The BBS Lives!

January 11, 2010

Most people over 25 will remember fondly the days of the BBS. Here in North America, they were accessible to anyone with a phone line. Unlike the internet, you didn’t need to pay, and the software was simple and readily available. Basically, if you were old enough to type in a phone number, you were on.

In my area there were maybe 300 BBSs, so there was a lot to choose from. All major cities could boast the same – or more. However, by ’99 those numbers were way down. At this point in time, there are probably only about 50 BBSs in all of North America which are accessible via the phone line. The internet is just so accessible to everyone, that survival of the BBS became quickly endangered. Except for one thing – fanatics!

Some people, like me, were originally reluctant to leave the non-commercial, and democratic, world of networks like FIDO. We could communicate for free all over the world – without government intervention. Eventually, e-mail won, but not entirely. There is still a nostalgic draw, though there is much more than that. The whole idea of text only direct communication is as interesting now as it was when morse code first became popular with amateurs radio enthusiasts.

There is also the fun of running really minimal equipment. A computer from the early 80s running at 4MHz and having less memory than it takes to render a web page, can dial a modem and connect to a BBS. Actually, there are some people who make a point of running a BBS on old kit. The Commodore 64 is more than adequate and that’s what Borderline BBS, for example, runs on.

The BBS is not dead yet. In fact I think it is slowly becoming increasingly popular. Yes, there are very few that are accessible via the phone. That, after all, costs money for extra phone lines. But using the venerable old telnet protocol on the internet is saving the day. For those that never put down the mouse, telnet is a simple protocol which looks a lot like a regular communications program interface. In other words, the land of ASCII and ANSI. There are now quite a few BBSs in North America which are available with telnet – and I think their numbers might be growing. Have a look at some of the links in the sister post to this one: BBS lists – Telnet and Dialup

Last night, I went looking on the net for some interesting boards so I could test a new telnet program. I discovered that one of my old BBS favourites was now reachable from the net. The Bandmaster BBS was started in 1986 by Dallas Hinton, and has never given up. All these years it has been available by modem but now also via the net. I just typed in the telnet address ( and there it was in front of me. It said, “login:”

I put in my name and it responded with “password:” . . . Now what! After staring into space for a minute, I typed in something I found in a hole at the far reaches of my mind where old passwords go to die … and I was in! What fun! Up came that old welcome screen. Talk about nostalgia. :)

Of course, had I not had an old account, I could have registered one. I could have also opted to use dialup and enjoy that special satisfaction of hearing the ring at the other end being interrupted by the pleasant sound of two modems doing their negotiation and then settling into a steady stream of communication. However, telnet being an internet protocol, doesn’t incur any long distance charges or tying up of the phone.

I can run telnet from the command line in any of the modern operating systems that I use. I hear that even MS-Windows has some good telnet clients, but you might have to install it yourself in that case. Personally, I prefer DOS for this kind of thing. Being text only, it just feels right. Actually, to me, text only always feels right.

The program that I was testing is written by Mike Brutman and is part of a suite of TCP/IP programs that he authored. Up until he wrote this, the only programs readily available for DOS were the classic (but peculiar) NCSA telnet, the (much better) derivative lxtelnet, and Morley’s unfinished MiniTelnet. Mike’s telnet program is called mTCP Telnet, is only 90K and is definitely the fastest and best written that I’ve seen for DOS. It will also run on as little as an 8088 and 150Kb of RAM. For all DOS-heads, I strongly recommend you check it out.

Even if you’re not into vintage computers and don’t want to hunt down a real modem, I strongly recommend that you give telnet BBSing a try. If you’re under 25 and weren’t there, you will not appreciate the nostalgia – but you’ll benefit from the history lesson. I’ll be back on the BandMaster BBS tonight. Maybe I’ll see you there!


One Response to “The BBS Lives!”

  1. my friend is writing a blog on the old bbs still running, you can check it here –

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