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===== == =======

Compiled and written by Steven Weyhrich
(C) Copyright 1992, Zonker Software

[v1.0 :: 14 Sep 92]


     Since the earliest days that it was available, there have been those who have found ways to communicate using their computers with other AppleII's users over the phone lines.  Although some inexpensive imaginative methods have been employed (such as A.P.P.L.E.'s "Apple Box" that used the cassette port to send and receive programs via the phone line), the release of the DC Hayes MicromodemII in about 1979 made it possible for a new type of computing.  Although there were those who wanted to use their AppleII as a home terminal for access to a school or business mainframe from home, many users created their own small systems that could be called from elsewhere.  These "bulletin board systems" consisted of a single computer that was always waiting to answer the phone.  When it rang, the computer would answer the phone and establish two-way communication via the modem.  A program running on this computer would then allow the calling computer to do various things, such as reading messages left by other users, to posting messages for others to read.  As these systems became more sophisticated, it became possible to send and receive programs or other data files on these BBS's, play games, and participate in online surveys.  The system operator ("sysop") was responsible for maintaining the software and the message databases, often leaving his computer on for 24 hours a day to be available for callers.
     The success of these small, local systems encouraged the larger, mainframe-based systems to expand and offer services to non-business users during off-peak hours.  They figured that since the equipment was idle during that time anyway, they might as well have someone use it and earn them some extra money.  Most of the major online services that started in the late 1970's are still in business, in one form or another, and others have entered the game since then.  Competition has increased, the number of users accessing these national systems has grown, the number of features offered has also gone up, and the cost of online communication has dropped.
     The ability to transfer files from one AppleII to another has evolved over time.  Initially, an Applesoft or Integer BASIC program might be "downloaded" (sent from the BBS to the calling computer) by simply doing a "LIST" of it.  That was fine, unless the program had some machine language parts added on.  Then, the bytes of that assembly code had to be sent as hex digit pairs (i.e., 20 00 BF 65 10 03 04, etc.), since anything shared between the computers had to be in printable ASCII codes.  With the noise possible on some telephone connections, this could result in a single character becoming garbled now and then, resulting in a program that wouldn't run because of the error that was introduced.  Various programs for the AppleII were devised over time to make this more efficient, including some that used the method of encoding the hex bytes (digit pairs) into single printable ASCII codes that were then decoded on the receiving end into a usable program.
     Eventually, AppleII BBS programs (and the terminal programs that were used to call those BBS's) began to use the "XMODEM" standard devised in 1982 by Ward Christensen to more efficiently and accurately send such files over a phone line.  As Apple software became more sophisticated, and as the files to send became larger and larger (particularly with the introduction of the IIGS), protocols were established to allow more than one file to be sent in a single transmission.  The first major protocol that was agreed upon among the major online services was the Binary II protocol.  Designed in 1986 by Gary Little, this allowed a standard method of grouping files that could work for any of the disk formats available on the AppleII.  In 1988, Andy Nicholas designed a more comprehensive method of not only putting several files into a single file (usually called an "archive"), but also compressing those files to save time and space when transmitting them between computers.  He called this protocol "NuFX" (NuFile eXchange), and implemented it and the data compression in a program called ShrinkIt (and later GS-ShrinkIt) that he released as "freeware" (that is, he did not charge for the use and distribution of his program).  The NuFX protocol was adopted by Apple Computer as the official protocol for file transmission for the AppleII, and Nicholas later went to work at Apple after his graduation from the college that he was attending when he designed the protocol.


     Since there are far too many local systems to discuss in even a passing manner here, let's take a look at the various nationally available systems and their history as it applies to the AppleII.

Internet (1970's-Present)

