A fairly large number of old ConTeXt releases are available on-line on the ConTeXt Revisions site.
If fact, most information is made available twice: In the Files section, you can find the actual zip files that have been used, and in the SCM section you will find an unpacked version history of the Cont-tmf.zip contents.
There are no release notes on that site, see the Release Notes page for that.
The ConTeXt distribution at Pragma Ade consists of a slowly growing number of zip files:
- Cont-tmf.zip The ConTeXt core distribution
- Cont-fnt.zip Font support files
- Cont-img.zip Test and sample images
- Cont-ext.zip Third party ConTeXt additions
- Cont-exa.zip The Example framework
- Cont-ppc.zip PPCHTeX distribution
- Cont-win.zip texmfstart.exe for windows
- Cont-mpd.zip Standalone distribution of mptopdf
The amount of available information drops when moving back in time, simply because not all older files have been archived.
The three oldest zip files (from 1997 and 1998) are from the MS-DOS era, so the included files have all uppercase filenames, CRLF terminators, and the archives do contain subdirectory information.
The files from 1999 and 2000 are a bit dodgy. For example, cont-tmf-19990217.zip
texutil.pl in the
tex/context/base directory, and cont-tmf-19990331.zip does not contain texutil at all. Also, sometimes the directory root is wrong. This is because these files are reverse engineered from the relevant 4TeX and TeXLive distribution trees.
Starting with January 2005, the releases are set up such that it is possible that there are extra release files other than the base Cont-tmf.zip. However, the first distribution that has all of its files made available is Context 2005.12.18. That distribution was picked as a starting point because it is also the first distribution for which all of the archives are tracked in the Release Notes instead of only Cont-tmf.zip.
There are about two hundred releases entered into the repository. Normally, there is one revision per context release, but sometimes (esp. before mid-2004) there is more than one revision per context release, make sure you use the one with the highest number.
The subversion comment matches the release date, except for the really old ones that did not have a \contextversion command. For those releases, the modification date of the newest included file is taken instead.
If you want to check out stuff that is older than mid-2004, you are advised to download the zip from 'Files' instead of checking out a revision, because there may be errors in the commits of the older revisions. Adding all those files was a very tedious and error-prone job.