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So who made TH99?

2016-10-11 21:30:39,  In: History, Other

TotalHardware 99 is a great help for all of those who want to configure unknown PC component, board or drive. It is a website, now mirrored in many copies, which contains jumper settings for 18655 PC-related devices, from 8088-based XTs to Pentium II systems, the best ones in 1999. But who made it? Discovering, describing and documenting so much hardware required lots of time and resources (personally, for me this can be a really big fun). Some group or individual had to work with documentation and even real hardware, as some parts are named "UNKNOWN", usually the manufacturer and type is designated in documentation. Who is responsible for this site?
Let's see the history of TH99 in the Internet. It was popularized ca. 2001-2002 with a website of "A. Haning" (archived copy) who, as he wrote in his History page, found a free version of TotalHardware 99 without images. The file can be still downloaded e.g. from here but I don't know how long it'll last. The file, th99free.tar.bz2 or th99free.tar.gz, is about 10MB and contains text-only version of TotalHardware 99. This file is dated May 2001 and its internals are from March 2000. The information inside states:


So there was a free and full version and what we usually see with pictures is a full one. The free version (e.g. archived here contained 14876 devices and the full one has 18655 devices. In 2002, Mr. Haning wrote about version of "a little under 15000 PC board settings" (see the "Original" link) so he was speaking about smaller one. First mirrors of a "full version" started to appear in 2002, like

Later (ca. 2004), mr Haning offered a full version (ca. 160MB) and full one without thumbnails (ca. 50MB) to download. In 2003, he wrote in his "Old News" page:

I've been contacted by the General Manager (!) of a company that is hosting a mirror of the collection on their servers. He says that they would like to know some of the copyright information so that they can maybe license the Total Hardware 1999 collection for redistribution. This is awesome! If we can find whoever owns the copyright on it, we could potentially never have to worry about looking over our shoulders with this collection (not that I am, far as I'm concerned, it's pretty old, and they haven't come forth yet, so, bleh).

Well, with mr Haning, although he tweaked the versions to make them browsable easier, still has no idea who made it. We're still not closer to discover the author of TH99. There was a free and full version, but no contact to purchase the full one which is strange for a free version.

So I decided to dive into HTML files from original TH99. Listing pages are generated even without proper HTML header, but device pages are different. I quickly found that they are HTMLs generated by early version of Microsoft Word. Before software geeks realized that creating web pages must be difficult to make them earn more money, it was possible to use text editor to do it WYSIWYG way. The "GENERATOR" Meta tag points to "Microsoft Word 97" which was able to generate HTML. In some versions it added its own Meta-tags to make editing easier. In many HTML files, I found a "Template" tag which points to path of template the document was made. I decided to extract "Template" values from all files and make unique list of their paths, because in one path there were templates for video card, mainboard, hard disk etc. Here it is:

\\MHI_NT1\SHARED\Template\Research\ \\RESEARCH\SYS\shared\template\CONTROLR.DOT C:\Micro House\ C:\Micro House\Micro House Work Stuff\Micro House Documents\Mainboard C:\MSOFFICE\Templates\ C:\MSOFFICE\WINWORD\MHTEMPL\ALL.DOT C:\MSOFFICE\WINWORD\TEMPLATE\AUTODES.DOT C:\PROGRAM FILES\MICROSOFT OFFICE\OFFICE\ C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Templates\ C:\Program Files\MSOffice\Templates\ C:\WINDOWS\Desktop\Mainboard C:\WINNT\Profiles\Administrator\Desktop\Mainboard C:\WINNT\Profiles\davidm.000\Desktop\Mainboard C:\WINWORD\TEMPLATE\IO.DOT D:\Micro House Documents\Mainboard J:\SHARED\NEWCC.DOT J:\USERS\PAT\MHMB.DOT J:\USERS\PETE\NEWCC.DOT J:\USERS\ROBERTL\WORD\TEMPLATE\ J:\USERS\SCOTT\WORD6\TEMPLATE\ J:\USERS\YVONNE\NORMAL.DOT L:\GordonS\temp\ALL.DOT S:\Template\Research\ W:\WINDOWS\WORD_SIX\TEMPLATE\NEWCC6.DOT

