8-Bit Software

The BBC and Master Computer Public Domain Library

Back to 8BS


The History of 8-Bit Software

There have been three editors of the 8BS magazine so far. Duncan Webster started the whole thing off, he handed over to Daniel Shimmin for a short time (just under a year)  who then passed the magazine on to me in May 1993.

Left to Right. Myself, Mick Needham, Daniel Shimmin, Duncan Webster
 

The following is a collection of articles published in 8BS magazines:

March 1994 Part 1 by Duncan Webster. Taken  from  8BS 33
February 1995 Part 2 by Duncan Webster. Taken from 8BS 40
December 1995 Part 3 by myself. Taken  from 8BS 46
Part 4 the last part, more or less up to date

Daniel Shimmin, the second editor, never did submit his article I think. Well I cannot find it any way.
 

PART 1 By Duncan Webster. March 1994

EIGHT BIT SOFTWARE

THREE YEARS AGO ... (probably four by the time I get this finished)

 A 5 line entry in the letters column of a computer journal caught my attention. A popular board game called RISK (I think) had been computerised by an enthusiast and free copies were on offer ...

 THE BEGINNING OF 8-bit Software

 Communications were growing in popularity as the prices of modems began to fall below £100, with basic second hand units costing as little as £10 ...

 Public Domain Software, even for 8-bit BBC machines, was not new. The concept of public domain had been around since the advent of the bulletin board system. Bulletin boards in those days consisted of a Computer, Disc Drive, Modem and Communications Software usually housed in some sad person's bedroom. Other sad people with a similar setup would log onto the bulletin board using a "ring back" system (dial, let ring twice, hangup, dial again - the computer then answers the phone). The more wealthy usually had a dedicated phone line and/or a hard disc drive in addition to the equipment above - these were the kind of people who could be sad for their country.

 From these bulletin boards, you could meet sad friends, swap sad ideas, tell sad jokes, and download sad software submitted by other sad users. Again, professors of sadness would join national organisations such as Micronet & Prestel which offered a similar service to the private bulletin boards - at a price.

 Joking (and sadness) apart - it is my opinion that this was the birthplace of BBC public domain software - there was megabytes of the stuff and it wasn't just all one-liners. The main problem was the "them and us" situation that appeared to exist between modem and non-modem owners in the world of the BBC - neither seemed to be aware of the other's presence.

 "Postal" public domain for the BBC however WAS a fairly new idea, even though the same had been available on other 8-bit machines such as the Atari XL, XE etc. for years ...

 The year was 1990 and the time was late summer. Several pieces of software were under development for a small bulletin board by the name of Resolve Communications (I would like to point out that this bulletin board was NOT run by a sad person). The idea was to complete and test the software and make it available for downloading on the bulletin board system (BBS). "Systems Comms" and "Systems Phone" as they became branded were duly put up for download & comments were encouraged. Other software at the time included AMPLE code for users of the Hybrid Technologies Music 500/0 systems.

 Encouraged by the response, non-modem owners were given the opportunity to write and obtain software currently available from the Resolve BBS. Enquiries received were answered by issuing a disk containing the 3rd Systems issue which had grown with the addition of "Systems Bank". Within a week the volume of enquiries had grown considerably. Most of the enquiries were referring to "PD library lists" and it soon became apparent that we had been mis-quoted somewhere as "starting a public domain library" which at the time was far from the truth.

 Access to computers was currently being denied by household refurbishment, so 50 letters were run off on an IBM at work. The letters informed any future enquirers of our situation, and that they should try one of the other addresses listed if they wanted Public Domain software. The source of the enquiries had finally been identified in one of the computer magazines which had mistakenly advertised us as a new Public Domain library which dealt exclusively with 8-bit BBC Micro Computers.

 The BBC had been replaced by the archimedes over 2 years ago. The new arc was faster, more colourful, better sounding, multitasking, and had recently introduced a standard Graphical User Interface (GUI) in the form of RISC OS ...

 There was no doubt at the time that the future for Acorn and their user base lay with the archimedes. Acorn had been quoted as saying that they would continue producing the Master for "as long as there was sufficient demand". This inevitably meant that the 8-bit BBC Master would be wound down over a period of time - it made economic sense to do so. Starting a public domain library for such machines was out of the question.

 However, a new PD software library for the archimedes seemed like a good idea. There were four problems that had to be faced:

 1. There were already well established libraries for the archimedes. 2. We had no access to any PD software for the archimedes. 3. We were not acquainted with any users of the archimedes. 4. We didn't actually own an archimedes.

 My teacher and mentor always said to me that there is always a way round any problem if you are prepared to spend a little time thinking beforehand. Numbers 1, 2 and 3 we eventually solved using common sense, but it was trying to solve number 4 without cash (and legally) that probably killed it at the end of the day.

 Someone (who had obviously studied deduction to degree standard) suggested that we think about opening a public domain library for the 8-bit BBC machines, after all we already had software, free advertising and over 40 interested users ...

 So the decision was made to operate a small public domain library for the 8-bit BBC ... but we wanted it to be different. We had to have something that none of the other three BBC PD libraries were offering, otherwise the exercise would simply be a lot of hard work for little reward. So what exactly constituted a PD library? Using my mentor's advice, we sat down and thought (... and thought ... and thought). It was eventually decided that a public domain library consisted of the following components:

 1. Access to a large pool of non-copyrighted software. 2. The means to advertise the PD's existence & address. 3. The availability of necessary hardware. 4. Suitable organisational / programming / documentation skills. 5. Customers purchasing software from library. 6. Programmers contributing towards library.

 There was a problem with number 1; we had no software apart from "Systems" and AMPLE, although with the addition of "Systems Server" (recently completed and tested) they would form a starting point. Theoretically, once we were known, more software would flow in from eager users. We had already been advertised so number 2 was no problem. Future advertising was not considered at this time. The general opinion was that if we lasted three months we would start worrying about future advertising. All hardware was available - 4 disc drives, 2 model Bs, 2 printers, 6502 Tube, ATS Adapter, Modem & Line - that was number 3 sorted. Number 4 could only be gained through experience. Only fate would determine numbers 5 and 6.

 So we had the structure of what we believed constituted a typical public domain library. What had to be done now was to add the extra "magic" ingredient that would make & keep people interested? What kind of people use public domain libraries and what do they want out of them? ...

 After 2 and a half weeks difference of opinions (arguments, mud slinging & slanging matches) we had what we thought the user wanted from a public domain library - the most popular towards the top.

 1. Users are looking for inexpensive, interesting, quality software ? 2. Programmers are looking for fame and glory - to be recognised ? 3. All parties want a fast service. 4. Any PD system must be easy to use and understand. 5. Users / Programmers may wish to make contact with each other ?

 It was not perfect, but it was a start. All that remained was to change the first 6 points about what constituted a public domain library, whilst bearing in mind the second 5 points about what the user wanted from a public domain library. The end result should be the formula for the "unique" public domain library that would get us noticed.

 Six days later, we had the solution:

 1. Software should be issued on a monthly or bi-monthly basis depending on demand & software availability (rather like magazine discs). This should keep users in close contact with the library.

 2. Each issue would go out with a questionnaire which MUST be completed in order to obtain further software from the library. These comments would be published for the programmers and should keep their interest and talent with our library.

 3. A newsletter would be included with as many issues as possible. This would provide the programmers with their feedback together with any other essential information for the issue.

 4. Any correspondence received would be answered the same day. This should build ourselves a reputation for speed of service.

 5. Provided users returned the correct media, the service would be free of any handling charges.

 Point five to me personally was the most important point - the service had to be free. It was common knowledge to us that the vast majority of computing talent lay in the computer clubs of the nation's schools. It was no use relying on adults to supply the software for the library as many lacked the necessary commitment and enthusiasm. In our opinion, school children had more commitment & enthusiasm than the EC had butter mountains, with programatical talent on a similar scale. From the young programmers we knew, 95% of them were on "pocket-money" budgets and I felt that it would have been unforgivable at the time to have charged them away from the library.

 We wanted users to talk to each other. We wanted users to WANT to talk to each other. We needed to provide the means for users to talk to each other. We needed a system to manage it all ...

 Fortunately, the 50 letters produced on the IBM had not been posted. These letters (informing the enquirer that no PD library existed) were of no use now and were discarded. Household refurbishment was continuing to cause problems so the IBM was warmed up again and a new standard letter drafted. The stem of enquiries was continuing to grow, and it soon became apparent that a system had to be devised to allocate "customer numbers" to the enquiries - after all if things worked out, our users who would be continually writing back to us.

 Fresh from the world of communications, an idea was hit on to develop a software utility that enabled users to write messages to each other electronically. In a nutshell, the user would write his/her message, the program would save it to disc and the disc would be returned to us. Upon receipt of messages, we would forward the messages to the correct user on the next issue disc. This facility was seen as one of the major features that would be unique to us and would make us really stand out from other PD libraries.

 There was no time to develop the software in time for the next planned issue, so it was decided to devise a "customer referencing system" which could be used by the messaging software when it was developed. In all, 4 different systems were considered in the space of a week. The problem was getting users to remember their reference number off by heart, as this would encourage the use of any future messaging system we developed.

