|★ HARDWARE ★ HOW TO BE A SYSOP|AMSTRAD COMPUTER USER) ★|
|HOW TO BE A SYSOP||HOW TO BE A SYSOP (Part 2)|
Setting up a Bulletin Board System can be fun, but you'll need to follow a few pointers, as Nick Hutton explains.
SAnyone who owns a computer, at some point during his or her life, wonders about buying a modem and getting into that exclusive world of communications. In most cases the only thing stopping you is the nagging thought of some massive phone bill which would make the national debt of Mexico look like your grannie's pension. Wouldn't it be nice if you didn't have to dial out much, if people would come to you lor files and messages.
Of course the sort of setup I'm talking about is a bulletin board.
Running a bulletin board is the one sure way to get right into the world of comms with low running costs. The original outlay for the BBS computer may be quite large (I will detail the necessary components later) but once you are finally up and running there is very little else to pay for.
However running your own board is far from easy. Firstly you may have quite a few problems in getting the hardware you require (at a decent price), then there are the almost endless problems which arise with modems. Then of course there is the actual software which will run the board for you, the host program as it's called.
There are other considerations to be made and in the following article I will go over the necessary information any would-be sysop (System operator) would require.
So just what are the merits of running your own board? Well as I have already mentioned you won't be beset by massive phone bills (hopefully). There is also the ‘Club' feeling and good-will which almost all sysops exhibit toward their fellow colleagues.
If you have a problem with your modem or software then 90 percent of the time you can get in touch with a helpful sysop who has experienced the problem himself and sorted it out. It‘s this team spirit which seems to make it all worthwhile. Also of course the users of your board will be grateful.
But before you set up your board you will need several things.
This is the most important part of your board. It needs to be reliable, reasonably fast and reasonably well supported software wise. Of course it does not have to be a CPC, take Maxwell House for example, that is run from a PC.
Before setting up your board you should be as adept at using your machine as possible. If you intend to run a 24-hours-a-day service then obviously reliability is very important. Your machine should be well ventilated and stored somewhere out of the way if possible.
My board is run from an Archimedes A310. In order to keep it all cool it is fitted with two fans. Remember, if your board is constantly tripping over then you'll end up with a lot of frustrated users.
Boards can be run from almost any machine. There is a piece of software available for the CPC. If you really want to run a board of any reasonable size then I suggest you choose a more powerful machine.
Many boards these days are run from a simple cheap old PC XT. The software is available in profusion and is generally of a high standard (see PC software list at the end of this article).
However, remember if you intend running a 24 hours service then unless your machine can multitask (run more than one program at once, e.g. in the background or under interrupt) then you will not be able to use the computer when the board software is running. For the above task I really recommend an IBM 386SX (these can be purchased quite cheaply) with 2-4 megabytes of RAM. If your computer can multitask then it will allow you to get on with other jobs while the board is running, for example checking out the latest piece of software somebody just uploaded. Before your computer will multitask, it will require a suitable program manager (see PC software at end of article).
Unfortunately the CPC cannot multitask and so you will have to give up your machine during the hours of board operation. If you do intend using the CPC then you will of course need a serial interface as this is not provided as standard with the machine. Serial interfaces can be picked up quite cheaply from mail order firms but a second-hand device is probably just as good as they are not the sort of thing to wear out. If you are feeling adventurous then why not build one yourself? The parts can be purchased for about twelve pounds from Maplin Electronics and the layout is really not that complex. In fact some time ago there was an article in this very magazine detailing the construction of an RS232.
I will tackle storage media as a separate unit from the main computer system, as this warrants a lot of care and consideration.
If you intend to use your CPC then you could have problems with regard to the amount of data which the system will be able to supply at any one time.
If you use a 3.5" second drive (the minimum requirement for serious users) then it is possible to squeeze about 1 megabyte (1024K) out of a single disc. You see it is not really a viable option to switch between several discs when a user requests a file which is not on the currently inserted disc. After having spoken to several CPC sysops the general consensus of opinion is that there is only just enough room on one 3.5" disc. A much better option would be to buy the CPC hard drive (horribly expensive, I'm sad to say), this way you would have no storage problems whatsoever.
On other more expensive machines the options are a little wider. For the IBM PC compatible there are a wide variety of hard drives available, varying from 20Mb (twenty thousand K) right up to 3Gb (that's three million K). The latter size of drive is very expensive and not often used in this context.
Each hard drive belongs to a particular group. These groups represent the data encoding method and type of interface the drive uses. Some types are better than others but I don't want to get into that argument here as you could write a book on the subject.
The reliability factor is very important here. If your drive breaks down, suffers a media crash, sheds a head, or bums out its stepper motor then you are in big trouble. The message is to spend as much as you can afford on your drive and back it up frequently. Failure to back up your drive will mean that if it does explode,or whatever, you will lose all your Bulletin Board data. Many a sysop has been reduced to a gibbering technophobe after finding out his pride and joy has just minced two years' worth of uploaded files and user messages.
For reasons of expandability, I use a 180Mb drive with SCSI interface. This sort of interface allows you to ‘Daisy chain' up to seven SCSI devices together on one interface. A little like the way you can keep plugging memory, disc drives, silicon discs etc,, into the back of a CPC.
