Yep, Norton Did It

Some time ago, the question of the oldest executable compression tool came up. EXEPACK was identified as a widespread and unexpectedly troublemaking specimen, but Realia SpaceMaker was reportedly older.

Only initially no one could come up with surviving executables compressed with SpaceMaker that were demonstrably older than EXEPACK (leave alone find old versions of SpaceMaker itself), although there were several unconfirmed hints that early versions of Norton Utilities used SpaceMaker.

Eventually an old executable compressed with SpaceMaker turned up: DVED.COM from September 1983, pre-dating the 1984 EXEPACK. But did Norton Utilities really use SpaceMaker?

Jeff Parsons of pcjs.org has now unearthed excellent circumstantial evidence: On floppies distributed with the Summer 1983 copies of the PC Disk Magazine, there were utilities authored by Peter Norton (though not specifically anything from the Norton Utilities). And those executables by Peter Norton were compressed with SpaceMaker.

In the meantime, the OS/2 Museum came into the possession of an image of an actual Norton Utilities 2.01 floppy. The files on the floppy are dated July 4, 1983, and yes, most of them are compressed with SpaceMaker. They contain the ‘MEMORY$’ signature near the beginning, and a decompression stub at the end. The rumors about Norton Utilities and SpaceMaker were true.

At this point, it is then known that yes, Peter Norton really used SpaceMaker for early Norton Utilities, and yes, SpaceMaker is really quite a bit older than EXEPACK; SpaceMaker may be considered the oldest known executable compression utility.

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6 Responses to Yep, Norton Did It

  1. Richard Wells says:

    Glad to see you tracked it down.

  2. This is a very nice tidbit, and satisfies some curiosities of my own! Thank you for this!

  3. Jay Taylor says:

    I’ve got one of the first (if not the first) versions of Spacemaker from 1983. It must have been sold pretty cheap as I didn’t have a lot of money in those days. I had a trial copy of MultiMate that was quite large. I used Spacemaker on it and it became quite a bit smaller. I sent it back to the company and they were quite impressed and wanted to know more on how I accomplished such a feat. I discovered that Lattice C (A very common compiler at that time.) would generate an executable with 4K of zeros in it if there was an array 4k long with zeros. They didn’t have “initialization records” that got run before the program handed control over to main that would initialize all the necessary variable/arrays. Jay

  4. Michal Necasek says:

    In August 1983, Spacemaker was advertised at $75. Is the ancient executable available somewhere? For all I know you might have the only surviving copy.

    C compilers don’t actually have initialization records, they have BSS segments. Uninitialized or zero-initialized data is placed into the BSS segment, and the C run-time makes sure it’s zeroed at start-up if the OS does not already provide zeroed memory (like DOS). It’s one of those things that seem like they have always been there but they haven’t.

  5. Vlad Gnatov says:

    I got myself a copy of NU2.0 not that long ago and there is no MEMORY$ signature or decompression code in the files. So, unless I got a fake, NU2.01 is a first version that was compressed by SpaceMaker.
    The files in my archive are dated Jun 1, 1983.

  6. Michal Necasek says:

    There are so few surviving versions that it’s impossible to draw any solid conclusions. It is known that some companies (like WordPerfect Corp) updated their software multiple times without changing the version number. But based on we know, it is indeed likely that Peter Norton started using SpaceMaker sometime in Summer 1983.

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