     The United States Department of Defense began a computer network in the late 1960's called ARPAnet (Advanced Research Project Agency Network) to facilitate communication between widely scattered universities and research centers.  To make it possible to have real-time intercommunications, electronic mail, and the ability to exchange files and other important information, they developed a set of standards to make it possible to carry out these functions.  The effort was very successful, and eventually the university research groups wanted to use it for everything, not just Department of Defense work.  Eventually it was opened up to non-Defense projects (with restrictions to prevent commercial ventures) and it was called Internet.  To gain access to Internet required a computer "node" (usually through a university).  Although the term "Internet" is often used to refer to all of these computer networks, there are at least three major ones that are linked together at most sites:  Internet, Bitnet, and Usenet.  Internet is most commonly used to send electronic mail and messages.<1>
     With the widespread penetration of Internet across the country, there have developed many different groups and forums, including ones that were specific to the AppleII.  Since Internet was already in existence when the AppleII was released, and long before any home users with modems created single-user bulletin board systems, it probably represents the first online "service" available for the AppleII.  The original newsgroup was called "comp.sys.apple", and in 1990 its name was changed to "comp.sys.apple2" to distinguish it from newsgroups that were dedicated to the Macintosh.  Through Internet addresses, AppleII users can even communicate directly with employees of Apple who have accounts on the net.<1>,<2>

The Source (1979-1989)

     The Source began in 1979 and lasted until 1989.  For much of its life, it was owned by Reader's Digest.  It was accessible through Telenet or Tymnet nodes; that is, through computers in a locality that act as gateways to many other online computer services across the country.  (Often there is an additional fee for using the Telenet or Tymnet node, in addition to the charges for the specific service being accessed).  The Source had many services available online, including over twenty financial and business services, access to several national and international news services, and computer-specific news features.  An online encyclopedia, shopping, interactive games, and airline reservations were also available.  One feature unique to The Source was the capability to create "scripts" that the mainframe kept track of (rather than being on the user's local terminal program disk).  These scripts could be used to quickly move to certain areas and perform repetitive functions (such as scanning and reading electronic mail, and checking for new files in the library).
     The AppleII had a presence on The Source from its earliest days, but the APPLESIG was updated in 1987, and Joseph Kohn (who currently writes articles for inCider/A+ and works with the Big Red Computer Club) was the chief sysop.  He operated the APPLESIG from May 1987 until The Source closed down.
     Kohn worked to make APPLESIG a major information source for AppleII users.  Registered with Apple as a user group, they had expert advice available, as well as a large library of articles and software.  The online charges were lower for APPLESIG, which also made it attractive for users.  As with other online services, a bulletin board section was also maintained for ongoing discussions between users about various topics of interest.  They also had an online presence maintained by "The AppleIIGS Buyer's Guide", and were allowed to reprint articles from "MicroTimes" and "A+" magazines.<3>
     According to Kohn, one thing that likely contributed to the demise of The Source was their insistence on a $10 monthly minimum charge, long after other national online services had either eliminated or significantly lowered such charges.  Another problem that he identified was that their system was not as easy to use as some other services (although former users feel that the Source's library search protocol was better than any other).  The Source was bought out by CompuServe, and its subscribers merged with that service in 1989.<4>,<5>

CompuServe (1979-Present)

     This service originally began as "Compu-Serv" in 1969 as an in-house computer processing center for Golden United Life Insurance Co.  During the next ten years they expanded their offerings to business users, and by 1972 had over four hundred accounts across the country.  In 1977 the name was officially changed to "CompuServe Incorporated", and by 1979 they were ready to begin offering service to computer hobbyists.  Their new service was called MicroNET, and it started on July 1, 1979 after two months of testing with the 1,200 members of the Midwest Affiliation of Computer Clubs.  Items available online were bulletin boards, databases, and games.  Soon after they started this, an AppleII special interest group was begun.  It gave itself the name "MAUG" (for "MicroNetted Apple User Group").
     In 1980, CompuServe merged with H&R Block, and changed their personal computer service name from MicroNET to CompuServe Information Service.  They have continued to expand their services and capabilities through the years, and are widely available across the country.<6>
     Each user on CompuServe is assigned an eight or nine digit ID code, divided into five digits, a comma, and then the other three or four digits.  For example, a user's code might be 76543,4321.  When directing electronic mail to a specific user, it is necessary to use that ID code so the system knows exactly which Joe Smith you want to receive your message.
     The bulletin board and message sections on CompuServe are divided up into Forums, usually dedicated to a specific service.  The MAUG section covers more than one forum, since the volume of message traffic is too large to manage in a single forum.  Messages within a forum are organized under major subject, and then under minor subjects.  Each message is assigned a number, and the various messages are linked together into "threads".  For instance, user #1 asks a question about a brand of modem.  User #2 links his answer to that message and answers the original question.  User #3 also answers the question, but adds a comment about terminal programs.  User #4 picks up on that comment, and adds his views about the terminal program that he likes, without mentioning anything about the modem question that user #1 asked.  And on it goes.  Eventually, the topic will probably die out, to be restarted later by someone else when it is necessary.  The message thread can be followed when reading these posts, or you could simply read all the messages sequentially by their message number.  A sequential scan would read all messages about all topics, whether the messages were connected or not.  Following the thread pursues one conversation; following all of the messages pursues all conversations that are going on.  
     One problem that can occur with this type of system depends on the volume of message traffic.  The software that CompuServe uses will assign a new number to each new message, but when the total number of messages has passed a certain point, the first messages will be deleted.  If the range of messages when signing on Monday runs from 15000 to 17000, by Tuesday it may run from 15500 to 17500 (and the first 500 messages from 15000 to 15499 have disappeared).  If there are any especially useful conversations going on, the Sysop (system operator) for that forum may choose to save the messages and their threads into a file in the library for access in the future by those who were not involved in the conversations when they were going on.
     Each forum on CompuServe has the capability of supporting live conferences, where many users can be present at the same time and hold live interactive conversations (as opposed to the bulletin board conversations where you must post a message, and then log on later to see if there has been a reply to it).
     The MAUG libraries hold programs that have been uploaded for years; some are from the early part of the 1980's (if you can wait for the file scan to get back that far).  Of course, there are also many files that are new, and they are added daily by the active people there.
     As with the other major online systems, there are many other services available online besides the MAUG forums, including news services, online shopping, games, and much more.<7>