 We were so concerned that our users should remember their customer numbers that "experts" were consulted (well, pub friends actually). It transpired that on average, humans could only remember a maximum of three "nonsensical" characters in a row (by 11pm this had reduced to 1 - almost). So the maximum user base was 999. We never thought we would ever have 1000+ users, but enquiries (which would also be allocated customer numbers) could well exceed 1000.

 Including letters in the three character "User ID" (as it was eventually dubbed) would increase possible combinations to 46,656. Omitting the Os (too like 0s), the Is (too like 1s), and the Ss (too like 5s) brought possible combinations down to 35,937.

 For statistical purposes, it was also decided to "regionalise" the users. We achieved this by categorising the first character of the user ID number. For example, all users living in Leicestershire would have a ID beginning with the number 1; so all Leicestershire users would have an ID ranging from 100 to 1ZZ. A quick & dirty program taking 30 minutes to construct dealt with the allocation of user IDs from hereon.

 All items are identified by use of a name. Most human beings are referred to by their name, or some version of it. Villages, Towns, Cities, countries, continents and planets are referred to by a simple name. Governments, businesses, corner shops, clubs, societies and public domain libraries are identified by their name. So why didn't our public domain library have a name? ...

 The most obvious, simplest task in the establishment of any organisation - the name - had been overlooked. The computer magazine that advertised us, having also discovered the problem, had obliged by christening us "8-bit PD". It was not the name we would have liked but it did have its advantages - namely the "8" which guaranteed us the top billing in all alphabetical public domain listings. We did actually name the library "Sevenash Systems", the first name being derived from the base address - 7 ASHdale, and the second name adopted from the "Systems" labels on which the first 3 issues were based on. It was thought that the name "8-bit PD" was nice and punchy and to attempt to change it at this late stage would only cause confusion, not to mention the demotional effect it would have in the magazine listing charts.

 THE INTERMEDIATE YEARS

 They say that problems always come in threes, and 8-bit Public Domain was going to be no exception ...

 The response to issue 4 was quite pleasant considering that it only contained 4 programs with no kind of menu system. Completed questionnaires were flowing in thick and fast and programmers newsletters were being compiled using these comments. The icing on the cake was that software was being submitted by new members and within a week we had enough to fill an 80 track DFS disc. We decided not to place all the software we had received on the issue 5 disc, as we would not have any left for issue 6 and we had no time left for creating programs ourselves.

 We had already faced a problem which delayed issue 5 by 1 week. The user ID generation program had sprouted a bug which resulted in random IDs being generated irrespective of where the member lived. Our "regionalisation" of 8-bit PD members was therefore out of the window. The process of allocation new IDs to new members was slowed as a result as we had to check carefully for duplication.

 The concept of the user number had been adopted enthusiastically by our members. Many seemed to like the mysterious air of the user number and frequently used their number rather than their names - so much so that we had difficulty in identifying some people. There seemed to be a lot of shy people out there who could contribute to an organisation without surrendering their anonymity (?).

 Our second problem was rather more serious. "We" had suddenly become an "I". 8-bit PD would not have been possible without the help of Bryan who had helped and supported me in setting up the public domain library in it's first three months. Bryan was off to the United States to seek new challenges, and 8-bit PD was going to suffer as a result. I was going to miss him a hell of a lot over the next 18 months. No-one else seemed interested in taking Bryan's place, so I had to go it alone or stop.

 Our third problem (or my first problem as I was on my own) was system malfunction. Household refurbishment had drawn to a close and the computer room was restored to its former glory, except that none of it seemed to work any more. With Bryan gone I could no longer make use of his BBC and thus the software submissions I was continuing to receive could not be run. The situation was extremely frustrating and lasted 3 days until a new CPU was found for one BBC, and a new floppy disc controller for the other.

 Issue 5 eventually hit the streets together with the customary questionnaire. This was the first issue to contain a user front end in the form of teletext graphics and a menu bar from which the user selected the programs to load. All teletext work was done using Acorn Users "Eco-Ed" software which was published in the mid-eighties. Mode 7 screens were created using this system and saved to disc. The menu graphics were just *LOADed back onto the screen and the menu selection bar inserted by the program. It was not a watertight program (as 6502 TUBE & some shadow ram users discovered) but it was quick and gave 8-bit PD some form of identity.

 We live in a democratic society where citizens have the freedom of choice. Computer users have a vast choice in the software they acquire. The very essence of a Public Domain library is the fact that users can choose the programs they like from a software pool. To put only one piece of software on an entire 8-bit PD issue disc is obviously very unwise ...

 Issue 6 went out (late) with the usual newsletter (containing apologies) and a selection of sampled sounds. I had never heard sampled sounds on a BBC and was very pleased to be able to include them so early in the life of 8-bit PD. Questionnaires returned with issue 6 all praised the sampled sounds - in addition to the mandatory three programs they had to comment on at the time. 8-bit PD was being regarded as the best 8-bit PD library in the UK - or so I was told - and I knew it was the unique quality of software like this that was earning this reputation.

 I have to confess that I was beginning to enjoy the success of 8-bit PD which was now boasting over 100 enquiries with a 70% turnover into new members. Some very talented individuals were joining the library and there was plenty of software to fill each issue disc down to the last byte. Someone had put together a "Play by Mail" game called Urban War. This was a role-play type system on which users could take their turn then post the disc to the next player and so on. The problem was that the software filled a double sided 80 track DFS disc. Blinded by the current success of 8-bit PD, I saw Urban War as an easy issue and thus issue 7 consisted of that one program and nothing else - not even a menu system.

 Looking back some two to three years later, I wonder what members of 8-bit PD must have thought on receiving issue 7. The younger members which made up about 60% of the library at the time all thought Urban War was a big hit and provided plenty of comments which were duly passed on. Other, more mature members, were not so happy and saw nothing in Urban War - not due to the software itself but due to the lack of variety and CHOICE that 8-bit PD members had by now become accustomed to. Issue 7 damaged the reputation of 8-bit PD and membership dormancy rose by about 15 compared to its usual 3 or 4. New members for whom issue 7 was their first issue were understandably unimpressed by the lack of variety and began asking why 8-bit PD only issued one program per month? All in all it was an explosive cocktail which came within a gnats whisker of costing 8-bit software its life.

 Rather than shrug off the problem, a solution was put in place to ensure that large items of software were given their rightful airing, but not at the expense of filling space on a monthly disc - and the rather unceremoniously named "TBI Pool" was born. TBI actually stood for "Too Big for Issue disc" and contained software that fell into that category. In the end it worked very well - having the advantage of adding a new service to 8-bit Software and the reward of becoming staggeringly popular. Urban War was requested time and time again by new members to 8-bit Software starting issue 8 onwards.

 It was becoming apparent that the newsletters and software reviews which accompanied each issue disc were becoming as popular as the actual software itself ...

 If I remember correctly, I had been hinting on starting an 8-bit PD screen magazine ever since the first newsletter (maybe issue 6?) and never thought at the time that it would ever become a reality. For a start, over 60% of the time spent putting together an issue disc was spent writing and printing the newsletters and program reviews.

 If an "on-screen" disc based magazine was to be a realistic option then two problems had to be tackled. Firstly, the magazine was going to require disc space and secondly I had to find someone willing to write and edit it as my time bank was already well overdrawn ...

 TO BE CONTINUED (one day) ...

8BS History Part II By Duncan Webster. February 1995

If there is one thing I really cannot stand, its people who don't finish what they started out to do (concluding parts of articles for example)...

8BS was thriving of the fact that it was "different" from all other PD libraries for two major reasons - firstly, it was free, and secondly it provided a platform for members to communicate with either myself or any other 8BS member who wished to make themselves known. The current technology employed to achieve this consisted of two boxes of fan fold paper kindly donated by the TSB, and a rather tired 8-pin dot matrix printer. It was clear from as far back as issue 5 that something would have to be done to improve the communications flow. With Bryan gone, I had the following options:

1. Use Bulletin Boards 2. Continue existing system 3. Text files on existing issue discs

Obviously, number 1 was my favourite as I could just upload the whole 8BS issue disc to a specified bulletin board and forget it - however, reality must be faced and the reality was that only 5 members had access to the necessary communications hardware - not to mention the hidden phone costs of obtaining a complete issue of 8BS.

Option 2 was out of the question, unless I was going to start charging for issue discs (which was also out of the question). Option 3 was really the obvious choice from the start, but I always go through all available options as some are not as far reaching as they seem.

Option 3 provided difficulties. There is a good 50% more chance of something being read by an 8BS member if it is printed and wrapped around the issue disc - you simply cannot miss it. If I put correspondence on disc, then the user must be encouraged to read it, and b) the user must know HOW to access it. There were a few members who would not know how to *TYPE a document to screen, and even less who would know how to invoke screen paging or send the document to a printer. I could have assumed that all members had word processors but that would have been foolish for the reasons already stated above.

In the end it became obvious that an "easy to use" disc magazine utility had to be developed and included on each issue disc. This presented problems of disc space. As I remember, we were still on single sided discs at the time. Before I addressed that problem, the problem of who would co-ordinate the magazine had to be sorted. An advert went out in the next issue (on paper of course) and fortunately, one person with the necessary skills responded.

