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The Internet Communications Emulation (Games)

Die-Hard Sysops Are Resurrecting BBS's From The 1980s ( 245

Ars Technica reports on vintage computing hobbyists "resurrecting digital communities that were once thought lost to time...some still running on original 8-bit hardware." Sometimes using modern technology like Raspberry Pi and TCPser (which emulates a Hayes modem for Telnet connections), they're reviving decades-old dial-up bulletin board systems (or BBSes) as portals "to places that have been long forgotten." An anonymous reader writes: One runs the original software on a decades-old Commodore 128DCR. Another routes telnet connections across a real telephone circuit that connects to a Hayes modem. And after 23 years, the Dura-Europos BBS is back in business, using an Apple IIe running its original GBBS Pro software -- augmented with a modern CFFA3000 compact flash drive, and a Raspberry Pi running TCPser. [It's at, using port 6359.] Ars Technica blames "the meteoric rise of the World Wide Web and the demise of protocols that came before it" for the death of BBSes. "Owners of older 8-bit machines had little reason to maintain their hardware as their userbase migrated to the open pastures of the Web, and the number of bulletin board systems plummeted accordingly...

"Despite the threat of extinction, however, it turns out that some sysops never quite gave up on the BBS," and for many modern-day users, "it's simply a matter of 'dialing' the BBS using a domain name and port number instead of a phone number in their preferred terminal software." There they'll find primitive BBS games like STARTREK, Chess, and Blackjack, but also "old conversation threads dating back decades were available verbatim... It's like a buried digital time capsule."

One user says visiting a web site today "has a very public feel to it, whereas a BBS feels very much like being invited into someone's living room." The article also remembers "the dulcet tones of a 1200 baud connection (or 2400, if you were very lucky)," adding that "to see what was accomplished with so little was simply humbling."
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Die-Hard Sysops Are Resurrecting BBS's From The 1980s

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  • never fear... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    migrated to the open pastures of the Web

    Not to fear: the internet is being closed back up against as fast as people can sign up for Facebook, use closed/proprietary IM systems, and DRM everything in sight.

  • by MindPrison ( 864299 ) on Saturday April 08, 2017 @10:21PM (#54200381) Journal

    ...We remember them with fond memories.

    I remember when I spent so much of my savings as a kid to purchase that expensive 1200/2400/4800/9600 multimodem. Not to mention when I got two phonelines into my bedroom. My parents thought I was completely nuts, they complained about the "iiiiiii...ryryryryryryr....shhhhh" sounds at night, and I remember waking up to that music thinking, oh boy - someone is logging onto my computer.

    Sometimes they just called the BBS system just to chat with Sysop. ...Paging sysop....

    Sysop Coming Online...

    Ah, the memories.

    Just for the same reason I have my Commodore 64 next to me, I don't actually use it, and when I do - it's frightfully slow, but fun to do raster-interrupts and simple code challenges on anyway.

    We only do this because we are still remember the good times, they have very little to any good use today, but it's really just for the nostalgia.


    • by kamapuaa ( 555446 ) on Saturday April 08, 2017 @10:25PM (#54200407) Homepage

      I still use old computers, but not out of nostalgia. I do it because "Lemonade Stand" for the c64 is way more fun than an XBox and all the fancy graphics in the world. I play it for like two hours a day.

    • And why not? Since you're probably not using your landline for much these days. Might as well throw a BBS on it.
    • Is it even possible for most people to use a modem these days? I suspect most phone traffic is already passing through an ADC->DAC translation anyway. Trying to put a modem signal through that seems like a painful exercise.

      • by ogdenk ( 712300 )

        Most of the 8/16-bit BBS's popping back up are using things like Lantronix UDS or iPocket232 serialethernet adapters that emulate a modem. You actually telnet to them. For extra authenticity you can use something like Syncterm to get real ANSI, PETSCII or ATASCII support.

      • It dosen't hurt me one "bit"

      • Is it even possible for most people to use a modem these days? I suspect most phone traffic is already passing through an ADC->DAC translation anyway. Trying to put a modem signal through that seems like a painful exercise.

