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Change in computers as a hobbiest

Carl Pearson

The Norwegian-originated MBBS (from the creators of the GALINK or GLINK terminal emulator) was my original favorite.

MBBS was wildly popular both in Norway and Finland (where I live), especially on discussion-oriented systems. The key features MBBS had against its compebreastion were 1) a usable full screen editor (basically a WordStar clone), 2) proper message threading (you could easily follow threads up and down and to the branches), and 3) extensive support for searching and marking up discussions for offline reading.

There was also a built-in support for various character sets and character set conversions - which was very important considering that both the Norwegian and Finnish languages use characters outside the US-ASCII repertoaire. (MBBS used IBM Codepage 850 internally, but each user could set a personal preference for some other character set - such as Latin 1, the Macintosh character set, or the national 7-bit variants of ASCII - in the settings menu. The system remembered this setting between the calls and transparently converted all messages, menus, chats, bulletings, listings, etc. both ways between the character sets, even when typing messages in the full screen editor. This feature made character sets a non-issue in MBBS, whereas they were very much an issue in the competing BBS software packages of the time.)

Change in computers as a hobbiest... 2850
I hear you, brother. Ironically, these people wind up spending every bit as much time "learning the computer". Unfortunately, their form of "learning" consists of memorizing which series of buttons...

Another interesting thing in MBBS was the user interface: it was command-line based (no hotkeys) and you could chain several commands together on a single line, separated by spaces. For example, like this:

Command (? for menu): U S ISO R J General S G 10 100 foobar

(Upper case used for clarity, the system was not case-sensitive.)

"100" for the keyword 'foobar'".

You could have entered all commands (and their parameters) individually, one-by-one, but if you were an advanced user and already knew the commands and menus by heart, this command-stacking feature allowed you to skip lots of fluff and use the system in a more efficient way. (The system omitted displaying the intermediate questions and other superfluous command output if you had already answered them in advance, as in the above.)

A stable command set (and command line prompts) and stackable commands-line environment also made it possible to easily create highly automated offline-reading scenarios where a script calls to a BBS, logs in, downloads new messages, uploads your responses and signs off. (Most of us had metered calls in this part of the world, so offline reading with automated scripts and special offline reader applications - such as ReadMail, Amiga ReadMail, HipHop, BlueWave, or THOR, was the norm for advanced regular users. You could save a lot of money by making your daily calls as automated as possible.)

Change in computers as a hobbiest... 2856
Alex You're certainly not alone with these views. Personal computers have become mainstrean. The technical limitations (and, on the other hand, the potential of being able to discover new things and open up new...

* * *

Change in computers as a hobbiest... 2853
Bernd Felsche Certainly some basic understanding is desirable, but where does it end? I have...

So, MBBS reigned the discussion-oriented BBS scene here in Finland (and came along.

As far as the basic user interface and commands go, BBBS is essentially a shameless clone of MBBS: everything worked identically in the default configuration, so much so that even identical automated scripts could be used when calling to MBBS and BBBS systems.

BBBS, however, had a number of important enhancements and was actively developed for years to come, whereas the general consensus was that MBBS development had stagnated, perhaps even stopped entirely. (It turned out this was not the case in the end, but BBBS nonetheless delivered much more at a faster pace, while still remaining familiar enough for a former MBBS user.)

For example, whereas MBBS only had a simple file area menu and simple file lists for each area (with 40 character descriptions), the BBBS revamped the whole concept into something that resembles a shell command line: the SysOp could create a hierarchical structure of folders, the file listings allowed multiple lines of description text, the command line supported file and directory name expansion with the TAB key, you could mark up files for download with simple keystrokes straight from the paged file listings, and there even was a temporary folder where you could extract ZIP, ARJ, LHA, etc. archives (if you didn't feel like downloading the whole archive for just a single file inside it.)

BBBS also had a much better offline reader support (multiple offline reader formats, including QWK, Omen, and Hippo), built-in support for FidoNet (or, more generally, all echomail networks based on FidoNet technology) as well as numerous features geared for Internet connectivity, if the SysOp could arrange that. (For example, you could easily bring Usenet newsgroups under the hood of the BBS interface (making them available for your users), people could telnet in, the chat system could be connected to IRC, there was some support for reading and sending e-mail etc.) There was even a GNUS-alike mode for reading the messages online, an alternative full-screen editor which resembled emacs, and a hypertext-based online help system.

Within a few years after the first releases of BBBS, almost all Finnish MBBS boards had switched to BBBS (and as far as I know, many Norwegian ones did, too.)

* * *

I must admit I did not get to use other BBS software than MBBS and BBBS a lot. I tried (honestly!), but they were just so cumbersome and riddled with all kinds of oddities, awkwardness and apparent lack of coherent design. MBBS and BBBS were both neat and tidy, and their creators clearly had a vision as far as design issues go - there were no rough corners or incoherency. Many other BBS software packages felt like embarrbutting hack jobs in comparison.

-- znark

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