And so a disc magazine was launched, using some sort of teletext PD package that used a minimum of precious disc space. I was going to issue the disc magazine presentation software on one issue disc and ask members to retain this software for all future issues. This seemed like a very good way of saving future disc space, but the idea was deemed impractical as all new members to 8BS after the disc magazine issue would have to be sent the magazine presentation software.

The disc space problem was eventually alleviated by pushing the disc magazine to side 2 of the disc. I had to compromise the fact that single sided disc drive users would not have access to the magazine, but they would still gain access to the PD software. Users wanting the magazine as well would have to send in two discs per issue. The system worked well to a degree, but I would have preferred the magazine editor to have had access to comms. hardware so we could have swapped articles over the phone - instead, we had to use snail mail, which made any alteration I wanted to make very slow (as I did not have the ability to change articles sent to me). However, the magazine looked good and most importantly, it was easy to use and I shall remain forever grateful to Martin who put a lot of time and effort into creating and editing the magazine.

 A lot of things happened around the time the disc magazine was launched. 8BS went double sided, the 5A pilot version of Systems Server was launched, the TBI pool was introduced ...

What a stupid name that was - TBI - it was a software pool that had accumulated that was Too Big for one Issue - hence the acronym TBI. Members were eagerly submitting software - a lot of it taking up so much disc space that to include it on a single issue disc would have cut down CHOICE to almost nothing. Still feeling my wounds from Issue 7, the idea of opening a mini PD library linked to 8BS developed and the TBI pool was born. The idea was to maintain and publicise a list of current TBI discs, selecting one each issue to publicise in the disc magazine. In the end I believe it just became a PD software pool as I did not have the time to sit down and give a particular piece of software the reviewing time it deserved - which was a bit of a shame really as looking back, there is a lot of good stuff there.

About the time the first disc magazine went to press, I had managed to enlist the help of a few fellow members to help fill up the disc magazine with a few articles (as opposed to me being the sole contributor). A games reviewer and technical editor provided some distraction to usual 8BS notices and messages floating around.

 Holidays - and the first time I had 2 weeks holiday with nowhere to go - this gave me time to really have a go at 8BS and bring it to shine amongst the 8-bit PD world, so I purchased an A3000 ...

This was probably the first indication in the whole of my time with 8BS that I was getting a little fed up with the whole thing. The novelty of 8BS was beginning to wane and I wanted to set myself upon new challenges. The two weeks holiday I had were more than 70% filled by exploring Acorns new 32-bit micro. It was useful for copying discs though and speeded up the 8BS distribution process by a factor of 2.

The thought of opening up 32-bit Software had crossed my mind now I owned this gleaming new piece of hardware. It was no more than a passing thought though as I quickly realised that a) Many PD libraries already existed for the A3000 and b) I did not have any knowledge of how the machine worked or what it could do. One thing you need before opening any user group is experience of the subject in question - and lots of it. It would probably be a good idea in the future when Acorn finally ditched the Arc and moved over to a RISC based PC (something which I was convinced they would eventually do).

 8BS always used to be known as "8-bit PD". The name fitted until the disc magazine was under full swing, and by issue 10 a name change was definitely on the cards ...

It wasn't much of a change as you can see, but the "PD" element had to go as 8BS was anything but a PD library. As it happened, the change was quite painless - although it took the media about 6 months to adopt the change. The rumour mill caught me about this time as several phone calls and letters were being received asking why I had decided to charge for 8BS issue discs. Fortunately, this rumour was swiftly dealt with by the issue of a rather controversial charging article.

 It was about time I dropped another huge clanger here, and this came galloping towards me with reckless abandon in the form of digitised pictures. My memory of this is very sketchy so I hope I will be forgiven if my recollection of the following events are unclear ...

I received a disc around issue 13 (not sure really) which ... well lets just say I should have left these pictures alone and forgotten about them. Instead, I decided to issue them to all members above 18 years of age and withhold them from all others (about 30% in all). Please do not mis-understand me, we are NOT talking about any sort of porn here - far from it in fact. This is where my memory fails me, but I DO know that these images could have been interpreted in the wrong manner by some members. Unfortunately (or it is fortunately) I cannot remember exactly what these images contained.

There were two main responses to this "over 18" decision of mine. Screams of protest from members believing they had been deprived of a "really interesting" issue disc (I say "believing they had been deprived" because they were not, as I explain later). The second response could only be described as "abject disappointment" at the "lack of quality" of the pictures on the disc. I seem to remember getting a very long letter from one member about my "eagerness to over-censor" and that there was no danger of members "becoming emotionally damaged" by the contents of that issue. I quickly realised I had sat on a hornets nest and was getting stung - badly. This was further compounded by my horrific discovery that all images had gone out to all members irrespective of age. I thought I had prepared two versions of this issue - it turned out I forgot to delete the necessary files from version 2.

All I could do was apologise and attempt to play the matter down next issue - which I seemed to do OK. Anyone thinking of diversifying into this kind of PD would be well advised not to bother. I hope I remembered the above two paragraphs correctly - someone ought to put the record straight if I have not. A quick note for whoever sent me the software entitled "PIGMAN" about this time - you are very sad anorak and probably very warped.

Issue 12 saw a new look to the disc magazine presentation. Martin had 'O' levels to do and had to relinquish his role of magazine editor. Fortunately, he had provided ample notice so I was able to cobble together an alternative format which enabled users to select an article to be *TYPEd to the screen or a printer. It wasn't up to the standards of Martin's work, but it gave users a choice of how they wished to read the magazine.

Membership by now was getting out of control - a cursory examination of the 8BS database saw over 250 entries. These consisted of enquiries, active members and dormant members. There were around 100 active members, and of those 100, only 50 or so were sending a disc for each issue, and only 30 of those were contributing anything at all to the library.

 A very good tip when writing articles for any journal - Don't discharge such a duty whilst you are in a poor frame of mind ...

Issue 15 was probably another good indication (after the A3000) that I was getting bored with the running of 8BS. All my time was spent creating the menu systems for the latest issue, filling the disc magazine with other peoples articles and messages, copying discs and stuffing envelopes. I had no time to put much of my own work into the library - which is ironic really as the library wasn't really started for my benefit - Bryan and I started 8BS to provide unsung talent with the opportunity to exhibit their work. Looking back on the plugging I gave Systems Server, it would seem that I had abused the 8BS platform a little.

To cut a very long story short, issue 15 went out with a curt (if not rude) letter explaining (no, telling) users who did not bother contributing software to the library to sod off. I didn't use those words but the message was clear. Subsequent responses told me the message had hit home - and in more places than one. In my desperation to cut the membership down to those who sent software in, I had alienated the most valuable group of users in the library - those who USE and COMMENT on the software they receive, but do not develop software of their own.

Again, apologies had to go out into the next issue, as well as some personal letters of apologies to certain members whom I had a lot of respect for and had no wish to lose them as users of 8BS. This kind of thing was happening all too often, and it became clear to me that the 100% effort I used to put into 8BS was probably doing well to hit the 50% mark over the past few months.

 A change of job around issue 18 made the inevitable obvious, and 8BS would have to close. I just could not face my new professional responsibilities whilst running 8BS "on tickover" as doing this would slowly, but surely see that 8BS was run into the ground on the back of a diminishing reputation ...

The decision to close 8BS quite easy actually. I had been running the show for two years - which is good for any amateur user group where technology is concerned. I felt that I have achieved what I had set out to do, and now was a good time to move on to something new.

Ironically, the issues leading up to the closure of 8BS (16 to 19 I think) were some of the best that I had put out in my own opinion. The PD software was good, and the magazine was growing and growing. Repton competitions were held which generated a lot of interest. A brilliant archiver submitted by one member gave me the ability to bypass the cursed 31 file DFS limit (which was becoming more limiting that disc space).

 Closing a user group is harder than you would imagine. If you are rude enough you could just start ignoring the mail (containing discs & return postage). The decision to advertise for possible hand over was not my idea, but the idea of my friends 5 year old daughter. She overheard a conversation between us and just said "why don't you get someone else to do it for you ?". The following silence was measured in ice-ages ...

The Micro User came up trumps for once and managed to get an article stating that I had run out of time to run 8BS and was there anyone who would like to have a go? About 6 commercially interested parties got in touch. All they wanted to do is gobble 8BS up - not a chance - I'd rather see it close.

A recent member wrote stating that he would like to have a go and was willing to keep 8BS going in a similar vein. The database was duly dumped to paper and posted ... and 8BS carried on under the guidance of Daniel.

 LOOKING BACK

And so the story of 8BS ends, but what are my feelings now, looking back more than 4 years ...

I will never regret starting 8BS as the experience of dealing with different kinds of people is one that still helps me in my professional role today. 8BS taught me a lot about organisation and planning, written and spoken communication etc. In the early days I thought I could please everyone ... I know now that is an impossible goal. I knew that I would regret closing 8BS - as it turned out I didn't regret handing over 8BS as much as I regretted losing contact with a lot friends I had made during the 2 years I was around. Fortunately, I am still in contact with Chris.

