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                   Reprinted from the Pasco BBS Magazine
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The following is reprinted from the Pasco BBS Magazine's January 1993 to September 1993 issues. The Pasco BBS Magazine is a free on-line monthly magazine mad available courtesy of the Board of Trade BBS (813) 862-4772.

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What is a BBS?

If you mention to a friend, who is not into computers, that you call around to Bulletin Board Systems you will probably get a blank stare in return. If that same friend looks to their dictionary to find out what a BBS or Bulletin Board System is, their search will come up empty. So, just what is a BBS?

An Electronic Bulletin Board System is simply a computer hooked up to phone lines. People may call the computer if their own computer has a modem and communications software. A modem is a device which allows computers to talk to each other over the telephone lines. The right communications software can make the job of connecting to a BBS quite simple.

Once one calls a BBS, a whole new world of information, services and fun opens up. Bulletin Boards are one of the best places to get the latest in software for your PC, most of the time before you can get the programs through disk vendors. Callers can also leave messages to people who call the board or discuss issues with computer users all over the world. Many BBSes have games which you can play, sometimes against other callers. Some boards offer unique services which cannot be obtained anywhere else.

Bulletin Board Systems vary greatly, from the small hobbyist to the big software companies support boards, each BBS has it own feel and selection of features. Most of the boards which users access are set up by hobbyists for their own enjoyment. The system operator (Sysop for short) tries to have all the information you will need to get started posted somewhere on the board, but most are more than happy to answer any questions users might have.

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Calling a BBS for the First Time

Long log-on questionnaires and call back verification may be the complaint of the veteran BBSer, but can you remember back to your first call to a BBS? It can be a little confusing, especially for the new computer user. Bulletin Boards do have a habit of assuming the user knows what to expect when calling.

Many first time BBS callers are calling on their first PC, and are using the inexpensive communications software which came with the computer. A friend has given them some BBS numbers, so they call. They see some commands they don't understand and a bunch of jumble which seems to make little sense. The new caller never gave configuration of his computer and software for graphics a thought, and the software may not even support graphics to begin with. Many potential users never call back and rely on disk vendors for Shareware. Using a decent communication software package can make bulletin boards a much friendlier place to visit.

Most of today's BBSes use ANSI or similar graphics. The graphics are attractive, and great for games, but do slow down the transmission speed. If you are calling with a slow speed modem, this can cause a substantial slow-down. One of the first questions which many BBS software programs ask when calling is if you want graphics. Unfortunately, some BBS software programs default into graphics and some have no way to exit the graphic mode. This is a matter of preference, some people love graphics, other hate it.

Now that you dialed the BBS number, and settled the graphics question, you should be at the welcoming or log-on screen. The first screen generally gives information about the board itself. BBS name, location, baud rates, available networks, or anything else the Sysop deems appropriate. Then you are generally asked to give your name. You should always use your real name when logging on to a bulletin board, even if the board does allow fictitious names (handles). The Sysop has the responsibility and right to know who is accessing his BBS. When you enter your name for the first time, the BBS software will ask if you have your name spelled correctly, or if you are a new user. After selecting new user another screen, or screens, appear with information which the Sysop wants first time callers to know. Normally, these screens contain things like welcoming comments, rules or where to find help. You will then be asked if you want to register with the BBS. If you answer yes, a questionnaire will follow.

The new user questionnaires vary from board to board, but most ask for name, address and telephone number. From there it depends on how the Sysop has set up his BBS software. Some Sysops ask only a few pertinent questions, others have questionnaires which seem endless. Again, always use real and accurate information when answering the questions. The questions normally include a couple on setting up the BBS software for your use. Things like page length, transfer protocol, or hot keys. If you are not sure, use the recommended (default) settings. What is selected can be changed later. After filling out the questionnaires most boards give limited access to the BBS until the verification process is completed.

The verification process can take many forms. Some Sysops will take the time to call by voice each and every caller to their board. Other Sysops rely on the new caller ID technology and some force new callers into a call back verification. In this day of caller ID, call-back verification seems like an awful lot of hassle to put the novice BBS caller through. What happens is the BBS will log you off and try to call back at the number you entered during the questionnaire. This way the Sysop knows that is a valid telephone number and that the information provided by the user is most likely accurate. The problem is that many first time callers have trouble setting up their modem to answer the phone and are still looking at the manual when the verification call comes. The call-back software has significantly improved, some can be activated from the keyboard. Again, it is the Sysop's option which type of verification is used.

