RoboBoard/FX can display 256-color GIF files in real-time, has icon button controls, movable windows, and you can use your mouse! RIP scripts are not required (or available) because RoboBoard/FX is a complete graphical environment.
RoboBoard/FX is fun and easy. If you can read pictures and icons, you won't get lost - just point and click. The Fox_Hole BBS has the latest shareware games and utilities available to download. Not the largest of file areas, but it is complete and up to date. New files are added as they are uploaded. One of the unique things about our file base is that almost every file, except for the CD and adult files, have been uploaded by callers.
The Fox_Hole has an email message system. Messages from FidoNet and RoboNet available to first-time callers. We have an off-line reader for downloaded messages. You can download interesting messages to your disk, or you can send a message to your own printer for a hard copy.
Another feature of our BBS is the lost/ missing children national message base. Along with reading about case histories, you can actually view pictures of these children while you are online, or you may download them for viewing later. All callers, once verified, have access to this unique area. We have many other features, including online games, a daily weather report, and an online viewable art section.
Like all RoboBoard/FX BBSs, first time callers need to download the free terminal program called FXTerm. You can do this from the BBS's pre-logon front end. The BBS front end provides a menu where you can download free files, leave the Sysop a message, or check our list of the latest virus alerts. All without even fully logging-on.
FXTerm is required to fully access our system - or any other BBS using RoboBoard/FX. FXTerm requires a VGA monitor, a fast computer, and a mouse. FXTerm must be run from the DOS prompt, as it uses a lot of computer resources to give a full graphical interface. FXTerm may also be used to call conventional ANSI/ASCII BBSs as well.
A callback verifier makes access to The Fox_Hole quick and easy. Once you get logged on there are several membership options available. Our BBS has a free access level, a paid full member access level, and a paid adult full-member access level (requires legal proof of age). We also have a convenient 900 number service to have a two-month membership charged to your phone bill.
The Fox_Hole BBS has been online (in various forms) for the last 10 years or so - starting life on a Commodore 64 with one floppy drive and a 300 baud modem. Today, it runs on a 386/40, has CD ROM and disk-based files, and a 14.4 baud modem.
Page 18 was a full-page ad for the Magic Kingdom BBS.
Page 19 was a full-page ad for Mustang Software (www.mustang.com).
One key to running a successful BBS is adding something new every day. This might include messages or games, but it most often means adding new files to download. These aren't just any files, but the latest shareware programs, graphics, electronic magazines, or interesting text files. To a degree, the success of your BBS depends on the freshness of these files and the frequency with which you add them.
Besides Sysops, the callers of BBSs are also interested in finding new (noncommercial) files. Sysops always appreciate, and typically reward, those who upload quality files (with complete descriptions) to their BBS. Sysops and users alike need to be active and find files on their own. To help you find the greatest and latest files, we'll tour the six major file sources: user groups, local BBSs, commercial online services, the Internet, CD-ROMs, and software distribution networks.
If you are a Sysop yourself, offer reciprocal visiting Sysop status on your board. This not only helps spread goodwill, but it also makes it easy for all cooperating Sysops to gather files quickly. If a Sysop uses only other local BBSs as their primary source of new files, "file inbreeding" can occur. After a period of time, especially if you've done a good job networking with your other local Sysops, the file bases on the local BBSs will start to look very similar. The solution to this dilemma, like an old Star Trek episode, is "new blood".
You'll want to start looking further and further away for new files. You'll have to call new BBSs outside of your local calling area to infuse your system, and shortly thereafter your local BBS community, with new files. This will increase your costs and try your patience. This is where most Sysops stop, and as a general principle of business, when growth stops, decay begins. The next stop on your file shopping trip are the commercial online services.
America Online is relatively inexpensive, but you're stuck at 2400 baud. For the file-monger with a 14,400 baud modem, this is like trying to suck an elephant through a straw. It is hard to get all the files you want without spending a lot of time and money. Compuserve has solved the speed bottleneck problem, but at a cost of over $20 per hour for 14,400 access.
As a Sysop, these resources are perfect if you come knowing what you need, but as a file collecting resource, they are inadequate.
Also in the category of commercial services are long distance BBSs, giant BBSs, and information services like The Well, EXEC-PC, and Software Creations. Some BBSs are connected to satellite dishes that feed fresh files to the BBS daily. These services are wonderful resources; they are affordable, fast, and with a huge variety of files. However, the potential long-distance charges can be a serious drawback. A solution would be to have a flat rate fee for unlimited resources. This brings us to the Internet.
Unfortunately, the strength of the Internet is also its weakness. At times it can be nearly impossible to quickly find files on the Internet. When you do find what you're looking for, it's often stored with a strange compression method, file format, or file name. Compressed files need decompression, and file names like "meal.master.gourmet.iguana.food" need to be changed to acceptable DOS or Macintosh file names.