I was frankly surprised (and delighted) to see 8BS prosper under the guidance of Daniel and Chris, who have found the time (god knows how) to turn 8BS into the jewel in the BBC Micros crown. All the glossies have abandoned 8-bit Acorns for the 32-bit world of RISC - such is the problem with commercially orientated organisations. I have to admit that I gave 8BS about 6 issues maximum after issue 19. I am very pleased to admit that I was very wrong in that respect.

I had the honour of meeting both Daniel & Chris last year at the Acorn Show in Harrogate. I could not believe the interest that 8BS was attracting - I have to admit that I went away from the show wishing that I had not given up 8BS as easily as I did. My companions taunted me on the way home, using words like "sore" and "jealous" which is not true (well, maybe just a little). However, one thought of the work that must have been put in to get 8BS up to show standard soon cured any jealousy on my part.

 THE FUTURE

I have been controversial in the past, so why not revive the tradition with a few of my opinions on what I think the future holds. I must point out that the entire remainder of this article is self opinionated and is not meant to influence any individuals in any manner ...

I still own two Acorn machines (A3000 and Master Compact), but in reality they are never used except to view 8BS software. I do have lots more time on my hands now (which is why I have completed this article), but all my spare computing time is spent developing applications for PCs.

I used to think, and still think that Acorn have this very snobbish attitude towards their customers. Acorn computers are very capable machines, they out perform most machines in their class and are easy to use and program. However, they are only computers and there are several cheaper models on the market. In these days, recession and financial hardship is felt by a lot of families resulting in potential Acorn users ending up with cheaper hardware. I am still of the opinion that if it wasn't for the Acorn's educational niche, people now days would think an Acorn is something that drops from an Oak tree. It was safer then than it is now for Acorn to adopt that approach. Most companies then used IBM or compatible technology (the word PC was in it's infancy then). There was little temptation to purchase a IBM for a son or daughter in readiness for their working life as quality software, both educational and fun didn't figure.

Now you can buy 486 PC systems cheaper than your average A3010 (including monitor and hard disc). The huge bonus with a PC is that you can prepare your children for "technical adulthood" by giving them the opportunity to glean real working PC knowledge that could be put to immediate use. I would wager that if you put an Acorn user with no PC experience in front of a PC - switching on is about as far as they would get. It takes TIME to train someone to use a PC. TIME is MONEY and there is not as much MONEY available to TRAIN staff today, besides, training is no substitute for hands on experience. I feel that PC literacy carries the same weight as an A level on your CV.

Don't get me wrong, I am not personally sold on the using a PC for pleasure purposes, but I AM REALISTIC. If I was to purchase a computer for any son/daughter of mine, then it would have to be a PC. They are inexpensive compared to Acorn, more powerful, more software (including good games) and the cherry on the cake is that they could walk into their first job knowing a lot more about PC technology than the existing employees. Acorn have recognised this in their RISC PC but, as usual, it is grossly over-priced.

Companies like Acorn and Apple seem to be crossing the technical road to becoming PC supporters/manufacturers. Presently, they are both about halfway across - standing on the white line. In other words they are adding PC compatibility to their existing technology whilst keeping their own native environment prime. They have three choices - they can continue to walk along the white line, dodging traffic. They can cross to the other side and become PC manufacturers, or they can turn back. Either way you can get run over unless you keep you eyes open - in ALL directions.

 Now is the time to duck I suppose. Thanks a lot for taking the time to read this article. I hope all 8BS members had a super Christmas, and may 8BS and all its members have a very prosperous 1995 - the show must go on !

Duncan Webster.



 8-Bit Software.

 The Rest Is History......

Or The Rest Of The History?

 19.11.95

This article was written over a period of well over a year whilst waiting for the previous parts of the history to be written. As time has gone by, I have added to this article and tried to update the relevant parts. Please bear this in mind as you read this.

Final addition..... I have decided to release this (my) part of the history of 8BS before Daniel Shimmin's as it is going out of date and Daniel hasn't written his part yet I think.

This is the final part of the history of 8BS. I had a look through my records (two diaries, a folder of old catalogue printouts, the 8BS issue collection and a few old letters from various key members) to glean a few snippets here and there.

  First Steps Into The Public Domain.

It seems a long time ago now that I did my own "Public Domain" survey (the survey carried out by an 8BS member some time ago still has its echoes). Unfortunately, the dates escape me now, but it must have been late 1990. The reason I say this is that it was "The Micro User" Cover disc that impressed me with PD Christmas tunes (they can be found on 8BS-17, the Christmas 1991 issue).

I wrote off to all of the half dozen or so PD libraries in the list. I gathered all of the replies together and made comparisons. Weighing up prices and response times. I am the sort of person that cannot wait, therefore it mattered that the response came fairly quickly. Those slow to reply stood no chance of my custom. Price was the next consideration.

There was absolutely no competition for 8-bit PD as it was called then, everything was free, 8BS won my heart immediately. I did also write to Jonathan Harston of Harston PD and bought one of his discs. The other libraries either took so long to reply that I did not wish to deal with them or they charged too much for my liking.

I had the use of a school BBC computer that my father would bring home from the school he taught at. He would bring it to me on a weekend so that it wouldn't be stolen. For some reason I had the uncontrollable urge to risk life and limb by spending the whole time programming. To this day I cannot understand why. I am amazed that Gill has not sacked me even now. My father retired eventually which created a major panic, I dashed out and purchased a Master 128 immediately. I have a shameful admission to make here. I bought the Master the day before going on holiday and actually took it away with me, can you believe it?

  Recollections of Early 8BS.

On joining 8BS and receiving my User ID of 2J3 (at the time I thought it was some sort of anagram of my name!) I was forced by Duncan Webster to wade through all of the old issues of 8BS before being allowed to receive the latest issue. This I did in a couple of weeks. We were supposed to analyse each issue and comment on the content on a special sheet provided. This I did dutifully several times and waited by the letterbox eagerly for the next issue. I think it was around issue 8 that I joined 8BS and immediately started bombarding Duncan Webster with everything I had. I really enjoyed being a part of the club and was totally dismayed when I received issue 19 in April 1992 when he suddenly announced that 8BS was to die.

I was contacted By Duncan around June 1992 to say that I should contact Daniel Shimmin for the next issue of 8BS. Sheer joy to discover that the group was to be resurrected. Over the months I somehow became engaged in a dialogue with Daniel who was about to start at University. The group was going to go under again. Eventually, I volunteered my services for an issue, issue 23. I enjoyed compiling it and it became obvious that Daniel was not going to have the time in future to continue editing the mag. We took alternate issues up to issue 27. In May 1993 I took over the running of the group.

  Taking the Reins.

The first priority was to let everyone know that 8BS was still alive and kicking. I wrote millions of letters to people. Membership was around the 50 mark. A rough guide as to how many active members there are is the number of 8BS issues sent out. This may sound a bit odd to you, however, not everyone gets every issue. Some members don't contact 8BS for several months and then order all the back issues. Others only send for the occasional issue. The "Magic" number for a couple of issues was 28, over the weeks this would creep up to the 50s for an issue. As I write this the figure is now in the 80s creeping up to around 150 per issue.

  The Object Of The Exercise.

My main aim was (and is) to provide a rapid, reliable service to BBC users. Supplying discs for those that wanted software supplying on new discs. More recently my aims have increased to wanting to support any needs presented. This involves having a network of people with different skills and facilities that can help others out with their problems/needs. The whole thing has evolved quite nicely. One pleasant side effect of the messaging system is that members may contact each other individually and there is now a whole network of people in constant touch with each other. Several people have commented on the "friendly" nature of the "club" created by the messaging system. There have been none of the snotty messages that I have seen on bulletin boards for instance.

There were 48 discs in the PD pool and 7 back issues available when I took the group over. I wanted to collect the back issues together so that there would be a proper history of 8BS. This was not too difficult as I had most of the back issues myself although there were a few gaps. I also wanted to gather up as much PD software as possible into one place.

I wanted the magazine to be in mode 7, scrolling articles. I had seen something similar in issue 16 of 8BS. I had written teletext editing utilities and the machine code header programs to enable teletext articles to be *RUN. I discussed the idea with Daniel Shimmin who was not too keen on it. He took a lot of convincing. There were many bugs in the software that needed ironing out. Eventually after I had made numerous changes to the software and written an 80 column converter for those averse to teletext, Daniel agreed that maybe it would work. Daniel's constructive criticism had helped me to iron out the rough edges.

In early issues, Duncan Webster had mentioned that he had been working on a messaging system idea. This had grabbed my imagination, but never materialized. Now I was running the group and had access to the questionnaires, I could tap the latent talent. Several phone calls and letters later Steven Flintham's programming talents were roped in. He wrote an excellent menu system and messaging system.

The combination of the mode 7 articles with the messaging system became very popular to the extent that now the articles and messages are the most popular section of the issue.

Another item required was a disc based catalogue. A simple listing was sufficient when I had taken the group over, but there was so much in the library now that a proper disc based catalogue was needed. In July 1993 I wrote a system which operated reasonably well until recently. It used mode 0. I placed it onto a disc that I called TBI-00, this disc contained all of the info required for prospective/new/existing members. The more recent catalogue is now in mode 7 as this mode seems to be very popular.