On your first call to a BBS you will most likely have limited options. Some boards will not allow file transfers and others will not allow anything until the user is verified and upgraded. The Sysop only does this to protect himself, and his substantial investment. It is the Sysops option on how much the unverified user can do on his board.

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The Main Menu

After logging-on, or filling out the new user questionnaire, most BBSes have other screens before you actually reach the main menu. Most bulletin boards have news updates. Also things like the caller's statistics or advertising screens may be displayed before reaching the main menu. All BBS software programs operate a little different, so you may have to go to sub- menus for some features. One software program may automatically take the user through the bulletin menu before reaching the main menu, another may have sub-menus for messages or files.

BBSes almost always have a sub menu for bulletins, after all they are called bulletin boards. This is information which caller's can read on-line, and there are a limitless number of possible bulletins to select from. Most Sysops have the board rules, general information, and help for new users. Other popular bulletins are BBS listings, top scores for on-line games and newsletters. The bulletin menu is a good place for new users to spend some time, as many Sysops have informational bulletins on a variety of BBS related topics.

Some BBSes have questionnaires or user polls which can be accessed through the main menu, however, it is not uncommon for a BBS not to offer any questionnaires. Sometimes these questionnaires are set up for fun, or maybe the Sysop would like some specific information from the users. Some typical examples would include questionnaires on what users like about BBSing or a poll on the next election. Support boards may have a questionnaire on their product, so feedback to specific questions can be received. If the BBS has subscription fees for membership, a questionnaire may be used for on-line credit card registration.

Most systems allow callers to page the system operator for a chat. If you have questions the Sysop may be available to talk to you on-line. Most Sysops enjoy chatting with users, but it is considered good BBS etiquette not to ask questions which are answered fully elsewhere on the board. You have nothing to lose by paging, at worse the Sysop will not be available. The main menu normally offers some utility functions, so the settings you are using can be re-configured if required. Some boards have a command to list all the users. All this leads to main reasons people call bulletin board systems in the first place.

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Messages, Conferences and Networks

Unfortunately, a large percentage of today's bulletin board callers are not interested in reading messages. They are more likely to be calling for files or to play on-line games. However, the callers who have been at this awhile can remember when BBSes offered little else, and they still maintain an attraction for reading messages. In the early days there was nothing called Shareware or the wide variety of game doors that are now available. Yes, the BBS pioneers called primarily to talk to each other and to this day messages remain a major part of BBSing.

In the simplest form, a message is left on a bulletin board system so another user may read it and reply. A private message is left for just one person and no one else can read it. It should be noted that you should never leave something in a message which you would be afraid to have someone else read, as there is no such thing as a truly private message. Sysops can read messages or someone could download the message file, or capture file, and possibly read all messages. Public messages are more fun, as everyone who accesses the system may read and maybe respond to the message. Some systems may have quite a few messages and some messages may have been left some time ago, leaving a sort of system history.

The problem with having numerous messages is that they may vary considerably as to topic, thus making the user have to wade through all the messages to find those which interest them. This is how the idea of conferences came into being. By having users enter messages in conferences, which pertain to a particular subject, all similar messages are grouped together. BBSes may have a "for sale" conference, "teen" conference or "sports" conference. This way the users know where to go for messages which interest them. The problem is that once the messages are separated into all the different conferences, there may be very few messages in each conference. This is what brought about the development of networks.

By linking computers together by networks, a message on one system is "echoed" to other systems. Bulletin boards may choose to have network conferences, which pertain to whatever subjects the Sysop feels the users will enjoy the most, so that messages originally left on more than one system may be read. This way the advantage of having specialized conferences is not hampered by having very few messages to read. Another advantage of networks is that a user can leave a message on their local BBS for someone in another area, and thus avoid the long-distance telephone charges. Some echo-mail networks are huge with thousands of systems all over the world. But to be a network all it really takes is two BBSes and many networks start out this way. Thousands of boards are calling each other, normally in the middle of the night, to transfer mail. Most boards are "nodes" which call the particular network "hub," so messages can be received from a common place. Larger networks may have "regional hubs" because the "network hub" could not handle all the systems calling each night.

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Files and Archives

The one thing which has caused bulletin boards to become popular are files, and there is no doubt that the majority of today's BBS users are more interested in files than any other features. What has caused the explosion in the number of available files on bulletin boards? The success of Shareware more than anything else.

