back to article Retired engineer confesses to role in sliding Microsoft Bob onto millions of XP install CDs

One anniversary unlikely to be marked within the bowels of Redmond is that of Microsoft Bob. However, a retired engineer has taken to YouTube to confirm that the unloved interface did indeed enjoy a second life as digital ballast for Windows XP. Having spilled the beans on Task Manager back in May, the former Microsoft …

  1. Admiral Grace Hopper

    The early days of CD-ROM

    A colleague came in clutching a copy of the Microsoft Dogs CD-ROM. Another colleague immediately asked, "What's on it? Windows 1.0? Word 2? Bob?".

  2. TonyJ Silver badge
    Joke

    No wonder...

    He is bombastic...!

    1. Cynical Pie

      Re: No wonder...

      Bob-bastic surely?

  3. bob, mon!

    Much work to generate a blob...

    If a million code monkeys beaver away on a million keyboards, for a million years,...

    could they produce an encrypted version of Microsoft Bob?

    -bob,mon (why yes, I DO take this all personally)

  4. David Gosnell

    Comic Sans

    If I remember rightly, Bob was the original bearer of the delightfully timeless Comic Sans font.

    Also pioneered TFA logins (truly f*** all), with invitation to change your password if you'd obviously forgotten it.

  5. Mike 137 Silver badge

    No good reason then

    "Chen explained that around 30MB of dummy data was needed to pad out the CD..."

    Why? You'd hardly notice that even if you looked hard at the readable side, and not at all if you didn't.

    Clearly just a marketing wonk's fancy.

    1. chuBb. Silver badge

      Re: No good reason then

      Other than being used to determine if oem or retail versions by the installer.

      And IIRC some early CD roms (cd-r's were not ubiquitous then, many a Friday night I funded through upgrading family multi media centres to facilitate disk burning) had a fit if the CD wasn't full so probably needed just in case someone cobbled min specs together to get the windows eXPerience (bsods, reboot loops, telly tubby desktop, plug and pray, hours of fun fighting for your pci modem to be recognised only to fall over come cumulative update time, deafened and startled by the startup and shutdown noises, so user friendly skiddies could pwn the world with a few lines of vbscript... )

      Plus I believe at the time full payloads were more economical to press as cds, which was why the iso vs installer images still differ in size...

      1. I am the liquor Silver badge

        Re: No good reason then

        If you read Raymond Chen's article that's linked to in the Reg story, the main purpose was to raise the workload for pirates copying ISOs over the internet. Dial-up was still more common than broadband at the time.

        1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge
          Pirate

          Re: No good reason then

          Curses!

          arr!

    2. overunder Silver badge

      Re: No good reason then

      "Why?"

      Besides increasing download times for ~56K?

      1. If the dummy data was at the start, the read speeds would be increased.

      2. Similar to 1, back then jitter was still a thing and it was always bad at spin up.

      3. Again similar to 1, back then positive offsets could be very high, missing many samples.

      4. Some pressers required a full image to construct a master (I never found out why).

      FWIW, the readable side (the grooves of data), are pressed into the plastic. The film is only for the laser and can be replaced (I'm still curious if a method can be devised to read a CD from the top down, thus skipping resurfacing).

      Completely off beat, dummy data was essentially how Sega protected the Dreamcast with GD-ROM (dummy CDDA tracks... essentially ;-/).

  6. wolfetone Silver badge

    "As well as the likes of Space Cadet Pinball, Plummer also worked on the first incarnation of Product Activation for Windows: "A necessary evil. Had to be done. Sorry about that.""

    Well, at least he apologised.

    1. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker Silver badge

      "Sorry about that."

      Every time I read that phrase I hear the voice of Robbie Coltrane in the role of Hagrid, right after busting down the door (HP film #1).

      1. Matt Black

        Rory Bremner 'Bit of a Pratt, Sorry 'bout that' springs to my mind...

