I have a room full of vintage computer systems and one of the most enjoyable ways I’ve found to spend time with them is to use them to visit online Bulletin Board Systems, much as I used to when these were the modern machines of my past.
Way back when, we didn’t have the internet, and getting online meant using a modem connected to the telephone line and your computer’s serial port to dial out to local BBSes. (Well, there were also the long distance BBSes, which I called more than I should have, bringing upon me parental wrath when the phone bill came in the mail…) Actually, some systems today still support this approach, such as the Level 29 BBS listed later on this page.
The easiest way to visit an online BBS today — something you could do right now — is to simply use a modern system running a telnet client to get connected. A particularly versatile telnet client program that supports a variety of terminal emulation protocols of olde (PC ANSI, Commodore PETSCII, Atari ATASCII, etc.) is SyncTERM. It’s a free download and runs on macOS, Windows, and Linux. Those who want a more vintage terminal feel, evoking the smell of university labs from the ’70s, may enjoy Cool Retro Term (free, macOS, Windows, Linux) or Cathode (macOS, iOS) for their online sessions.
There are a variety of approaches one can use to get a vintage system online and connected, depending on its capabilities. One of the simplest and most versatile is the use of a “WiFi modem.” This is a device that typically connects to a computer’s serial port (most vintage computers have at least one) and a local WiFi hotspot and bridges the one to the other by way of emulating (and extending) the standard command set of the modems of olde. Your vintage computer thinks it’s dialing out across a phone line and connecting, just as it may have actually done, decades earlier. I go into detail about my experiences with one such device, the WiFi232, in a post entitled The Wonderful WiFi232: BBSing Has (Literally) Never Been Easier.
Another approach is to take advantage of Ethernet networking hardware that may be available for a given system of olde. I use this approach with my Amiga 2000, to which I’ve added an X-Surf Ethernet interface card. With the AmiTCP TCP/IP stack and the proper device drivers, the A2000 is one of my most capable BBSing machines. As well, the robust and freely available mTCP TCP/IP package for MS-DOS lets me use my Ethernet-equipped, 486-class DOS PC to login to my regulars. An Uthernet card in my Apple IIgs lets me get online with the Marinetti TCP/IP suite for GS/OS while the TIPI device and associated software let’s me BBS from my TI-99/4A over WiFi.
Many of these approaches are shown in my demonstration video, below.
Below is a collection of (hopefully) helpful links for he or she who has a mind to dip a toe in and see what the current BBS scene is all about. See you on the boards!
Bulletin Board Systems I frequent (via telnet):
- Level 29
- Duron PC running custom Objective-C-based software
- telnet: bbs.fozztexx.com
- dial-up: 916 965 1701
- web: bbs.fozztexx.com
- Particles! BBS
- Commodore 128 running Centipede 128 BBS
- telnet: particlesbbs.dyndns.org:6400
- Apple IIe running GBBS Pro
- telnet: dura-bbs.net:6359
- Black Flag
- PC running Mystic
- telnet: blackflag.acid.org
- Multiple relays (FIDOnet, RetroNet, etc.)
- A 80’s Apple II BBS
- Apple IIe running GBBS Pro
- telnet: a80sappleiibbs.ddns.net:6502
General BBS articles and resources:
- Telnet BBS Guide – A good list of active BBSes
- The BBS Corner – Online since 1996
- BBS Guide
- 7 Modern BBSes Worth Calling Today (PC Mag)
- The Lost Civilization of Dial-Up Bulletin Board Systems (The Atlantic)
- BBS: The Documentary (by Jason Scott)
- World map of [some] telnet BBSes out there
List of “WiFi modem” devices (probably/possibly) available today:
- Retro Wifi SI – RS232 Serial Port Internet Computer Modem ( thanks u/quentinnuk! )
- C64Net WiFi Modem (specifically for the Commodore 64/128)
- Retro WiFi Modem
- Commodore 64 / 128 Wifi Modem by Kazz
Vintage systems I regularly use for BBSing:
ByteCellar posts I’ve written about BBSing with my vintage machines:
- A Quick “Heads Up” for My New BBSing Resource Page
- ‘Twas No Post, But Poetry! (At 300 Baud)
- Quickie: A Little PETSCII BBS Fun on a Saturday Morning
- BBSing on a Virtual NeXT Cube, Thanks to “Previous 2.0”
- Modern-Day BBSing on the Epson PX-8 CP/M Laptop, Circa 1984
- Four Colors Into Sixteen: Terminal Innovation on the Atari ST
- The Wonderful WiFi232: BBSing Has (Literally) Never Been Easier
- Gearing Up For Proper BBSing With the Raspberry Pi
- The ‘Real Genius’-Inspired BBS Challenge
- Computer Users’ Groups of My Past [Updated]
Photos – BBSing in action:
Page last updated: July 12, 2020