  Success?

On several occasions I thought that the library could not possibly get any larger, but then it did. Each time I updated the catalogue, a new addition would arrive. At this moment (29.12.94) the library is sprawling out of control towards 700 entries, threatening world domination. Later... 2.4.95. The library is now at around 750. Later....27.7.95 around 800. Later.... 19.11.95 850.

When BBC PD closed down, Alan Blundell sent me his whole collection of DFS discs. This was a magnificent addition to the 8BS PD library.

When Beebug dropped its support for the BBC, I was sent copies of Beebug Volumes 2 to 5. More recently the rest of the library was released to the public domain and 8BS acquired copies of volumes 6 to 12. At present, I am working on getting volunteers to type in issues 1 to 9 of volume 1. Beebug started giving people my phone number and address as someone willing to help people with enquiries about their BBC.

I contacted the owner of the copyright to Fast Access issues 1 and 2. He eventually sold 8BS the copyright and later included The Disk User.

More recently, thanks to the hard work of Stephan Richardson, Colton Software has sold 8BS the distribution rights for View Professional.

I have made contact with several other BBC oriented groups with varying degrees of success. Ron Marshall of Solinet was helpful. Paul Harvey of the now sadly extinct Byteback has done a lot for 8BS and deserves special thanks. The Yorkshire Boys have not responded to my letters at all, in fact I would be interested to hear from anyone that has managed to elicit a response from them. I have had contacts with GLM, Mad Rabbit and JJF. Andy Nibbs released his software series for the Master, Masterdisk for 8BS to circulate. Destroyed Realities, Digital Solutions PD and Beeb Developments regularly contact me. More recently Jonathan Harston of Harston PD has contacted me for the first time (early 95). Gordon Horsington has allowed the release of anything by him to the Public Domain, he has written large amounts of text and software relating to the BBC. I managed to get a list of Welsh Boys PD software but have as yet not been in contact with them. Electron User Group has also contacted me a couple of times, but responses to my letters back take about 8 months.

The success of 8BS has only really happened due to the demise of almost everyone else.

  The Acorn User Shows.

In January 1994 I noticed that the Acorn User Show was being held in Harrogate at the International Centre. I contacted the centre and got the phone number of the people contracted to organise the show. I spoke with Geoff and Judith Potter of Safesell Exhibitions a number of times. Eventually Geoff very kindly donated a bit of space for 8BS to put on a display.

This was a great chance to "show off" 8BS. The event itself was a great success with around 600 discs being flogged to innocent passers by. With hindsight I regret the time spent nobbling passers by. We only gained two new regular members from this event (all members with "A" as the first letter of their User ID are members joining at the Acorn User Shows). I was so busy grabbing passers-by that I didn't get as much chance as I would have liked to chat with visiting members. The discs sold covered expenses. I was given a chance to rectify this. Geoff Potter invited 8BS to the 1995 Acorn User Show at Harrogate. Expenses were kept to a minimum, I camped. As a result, far fewer discs had to be sold to the public, therefore less work for us all. Many members showed up, some bringing their own computers. All I had to take with me was a couple of boxes of odds and ends. Much more easy. A good time was had by all (I hope!). Later.... 27.7.95 I am still getting new members joining by sending in the slips handed out at Harrogate.

  The Chronology.

In order to try and get the various developments at 8BS into some sort of chronological order, I have consulted all the issues that I have edited. Here is what I have found:

What could pass off as the editorial in issue 23 is full of hopeless ramblings. At this stage I was only trying to put an issue together, no plans, just trying not to make a complete hash of it. I had written a menu that looked similar to past issues. I wanted to keep the distinctive appearance of 8BS.

By the next issue, issue 25, I had received some feedback from members and was starting to get some ideas about how the group could develop. At this stage though, I was only taking it in turns with Daniel.

When issue 27 arrived I had taken over the running of the group and was full of ideas. Several debates had started up in the magazine. I was still very much into writing programs myself. It was at about this time that I realised the programming side was going to have to give way to the running of the group and I was going to have to find other people to program for me. I contacted various members of the group. Steven Flintham wrote a menu system.

The new menu system first appeared on issue 28. Also on this issue the birth of TBI-00 the info/catalogue/utility disc was announced. Up to this point the PD pool of discs had been available only to members at 10p a copy if the disc and return postage were supplied. I made the pool available to non-members, charging 50p per disc. I had found a disc supplier and offered discs at one pound each. The development of a messaging system was announced.

Issue 29 hit the streets in August 1993. I had finally decided on the direction that I was going to take with 8BS. I announced that 8BS was a user group with a regular disc based magazine, and also a public domain library which anyone could use. The messaging system was launched in this issue.

Issue 30 was packed with messages sent using the messaging system. It had been an instant hit. There were teething problems, but most people seemed to be managing quite well with it. I was finally coming to grips with the menu system, initial menus had been a bit disjointed.

Issue 31 in November 1994 had come too early for Christmas. I had really tried very hard to get this out somewhere near Christmas. Determined for this not to happen again, I planned the next 2 years deadline and issue dates at this point. There had been much discussion about 2 disc issues by many people, at this time I decided that the idea should be laid to rest. Mainly because of the space it would take up in my disc box, time backing up and the fact that I was (and am) sure most members of the group would find 2 discs every 7 weeks too much. In this issue a new competition was announced, the Prisoner's dilemma. To this day, there has been no response. In a later issue, an intro screen competition was announced, this had a response, but not many members bothered. It would seem that competitions are not very popular.

In the January 1994, issue 32, I announced price increases for discs from the pool for members. Charges went up from 10p a disc to 50p. No one seemed to mind too much. I have wrestled many times with the question of charges. I had only joined 8BS in the first place because it was totally free. It was becoming slowly apparent to me though that I quite simply didn't have the funds from my meagre wages to support several hundred BBC loonies who were willing to pay their way anyhow. The charges now in place keep 8BS afloat and enable the odd venture into replacement of gear and purchase of distribution rights etc. Later....... 27.7.95 I have started collecting spares etc at an alarming rate, with regular visits to car boot sales and computer fares and people sending large boxes of stuff through the post.

Issue 33 in March 1994 saw the launch of the new questionnaire written by Steven Flintham. I designed the questions so that I could find out anything I needed to know about members, things such as what machines they used. What they thought of various aspects of the group, whether they would like 8BS to supply them with things and so on. There were 128 members on the books with 98 in regular contact. I had sent out 1700 discs of software at this point. Some members were (and are) keen to put large lists of their hardware into the questionnaire and seem to be irritated by the fact that they can only type one line in response to the question. At the moment (12.94), the data from the questionnaire half fills a disc, so we have to watch the space. Anyone that wants to write a 6 page resume' or send a CV (someone has, incidentally, it was very useful, as now I know what a CV looks like and have written one for myself) is quite welcome to do so. I take all the long letters I receive to work with me and read and reply to them in quiet moments (although I did write a reply once on the way to a road accident for some reason. I felt seasick for an hour afterwards. Incidentally, I was not driving at the time).

In issue 34 I finally decided to make life more easy for everyone by splitting up the message files into adverts, help and general. Messaging had become the most popular section of the magazine. People were finding it difficult wading through the hotch potch of messages. Alan Blundell of BBC PD announced that he was going to pack up. This caused a bit of panic amongst BBC users who saw this as the end of a very important part of the BBC scene. I decided that I should attempt to get a copy of the whole BBC PD library. Still a few short.

Issue 35 was full of ravings about how well the Acorn User show had gone. I had been totally preoccupied by the show although had still found time to make major additions and alterations to the 8BS catalogue which was starting to grow out of control.

I had now hit a format for 8BS issues that seems to have remained static (with only minor changes) for the last few issues. The only big change has been a total re-write of the catalogue handling software.

Here is a list of the issues that I have edited:

23 November 1992 25 February 1993 27 May 1993 28 July 1993 29 August 1993 30 October 1993 31 November 1993 32 January 1994 33 March 1994 34 April 1994 35 June 1994 36 July 1994 37 September 1994 38 October 1994 39 December 1994 40 February 1995 41 March 1995 42 May 1995 43 June 1995 44 September 1995 45 October 1995 46 December 1995

 The Gear.

When I started running the group, all I had was a Master 128, colour portable TV, Citizen 120D and a single disc drive. I purchased a twin drive when I edited my first issue. That was an obvious first addition. It then became apparent that I would need to test out compatibility, so a BBC B was purchased followed closely by a Master Compact. This enabled me to check out new additions and update old software particularly in my own CJR collection. The BBC came with a twin 5.25" 3.5" disc drive set in a plinth. This enabled me to handle 3.5" discs and convert between formats. Next came a Z88 which is invaluable. I keep all of the 8BS records on this.