      2. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: "Sorry about that"

        I hear Maxwell Smart's voice every time I read that.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "Sorry about that"

          Priti Patel is now the purveyor of that approach. See Dave Brown's cartoon that appeared in the Independent recently.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Facepalm

            Re: "Sorry about that"

            Ah, the Independent. It’s 2020 and they still can’t get their comments system working. And the people on their tech desk are possibly the stupidest people to be allowed a working internet connection.

    2. nxnwest

      I hear Bluto in 'Animal House' after smashing the guitar...

  7. Celeste Reinard

    Go, fetch!

    As a cat-person, one can imagine that was the one I liked to kick out first thing. ... It would have been so much more popular when it had been a cat.

  8. herman Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Duh...

    $ dd bs=1M count=30 if=/dev/urandom of=Blob30MB

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Duh...

      Where's the fun in that? Still, might have been nicer to collect names and messages from the engineers to be irreversably encrypted. I'm sure they would have appreciated that.

    2. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

      Re: Duh...

      Beat me to it... I was going to say "apparently Windows doesn't have /dev/random" 8-)

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Duh...

        No, but as Chen points out in his blog post, even as far back as XP it had CryptGenRandom, so it's trivial to create a program that will dump an arbitrary amount of crypto-strong pseudorandom data. In fact, I think you could have scripted it with CAPICOM and WSH, using either Visual BASIC or JScript. (CAPICOM isn't in modern versions of Windows and I don't have XP handy to check.)

        Based on Plummer's comments quoted in the article, he 1) wanted to use the Bob blob for nostalgia, and 2) did a bunch of cargo-cult crypto that had no useful effect or meaning. Any decent symmetric encryption algorithm should serve as a PRF in the first approximation, so all that stuff about "several passes of different encryption tools and techniques" is nonsense.

  9. The commentard formerly known as Mister_C Bronze badge
    Black Helicopters

    Plod: You say you can't remember the password to this encrypted file, sir?

    The key is multipart, the full password is needed, "and it's been 25 years and I never wrote it down."

    Looks like you'll be spending quite a bit of time at Her Majesty's pleasure, sir. I hope you like porridge.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Back in the nineties I worked at a software house

    On the day a certain application (as we called them then) was due to be released, the programmers found they could fit the installation one one floppy rather than two as planned. Only the sticky labels had already been ordered, so they padded out the installation with some random data in order to spread it onto two floppies.

    1. A random security guy Bronze badge

      Re: Back in the nineties I worked at a software house

      Wow!!! A good ending.

      At one company I worked at I would have been penalized. I remember scheduling 2 weeks to find a bug no one could track down, found a work around in half a day, got penalized with a bad review for mid-estimating the time, quit and worked for the really large company in Cupertino.

      1. 2+2=5 Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Back in the nineties I worked at a software house

        > I remember scheduling 2 weeks to find a bug no one could track down ... [and] got penalized with a bad review for mid-estimating the time

        It has to be a special kind of twat-ish company to (a) know that they need to fix a bug but (b) will set a time limit on doing so. What were they going to do? Withdraw the product if it couldn't be found? Or let each of their developers have a go, one after the other, two weeks each?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Back in the nineties I worked at a software house

          I worked for a certain very large British Bank about 15 years ago who penalised their project managers if their planning was out. If we finished work earlier, we also padded it out until the planning was met. If we didn't have enough time, we finished anyway. The planning was the most important part not the actual work.

          1. My-Handle Silver badge

            Re: Back in the nineties I worked at a software house

            An approach that, to anyone with an ounce of common sense, would ensure that all project estimates given would always be a worst-case scenario and would almost always be proven entirely correct. Thus ensuring that the maximum amount of time was wasted.

            I've worked for companies like that :)

          2. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Back in the nineties I worked at a software house

            "The planning was the most important part not the actual work."

            This applies to procurement processes at British universities too - the process is far more important than actually achieving value for money (and the suppliers are fully aware of this - some vendors INCREASE prices over posted retail when you login to place orders)

    2. Mike 16 Silver badge

      Re: Back in the nineties I worked at a software house

      Brings back memories, but in the 1970s, and with ROMs rather than floppies.