It is also difficult to decide which Internet files will be popular on a BBS, since your options are so much broader than if you were on a local BBS or commercial service. For example, the Project Gutenberg text file that computes Pi to the 10,000th decimal place, or the latest meal master recipe for gourmet iguana food may sound interesting, but will these types of files ever get downloaded? At this point you may be wondering if there is an easier way. You may ask: "How can I get thousands of files, all at once, without the online time and expense?" The answer may be a CD-ROM drive.
If you run a multi-line system, or if you intend to run programs in the background of your single-line BBS, you'll need a drive that doesn't hang up the processor every time the CD is accessed. This means you'll probably want a higher-speed SCSI drive, which may cost $300 to $400, plus $100 for a SCSI controller card. This frees your processor and allows you to hook multiple CD-ROM drives to your system.
CD titles are generally the cheapest part of the equation, with most shareware CDs running under $50 for over 600+ megabytes of information. One important point for Sysops: before purchasing a shareware CD, find out if you need to send in an additional registration fee to use it on a BBS, such as in the case of the PC-SIG disks.
Besides the cost of the drive itself, a potential downside of the CD-ROM solution is the common occurrence of old stuff sold at (usually) bargain prices. The shareware on the CD could be anywhere from a month to over a year old. Make sure you get the latest CD releases. Of course, some CDs contain types of files that are timeless. Shareware CDs often contain older utilities, graphics, and other files that you and your callers will be glad to have online. Once you've got your CD running, you'll still need an occasional infusion of new files. That is why you may want to consider joining a file distribution network.
On the downside, ASP is raising its prices. They are also sending their monthly file offerings on CD, requiring Sysops to buy a CD-ROM player to take advantage of the offerings. If you're only going to use the CD player for ASP files, you can purchase an inexpensive drive as mentioned above. The CD-ROM option and the file distribution option are an obvious combination.
Page 20 had ads for Just Computers! (www.justcomp.com), Night Watch BBS, and FUTURE-COM.
Last month, (December 1993 Issue) I started an exploration of UNIX-based operating systems for a BBS. This month I had intended to discuss how to get a login prompt. Well, I am going to detour a bit and leave that discussion for next month.
This month This month I will discuss the preliminary concepts of using operating systems such as Coherent and Linux, to get (and read) Internet mail and Usenet Newsgroups.
1) Usenet messages are usually received in a compressed batch via the UUCP protocol. The batch of compressed files must be uncompressed and then parsed into appropriate Newsgroups. The batch contains as many different Newsgroups as were requested from the feed.
Sysops new to UUCP connections should only attempt to receive just a few of the 4000+ Newsgroups available. The feed may or may not have all of the Usenet Newsgroups available. It is typical to transfer several batches of Newsgroups. The size of the batches can be configured by your feed.
2) A netnews program parses the batched Usenet message packets and extracts the messages into appropriate subdirectories on your disk. Messages that are part of the same newsgroup are stored in a subdirectory that represents the newsgroup name. For example, the newsgroup with the name of comp.os.linux.help will have messages in a subdirectory such as /var/spool/news/comp/os/linux/help. Messages within the subdirectory will be stored as ASCII text files with each message stored as a separate file with a unique number.
One of the most popular netnews packages is CNews. CNews is available for both Coherent and Linux. CNews for Coherent is available at Internet site: raven.alaska.edu, in the /pub/coherent/sources32 subdirectory. CNews for Linux can be found at Internet site sunsite.unc.edu, in the /pub/Linux/system/Mail subdirectory. It is part of the file newspak-2.0.tar.z.
3) Once messages are parsed by the netnews program, it is necessary to use a reader of some sort to review the messages. Every person has their favorite reader. TIN is easy to use, and is my personal favorite. TIN is available for both Coherent and Linux. Other readers are Tass, xrn, and gnus, said to run under Linux. The RN reader is available for Coherent as well. We will discuss the process of installing TIN for both Coherent and Linux.
Similar to newsgroup readers for Usenet messages, there are Internet email reading/sending programs. As with news readers, people tend to have a personal favorite. I use ELM, which is available for both Coherent and Linux as well. Others exist such as PINE and the standard MAIL. When a user logs onto a UNIX system, the system often greets the user with a command prompt similar to DOSs C:\> From the command prompt it is possible to start either a mail reader or a news reader. Some systems offer a menu to access the available readers for both news and mail.
Besides getting a login and a password from your feed system, you will also need a node name (or a domain name) for your BBS system. The domain name must be eight characters or less and should give some kind of representation of what your system is about. A domain name must be registered as no two domain names can be the same. Node names are often "unofficial" domain names that originate from a registered domain name.
Randy Just is the principal owner of Just Computers!,
developers of custom BBS and business applications software.
Page 22 had ads for Mitochondria RPN Scientific and Prestige PC Consulting.
Mustang Software (www.mustang.com) has been improving and supporting the Wildcat BBS package since Jim Harrer and Rick Hemming took the shareware "Colossus" BBS package retail and made it into a commercial product in 1987. MSI has worked hard to become one of the biggest players in the online software business.