Shareware is a new concept to many in the computer world who are used to buying software in a store, after just reading the packaging to decide which program to take a chance on. Shareware is a revolutionary new marketing concept which encourages people to "try before they buy" any software. If you like the program you are legally bound to pay a registration fee for continued use, if you don't like it just delete it and move on. If you are looking for a typing tutor program download half a dozen, then decide which you like best and register that program only. Try going into your local computer store and buying a bunch of programs to "try before you buy," and returning all but the one you like. You will be laughed out of the store. Not only does Shareware allow it, but authors encourage you to give copies of their programs to your friends. And if all that is not enough, most Shareware registration fees are considerably cheaper than what the "shrink-wrap" software companies are asking for their products. And yes, the quality of Shareware rivals any other form of distribution. Why do software authors send out their programs all over the world for people to use free of charge? Because a growing percentage of people are supporting the Shareware marketing concept and sending in registration fees. Do to the success of Shareware, more and more authors are turning to distributing programs that way. This is the primary reason for the explosion in the number of files in the BBS world.

There are also Public Domain or Freeware programs which the users are not expected to pay anything at all for. These programs may include small utility programs, informational text files or maybe something the program's author would just like to get some feedback on. There are indeed hundreds of thousands of different files available on boards through out the county.

The majority of the files found on bulletin boards are in the archive format, which always gives the novice BBS user problems with the first few downloads. Most people log on a board and download some great sounding program and cannot figure out how to get it to work. This leads to more calls to the boards, reading bulletins or paging Sysops, in an attempt to find out how to use this file they cannot wait to try. Since most bulletin boards use files with a .ZIP extension, users learn quickly about file compression.

Why are almost all files on bulletins found in the archive format? There are basically two reasons. One reason is to compress the file's size, thus reducing the amount of time it takes to transfer the file via the modem connection. The other reason is to group all the files necessary to operate the program under a single name, so the caller does not have to download a bunch of different files to get one program to run. The .ZIP format archive is by far the most common in the BBS world, but there are others. Most users quickly download the correct archive utility file, read the documentation and are on their way.

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File Transfers and Protocols

The act of receiving a file from another computer through a modem connection is what is known as downloading. The modem actually makes it possible for two computers to exchange information over a system of wires which was originally designed for voice. Sending a file to another computer is called uploading. Even the most novice BBS user has most likely heard those terms. However, it is never an easy question to answer when asked "how do I download?" This is not to insinuate that the act of downloading is that complex of a maneuver, but that there are so many different bulletin board and communications software combinations available. Each bulletin board software has its unique menus and series of commands to prepare the board for downloading. The other side is that each communications software also has its own unique series of commands to prepare for receiving the file.

The best thing to do may be to give a few tips to those who have not called around that much to bulletin boards. Take some time to read over some of the documentation which came with your communications software, or if your program has decent on line help read some of that. The most important thing is to have your communications software set up to match what the bulletin board software is using, however, that is not as complicated as it may sound. In most cases just using the default, or suggested, settings will be enough to get you started. You can always fine tune things to your own tastes as time goes own. One thing to remember is to experiment, try different things on the board, you cannot hurt a BBS by hitting a few keys.

When considering your settings, always make sure your file transfer protocol matches what the bulletin board will be sending the file with. Most boards offer a selection of file transfer protocols which the caller can select from, as do most communications programs. Here is a brief introduction to the more common transfer protocols.

ASCII - This is often seen on BBS's protocol lists, which is an abbreviation for American Standard Code for Information Exchange. There is no form of error detection available and usually only ASCII files can be sent in this way. Some may say that this is not truly a transfer protocol, but it is still used in isolated cases.

Xmodem (CRC) - This may or may not be the most popular protocol in use today, as it is slowly being replaced by quicker and more reliable protocols. Xmodem (CRC) sends files in blocks of 128 characters at a time and checks for errors using a sophisticated Cyclic Redundancy Check.

Xmodem (Checksum) - Information is transferred in 128 byte blocks with a less reliable Checksum error correction method.

1K Xmodem - This is a variation of Xmodem (CRC) that uses blocks that are 1 Kilobyte (1024 bytes) in size.

1K Xmodem/G - This variation of Xmodem is meant for error-free channels such as error correcting modems or direct cable links between two computers. It achieves great speed, however, it does not have error correction and if an error occurs the transfer is aborted.