        I did some work on a legacy embedded system using a 2400bps modem about 5 years back and it still worked fine over a modern phone system when the receiving end was VoIP with an analog modem attached. It was part of a gas meter reading systems where it piggy-backed on a POTS line and reported usage once a day, the tiny amount of data being transmitted only needed about a 30 second connection so a few hundred reporting back to a single line overnight with staggered connections and retries was practical. Some

    • Remember "1200 Baud, no lamers"?

    • by antdude ( 79039 )

      Couldn't the modems be muted back then with ATM0 command?

      • Yes (although I don't remember if that is the correct hayes command), but not all programs allowed you to edit the initialization string...and that's assuming you knew how to do it.
    • by Zemran ( 3101 )
      I used to run a Fidonet hub and it was far more fun than my web site. Much more personal with people from all over getting to know each other. Loved it.
      • by ag0ny ( 59629 )

        Same here. I ran a BBS in Barcelona for a few years and was a Fidonet node during that time (2:343/163). The atmosphere in those message boards was so much better than almost everything on the Internet today.

    • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Sunday April 09, 2017 @08:31AM (#54201605) Journal



      I've never seen someone so accurately spell phonetically the sound of a modem connecting.

  • With a 1581? Or for real old-school power, a SFD-1001.

  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Saturday April 08, 2017 @10:36PM (#54200439)

    I remember when 1200 baud was unobtainium expensive and many dial up services didn't even have 1200 modems at all. 300 was decent, but you had to put up with 110 once in a blue moon if the modem pool got full.

    For the longest time I had an AppleCat that would only do some weird half-duplex 1200 baud that was unusable with normal 1200 baud. Somebody figured out a simple handshake system and made it possible to send whole floppies at 1200 baud.

    • You and your fancy auto-dial modems... I'll be up all night to flip the switch on my 300 baud volksmodem!
    • I remember dropping like $200 of my hard earned money (when I was like 13-14 yrs old) on a brand new external 14.4K modem to get on some of my favorite BBS's. That was about the same time, that RAM cost about $100/MB or so. Things were crazy expensive then.
      • by swb ( 14022 )

        I think the general modem pool for the timeshare system used in CompSci 3104 might have been 1200 baud capable in 1986 at the University I attended. I know for a fact in high school it wasn't -- there were a handful of 1200 baud lines restricted to admin logins, and an admin I knew used to gripe a lot about wasted money on a Hayes 1200 modem that seldom could get the 1200 baud lines.

        FWIW, I think the AppleCat had a Bell 212 "normal" 1200 baud option, but it was nearly twice the price of the non-212 version

  • Ahhh, the memories (Score:5, Insightful)

    by willoughby ( 1367773 ) on Saturday April 08, 2017 @10:41PM (#54200453)

    []]BBS: The Documentary[/URL

    is a pretty good look back. It would also be intensely boring to anyone who wasn't there.

  • by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Saturday April 08, 2017 @10:42PM (#54200461)
    I ran a WildCat! BBS on an old IBM AT computer with a 2400 baud modem during 1994-95 school year when I was at the university. TradeWars and Legends of The Red Dragon (LOTRD) were my favorite DOOR games. I was planning to build my BBS empire until something called the Internet came along. I was a dot com bust before there was dot coms to go bust.
    • by dwywit ( 1109409 )

      Perhaps an ATDT bust rather than dot com.

    • 2400 in 94/95? Dude, your BBS sucked!

  • Fond memories (Score:5, Informative)

    by mprindle ( 198799 ) on Saturday April 08, 2017 @10:43PM (#54200463)

    Back in the day I would dial into Chrysalis BBS in Dallas, TX. At one point the BBS had 96 lines into it so it had chat rooms and multi-player games. I started out on a 2400 baud modem, stepped up to a 14.4 modem and when I got the 56K modem, I was on top of the world.