      We typically shipped early builds of a product on PROMs (programmable ROMs), while waiting for the cheaper masked ROMs to come in. The program image took 6KB, so 3 2Kx8 PROMs (or six 2Kx4 PROMS for the more expensive but easier to get bipolar ones).

      All went well until the Masked ROMS (two 4kx8) arrived, and we got an urgent "Line Down!" call from the factory, saying _ALL_ of the new ROMs were defective. Turns out that rather than verify the checksums, they had checked and found that the first few bytes of the first ROM were _BLANK_!!! So the sky was falling.

      I managed to talk them off the ledge, but to forestall a repeat performance, I made a revised image that filled the first 2KB with a character set I liked (Hey, it wasn't blank...) and later used one of those chips in a homebrew terminal.

      1. Down not across Silver badge

        Re: Back in the nineties I worked at a software house

        I managed to talk them off the ledge, but to forestall a repeat performance, I made a revised image that filled the first 2KB with a character set I liked (Hey, it wasn't blank...) and later used one of those chips in a homebrew terminal.

        That brings back memories.

        I had Kaypro "portable" CP/M computer which had nordic character set. What they had done, was replace {}[]\| with the nordic characters. Made programming a bit painful. So I read the contents of the EPROM. Edited the character map to "re-create" the braces etc. I then burned it to a new EPROM. Finally I soldered the new character map EPROM on top of the old character map EPROM (well, a copy of the original as I wanted to retain the original in case anything went wrong) with the exception of chip select pin. I then installed a switch to switch CS between the two EPROMs and could flip between character sets in instantly.

        1. Dwarf Silver badge

          Re: Back in the nineties I worked at a software house

          @down not across

          A nice easy fix :-)

          Thanks for the memory .. You reminded me of a RAM upgrade I did in a similar manner by doing the same approach but adding a 74xx series gate on top in dead-bug mode to add the right decode lines to form the separate CS pins.

    3. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Back in the nineties I worked at a software house

      Aren't finance departments wonderful?

      Option 1:

      Programmers: We were planning to have a unit distribution cost of two floppies, two labels, an envelope, and the initial documentation. We met that target.

      Finance: Well done.

      Option 2:

      Programmers: We were planning to have a unit distribution cost of two floppies, two labels, an envelope, and the initial documentation. We managed to reduce that to one floppy, but still two labels because that was last minute.

      Finance: You're wasting money on the extra labels! Even though we were already planning to spend that and you saved us money on the floppies! Let's fire somebody.

    4. Brad16800

      Re: Back in the nineties I worked at a software house

      I'd of gone with the 2 week (minus the half day) holiday. Everyone wins.

  11. Sudosu

    The other Bob program from the 90's was much better...

    "I come from the Net. I search through systems, cities, and peoples, for this place, Mainframe, my home" -Bob

    1. chuBb. Silver badge

      Fax modem and data nully were my favourite characters in reboot (the rebooted reboot is rubbish BTW) from the x files parody episode

      1. Sudosu

        Yeah, that is right around the time the show went from somewhat silly episodic to the more serious and cool (IMHO) serialization of the show.

        Really the whole series is a mountain of wonderful geeky Easter eggs and fun characters.

        The graphics for early to mid 90's are pretty amazing.

    2. Blackjack Silver badge
  12. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "a single large Bob blob"

    A fitting description.

  13. 0laf Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    We are Legion (We are Bob)

    Tenuous link.

    We are Legion is a book (audiobook really) about a Von Neumann machine called Bob.

    Eventually there are many Bobs.

    I guess one Sci Fi author imagine Bob going on into the future...

    PS It's quite a decent audio book if that's your thing.

  14. karlkarl Silver badge

    "Plummer also worked on the first incarnation of Product Activation for Windows: "A necessary evil. Had to be done. Sorry about that."

