The Macintosh was treated to a blast from the past today, as startup Dogcow Software announced that it has acquired rights to the popular disk editor FEdit from its original developers. FEdit was the first powerful disk editor on the Macintosh, enabling users to modify disks at the lowest level, much like Norton Disk Editor can do today. Those of us who specialized in floppy disk repair back in the late 1980s remember FEdit fondly as one of our most useful disk repair utilities. However, despite its following, FEdit wasn’t updated and soon ceased to work on new Macs, such as the IIfx.
Bringing FEdit into the present proved difficult for Dogcow Software, not only because of the low level at which FEdit works, but also because the source code was lost in the serious San Francisco earthquake a few years ago. Lacking that source code, Dogcow Software opted to revitalize FEdit by writing a wrapper around it, insulating FEdit itself from the wildly different world of today’s Macs and Power Macs. Similar technology has been used in the past to bring back Atari 2600 video games and other video games that never ran on microcomputers, much less Macs. In FEdit’s case, though, Dogcow had to write what was essentially a complete emulator for the Macintosh Plus, complete with a fixed 9″ monochrome window.
However, that’s not the most interesting part of FEdit’s return. Dogcow Software’s Mac Plus emulator is highly extendable through a technology that Dogcow spokesman Rex Muefmann says is awaiting final patent approval. As an example of how the technology can be extended, Dogcow plans to ship FEdit, renamed FEdit Pro, with a module that enables it to take advantage of Open Transport to edit disks over AppleTalk and TCP/IP-based networks, including the Internet. Another module broadens FEdit Pro’s range to disk formats used by a variety of common operating systems, including DOS, OS/2, Windows NT, and a number of standard flavors of Unix.
“Just think of what this will do for tech support,” enthused Dogcow’s Muefmann. “Never again will a novice user be forced to walk through a highly technical bit of disk editing on their own.” Critics respond that FEdit Pro’s capabilities provide power beyond what should be put in the hands of the public. In fact, such power might explain an otherwise inexplicable act of online vandalism. For a period of two weeks that appears to have fallen within the time when FEdit Pro was tested, all postings in <alt.politics> that contained what are considered “obscene” four-letter words had their letters replaced with “Exon,” the name of the senator responsible in great part for the widely reviled Communications Decency Act.
“You have to admit, it’s a good explanation for sentences like ‘What the Exon does Representative Exon Armey think he’s doing in the Exon budget debate?’ appearing in alt.politics,” said Mike Goodwrench, legal counsel for an online advocacy group. Goodwrench and others point to the indiscriminate replacements of words that aren’t always considered indecent, and the strict character-for-character replacement that’s representative of brute-force disk editing as evidence pointing at FEdit Pro. When confronted with this logic, Dogcow’s Muefmann dismissed the allegations as FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) started by competing companies. “You wait,” he said, “I’ll bet tomorrow Microsoft announces it’s been working on network-based disk editing for six months.”
When asked about FEdit Pro’s future, Muefmann said that Dogcow was working on adding color to the interface, along with support for QuickDraw 3D. “We understand that FEdit Pro’s interface isn’t one of the easiest ones to use these days, but we have some great ideas for how to make low-level disk editing the sort of thing that any kid who can play Nintendo can do. Because of this, support for QuickDraw 3D is definitely one of our strategic directions.” It’s safe to say that the industry will never be the same again.