    They had one MUD that I would play, every night at 3am the in game goodies would reset. There was one area that you could buy gold, silver and copper. The supply was very very limited so you had to be in the area when the game reset cause it was gone with in mins. I remember setting my alarm for 2:55 one morning, I got up got the goods, sold them and went back to bed. This MUD had active devs that would add new areas which kept it fun. May I wish I could remember the name of it. At one point the SysOp tried to bring the BBS back online through a web portal about 10 years ago, but it really went anywhere.

  • Telnet links still work AFAIK so why not post them?

  • Binkleyterm... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by msauve ( 701917 ) on Saturday April 08, 2017 @10:47PM (#54200477)
    running Fidonet. The good old days where the rules were simple:

    Don't be excessively annoying.
    Don't be easily annoyed.

    Fuck AOL, for how "far" we've come.
    • by Pikoro ( 844299 )

      Yup. I was running the northern california fidonet hub back in the 90-91 range. Those were the days...

    • by Megane ( 129182 )

      I ran a Fidonet system as well. I can't remember what frontend I used, maybe it was Front Door. I even wrote my own mail tosser in Turbo Pascal. Somewhere I still have that old PC, and it still boots into OS/2 and the BBS. OS/2 was the best DOS multi-tasker ever.

      I stopped caring so much about in the late '90s, but in early 2000, I got DSL with a small static IP block, and I've had a static IP at home ever since.

      I think about running some kind of BBS or local-focused web forum from time to time, but there'

  • by TheDarkener ( 198348 ) on Saturday April 08, 2017 @11:08PM (#54200533) Homepage

    I wrote this circa 2012, on the relevance and missing community aspect of BBSes these days..

    Over the past months I have thought a lot about how social networking websites such as Myspace and Facebook (and the newer Google+) always seem to have their “golden age” of popularity – and then steadily decline.

    I’ve thought about when I switched from Myspace to Facebook. There just seemed to be a specific point where it would have been more productive to invest my time in my (newly created) Facebook profile – and a majority of my flock of friends and family I had connected with had migrated as well.

    And then I’ve thought about my transition from Friendster to Myspace. Friendster was one of the very first generalized social networking websites. It was great in its own regard, though it was primitive compared to what Facebook and Google+ are today. At its core, though, it was a beautiful creation and a great idea to bring casual conversation to a worldwide audience.

    Going back further, I reminisce about the rise of the Internet and the subsequent decline of dial-up Bulletin Board Systems. Anyone who knows me personally from the mid-90’s and earlier knows how nostalgiac I am about BBSes even today. There has always been something about them that Internet-based social networking websites today can’t seem to hold a candle to – something I could never put my finger on.

    Just the other night I was reading a paper called “The Temporary Autonomous Zone”, which describes communities of past and present – all different types from 18th century pirate utopias to the (then) modern computerized communities of Bulletin Board Systems. It described the social aspects of these communities and their decentralized (some would say anarchy-based) nature. Though most of them hold no place in history books, their ideals were always the cornerstone of their purpose. Many of them were actually meant to be temporary; the lifespan of the community was inherent to its validity.

    Myspace, Facebook and Google+ all have the same idea – connecting and socializing with people you know in real life. What seems to be the common decline with these sites in general is quite simply that once your userbase reaches a certain threshold, the communal foundation itself starts to wobble and eventually comes tumbling down on top of itself. More specifically, once your “friends” list becomes more than you can handle, you start to question the validity and value of the people you have connected with as well as the community as a whole.

    For me, it started with a “friend sweep” – going through my list and removing the friends who I didn’t find completely necessary to communicate with. My first sweep list consisted people I knew in school and past jobs, but never really conversed with anyway. Then came the ones who I did genuinely care about, but just couldn’t stand to see one more post about their political stance/life story/band/business happenings. After many months and multiple sweeps, however, the stale smell of wasted time still hung in the air for me. This resulted in me leaving the site for a time, declaring my independence and recaptured freedom and liberty. (Dramatic, aren’t I?) Of course, I have come back and left a few times, repeating the same shenanigans. The desire to communicate with those I care about draws me back. The feeling of distance, the feeling that people are screaming through a bullhorn at a ginormous crowd (i.e. their friends list) makes me leave because I feel like I have no real connection with them.

