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The developer died 14 years ago, here's a print out of his source code

Reader scores shonky NetWare support job where he had to share monitors

On-Call Welcome again to On-Call, our Friday wallow in jobs that are nastier than yours.

This week, reader “Earl” tells us that just this year he responded to “a Craigslist ad for a Novell NetWare Admin to figure out why .nlm files would not be loaded and fix the issue.”

Earl says he “wrote back and told the person that I was very expensive and I had not worked with NetWare since 2003, but if they do not find anyone else to take the job they should give me a call.”

The return call came “almost instantly” and Earl “gave them my expensive price and advised them that I was not the first choice for a NetWare admin, but I had extensive system troubleshooting experience.”

Those caveats didn't matter: the person who placed the ad said he's run it for months and months and never had a reply from anyone in the USA. Earl was just 90 minutes away by train and got the gig.

When Earl visited the site, he was told that an electrical storm had taken out the NetWare server and Windows 95/98 clients. Said server was a Dell PowerEdge 1300 with 64MB of RAM and a 10GB IDE hard drive. Earl reckons it was built in 1997 or 1998, so was a bit taken aback when told this was “the new server”.

“The old servers were giant Compaq Proliant SCSI boxes with 16MB of RAM. Those were in a junk pile. I was told they 'should' be able to boot up but no one could remember why they had even bothered to get a 'new' server at all.”

Earl quickly found the problem, namely an ancient surge protector more than a decade beyond its warranty. The lightning had zorched through that device and the resulting surge had damaged the IDE chip on the Dell PowerEdge 1300 so it would randomly delete information from the hard drive.

Next came a request to boot up the Compaqs, which had power supply and fan failures. A request to swap the disks from the dead Compaqs was not something Earl could do, as they had tossed out the necessary SCSI cables a few years back.

Earl was asked to do all of these things so the company could run its bespoke accounting program, which was written for it in 1993.

The developer, it turned out, had died in 2001. But the source code was in the company safe … on about 2000 pages of dot matrix printer paper. And there were backups of the old data … on 20 years worth of floppy disks and a pair of CD-ROMs.

Getting any of this to work required Novell NetWare, for which the company still had installation disks.

Earl told the company that they'd need a working server, running NetWare, before he could even begin to contemplate the task of typing in the source code so he could see if the backups could be restored. Then he'd have to hope that a Pascal compiler could cross-compile for NetWare to have even a chance of setting things to rights.

No, you may not have your own monitor

To the company's credit, it tried hard to meet his requests. Two weeks later Earl says he returned to the company, where a working PowerEdge 1300 with a PCI network awaited.

“It was all shiny and new looking so I am guessing they got it from one of those refurbishment vendors that over-charge for old hardware,” Earl says.

But he didn't have his own monitor.

“When I needed to do my work I had to go over to another desk and ask if they were using their monitor and then (since the system was broken) I would pick it up, and lug it over to my work area,” Earl explains.

He somehow got to work. DOS 6.22 and all the device drivers “installed like a charm”. NetWare 4.1 installed. It was seen by both Windows 95 and 98 on the frail network. Now it came time to restore the application.

But it turned out that the stack of disks contained only data, not the application. Even the 10MB disk from the “old” server was uselessly corrupted.

Earl tried to explain this problem, but the client was having none of it and showed him the door.

Earl tells The Register the client owes him about US$5,000.00 for his time and is showing no signs of paying up. At least he didn't have to re-type all that source code: perhaps there weren't enough keyboards in the office!

If you've been stiffed by a client or found a situation to match the one Earl walked into, write to me and we'll try to slot you in to a future version of On-Call. ®

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