Tangible Media: Removable Storage of Image, Sound, Motion and Data
Tangible Media: Removable Storage of Image, Sound, Motion and Data
Tangible Media: Removable Storage of Image, Sound, Motion and Data
Oscar Databar


Loan Amortization




Offset lithography on glossy paper


Page width: 9⅜ in. (24 cm)


Databar Corp.


Eden Prarie, Minnesota, United States

The Oscar Databar format stored software as barcodes printed on paper. In the early 1980s, there were limited options for computer magazines to distribute programs. Floppy discs were expensive, and modems were slow. Although programs were often published as text for users to type in by hand, this was tedious and error-prone. PC software was also distributed on audio cassettes, but these were impractical for magazines. Barcodes, already familiar to most users, were a potential solution. The Oscar Databar loaded programs by scanning lines of barcode with a handheld scanner. It supported the Commodore 64, Atari 8-bit, TI 99/4A and TRS 80 personal computers. The reader was $79.95 and came with software included in the box.

The weakness of the Databar was the handheld scanner. In practice, it proved difficult to guide the scanner in a straight line across the page. A slotted plastic template was added late in development to help keep the scanner on track, but scanning at a constant speed was still a challenge. When the product started shipping, Databar Corp. received a flood of returns. In a later interview, Kim Garretson, editor of Databar magazine, said “Sometimes you had to go across a single line of code three or four or five or seven times to hear the little beep.” There were 31 lines of code per page and programs ranged from three to seven pages long.

Only one issue of the Databar magazine was published and by Q2 1984 the product was dead. Several years later the Cauzin Softstrip tried again with a more compact barcode format and a motorized scanner, but ultimately barcode software couldn't compete with 3.5 in. floppies.

The barcode is based on the format used to store software on tape cassettes. The reader plugged into the cassette port on the computer, which treated it as a tape. See @doegox at Github and his detailed breakdown: Databar decoding (thanks to Ange Albertini for pointing these out).
Complete program
The back-and-forth scanner path enforced by the template
Lower right: the spring-loaded tracking guide and the opening for the optics.

Introduction to Oscar (PDF)

Loan Amortization Program (PDF)