    With all of this back and forth came a realization to me that old-school dialup Bulletin Board Systems rarely encountered these kinds of issues. For the most part, BBSes always seemed to hold a small, passionate community that kept themselves on target with what they were trying to accomplish (which was the same goal as modern social networks – informal human to human

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      It was like that with IRC, forums, Hotline [], KDX.
    • Quite possibly creating an artificial limit to your network will help it thrive – be it restricted to family members, friends from school, specific workplaces you get the idea. The key is to harness the power of the quality of your community and not the quantity.

      Probably. Though one thing that set BBSes apart is that they often amounted to singular communities of people, like you describe. Not multiple (though overlapping) networks belonging to individual people each with their own circle of friends, like modern social networks. Nor communities of interest, like many FB groups, web boards, or Usenet groups.

    • by Megane ( 129182 )

      And it suddenly came to me – It’s the community, stupid!

      This is something I have realized for quite some time now. I would really like to run a local-focused web forum. The effort of actively pruning people outside the area trying to gain a foothold is probably less than the technical effort to run an actual dial-up BBS these days, so I won't even begin to consider running a "real BBS". And not being limited to a single physical channel by dial-up will be so much better anyhow.

      One of these days. Right now I'm in the middle of a lot of IRL crap that's keeping me

  • we used modern technology as well as we used that old technology. Nowadays we have images, videos, sound etc. all to the good. But why does starting a browser alone use 25% CPU usage and using 3/4 of my memory. Maybe someone will start to make BBS systems with modern equipment that can compete with "the Web".
  • I only shut mine down about 4 years ago after a hardware failure, there were still plenty then.

    • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

      agreed there's a ton of them for every gen and faction of computer that never even died

      hell the one I used to co-sysop back in 1993 only went down last year for a few months just cause some 20 something year old ram shat itself on the original 386/DX25 finally got flakey

      its running happily on a 90mhz pentium now

  • I remember Hotline Communications

  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Sunday April 09, 2017 @12:14AM (#54200733) Journal

    "Despite the threat of extinction, however, it turns out that some sysops never quite gave up on the BBS," and for many modern-day users, "it's simply a matter of 'dialing' the BBS using a domain name and port number instead of a phone number in their preferred terminal software." There they'll find primitive BBS games like STARTREK, Chess, and Blackjack, but also "old conversation threads dating back decades were available verbatim... It's like a buried digital time capsule."

    As someone who was there 25 years ago, I can tell you, it was no golden age. There were already trolls complaining about the 1990s version of "SJWs" and hollering that there were too many posts that weren't "tech" enough.

    Imagine today's Slashdot, but in lower resolution, and having to wait while a GNAA comment loaded on the screen.

    On the plus side, there was plenty of ASCII porn.

    • by dissy ( 172727 )

      On the plus side, there was plenty of ASCII porn.

      Or with a few dollar donation one can gain access to the high-res 160x120 GIF porn section.

      The interlacing along with 2400 baud only added to the mystique :}~

  • by _KiTA_ ( 241027 ) on Sunday April 09, 2017 @12:45AM (#54200811) Homepage

    WWIV + LORD + Tradewars. That was middle school in a nutshell, on a 14.4 bbs with a phone cord strung out from my room to the living room to sneak on at 1 AM...

    • WWIV + LORD + Tradewars. That was middle school in a nutshell, on a 14.4 bbs with a phone cord strung out from my room to the living room to sneak on at 1 AM...

      I played one game on an IBM BBS I really enjoyed called "Food Fight". A text based food fight where one earned or lost food...