MSI is unique in that it is the only company to provide solutions for all three pieces of the online puzzle - A terminal program (QMPRO), an offline mail-handling program (Off-Line Express), and the Wildcat! Host BBS program, discussed here.
Wildcat is easy to navigate, reducing user frustration and Sysop hand-holding. Wildcat is designed around four core menus: Main, Message, Files, and Sysop. Wildcat uses 4 menus for discrete functions instead of one "Master" menu to reduce the need for a user to memorize obscure command sets. For example, from the Main Menu, the caller can use the M key to select the Message Menu. From here, the R key selects the read messages prompt:
Wildcat prompts the user at all times. In no case is the user required to memorize anything, as everything is displayed on screen in a logical progression. Context sensitive online help is available at virtually all prompts. A different help screen is displayed for any menu the user is currently "at" when help is selected.
Of course, all the menu "key" letters are fully Sysop definable. Access to all menu functions is regulated by security profiles configured by the Sysop. System administration is easy to configure and easy to change. The configuration program MAKEWILD is fully mouse-aware.
There are currently four versions of Wildcat available: Single line, 10-node, 250-node, and a special IM250-node package. The single line package is available at retail stores such as Egghead Software for a street price under $100.
The 10 and 250 node Wildcat! packages require a network and/or a multitasker such as Desqview. The ultimate is the IM250 node package, designed for the (4 and 8-port) intelligent serial cards made by Digi International of Eden Prairie, MN.
Digi boards are well known in the UNIX community. Intelligent serial cards let you to multitask 8 lines on one 486-33 CPU using Desqview-386. I recommend a 486-66 for best performance under heavy loads. You may also put the DigiChannel 8 port CPU on your network for company-wide access, or even combine it with another 8 port machine, giving you 16 phone lines, plus LAN access, all in two PCs.
For professional BBS applications, the WCPro! utilities are not an option, but a necessity. Wildcat's Sysop menu lets you do much of what the utilities do, but the extra time it takes makes the $100 for the utilities money well spent.
Novell MHS support is available at extra cost, to allow your BBS to act as a front end mail host for your MHS aware applications like cc:Mail. This will allow members of your organization to easily exchange mail with distant systems.
As part of the MHS software mentioned above, Novell network administrators have the capability to use the Internet to connect all their sites together at a low cost. Internet gateway access for Sysops cost about $20 a month for 100 megabytes of monthly data transfers, and about $35 a month for unlimited transfers, (using a2i in San Jose as an example, call 408-293-8078 for recorded information) plus a one time setup fee of about $35 - at the time of this article.
These costs compare favorably to a leased line, or a Sprint connection between two sites. There may be security issues regarding message privacy, which should be discussed with your Internet gateway provider.
WcUUCP does not support FTP or TELNET, as wcUUCP does not provide a real TCP/IP connection to the Internet. Direct SLIP and TCP/IP connections are big dollars to get, so this limitation shouldn't be much of a problem for most Sysops.
Included in the Wildcat package is a very competent screen and menu editor called WCDRAW that allows you to produce and edit all the color screens and menus. Wildcat supports the RIP (Remote Imaging Protocol) standard that allows users to use their mouse to operate the BBS. See the September and November 93 issues of BABBA for more information on RIP, including my article in the September issue.
If you're going to support RIP properly, you need to buy a RIP screen editor. There are several shareware RIP editors (WinRIP, DeadPaint etc...) and a commercial product: RIPaint by Telegrafix ($200 list). RIP requires a RIP compatible terminal program, such as Mustangs Qmodem Pro v1.5 terminal program.
Mustang's Technical support is comprehensive and free (you pay for the call, however). MSI operates its own BBS (with the tech support conferences carried via echo mail internationally) and forums on Compuserve, America Online, and the Internet.
Wildcats user-to-user chat function is primitive. Thankfully, there is a 3rd party program called WILDCHAT that vastly improves Wildcat's chat function at a small additional cost. Extensive third-party utilities are available. Mustang makes their database structures available to the public, encouraging many developers to write programs that do just about anything you could possibly want to.
Most multinode Wildcat systems use DESQview. Wildcat is not available as a native Windows or OS/2 application. Despite this, a number of Sysops are running 2-line Wildcat successfully under both Windows and OS/2. OS/2 is a far better platform than Windows for running a multiline BBS, but requires a 486SX-33 or better.
Page 23 had ads for the Party Wherehouse BBS, and the Roadkill Grill BBS.
There are no fail-safe methods to guarantee that your adult BBS will remain free of trouble. There are many "what-ifs", including "what if a kid uses daddy's computer to login to your bbs?", so be careful.
One last piece of advice; several adult-oriented BBSs give free trial periods to entice callers to subscribe. This free trial period can make all their other security precautions useless. We recommend that adult BBSs offer free trial periods to adult content with proof of age only.
Page 37 had a full-page ad for PC-TEN
Page 38 (back cover) had a full-page ad for TeleText Communications.
End of Issue 11. Go back, or to
Issue 12, or to
Mark's home page.