I acquired a 512 board because of the 512 discs that started appearing in the catalogue. One marvellous side effect of the 512 board is the CPFS ROM which allows me to use the 512K of memory as a ram disc, a facility that I put to use just about 100% of my computing time. Shortly after acquiring the 512 board another Master found its way onto the 8BS desk, then a 512 board for it, then a 1 Meg upgrade for the first Master. Then I joined a spare disc drive to the Compact to make a twin 5.25 to 3.5" drive. Next appeared another twin drive for the BBC, Followed by a second twin 3.5" drive for the Compact. 8BS now has 5 twin drives ticking away at once on occasions. This speeds up mass formatting and backing up to an acceptable time scale. Time is passing by as I wait for the earlier parts of the history of 8BS to arrive at 8BS HQ (come on Daniel!). Now I can add a 40 megabyte Winchester hard disc to the collection of hardware on the 8BS desk. This has again made my job far more easy, the questionnaire results data was getting uncomfortably large for instance, now it doesn't matter. The catalogue is far more easy to edit when held on the Winchester.

16.10.95 I have now acquired a Music 5000 with which to entertain myself. I have already managed to fill a 100 capacity disc box with music for it. Has any one else got any?

When Archimedes software started appearing in the catalogue, I seriously considered acquiring an Archimedes of some description. That idea has been hit on the head for the moment because I do not think that I would have the time to handle an Archimedes as well as everything else I am doing. Those that read the "Month in the Life of 8BS" article in issue 37 will understand what I mean.

In the loft now (27.7.95) is a collection of software and hardware. Including 3 BBCs and 2 Masters.

 At This Moment.........

With issue 46 in December 1995, membership had reached 284 with 190 in regular contact. I have sent out 8275 discs of software since July 1993. I received 1221 items of post through the letterbox from 1.1.95 to 18.11.95.

Since the ditching of 8 bit machines by commercial people 8BS has become more and more busy. Recently for instance:

An article by Richard Sterry appeared in Radcom, a radio amateur magazine. On Christmas Eve 94 four enquiries arrived, people having read the article. The next post day (the Wednesday), 3 more enquiries via RadCom. Thursday, 4 enquiries. Friday (today as I write this), 7 enquiries. All these (so far) from just one source and at a time of year when I would have expected no post at all. Since I wrote this paragraph, enquires have continued flooding in to a total of around 70 so far. 28.8.95 an enquiry today from that same article!

I have put more hours than I care to tot up into the running of 8BS. But nearly every minute of it is enjoyable. It makes a pleasant change from the work that I do. I still manage to fit in plenty of time to spend with my wife and kids.

Probably a great help here is that my setup is in the living room, while the rest of the family sit goggling at the box, I sit near them, tapping away on the keyboard. It is not the same as when I spent all my spare time programming, that took all of my tiny brain power, leaving nothing for anything or anyone else. 8BS ticks over on its own now and if I am doing something, I can stop at any time and take it up later with no problem.

  What About The Future?

What about the future? I shall keep 8BS alive as long as the postman keeps sticking your letters and discs through the door. I am reasonably happy with the format that 8BS has now, although there are still several points that need refining still. The catalogue, the questionnaire etc etc etc. My main aim is to have as comprehensive a collection of PD software as possible and to continue with the regular disc based magazine keeping prices as low as possible.

The rest will be history.... soon.

 Credits.

Gill, the missus, who by rights should have thrown all the 8BS gear out the window had she been as understanding as some wives would appear to be.

Carol and John my two eldest who get roped in now and again, formatting discs and sticking labels.

Now, in order of ID, thanks go to:

Duncan Webster. For Starting it off Alan Blundell. For Sending the BBC PD library to me. Steven Flintham. For all the hard work and excellent programming. Tim Parsons. For help, supplying stuff and the calls. Daniel Shimmin. For keeping me on my toes. Ron Marshall. For keeping in contact. Mick Needham. For all the help and donations and the pint. John Fullbrook. For helping with supplies. Paul Harvey. For the stack of help when you didn't really have time. Colin Culpitt-Smith. For putting people this way. Frank Jones. For the help at the show. Mick Reeves. For the help at the show. Peter Davy. For the large amount of excellent, hand written software. Barry Maslin. For help on numerous occasions, saving the group a fortune. Stephan Richardson. (no relation!) Where do I start? Technical help both to myself and others. Articles. Pestering commercial types for stuff for 8BS. Supply of all sorts of things I thought you couldn't get. Donations of all sorts. And much much more. Albert Schofield. For the articles. David Peck. For the supplies. Lorna Jenne. For the help, and the chats on the phone. George "Get yourself a drink" Lynch. You are my buddy for ever! Steve Hanson. For the cheap commercial software. Trevor Crapper. For 8BS-00 and the messages. Andrew Fay. For buying the T shirt. Mick Bennet. For the donations and phonecalls. Karl Tilbrook. For giving me somewhere to field repairs to. Paul Clucas. For chekin the spelin and the letters annat. Oh, and for byeing the T shirt. Peter Shaw. For the phonecalls. Sam Jackson. For the phonecalls and enthusiasm. Jim Birks. For the 512 board etc. Jonathan Harston. For the software. Miroslaw Bobrowski. For the first class software and the letters, especially the drawings from Monic. Janny Looyenga. For pointing out errors and reviving the BBC in Holland. Eric Clapton (not a member of 8BS unfortunately). For admitting to the Blues. Brian Burley. For absolutely nothing. One day someone will catch up with you!

The rest of you, too many to mention, for supporting 8BS by sending messages, articles, software, donations and most of all ordering software!

Thassit.

 C.R. Final addition 19.11.95

Come on Daniel! 



More History

PART 4 (22/09/98) By Chris Richardson

I lost this article in a 'new software' disaster. I discovered that a new HTML editor I used 'tidied' the text into oblivion. Thanks to Stephan Richardson for providing a printout that I 'more or less' copied back in faithfully.

Crumbs! It is nearly three years since I wrote the first history article, As I said, it is now history. Time flies.

As I gathered the above articles together to put on the 8BS website. I realised that it was maybe time to update the story a little further. So here we go

Update of my earlier history of 8BS

The Magazine
Changes to the format of the disc based magazine have been minimal. As I said, I was happy with the format and still am. The menu software still looks the same on the outside. I have just tidied up the way I put the articles and software into the menu so that it is easy to follow. When I look at some of the older magazines, I mixed articles and adverts up in the same menu. Steven Flintham who wrote the menuing system is still a member of 8BS but is presently not in a position to find the time to put in to write software for 8BS. Jonathan Harston has had a fiddle with the menu system and made some useful alterations to the way it is organised.

ThePool
The 8BS pool of PD discs is ever growing. There are now 963 entries in my TBI Totals table This does not mean that there are 963 discs in the library! There are more than 1000 discs in my drawer, some entries in the catalogue consist of more than one disc. I have copied and sent out 17,599 discs from the pool. More recently I have produced a set of CD roms containing the whole of the pool available to PC users with BBC emulators.

The Membership
There are now 464 members of 8BS, but this is a misleading total. How do you leave the membership? There is no fee to join, membership does not expire. Very few people bother to tell me they no longer have a BBC. Some members may leave a gap of a year or two between requests for issues. I have a graph that can call up that shows me the last issue that members received This gives a reasonable indication of how many are leaving. I can compare this with a graph of how many are joining to see how 8BS is doing for membership. About 110 members have received the last two issues. There are some members that do not receive magazine issues, These numbers are just a little bit less than they were 3 years ago. HOWEVER! My opinion is that it does not matter how many people are in the club, it is the enthusiasm of those that are in it that is important. Until issue 66, there has been plenty of stuff submitted for the magazines.

The BBC
I now have on my desk just one Master 128 with a 512 board and 1 meg upgrade. A Monitor, twin 5.25" to 3, 5 drive, twin 3 5 drive, Eprom Programmer and twin 40 meg hard drives. I have a number of machines in the loft complete my collection of Acorn 8 bit machines as well as some spares to keep my Master going. I am still looking for an Acorn Atom. Recently, whilst talking to someone on the telephone, I completely stripped my Master down and cleaned it up. All the keytops came off, the motherboard came out and the whole thing got a good polish up. It is now spotless and ready for another 10 years service.

The PC
In late 1996, a PC appeared on the 8BS desk. I wanted to buy an Archimedes, however the cost was too high. I am by nature a skinflint and hate to part with money. When I looked at what I could get for the money when comparing a PC and Archimedes, I am sorry to say that the PC won.

I had a plan, I wanted to put the 8BS pool onto the hard disc of my BBC as a backup. I wanted to create a website for 8BS. Before I got the PC, the 5.25" discs with their 3.5" backups took up huge amounts of space in my house. There were over 2000 discs of software kicking about in boxes. I wrote some disc imaging software to read the DFS and ADFS discs into my BBCs hard drive. It worked quite nicely. I now had a way of reading and writing images. Then I worked out how much disc space I required to image the 8BS pool. There was not enough. I hit the idea of a backup on hard disc on the head.

When I got a PC, my plan was to somehow do the same thing but using the PC hard drive. When I started, I had no idea how I was going to do this. First of all, I needed to copy the disc onto the PC. I was lucky in that the backup of the pool was on 3.5" disc. I found a piece of PC software called FDC that would read BBC discs in as images. Over a period of 3 months I then read the 3.5" discs in as images. I put the 5.25" version of the pool away and managed without it for several months. I was happy that I could manage this way with the two drawers full of 3.5" discs as the master copy of the pool, so I gave the 5.25" discs away as freebies.

