16 Aug 2011

Recovering Atari ST 1st Word+ Documents

I've been asked to recover some 1st Word+ Documents from 3½" disk drives. Before starting up one of my old Atari ST machines, I was trying to get the job done using Linux. And it worked quite well. Here is how:

Atari ST disk are formatted using a flavor of the FAT file system. Most of the time, it is possible to read this disks under Linux. The 'mtools' package contains tools to read and write FAT formatted floppy disks, without the need to rely on a file-system driver (the 'mtools' package is available in most Linux distributions. For Ubuntu Linux, execute "sudo apt-get install mtools" to install).

For reading old floppy disks, I recommended to use old style floppy disks, no modern USB-Floppy disks which can often only read standard PC formats. I've used a build-in 3½" floppy drive inside a trusty old IBM ThinkPad T20 running Ubuntu 11.04.

Before reading the files from an Atari ST disk, I configure 'mtools' to skip the check for the floppy format. The FAT format on Atari ST disks is somewhat non-standard, which can trick the 'mtools':

Add to /etc/mtools.conf


The mtools manual page documents:

MTOOLS_SKIP_CHECK: If this is set to 1, mtools skips most of its sanity checks. This is needed to read some Atari disks which have been made with the earlier ROMs, and which would not be recognized otherwise.

Next, make sure that the floppy kernel driver module is loaded. It seems that modern Linux systems do not load the driver for floppy disk anymore:

# sudo lsmod | grep floppy
# sudo modprobe floppy
# sudo lsmod | grep floppy
floppy                 60032  0 

Then I set the floppy drive parameters fixed for a 720kb floppy. The 'setfdprm' command is part of the 'fdutils' package:

# sudo setfdprm /dev/fd0 "720/720"

The command "mdir a:" should now show the directory content of the floppy disk. The floppy disk files can now be copies over to the Linux harddrive using 'mcopy':

# mkdir atari-st-floppy
# cd atari-st-floppy
# mcopy a:*.* .

Converting 1st Word+ documents into RTF

Rich Text Format (RTF) is a standard format for text documents. Using tools like UnRTF, RTF documents can be easly converted into other formats. RTF can be read my most modern text-processing packages such like LibreOffice and AbiWord.

'wpls2rtf' is a small commandline tools that can translate 1st Word+ files into RTF documents. The original source can be found at Using this tool, I was able to convert the old Atari ST documents into files that can be read and edited on modern systems.

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