    Was a real shame. However it did get me to move my butt and migrate to FreeBSD. Possibly not as convenient or user-friendly as Windows XP but then again, I very much prefer it to Windows 10. Open-source desktop environments certainly didn't get better. Windows just got worse at a faster rate.

    Since the WPA has been completely bypassed these days with KMS emulators like KMSpico, perhaps Microsoft would consider removing the crippleware again? Since it serves very little purpose other than alienating legitimate users who run offline labs or refuse to condone DRM?

    1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
      Linux

      > Open-source desktop environments certainly didn't get better.

      Have you been asleep for the last 15 years? You may not like what you get but there has been quite some development.

      Obligatory "down-vote me harder" icon when used under a Windows related article.

      1. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

        "Open-source desktop environments certainly didn't get better."

        Well, they did for a while, then the Gnome crew took a look at Win10, and thought "if they can get away with THAT...." and took away all the toys that made it usable. Behold, Gnome 3.

      2. karlkarl Silver badge

        "but there has been quite some development."

        Really? Such as?

        What improvements to Gnome 2 from ~15 years ago do we have now that really improve your life?

        1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
          Holmes

          Ignoring everything that is not Gnome might be the mistake here.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      DRM is only for casual piracy anyway. Anybody devoted to finding a way around it, will. Most likely those devoted enough to defeat the DRM to that wouldn't have paid anyway.

      Even so, the current methods only work because they could do better, but its still a balance for how much they want to piss off their legit users and how many hoops they have to go through vs. preventing average small business user from buying one copy and putting it on all their computers.

      If they let the flood gates open for casual pirates, they'd see a huge drop in revenue.

      1. karlkarl Silver badge

        I'm not so sure about this. Many small independent businesses do tend to use cracks for their internal software (in particular Photoshop and Sage clients). These businesses are usually compliant with licenses but did not want to open up the ports required for activation or the DRM encumbered software does not support a proxy (this is the most common!).

        So these companies "pirate" and still buy licenses in case an auditor comes their way. As a contractor I have experienced this in the majority of companies in the UK. Usually everyone is fairly hush hush about it.

  15. Danny 2 Silver badge

    Colorblind James Experience

    My baby was talking in her sleep

    She said, "Bob?"

    I said, "What?"

    She said, "Bob?"

    I said, "I'm Bob!"

    She said, "No, I mean a different Bob."

    And so I asked her the next day

    I said, "Jane?"

    She said "What?"

    I said, "Who's Bob?"

    She said, "You're Bob!"

    I said, "No, I mean a different Bob."

    My baby was run over by a truck

    It was a Dodge

    As she lay dying, she called for Bob,

    I touched her hand and said "I'm here!"

    She said, "No, I mean a different Bob."

  16. Pete B

    Should't this be filed under "Who...me?"

  17. atari2600
    WTF?

    Hmm. XP was released in 2001. I'm no mathematician, but no matter how I juggle the numbers, I can't get that to be 25 years ago.

    1. gerdesj Silver badge

      XP development started much earlier than its release date.

      I can still remember my first brief view of telly tubbies land followed by a BSOD. I put 2000 back on and waited for a usable version.

      1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Which came with SP3.

  18. Elledan Silver badge
    IT Angle

    Too much hate

    Having recently seen Microsoft Bob in action over at the LGR YouTube channel, I found that I had to severely adjustment my opinion of this software. Most of all that it isn't terrible. The fact that there were at least half a dozen similar solutions out there around the time showed that the concept made sense, and for a person new to PCs even today, the use of a UI that matches what they already know isn't a crazy idea.

    As someone who has had to guide many a family member and family of friends (etc. etc.) through software installations, basic computer usage and driver installations (insert hatred for WinModems here), I'd rather give them something along the lines of MSFT Bob rather than spend another untold hours explaining to people what the heck a 'taskbar', 'start button' and 'mouse cursor' are, or what these 'programs' are and what this 'window' is in that they open.

    Yeah, I like Bob well enough :)

  19. chivo243 Silver badge

    the marketing manager!

    Ah, the pieces start to fit...

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