Ymodem (Batch) - This protocol is a variation on 1K Xmodem, which allows for multiple files to be sent per transfer. While transferring files it uses the 1024 byte block size and the CRC error correction method.

Ymodem/G (Batch) - This protocol is a variation on Ymodem which achieves very high transfer rates by sending 1024 blocks without waiting for acknowledgment. There is no error correction and if an error occurs the transfer is aborted.

Zmodem (Batch) - This advanced protocol is very fast, incredibly reliable and offers many features. Zmodem can transfer files in a batch and can detect and recover from errors quickly. The Zmodem Recovery feature can resume an interrupted transfer.

HS/Link - This is a new protocol which is just beginning to be offered on some bulletin boards. It is a high speed, single and bi-directional file transfer protocol with many advanced features.

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All About Doors

When someone calls a BBS for the first time, there is a very good chance they have never heard the term "door" as it relates to bulletin boards. The explanation of what a door is, however, is really quite simple. There are a variety of doors on the market which have become quite popular.

A door is actually a way to exit the bulletin board software and access a program which the system operator has made available to the callers. The door is not actually something built into the BBS, but a program which the board must use externally. The board may have to shell to DOS to use the door selected, but that is not always the case. A door is a little customizing done on the part of the Sysop.

Game doors have been immensely popular in the on-line community. The variety of game doors available is huge with new ones coming out all the time. The basic game door allows the player to play a game and post a score for other callers to try to beat. There are also game doors which have an interactive feel by having players taking turns in a more complex game, however, turns are still taken one at a time. If a BBS has more than one phone line it could offer game doors where callers can truly play a one-on-one game in real time. As with everything else in the computer world, the quality of these doors has improved dramatically over the last few years.

Games are not the only type of program which a bulletin board may use doors to access. Mail doors are found on a large percent of BBSs, especially if echo- mail is offered. One nice feature of a mail door is it allows users to download new messages and read them off-line, thus, cutting down on the time of the call itself. There are BBS lists, mailing lists and other utility type programs which have been designed to be used as a door. Some BBS software programs allow the Sysop to operate almost any program as a door, so the possibilities are endless.

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Chatting, Paging and a Few Words

One thing that happens on bulletins is the opportunity to "talk" with people live on-line. There are various ways which you may type back and forth with another bulletin board user. Just about every BBS software package on the market allows for talking with the Sysop which is better known as paging, or if the Sysop initiates the talk the Sysop Chat. Boards with more than one phone line have the option of having chats with several users at one time. There are many utilities and doors available to enhance chatting, so this more interactive aspect of bulletin boards can have a different feel on different boards. Talking in a live, real time mode is something that is quite popular on some boards.

Just a few final thoughts on bulletin boards. The BBS has not been around very long and even today only a very small percentage of the population knows much about this estimated one-half billion dollar industry. However, bulletin boards have really grown up since the early days. Back when this all started it was just a few programers, maybe tying together various utilities to make the thing workable. The systems at the time where unstable compared to the software which has developed through the years. In the past things like "BBS etiquette" seemed to be a really important topic. If someone hung up on the board, without following the proper log-off procedures, it could lock up or possibly even damage the system. Dropping carrier has little effect on most bulletin boards today, but is still considered rude. Bulletin boards seem to have fewer rules today than in the past. When was the last time you read the old "remember, you are calling someone's home" rule? It has been estimated that there are almost 50,000 bulletin boards nationwide, so the competition for callers is intense. Certainly every board needs some very explicit rules which must be followed, for example, no posting of pirated software. I am not advocating that users abuse a system, more that I think the changes can only help the BBS world become more accessible to more people.

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The BBS Glossary

Access - To use a BBS, as in accessing, or the amount you can use it, as in access level.

ANSI - While actually an acronym for the American National Standards Institute, it refers to the widely used graphics on BBSs.

Archive - A file which has been compressed, or at least stored, under a specific name. This allows for faster transfer times and the grouping of related files. Originally meant for files with an .ARC extension.

ASCII - An acronym for American Standard Code for Information Interchange which is the most common format for text files.

Batch - A group of files which is either downloaded or uploaded, commonly called a Batch File Transfer.

Baud Rate - The speed of the modem connection, the higher the rate the faster data travels.

Bulletin - Text which the Sysop has made available to users. Bulletins may be informational or educational, give the high game scores, or whatever the Sysop deems appropriate.