Note that only hardware pages have been made using word processor. Listing pages have been made in ordinary HTML. What we can deduce from template names?
1. TH99 is a work of well-organized, probably company team who used local network with SMB.
2. Some editors used different OSes ("X:\Users" is Windows NT's directory) but in general it was Windows 9x (Program Files). or even earlier (Word six).
3. Looking at "D:\Micro House Documents" and "\\MHI_NT1\" we can see that the company was Micro House company.
What do we know about Micro House Company?
They released a book called "Micro House PC Hardware Reference Library" by Scott Mueller - the same one who made famous "Upgrading and Repairing PCs" handbook.
Looking in this archived site we can see that it was in few volumes. The similar theory chapters can be seen in "Upgrading and repairing PCs". Network devices table of contents have been archived here and again we can see similarities to "Upgrading and repairing PCs". The first edition of this book has been published in 1988 proof so probably it was included from existing book when Micro House released Hardware Library and Upgrading.
And let me show you an advertisement from PC Magazine January 1995. Don't we know these pictures from somewhere?

And let's look there. It is a copy of web documentation from these CDs. Pictures are well similar, but with watermark absent in TH99 version.
Who was Micro House? Let's look at their description from 1998 in this article:

Micro House International, a privately held company headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, is a leading global provider of technical support information products and drive imaging products. Micro House products are used by hardware technicians, network administrators, help desk and IT professionals, resellers, and system integrators worldwide for installation, maintenance, and upgrades of multivendor PCs and networks. These products include SupportSource, the Support On Site product family (recently acquired from Ziff-Davis), the Micro House Technical Library, and ImageCast IC3. For additional information, call Micro House US Corporate Office at 800.926.8299 or 303.443.3388 (international calls) or visit

In a post in Russian forum, someone posted number of contents of Micro House library databases. I'll cite the shortened version here:

Category             Q1 Jan, 1998   Q1 Jan, 1999   Q4 Nov, 1998
All                    78025             115840      116221
HDD Controller Cards	1596              1755         1732
Hard Drives            3380              4036         3943
Optical Drives          232               376          338
Tape Drives             123               259          224
Mainboards             5518              5332         6444
Data Communication     2543              2854         2789
Telecommunications     1473              1951         1759
Video Controller Cards 1449              1642         1602
Miscellaneous I/O      1509              1849         1755
Manufacturers          3757              4116         3965
FCC ID Locator         56399             91624        91624
MH Technical Guide Series 46              46            46

Generally we have at average 115K items, minus ca. 92K FCC codes, 4K manufacturers and 46 guides we get around 19K devices. Assuming they were using different CDs it may be 18655. Taking that similar source - (available in Wayback Machine) has similar disk drive datasheets with more drives than in TH99, we can clearly see that quantitatively it sticks. Qualitatively too as pictures are from the same source and metadata points us to Micro House. More - MTL file names in Micro House correspond to HTML names in TH99. Below I present one more picture - it shows a page from TH99 and Q4/1998 Micro House Support Source page:

Micro House used a special MTL format for their documentation which was generated from HTML and vector graphics, but it could be reverted to pure HTML to be viewed with viewer's control. Someone could reverse-engineer the format or, what is more probable, data just leaked from publisher. The only thing needed then was to use the files and modify graphics, what needed some image-processing tricks (as watermarks were sometimes skewed or distorted) but was possible. I think that data leaked, and not were decompiled from MTL format because there are useless meta tags which are usually removed in most HTML compilation software.

So TotalHardware 99 is content dump of Micro House Technical Library without "theoretical" part. In 1999, Micro House was shut down (?EarthWeb acquired them?) and they stopped releasing "Technical Library" or "Support Source" subscription.

Summing up, the whole story is simple: Micro House offered a subscription of the Technical Library CDs, which contained information about devices as well as general technical information based on other books and publications of Micro House. The subscription was probably one CD per quarter in late 1990s until Micro House has been acquired.
After the acquisition, information started to leak in raw pre-publishing HTML format (or was retrieved from CDs by reversing its format) and became re-used in different handbooks (like TH99 or PC-Disk) and own applications (like Tech Page).

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