It All Started With A BBS

December 22, 2014


Back in the early 1990's when I was in High School I finished up building my new custom built 386-40DX computer with a whopping 4 megabytes (not gigs) of Ram.  Two 40 Megabyte hard drives (ESDI) which took up four 5.25" drive bays was my massive storage array.  Running only MS Dos (I believe I was up to MS Dos 5.x or maybe even 6.x by then), a telephone line and a US Robotics 2400 baud modem I started my first BBS.


For those younger than me or newer to the computer world, a BBS was a very crude text based system that allowed you to share files, play text based games, and post topics for discussion. A user would dial into your computer from their computer.  If you were fortunate enough to have extra cash you could install several modems and telephone lines allowing for multiple people to connect to your computer at once.  I believe the biggest BBS I ever came across had a total of 8 phone lines and 8 modems, allowing for 8 simultaneously connected users (Cheshire Cat BBS - N. California).


One of the first uses of a BBS was to host software for download.  This was usually shareware or freeware (similar to what does now).  There were BBS operators at the time that would host pirated copies of software, such as WordPerfect 5.x, MS DOS, and Lotus apps but they were the exception to the majority of BBS operators.


The connections were slow and at most you only connected to a handful of people at the same time.  Email was not yet being used like it is now, there was no Mozilla, Internet Explorer, Chrome, etc.  It essentially was the first shared computer experience for the general public.  A primer for the internet to come.


If you were young, like I was, this usually required sharing a land line with your parents and having a computer answer calls in anticipation that it might be another computer was greatly frowned upon in my house.  So, a lot of BBS users had posted times of operation.  Don't call before 8 PM, etc.


Word of mouth was the primary method for letting other computer users know that you were operating.  The local PC shops were the place to give out information and if the owner of the shop or other operators liked you enough, they would give you a number to dial into.  It was a very private club run by fellow computer enthusiasts.  The membership requirements were that you had to be interested in computers, had a little bit of knowledge, and wanted to contribute.  There were some BBS systems that were operated by "BBS Snobs" and you practically had to beg to be allowed onto their site.  


I ran came across a friend on Facebook the other day that reminded me of the days when I use to run a BBS (Northern California and later in Lakeside, OR).  He was one of the first users that ever dialed into my BBS.


There was no money involved in this, it was a free service to offer to other fellow geeks and the excitement was keeping the system running.  The hardware constantly required tweaking: new fans had to be installed, power supplies, and the general run of the muck fixes.  Computers were not nearly as reliable as they are today!  Systems would simple crash for one reason or another.  There was little if any standardization for the hardware.  If you had a piece of ram that worked perfectly in one system, the chances were slim that it would work in another system.  Trial an error and a huge surplus of parts were required at all times.


Going forward to 2012, I still marvel at the internet.  Multiple users from around the world are simultaneously connected at once.  Sharing files and resources has become common and we hardly even think about the development that has happened.


Advertising on the internet is or has replaced print advertising.  Targeted marketing built upon your own interests appear everywhere now.


It simple blows me away to think where we are at now.  I remember the old days of simple computing with much nostalgia.  Then I remember how lonely the digital age was back then, only a handful of people had computers in their home and sharing a file meant sending someone a 5.25" floppy disk in the mail and hoped that the US Postal service wouldn't damage it.


Today, I no longer operate a BBS but manage a handful of blogs and websites along with several other sites for businesses that I consult for.  I miss the days of the dial up connection and the anticipation that you felt when you found a great program on a BBS and had to wait hours before it completed downloading.Now get back to work. :)

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