I did not expect to find BBC emulators, but there was a plethora of them. I tried them all and eventually decided that Stuart McConnachie's PCBBC was the best. I now have my PC set up so that a double click on the BBC disc image runs the emulator with that image loaded.

I then started putting the images onto CD and passing them on to people. Mark Usher helped me develop an Access 97 database that contains a copy of the catalogue. Click on a disc image and it runs a specially adapted copy of PCBBC with the image loaded. The whole pool is now available on 7 CDs. There are many other useful tools on each CD too.

The Internet
I misguidedly signed on with the internet provider Compuserve for a couple of months. After realising that I was paying a fortune to stay on line for more than a few hours each month I signed off and went for good old Karoo. They gave me a couple of megabytes of webspace and on 5/3/97 8BS went on to the internet.

I spent hours putting 8BS into as many search engines as I could. Just about all new entries into the club come via email from the website.

I discovered Robert Schmidt's BBC Lives! website. He has amassed a huge collection of BBC software, mostly commercial, he is trying to collect everything. He has given space for a lot of the 8BS magazines to be made available.

Through Robert's site I found Mark Usher. Mark's self imposed millstone is to get as much BBC documentation as possible into electronic format. Over the years, Mark has come to my rescue many times.

Not The Acorn User Shows 1 and 2
Jonathan Harston volunteered his house for a weekend in Summer 1996. This was quite handy as there was to be no Acorn User show in Harrogate that year. Paul Clucas suggested that we called it 'Not The Acorn User Show' which seemed quite appropriate. Many 8BS member's showed up over the 4 days, some staying overnight. There was lots of discussion and fiddling about with BBC bits. Jonathan volunteered the same thing in 1997 and was taken up on it once more. There are articles in 8BS magazines about these events.

EBTEL
An offshoot of Not The Acorn User Show 1 was EBTEL. Many hours were spent discussing the idea of a modem based communication system for 8BS, more or less an extension to the messaging system. Here are the specifications I wrote for the system:



EBTEL
8-Bit Software Telephone Messaging System

Introduction
EBTEL is a telephone based messaging system that links in to the 8BS messaging system but is also a messaging system in its own right.

EBTEL indirectly links in to the internet allowing 8BS members limited access to the internet.

EBTEL is an organisation within 8-Bit Software. Only members of 8BS will be able to join EBTEL. In the spirit of 8BS, EBTEL membership is free. Members of EBTEL will be supplied with a disc containing all the required software for connection to EBTEL.

Aims

? To allow members of 8-Bit Software to pass messages and software to 8BS for the regular disc based magazine.
? To allow members of 8-Bit Software to pass messages to one another via the EBTEL system.
? To allow members of 8-Bit Software limited access to the internet.
? To allow 8-Bit Software members to send and receive Email.
? To allow members of 8-Bit Software to occasionally download specific items of software that they may require.

The Hardware

Initially EBTEL will initially consist of:

Master 512 with 1 megabyte upgrade
Twin 3.5 5.25 disc drive
Monitor
Hard Disc Drive (30 megabytes)
Modem
Telephone line

These items will be situated at 8BS HQ

The modem will be connected to 01482. The modem is the only item of hardware that is needed, 8BS already has the rest of the required equipment.

EBTEL Operating Hours

Initially the system will be switched on when the hardware and telephone line is free for use by EBTEL. I envisage this as probably being for short periods on an evening, also, possibly during the daytime. This will depend upon the level of support as I have to consider the running costs of leaving the equipment switched on for long periods.

8BS already has two telephone lines (one for private use). The 8BS line is in constant use for other 8BS related activities. It will therefore always be a matter of juggling the time for EBTEL with other considerations. If support becomes strong enough (a situation I do not envisage), then 8BS could purchase a further line to allow EBTEL to be left switched on permanently. If this situation arose, further hardware would have to be acquired also. A full set of equipment (listed above) would be needed. A Master 128 would be quite sufficient. The only item that would possibly cause a problem to acquire would be a hard drive as these are few and far between.

Rules of Operation and Membership of EBTEL

Chris Richardson at 8BS HQ is the EBTEL manager.
Only members of EBTEL will be allowed access to the EBTEL system.
Only 8BS members will be allowed to become members of EBTEL.
Membership of EBTEL will be at the discretion of the EBTEL manager.
Once a member of EBTEL the member will receive a disc of software and password allowing access to the system.
Continued membership of EBTEL is at the discretion of the EBTEL manager.

EBTEL members will receive a FREE disc of software that they will not copy or pass on to anyone else. The disc is  uniquely identifiable by direct inspection of the catalogue of the disc (*.) and by the EBTEL security system. The disc contains all of the software required to access and use the EBTEL system. The disc is NOT Public Domain and remains the property of 8BS. The manager of EBTEL can request the return of the EBTEL software at any time.
 

EBTEL Specifications

? Mode 7 throughout.
? Preparation of messages off-line using a text editor similar to the 8BS messaging system. There are 3 distinct types of message. One being the 8BS message intended for the 8BS magazine, another the EBTEL message for collection off the EBTEL system by another EBTEL member and the last being text suitable for Email.
? Preparation of upload of software off-line. Software for inclusion in 8BS magazines can be uploaded to 8BS via EBTEL. The software submitted in this manner must follow the guidelines laid down in TBI-00 for submission of software.
? Preparation of download of software off-line. Certain items of software may be placed on the EBTEL system for download. Software will be chosen by the EBTEL Manager and placed into the download directory of EBTEL dependent upon demand.
? Simple menu driven operation. Menus are the same style as those of 8BS issues.
? Simple selection of messages/software for upload and download in a session, then connection to EBTEL to carry out the selected operation without further intervention in an attempt to keep on line time down to a minimum.
? A call back system to allow EBTEL members in credit to be called from EBTEL if the rate is cheaper (it occasionally is due to free access to Mercury from the Hull area where EBTEL is presently situated).
? Security to reduce the risk of non members accessing the system.
? The EBTEL members EBTEL disc is  uniquely identifiable by direct inspection of the catalogue of the disc (*.) and by the EBTEL security system. The disc contains all of the software required to access and use the EBTEL system.
? EBTEL members can access directly the following EBTEL system directories; USER#.*** where # is the relevant user directory and ### is the user id of the EBTEL member. This directory contains messages and files specific to that particular member only. Both read and write is available the member is able to see the contents of the directory. No sub directories are available from this directory. The SOFTWARE.DOWNLOAD directory is also directly accessible by the member as READ ONLY. The directory is visible to the member, access to sub directories is allowed. The SOFTWARE.UPLOAD directories are only available for write and cannot be seen by the member.
? The EBTEL system, is the property of 8BS. As such, no individual can claim the right to ownership of the software which is NOT Public Domain.
? Changes may be made to the EBTEL software, updates will be issued free of charge to members of EBTEL on the understanding that as soon as an update is received, the disc containing the old version of EBTEL is immediately mailed back to 8BS. Minor alterations to smaller parts of the EBTEL system may be available for download on the EBTEL system. A current list of all programs and current version numbers will be made available on EBTEL.

EBTEL System Directories
EBTEL is situated on a Winchester hard drive. It therefore runs in ADFS
The directory containing the whole of the EBTEL system is:

:0.$.EBTEL.

Containing the following files:

Email   One file containing uploaded messages for Email
!Mesg   Concatenated 8BS message submitted for 8BS magazines

From the EBTEL directory are the following sub directories:

Users#   Where # is a number between 1 and 20. See further breakdown
System    Containing everything required to operate EBTEL. See further     breakdown
Software.Upload# Where # is a number between 1 and 42
Software.Download Containing anything including directories
 

The Users# directories contain:
EBTEL messages for download by individual members

The System directory contains:
All files necessary for the operation of EBTEL
LOGONH  Log on History

All records relating to members of EBTEL. The records will include passwords, and account details.
 

Security and Accounts
Removed from this article!
 

System Maintenance
The EBTEL manager will use a series of menu driven utilities to:
Read/Edit the system data files.



The EBTEL Crash
Well, that was the idea. I knew that I would not have the time to program the software required. Jonathan Harston volunteered to write the necessary software. After a full year Jonathan had still not found time to complete the task and so Jon Ripley and Andy Nelson volunteered to start again. Once more, the volunteers discovered that they could not complete the task and so I announced the demise of EBTEL to the eagerly waiting membership. I and a few others were bitterly disappointed by this failure. I am still looking for volunteers to complete the project despite the disappointments.

How is 8BS Going?
I am nowhere nearly as busy with the club as I was 2 years ago. The job has changed from wading through piles of post to a more sedate one. The article 'A Month in The Life of 8BS' in an 8BS magazine described how really busy I was. The magazine until issue 66 filled itself quite easily with just the right amount of input. There is a slowing down of members joining, about 3 of 4 a month now.

New Members Joining:
New Members Joining

Last Issue Received.
This query shows the last issue that 8BS members received. All it realy shows is the drop off rate. The last 2 columns do not show much. The last column will rise as the second to last column falls. You can see that there is a gradual fall in the membership
New Members Joining

The Future
I want to help in gathering together BBC software and documentation to preserve as much as possible. I would like to have a full collection of Acorn 8 bit hardware, being a realist I know that there would be not enough room in my house for it. I am still after an Acorn Atom though. The 8BS magazine will be published as long as there is new material to put into it. Recently submissions to the magazine have been falling off. It is that serious in fact that with issue 66  I am seriously considering changing planned publication dates or even stopping the magazine all together. Plenty of people want the magazine but very few are bothering to submit stuff.