    • by Megane ( 129182 )

      I ran a BBS, and so did a couple of my friends. A friend's BBS had a multi-player BBS door (maybe it was even LORD) that only one user ever played, and he called daily at the optimal time. It had a screen full of really cheesy flavor text when it started up ("You are the Lord of the Land!" type stuff), and I decided to hex-edit the text into a parody of the original. I don't think I changed anything else but that intro text. So my friend and I waited (we only had to wait an hour or so), and sure enough, he

  • I can't have what I had due to the Internet more so IRC.

    I ran 3001 BBS (go figure), a 6 line chat board.

    Cnet software on an Amiga 3000, a 6 port serial printer card, 6 2400 baud modems and a Robotics HST (1400 baud) which I allowed any one who wanted to log in for free, a donation gave more time forever (time was a commodity).

    I ran it for close to 4 years 24/7, and it was the most popular BBS this area ever saw. Post I was going to the park and a few would show up, card games every weekend, it was a very ni

  • Does anyone else recall struggling with the door.sys file on your BBS? One door game generally worked fine, but woe to you when you tried to configure multiple door games on your BBS, particularly with more than one user at a time!

    • IIRC DORINFO.DAT was a more stable solution. At least on Renegade.

      • by Venner ( 59051 )

        I think I ran mostly TurboBBS or Searchlight (before they went all crazy and modern with 'RIP' graphics.) Searchlight in particular didn't do certain things the standard way, even if they made other things a lot easier... I seem to remember having issues with the FOSSIL driver too.

        The last time I did a thorough housecleaning, I ran across a floppy with Telix and a bunch of SALT scripts. Ah, memories.

  • by ogdenk ( 712300 ) on Sunday April 09, 2017 @12:55AM (#54200853)

    Most of the 8/16-bit BBS's popping back up are using things like Lantronix UDS or iPocket232 serialethernet adapters that emulate a modem. You actually telnet to them. For extra authenticity you can use something like Syncterm to get real ANSI, PETSCII or ATASCII support.

    Many of these BBS's simply run on emulators but the die-hards use real hardware. I connect to a couple to play old-ass online door games. Normally I use SyncTerm but I have a tricked out 800XL (576K RAM, Happy 1050 floppy, IDE interface and Atari 850 RS232/Parallel interface w/ iPocket232) that I connect with occasionally.

    Another option with Atari 8-bit machines is using something like APE or SIO2OSX and using your PC to emulate devices.... the adapter can be built for $5 using an FTDI FT232RL USBTTL serial breakout board. This is convenient for transferring or running real disk images/files as well as printer emulation and modem emulation. Makes running "backups" of all those old games you could never find or afford very easy. The Atari 8-bit machines are the easiest to pull this off on.

    This is nothing new. It's just most people under 30 couldn't give a shit less.

    • by ogdenk ( 712300 )

      Oh and if you want a real dialup board.... magicjack or similar bargain-basement voip boxes should handle 2400bps just fine.

  • "Hard Sysops Are Resurrecting BBS's From The 1980s"

    No they're not. A few cranks are emulating legacy point-to-point systems because it's an insanely hipster thing to do, but no one is resurrecting BBS'.

    Next on slashdot, ""Die-Hard Cowboys Are Resurrecting Buggy-whips From The 1880s"

  • by aquabat ( 724032 ) on Sunday April 09, 2017 @01:02AM (#54200877) Journal
    I just have to chime in here and say that I'm finding almost every post on this story interesting and entertaining in a way that I haven't experienced on /. in a long, long time. More of this please!
  • by jenningsthecat ( 1525947 ) on Sunday April 09, 2017 @01:03AM (#54200881)

    isn't the nostalgia angle. I like that it could morph into a viable, minimalist alternative to the corporately-owned, advertising-funded, privacy-annihilating crapcake that the Internet has become. It would be pretty tough for anyone to monetize BBSes in any significant way when they're running on low-bandwidth connections and have relatively small membership numbers. BBSes and modems would restore some fun and some adventure to the act of going online. There's one big difference, right there in those two words: 'going online' as a conscious decision, rather than 'being online' as a normalized state of existence.

