changing and expensive.

One night I was exploring the world wide web and I happened across someone sharing a few songs. I assumed they were just clips as they were only 5MB in size, a tenth the size they should be. I downloaded the song, which of course still took a few minutes back in those days. When I played the song, I was dumbfounded, it was the whole song. I was completely confused. How could they take a 4+ minute song and compress it down to under 5MB? This was amazing.

I started grabbing every song I could find. Before long I had quite the collection. And before you judge me for downloading music from the web, this was a couple years before the advertisement we all remember reminding us that we wouldn’t steal a car so why would we steal music.

The files I found on the internet were MP3 files, the same we are familiar with today. Back then creating MP3 files wasn’t easy. MP3 was actually a licensed product so you had to get a little creative in order to make them. On my Macintosh PowerCenter Pro, there were even fewer options. I was already familiar with the sound editing application from Macromedia called SoundEdit 16, it was the tool I used to do all my editing. I found there was a plugin you could add which allowed export to a format called Shockwave Audio. This was meant for use in Macromedia’s Director application to add sound to the growing Flash animation industry. Once I got the plugin and installed I couldn’t stop making files and I made them as fast as I could. For a whole album this could take over an hour on my hardware, but it was worth it. Before long I had a large collection of popular music ready to play at a moments notice. My player of choice was MacAMP, a sibling of the popular WinAMP. I even borrowed some equipment from a friend who DJ’d on the weekends and DJ’d a college dance. I lugged my whole PowerCenter Pro tower and 17in trinitron monitor over to the school. It was so much fun and folks didn’t understand when they asked to see my CD collection.

Enough about transgressions from my youth, lets talk about the Shockwave Audio format.

To create a SWA file you would first need SoundEdit 16 Version 2. Then the plugins to enable export. This would only run on PowerPC computers running Macintosh OS or Classic in Mac OS X. For this post I pulled out my trusty PowerBook G4 Titanium running MacOS 9 and MacOS X 10.2. Installed SoundEdit 16 and the plugins in the Xtras folder and we are good to go.

Before you export you need to set what bitrate you prefer for the final file, giving you the option of 8KBits up to 160KBits per second. The higher the bitrate the longer it took and made larger files.

SoundEdit 16 had a native audio format and also frequently used the SoundDesigner II format to save the uncompressed files. On a Macintosh you had to be careful as these formats did not travel well to other systems on account of the resource forks associated with the data.

Because these SWA files were meant to be used in websites and other non-Mac systems, they did not have a resource fork, but had the Creator/Type codes, SwaT/SHCK. An extension wasn’t necessary for use on your Macintosh, but it was best to use .swa.

Here is what the data looks like for a SWA file.

Even though the SWA format uses MPEG compression, this is not a typical header you might see in a MP3. There was no ID3 tags at the time so not much in terms of metadata.

General
Complete name                            : tone2.swa
Format                                   : MPEG Audio
File size                                : 80.7 KiB
Duration                                 : 5 s 166 ms
Overall bit rate mode                    : Constant
Overall bit rate                         : 128 kb/s
FileExtension_Invalid                    : m1a mpa mpa1 mp1 m2a mpa2 mp2 mp3

Audio
Format                                   : MPEG Audio
Format version                           : Version 1
Format profile                           : Layer 3
Format settings                          : Joint stereo / MS Stereo
Duration                                 : 5 s 172 ms
Bit rate mode                            : Constant
Bit rate                                 : 128 kb/s
Channel(s)                               : 2 channels
Sampling rate                            : 44.1 kHz
Frame rate                               : 38.281 FPS (1152 SPF)
Compression mode                         : Lossy
Stream size                              : 80.7 KiB (100%)
ffprobe -i tone2.swa 
[mp3 @ 0x155704a60] Format mp3 detected only with low score of 25, misdetection possible!
[mp3 @ 0x155704a60] Skipping 324 bytes of junk at 0.
[mp3 @ 0x155704a60] Estimating duration from bitrate, this may be inaccurate
Input #0, mp3, from 'tone2.swa':
Duration: 00:00:05.15, start: 0.000000, bitrate: 128 kb/s
Stream #0:0: Audio: mp3, 44100 Hz, stereo, fltp, 128 kb/s

There are a few consistencies among all my files. They all begin with the hex values “00000140000000030000” for the first 10 bytes and all of them seem to have the string “MACRZ” at offset 36. I haven’t been able to find a open specification for this file format, so we will have to go with what we can find in the samples. According to ffprobe from above, there is 324 bytes of a header before the first MP3 frame starts.

MPEG signatures are difficult, there are no headers, just a sequence of frames. This is why there are often so many identification conflicts with the MP3 format. These SWA files indeed identify as MP3 files, but with a mismatch extension.

filename : 'tone2.swa'
filesize : 82661
modified : 1970-01-01T00:00:00-07:00
errors   : 
matches  :
  - ns      : 'pronom'
    id      : 'fmt/134'
    format  : 'MPEG 1/2 Audio Layer 3'
    version : 
    mime    : 'audio/mpeg'
    class   : 'Audio'
    basis   : 'byte match at 0, 4088 (signature 5/9)'
    warning : 'extension mismatch'

If we wanted to distinguish an SWA from an MP3 we would need to create a new signature and give it priority over the MP3 signature. There is enough of a header this would be possible and easier, but since they are, in reality, just MP3 files does it matter? Trying to play a SWA on a modern computer is only possible if you change the extension to MP3.

If you want to take a look at some samples you can grab a couple I made on my GitHub page or check out some commercially made files for an awesome Star Trek Starship Creator game.