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):

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

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.

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.