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TidBITS 32nd Anniversary and the 32K Text Barrier

In the early years of TidBITS, the Mac’s built-in editing capabilities for text fields were limited to 32 kilobytes of text. That limitation trickled down to numerous apps and systems—for instance, early versions of Eudora couldn’t display more than 32K of text in a single message (see “TidBITS & Eudora,” 3 April 1995). Unsurprisingly, the venerable BBEdit, which was released on 12 April 1992 and recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, had a custom text engine that never suffered from the 32K limit.

The 32K size restriction also hampered the email gateways that allowed messages to flow between the Internet and commercial online services like AOL, AppleLink, and CompuServe (see “Gateways III/America Online,” 19 October 1992). For years, we had a self-imposed limit on the size of a TidBITS issue to ensure it wouldn’t be bounced, truncated, or prevented from display because of being too large.

The 32K limit eventually faded away, but given that this issue of TidBITS marks our 32nd anniversary, it recently popped back into my head. There is something to be said for the focus provided by an arbitrary constraint. Since the dawn of printing, publishers have edited text to fit within a physical space on a page, and by the early 1990s, desktop publishing had supplemented the editor’s efforts with powerful copyfitting tools that could adjust font size, leading, kerning, and more. But we couldn’t avail ourselves of such layout trickery—when TidBITS needed to traverse an email gateway or be displayed in a 32K-limited app, a character was a character. So we trimmed and tweaked each week until Nisus told us that the character count was low enough.

I don’t miss having to cut 1200 characters to get a TidBITS issue down to size before publishing, but there was a sense of comfort in being bounded, in not feeling the need to comment on everything because there was simply no room. Technology has infiltrated nearly every part of modern life, and it’s difficult, as a technology publisher, to resist the pull to express an opinion on every topic that comes down the pike. We may write about subjects that venture further afield at times, but it’s important to me—and you—that we maintain our attention on the world of Apple.

All this is by way of saying that even if TidBITS is on track to exceed its own 32K barrier of sorts with 32 years of publication, I hope that you’ll continue to appreciate our focus on Apple-related tech news, reviews, techniques, and explorations that ease tedious tasks, encourage good computing habits, explain complex topics, and remind us how amazing today’s technology is.

As we reach this milestone, I’d like to thank all those who have helped TidBITS over the years, especially the 3650 current TidBITS members, and I hope those whose memberships are up for renewal will continue to support our work. Voluntary contributions like these have kept TidBITS financially stable since 2011. Modern publishing trends encourage exclusive subscription-only email newsletters and website paywalls, but TidBITS will continue to be available to those who can’t pay as long as we can make ends meet. If you join the TidBITS membership program at any level, you’ll also get discounts on over 90 Mac apps, including TextExpander from longtime sponsor Smile.

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Comments About TidBITS 32nd Anniversary and the 32K Text Barrier

Notable Replies

  1. Conga-rats on the Double-Word Anniversary of TidBITS! :tada::champagne:

  2. Congratulations on your 2^5 anniversary. Power-of-two anniversaries get harder and harder to reach. This one is a significant achievement. I doubt any of us can imagine what “computing” will be like at your 2^6 anniversary.

  3. Congratulations on your 32 years anniversary of TidBITS. I have been very honor joining this community since almost the beginning. In 32 years ago (when I was 31 years young), Mac was a minority but I felt a great future. Now we are seeing it. Be successful Mac community, TidBITS family and your family as well. Thank you for publishing TidBIT for many years.

  4. I seem to recall in the early days getting TidBits in setext format. It was quite cool at the time. Read it on my VAX workstation under X Windows. We didn’t know how good we had it… Congratulations.

  5. @mitch.barker, I too read it on our VAX — but using VMS via a terminal emulator on my Macintosh SE. A little kludgy, but it worked very well. I miss VMS, and Macintosh’s “System 7.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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