When it was originally published, MSX machines’ manuals and technical documentation were mainly focused on the Basic system, which was the greatest selling point of the standard. The idea of the manufactures was to promote a computer anyone could use, and to that goal, any advanced documentation would be somewhat detrimental.
However, while this level of documentation was ideal and adequate for casual users – and actually helped the MSX standard to gain legions of new users, most new to computers, all over the world – it was undoubtedly limiting to anyone engaged in more sophisticated programming or with aspirations other than being a mere computer user.
That’s when The MSX Red Book made to the bookstores. With the aim to provide a description of the standard MSX hardware and software in a deeper level of details, sufficient to satisfy the most demanding programmers and advanced users, the book rapidly became a must-have for anyone who wanted to explore the MSX standard, either for fun, hobby or professionally.
Despite heavily focused on the MSX architecture from the point of view of creating programs, the book was not oriented to teach programming. Readers were required to have advanced knowledge of the assembly language and enough understanding of the Z80 processor and computer architecture to be able to take true advantage of the knowledge the book was providing.
The book was translated into many languages and published in several editions. Years after the MSX was officially decommissioned by manufacturers and the standards were no longer available in stores, the book was still being published sold in bookstores. Nowadays, there are countless digital copies of the book available online, scanned from different sources, some converted to PDF others in multi JPEG files.
In the ‘2000s, Hans Otten undertook the challenge to convert the scanned pages of the book to text using OCR software, which he released to the public for free in 2001 on his currently defunct MSX website. Hans surely devoted countless hours revising and adjusting the final text, and he is to be thanked for one of the greatest conservation efforts ever made in the MSX scene related to a book.
In the following years, many copies of his text files spread all over the internet and multiple reviews were proposed – some even applied – but it resulted in multiple different copies with different reviews populating mirrors and sites everywhere. At one point it was virtually impossible to assure which copy was carrying the latest updates, as many had pieces and bits of different versions and reviews.
It was only in 2017 when a group of MSX users coordinated by Gustavo Seidler from Brazil created a GitHub repository and put the entire book available in MD format. Currently available for everyone, and in a much more friendly and modern digital format that allows easily revisions and all other cool features a Git-based repository can offer, The MSX Red Book GitHub Repository can be freely accessed through this link: https://github.com/gseidler/The-MSX-Red-Book.
Not only Gustavo and friends, but a lot of people from the international community took the time to revise many available versions to compose a digital document with the closest fidelity to the original printed book as possible, yet containing all important corrections and additions made through the years. In the repository version, SVG images replaced ASCII-based images used in the original text created by Hans Otten, bringing the final product to a more appealing and somewhat visual similarity to the original printed version. Many of the SVG files, however, seem to have been created before the repository itself, probably to support other attempts to release the book online.
One way or another, the MSX Red Book is still a highly valuable commodity for anyone who wants to play in close proximity to the MSX Standard, either on a real machine or on Emulators. It is absolutely an amazing book that became part of MSX history, and as important as its main subject, the MSX itself.