Your drive need not be very fast as no modem yet built will be able to move data as fast as it is read from even the slowest hard drive. Hard drives are by no means the only way to store your data these days.
CD ROMS are becoming more and more common and are dropping in price all the time. These wonderful little toys can store about 512Mb of data on one CD.
Of course they are ROMS and as such cannot be written to. However it is possible to buy pre-recorded information on the CD. Unfortunately the only computer database I have seen available is for the PC. Focal point have been using a CD for some time now and it contains 15,000 files, that's a whole PC shareware library ON ONE DISC. For prices see the end of this article, CD ROMS are slow when compared to the average hard drive but as I said before, speed is not really that important. At the moment CD ROMS are limited to use with the IBM compatible PC, the Apple Macintosh, the Commodore Amiga, and the Acorn Archimedes.
Next come the new generation of WORM drives. WORM drives are rewriteable optical media and so more flexible than a CD ROM, these drives are closely related, and more than a little similar, to CD ROMS but you can in fact write to them. In general they are not tremendously fast but are reliable and built to very high tolerances. They can hold as much data as a CD ROM. The greatest drawback with one of the WORM drives is undoubtedly the incredible price, (five thousand pounds gets you the bottom of the range model, with no furry dice or his and hers sunstrip).
Well that just about wraps it up for mass storage media. But before I move on there is just one more way to store your data, although it's incredible cost will make all but the average company chairman cringe.
I have recently discovered while talking to a friend at Seagate Technology (purveyers of fine hard drives) who brought my attention to their range of Solid State discs. A solid state disc is like the CPC silicon discs, a collection of memory chips which acts like another disc' drive, but one which is extremely fast. The largest of these ‘Drives'- is 167 Mbytes, and is not very large when compared to the biggest hard drives, however a device of this sort will cost you somewhere in the region of a thousand pounds, a snip!!!!
Today there are a vast array of (fairly) reasonably priced modems which range from a cheap 300baud modem to a rather nippy 14400 baud speed modem with go faster stripes and a soft top.
But before you become totally confused with differentiating between v21 v23 and all the other standards, there are some features which your modem must have in order to run a bulletin board. These features should be at the top of your list and the ‘frills' can be taken into consideration if you have the money or if your board is popular enough to need them.
Modems range from the simplest acoustic coupled devices right up to sophisticated self-correcting, lightning fast pieces of advanced technology costing more than some low end PCs. When selecting a modem to run a bulletin board it is essential to choose one which has an auto answer facility.
As far as speed is concerned try to select a modem which has at least 2400 baud (V22 bis) to run the bulletin board. If you can afford the more expensive v32 (9600 baud) or even the dual standard 11ST then go for it. Believe me it can get very frustrating wait ing minutes on end for the latest batch of files to be downloaded. Gordon Bates (comms gum extraordinaire) also subscribes to this school of thought. You see if you mn a faster service then you will be able to fit more calls into the time in which the board is open, also if you are looking for foreign contacts then they are going to be on a lot more if it doesn't take them ages and cost a fortune to upload a file. In fact I know of several people who don't even bother uploading anvthing unless the board has 2400 and MNP5 or V42 bis.
In short, your modem should be of a standard build, i.e. Hayes compatible, auto answer, as fast as you can afford, and of course reliable.
You cannot run a board without some form of help; by help I mean your bulletin board host software. This clever piece of kit manages all user messages, passwords, files and their descript ions and a hundred other things. It is vital that you get a decent piece of software. Users will soon get fed up if it takes them ages to wade through all the menus and file areas. Your board must be accessible, friendly, and in short easy to maintain. Software need not be that expensive in fact much of the host software can be obtained FREE.
In this section I will give a brief round up of the pieces of software which I have come across. These are just my opinions and I strongly recommend that you at least get some hands-on use of the software you choose. Once you set up your board, upload the initial files and draw up a title block you don't want to find that the piece of software you have chosen just doesn't meet up to your expectations.
Unfortunately CPC software is a bit thin on the ground in this department but there are still packages available. One which I have seen is an old (and probably forgotten) CP/M package called Octopus BBS. This piece of software comes on a couple of discs and can be purchased from many a CP/M public domain library.
The best way to get information about host software on any machine is to consult with the sysops who use it. This can be done via something called Fidonet, modem users will know about it already but I'll leave Gordon to enlighten those of you who are still in the dark.
If you intend using a PC to mn your board then as I said earlier, an old XT will suffice. There are a great many public domain host systems available to the user and all are effectively free.
Unfortunately, space has mn away with us for this month, but next month I'll round up the software sequence and let you in on some of the prices you can expect to pay to get yourself up and running. See you then.
to be continued next month
Amstrad User October 1991
CPCrulez[Content Management System] v8.7-desktop/cache
L'Amstrad CPC est une machine 8 bits à base d'un Z80 à 4MHz. Le premier de la gamme fut le CPC 464 en 1984, équipé d'un lecteur de cassettes intégré il se plaçait en concurrent du Commodore C64 beaucoup plus compliqué à utiliser et plus cher. Ce fut un réel succès et sorti cette même années le CPC 664 équipé d'un lecteur de disquettes trois pouces intégré. Sa vie fut de courte durée puisqu'en 1985 il fut remplacé par le CPC 6128 qui était plus compact, plus soigné et surtout qui avait 128Ko de RAM au lieu de 64Ko.