15/10/98 Issue 66 deadline day and I have finished altering TBI-00 and all documentation around the place to allow for the closing of the magazine part of 8BS. 8BS will continue to collect software and supply discs from the PD library. 8BS will still provide support for BBC users over the telephone, through the post and over the internet. 8BS 66 is the last 8BS magazine disc. This happenned due to lack of submissions and support.

06/01/99 As I promised, I kept the club going while the support was there. I spent several months trying to get submissions from people. It became hard and unpleasurable work. There was therefore no incentive on my part to continue. After closing the magazine, several people offered support, but it was too late.

I offered a newsletter on TBI-00. However, I have only had a couple of requests for this in the last two months. I offered a 'for sale' section on TBI-00, there have been no submissions for it. This speaks for itself. There is no incentive for me to carry on with this. I am therefore now further winding 8BS down. I have altered all the text on the website, TBI-00 and the CDs to reflect the current state of 8BS. I have now reduced the work I have to do to a minimal amount. This is how 8BS will be for the forseeable future:

So that is it. 8BS is now a completely different thing from the club that I took over.

13/06/1999 8BS started off on the internet at Karoo. I still use Karoo as my provider. However, 8BS has another two website addresses Many many thanks to Leigh Preece and Bob Purdon in the UK and Australia. Both have given 8BS a huge amount of fileserver space. Enough for me to make hundreds of megabytes of stuff available to all for free. Both of these blokes were not keen for me to publicly thank them due to the spam that they receive already. Terrible situation where you have to keep your head down because of all the rubbish that people send out if you let them know your email address.

11/10/1999 Only 4 months has passed since my last addition to this history but it is worth another edit. Unfortunately, Leigh Preece had to ask me to reduce the amount of space I was using on the Keele server due to problems they were having at that end. I decided to remove the 8BS website altogether. I think Leigh appreciated that. I announced on the BBC Mailing List that I had removed 8BS from the UK mirror, within a few minutes, Jess Rowbottom had offered me a load of space on a server. Thanks Jess. So almost immediately, 8BS was up and running again on 3 web servers. Since placing the pool on the web, visits to the 3 8BS websites have shot up. When I announced that the pool was available on 22/05/1999, there had been 10733 visits since 05/03/1997. Today, there have been a total of 22926 visitors, that's 12193 in less than 5 months, an average of about 80 visitors a day. I am getting virtually no contact at all from all the 'old' members of 8BS now. All of the people I am dealing with now are via the internet. The comments I am receiving from the people that find the website are very encouraging, so I will keep at it for the forseeable future.

10/03/2001

Nearly a year and a half since the last edit of this history. Not a lot has changed as far as where I think 8BS is going to. Things have remained just as busy on the website. It now totals about 650 megabytes of stuff. Around 300 visits a day (averaging about 45 a day from the first day) with all enquiries coming in via the internet and email. 1237 discs of software available for free download from the pool.

Visits to the website by day from 01/03/1997 to 10/03/2001:

Average visits to the website per day from 01/03/1997 to 10/03/2001:



29/10/2001 Jess Rowbottom has given 8BS its own server now (since around 15/06/2001). It is named owl, quite appropriate really. Thanks Jess. There is plenty of room for quite a lot of stuff there. The amount of stuff on the server available for download has now gone over the 1 gigabyte mark. Folks are sending things for the website every day with several ongoing projects

02/10/2003 Two years since the last addition. Wow! Things are just the same. The website is quite busy still. Folks are still sending in items for the website albeit a little more slowly than in the past. There have been very few new additions to the pool so far this year. I am now sellling BBC bits all over the world. Average visits and downloads etc to the website are best viewed from the statistics page on the website. I have spent a lot of time refining and checking the stats. Having kept records of everything, I regularly go through them and revise the stats including those from the past to get better info from them. Anyone that has examined server log files will probably know what I mean.


14/01/2005 Another couple of years have flown by since the last addition to the history. Things have changed quite dramatically over that time. The website is as busy as it ever was but with fewer additions. Occasionally a volunteer pops up out of the blue and offers a submission for the website. Ebay has become a good source for pictures of obscure items. I have Richard Hall to thank for many finds of that sort. I have given away most of the items that I had for sale. Hanging on to a small collection of things that I could not give away, no longer selling anything but I still will give things to folks if they ask. There have been only 2 additions to the pool in the last year, so that has become a lot easier for me to manage. Virtually no real discs sent out. Maybe half a dozen at the most in the last 12 months. My workload maintaining 8BS has dropped dramatically. I have done this purposely as I feel that it has ruled my life for long enough and it is time to ease off a bit. Gone is the large desk covered in computers. Now I have a small cupboard that hides the hardware. I really must thank Jess Rowbottom again for providing me with a server for 8BS, owl, there are nearly 2 gigabytes of stuff on owl now

Same graphs as above but a bit further on now. This one shows the number of visits to the 8BS website each day from day one until 13/01/2005

The graph below shows the average visits per day from day one until 13/01/2005


30/04/2010 Four and a half years dead! A long story which I will relate to you now. This is what happened and why the 8BS website went down for so long.

I had put a lot of effort into 8BS for a number of years and was tiring a little from the constant work. I can't sit idly by when something needs doing.

I received an email from someone quite roundly criticising the 8BS website, amongst other things telling me I should update it so it didn't look so outdated and use modern stuff like PHP and so on.

At first, I thought I should ignore the comments but inevitably I started thinking about what I could do.

Having no idea about how to go about starting with PHP I asked Jess for help. Jess spent a lot time discussing it with me and was even good enough to come down to see me one time so we could talk face to face. However, after a while, I realised that Jess could not find time to help me out any further (it required a load of programming for me and believe me, I know how long that can take).

There was a culmination of things in addition to the 'improvement' suggestions, the server that 8BS was hosted on was a bit dicky and kept going down. I think I was creating too much work for it with some of the scripts and there was probably too much bandwidth being used by the site too.

Eventually I became so fed up of the whole thing I removed all the stuff from the 8BS website. Then the site itself then went permanently dead.

I had a rest for a few years and very much enjoyed not having the commitment of 8BS.

So what happened that suddenly made me go for it again? I was having a clear out of my loft and found some old Repton stuff and decided to eBay it. Rather than photograph some of it, I thought I would search to see if I could find photos. In the end I took my own pictures but I did find copies of the old 8BS website kicking around. Not only that, I was amazed to find that Jess had put 8BS back up on the web with an old crippled version of the site. This made me realise that I needed to get in there and fix it. I contacted Jess who kindly let me at it again.

I am going to try to keep my workload down this time so I don't spend too much of my life sat at this keyboard. I have too many other things I must do, mainly, enjoy my family. PHP and other fancy stuff? Who knows, maybe....


19/05/2012 Time for another update although not a lot new to add. Thanks again to Jess who hosts the 8BS website on courgette, without Jess's patience with me when I ask stupid questions, 8BS would have been dead years ago. The site today is 16.4 gigabytes in size and set to expand rapidly with a lot of magazine scans that have been promised. I no longer have any BBC hardware whatsoever after a disaster with the one setup I had. I intend to remedy the lack of gear shortly though. I don't see the website changing all that much now, despite my earlier musings about PHP etc. Never say never though. The site gets around 70 visits a day. I get very few new enquiries but seem to be getting a healthy amount of support from a few dedicated helpers scanning stuff for us.

I dug out all the old server logs and found an excellent log analysis program (Analog). The log files take up about 5 gigabytes when uncompressed, I have kept them backed up on my own PC from day one. Here are a few stats from an analysis 9th September 1999 to 19 May 2012;

4636 Days
Average successful requests a day 6368
Successful requests for pages 3504406
Average successful page requests a day 755
Total data transferred 1.45 Terabytes
Average data transferred per day 328 megabytes

The 'back.gif' which is on just about every page of the website has been requested 770458 times


05/04/2013 Another update then. 45.6 gigabytes of stuff on the 8BS website thanks to those dedicated helpers mentioned last year. Finally picked up a real 8 Bit Acorn Computer again after having been without for a few years. Must once again thank Jess for the space on courgette. BBC scene seems to be as busy as ever, there are still many people out there that like to keep their machines going. I still get many enquiries from people after replacement parts that sadly I can no longer help with. 8BS-67 will be aired this year some time. The first magazine in quite a few years. Some stats:

Fri 21 May 2010 to Thu 4 April 2013:

Average successful requests per day: 7,080
Successful requests for pages: 1,010,215
Average successful requests for pages per day: 962
Data transferred: 5.10 terabytes
Average data transferred per day: 4.98 gigabytes

 


08/11/2016 In the intervening years since the last update to this article, very little to report. Not a lot of activity on the website. Visitor total is now at 568,027. I occasionally add items to the website, mainly tidying up of existing stuff. Maybe getting one or two enquiries a month. 47.1 gig of stuff now on the website.


 

Credits


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