    Plus, wouldn't it be kind of 'modern steampunk' to have a modem app on a phone or tablet so you could 'dial in' to a BBS? Oh, wait - I guess that would require the Internetz again. Oh well...

    • I've thought a few times that some kind of disconnected RPi / Wi-Fi BBS solution would be cool. Like at a coffee shop, a standardized SSID ("BBS" ?) that people would connect to whose only purpose would be to serve the BBS. It would purposefully not have Internet access, but would be a local-only social platform for brick-and-mortar places that may even help draw patrons in.

      • I was reading some interesting things earlier as a result of this story.

        Apparently, you can run multiple instances of dosbox on a *nix OS, and with the right code patches compiled in, dosbox emulates NE2000 cards and properly does the system realtime clock. This would let you emulate a whole fleet of nodes on a virtual network that are able to communicate with each other, able to run original software. (Actual Wildcat!, for example) You can pipe the virtual serial from the dosbox instance to a serial devic

      • That's a terrific idea, and I'd be there in a heartbeat. Not just coffee shops, but also pubs. With the addition of some battery packs of reasonable capacity, the idea could be extended to public spaces, and perhaps even to food courts in shopping malls. Pop-up BBS events!

        In densely populated areas, this idea could also become usefully subversive. Connections made between those local networks could form a mesh network - an open, democratic, providerless alternative to the Internet. That's definitely getting

  • A BBS style public messaging system, coupled with PGP/GPG public key sharing, could be an interesting thing.

    People just logging in see nothing but cypher text if they dont have the right keys. Meaning the conversation is private, even from the sysop. If they manage their keys properly, and have valid chains of trust, it would be a good holdout against the loss of privacy in the modern world.

    Throw in a fully encrypted transport (like SSH), and there you go. Only other remaining thing would be decentralizatio

    • by Sneftel ( 15416 )

      The point of a BBS is community, and open communication. FFS, the name comes from a physical device for posting messages for everyone to see. Why would you think that *privacy* would make BBSes better?

  • I wrote the k56 Flex modem CCL for the Apple Internet Connection Kit..... Used to run a Hermes BBS, then Nova Link.... But before that Wildcat.

    It's deep in my DNA. But aside from an occasional wistful nostalgia... I've no desire to return to those days.

  • There have LONG been internet ports into and out of BBS.

    The first board I ever dialed into ran TBBS and had integrated FTP and Lynx browsing and some other things. I got my first @ email there too.

    By the time 1995 came around, I was running my own Maximus board with nodes on Fidonet and a couple others. Had two phone lines, did co-sysop duties on two other Maximus boards, and generally had a lot of fun tinkering with Max, Binkleyterm, Squish, and my favorite mail editor of all time, tim-ed. Ah I miss tha

  • by bplipschitz ( 265300 ) on Sunday April 09, 2017 @08:16AM (#54201589)
    Which were the ham radio equivalent of a BBS. Rather than dial in, you used a radio and a modem to link up via radio. It was pretty cool, sending messages back and forth across the country to people. It usually took a day or two, depending upon how many hops it took -- a lot like FidoNet.
  • From the perspective of someone who wrote BBSes during the 1980's (Stonehenge, &c) what I find interesting is that the social problems associated with message systems are still largely the same (twits, trolls, spammers, and those who shout lies louder than those who speak truth). Every now and then I read about someone in the modern era who has a "new idea" (e.g. "selective invisibility" for obnoxious trolls) which was invented thirty years ago (and probably before that) by multiple folks working independently.

    I remember the biggest struggle was making sure that networked messages didn't just circulate forever. Given the limited memory and mass storage and slow processing speeds I ended up with a primitive-but-effective combination of hop counts, expiration dates, and a use window. None of that is of much practical use today but the struggle to make it more or less work was an important experience for a then-larval coder. Actually, a lot of the interesting problems of that time were making relatively cheap and primitive hardware do something useful in a reasonable amount of time.

  • We had a 1200 baud and a 300 baud smartmodem. The aluminum case was snazzy.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.