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Early Easter Eggs

Early Easter Eggs

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Jensen Harris's blog post today talked about an early Easter Egg he found in the Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer BASIC interpreter.


What's not widely known is that there were Easter Eggs in MS-DOS.  Not many, but some did slip in.  The earliest one I know of was one in the MS-DOS "Recover" command.

The "Recover" command was an "interesting" command.

As it was explained to me, when Microsoft added support for hard disks (and added a hierarchical filesystem to the operating system), the powers that be were worried that people would "lose" their files (by forgetting where they put them).

The "recover" command was an attempt to solve this.  Of course it "solved" the problem by using the "Take a chainsaw to carve the Sunday roast" technique.

You see, the "Recover" command flattened your hard disk - it moved all the files from all the subdirectories on your hard disk into the root directory.  And it renamed them to be FILE0001.REC to FILE<n>.REC.

If someone ever used it, their immediate reaction was "Why on earth did those idiots put such a useless tool in the OS, now I've got got to figure out which of these files is my file, and I need to put all my files back where they came from".  Fortunately Microsoft finally removed it from the OS in the MS-DOS 5.0 timeframe.


Before it flattened your hard disk, it helpfully asked you if you wanted to continue (Y/N)?.

Here's the Easter Egg: On MS-DOS 2.0 (only), if you hit "CTRL-R" at the Y/N prompt, it would print out the string "<developer email alias> helped with the new DOS, Microsoft Rules!"

To my knowledge, nobody ever figured out how to get access to this particular easter egg, although I do remember Peter Norton writing a column about it in PC-WEEK (he found the text of the easter egg by running "strings" on the binary).

Nowadays, adding an easter egg to a Microsoft OS is immediate grounds for termination, so it's highly unlikely you'll ever see another.


Somewhat later:  I dug up the documentation for the "recover" command - the version of the documentation I found indicates that the tool was intended to recover files with bad sectors within it - apparently if you specified a filename, it would create a new file in the current directory that contained all the clusters from the bad file that were readable.  If you specified just a drive, it did the same thing to all the files on the drive - which had the effect of wiping your entire disk.  So the tool isn't TOTALLY stupid, but it still was pretty surprising to me when I stumbled onto it on my test machine one day.


  • The '98 easter egg was spec'd, developed, and tested by a small group working on orders of the management team. The music is the same as the music that played during '98 setup. As I recall, that music was specially commissioned by no one in particular, but the composer was told to make it sound like Moby.
  • If MS officially allows an easter egg with good internal documentation, peer reviewed and well tested but kept low profiled, it wouldn't be a problem, would it? When Adobe starts up you can see list of dev. This makes things boring and less creating but a product without any "easter egg" at all sucks more. If MS wants it can even standardise on, say, About Box with your choice of key sequence!
  • > Every second spent on that, was a second that could have been spent on issues of somewaht more importance.

    Coding an easter egg is a nice diversion from the usual tasks at hand. Working on the former can actually boost your productivity working on the latter, just because writing an easter egg is fun.
  • The earliest one I saw was on the Commodore Pet, around 1978. The otherwise useless command "WAIT 6502,0" caused the screen to fill with the word "MICROSOFT". (The Pet CPU was a 6502)

    Legend has it that Bill Gates wanted this in just in case Commodore ever tried to claim that the code wasn't from Microsoft.
  • For a great story by Terry Bisson about an easter egg in a "future" version of Office:
  • Easter eggs development time does *not* count against feature development time. It's teambuilding and personal freedom, and a feeling of having fun with what one do.

    As for security issues: That's also hogwash. Unless you're trying to run in a lockdown environment (kiosk environment) where the easter egg would still show up, it's so isolated it wouldn't count.

    That's my professional opinion as a former security engineer (working operating systems bugs), at least.

  • I heard one reason why there aren't any easter eggs in Windows anymore is that Microsoft was accused of keeping undocumented features in the OS that gave other MS products an edge, so when settling the anti-trust case with the DoJ they had to agree to never include undocumented features, no matter how 'harmless', in the OS again. It may be an urban legend, but it does make sense.
  • Developers want to sign their work and hurrah! themselves. Why not a MS web page that they can do this? Movies have credit screens ...
  • JWZ on Easter Eggs:
  • I believe that the DoD had a big part in this. I remember seeing some specs on software that requires any software that is purchased to have all features documented. Easter Eggs are an undocumented feature. Therefore, it would technically be against DoD regulations to purchase the software. I'm guessing that's the case with large companies as well.

    Maybe it has something to do with software that wants to communicate with the mother ship from time to time.
  • I recall using Recover to recover files on a floppy. I think I was using Debug to undelete files and caused some problem with the directory. Anyway, having all the files without any names is worse than having some corrupted files.
  • Let's be honest, we all know perfectly well that the real reason corporate customers don't like Easter eggs is that in the core of their shrivelled little souls they believe that having fun while you work is the same as stealing from the company.
    This is the culture of the suit, the meaningless mission statement, and the ruthless elimination of all signs of joy and humanity.

    The Open Source movement's got it all wrong: it's not software that needs to be made free, but the people who use it. And the people who write it.
  • The recover command appears to be present in Windows 2000, the Windows version I have in front of me at the moment:

    >recover /?
    Recovers readable information from a bad or defective disk.

    RECOVER [drive:][path]filename
    Consult the online Command Reference in Windows 2000 Help
    before using the RECOVER command.
  • I'm reliably informed that all the Easter Eggs in Crystal branded products of the v10 age were the result of the takeover by Business Objects, where they closed the main development office that had developed all of the OLAP product lines...
  • All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
    All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
    All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
    All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
    All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
    All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
    All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
    All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
    All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
    All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
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