Bulletin Board System (BBS) - A computer hooked up to a modem so that other people can call and access information, files or games.

Bits Per Second (BPS) - The rate data is transmitted through a modem connection. Increases with the baud rate.

Caller - Someone who accesses a bulletin board from a remote location.

Capture - Saving text from BBS display to a file on the remote computer normally in ASCII format.

Chat - The ability to communicate with users on other lines (or nodes). Callers can chat back and forth in a live conversation.

Communications Software - Computer program which allows for easier calling of BBSs. Some software packages have all kinds of advanced features, and many are quite easy to set-up.

Compressed File - A file, or group of files, which have been reduced in size using compression utilities. A compressed file uses less disk space and speeds up transfer times.

Conference - A separate area on a BBS which is directed at specific topics. Conferences almost always have their own message base, and some have their own file directories or doors.

Default - Refers to settings used by BBS or communications software. Many times the preset configuration works fine, especially for new users.

Door - A program with has been added onto the BBS, but is not part of the BBS software itself. Sysops customize their board by adding game or utility type doors.

Download - Receiving data from a BBS through the modem connection. Downloads from BBSs are known as files.

Drop Carrier - Hanging up on a BBS without following the proper log-off procedures. Occasionally can happen on either end unintentionally.

Echo Mail - Messages which go out over a BBS network.

External Protocol - File transfer protocol which is not actually built into the particular BBS or communications software, but most be accessed externally.

File - Data transferred through the modem connection for use on the receiving computer. Files can be complete programs, informational text, graphic images or many other formats.

Freeware - Software which is legally copyrighted, however, the author asks for no monetary compensation for the program.

Internal Protocol - File transfer protocol which is built into the particular BBS or communications software.

Line Noise - Static which can occur during a modem connection due to the fact that the telephone system was originally designed for voice.

Local - Use of the BBS at it's physical location. Typically, the Sysop accessing the BBS software directly.

Log-on - Calling a BBS, and going through the most common procedure of giving name and password.

Main Board - The primary conference on a BBS, and where the callers normally are when they first log-on. Most general messages, files and doors should be found here.

Message - Something left by a BBS user for others to read. A message could be left for a single user, or for all users to read.

Message Base - All messages left on a BBS, or more specifically the location of those messages.

Modem - Device which allows computers to talk to each other over a system which originally designed for voice.

Network - Different BBSs exchanging messages to increase the activity and diversity of the message base. The echo mail network allows a user to leave a message on one BBS which can be read on BBS at a different location. On some of the large networks a message can be read literally around the world.

Node - Commonly used as the number of telephone lines hooked up to a BBS with each line being a node, but each BBS also has a local node.

Password - A unique series of keyboard characters that a caller selects to access a BBS. It should be kept confidential to prevent others from logging- on using your name.

Paging - Requesting a live chat with the Sysop, who may answer the page if available.

Private - Indicates a conference or message is not meant for all callers, and may refer to some BBSs which have restricted access.

Protocol - Modems must use the same protocol to communicate during file transfers. There are a growing number of protocols to choose from.

Public - A conference, message or BBS which is open for any caller. A public message can be read by all users. A public board will have private messages and perhaps some private conferences, but generally access is available to all.

Public Domain - Programs or files which are released free of charge with little restriction for use.

Remote Computer - A computer which has connected to the BBS by modem.

Script - A questionnaire set-up by the Sysop to get information from the caller.

Security Level - Level of access given to a caller which determines what the caller may access on the BBS. Users may require a higher security level to access certain conferences or files.

Shareware - A method of software distribution which allows you to try before you buy. Shareware can be used for a limited time without payment, but registration is required if the product is used past the evaluation period.

Sysop - Short for System Operator, the person who operates the BBS.

Transfer - The receiving or sending of a file with a BBS.

Upload - Sending data, typically files, to a BBS through the modem connection.

User - Originally meant to imply someone calling in the local mode, while those who access the BBS from a remote computer where know as callers. Now commonly implies both callers and users.

User Account - The record containing information for an individual user. Things like user name, password, address, the number of uploads and downloads, security level are typically found in the user account.

Verification - Many BBSs have some way of verifying that the caller logging-on is actually who they say they are. Caller ID, doors which call the user back, or calling all users by voice are common practices.

Zip - The most common form of compressed file found on BBSs.

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(C)Copyright 1993 Richard Ziegler - All Rights Reserved

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