Delphi (1982-Present)

     In 1982 the General Videotex Corporation began an online service called Delphi (probably named after the oracle of ancient Greek mythology).  They have not been a major player in the competition for customers between national online services, but neither have they succumbed to financial pressure and passed away.  Like The Source, they are accessible through Telenet and Tymnet.  They have had an AppleII SIG (Special Interest Group) since around 1985.  Erik Kloeppel has been head Sysop for that SIG for the past several years.
     In January 1992, General Videotex purchased the BIX online service operated by Byte magazine in an effort to enlarge Delphi and increase its market share.

GEnie (1985-Present)

     GEnie is owned and operated by General Electric, and the name stands for "General Electric Network for Information Exchange".  It has been in business since 1985, and, like other online systems, offers many different services to its subscribers, including news, an online encyclopedia, online shopping, games, financial information, and areas of interest to users of various brands of computers.
     Where CompuServe's sections are called Forums, GEnie calls their sections Roundtables (or RTs for short).  Each RT is divided up into a bulletin board, library, and conference rooms (called "Real Time Conferences", or RTC's).  The bulletin board is divided up into a number of categories, and each category consists of a number of topics.  Each topic then has individual messages that (hopefully) deal with that topic.  Unlike CompuServe, messages will not disappear from a topic until the Sysop decides to delete them (and this does not occur until the number of messages either get too large to be manageable, or they become old and outdated).  If a topic contains messages that are particularly helpful (such as information about the use of a common computer utility program), the messages may stay up for years.  If it becomes necessary to purge old messages, they may be placed into the library so they are still available for reading in the future.
     As for user ID's, GEnie decided to use a combination of letters and other symbols to give each user a unique name, instead of the number system CompuServe employs.  A new user is typically assigned a user name that consists of their first initial, a period, and their last name.  If there is another user with the same user name at that point, a number is added.  For instance, Joe Smith would be given the name J.SMITH; if there already are three Joe Smith's on the system, then this name would be changed to J.SMITH4 to tell him apart from the other ones.  A user may ask for a different name (for a price) if the one assigned to him or her is not satisfactory.  These tend to be as varied as vanity license plates on automobiles.  If J.SMITH4 owns a restaurant, he may ask GEnie to give him a name such as EAT.AT.JOES instead of his original name.  
     GEnie started supporting the AppleII computer on October 27th, 1985, about five days prior to its going public.  Kent Fillmore was the first Apple Information Manager, and the first Sysop was Cathy Christiansen.  Fillmore started the "America Apple RoundTable" (AART), for the Apple ][ and /// Computers, as well as the A2PRO RT (AppleII Programmers) with Michael Fischer (MFISCHER), A+ Magazine RT with Maggie Canon (A.PLUS), the Apple/Mac User Group RT with Leonard Reed (BIBLIA), the ProTree RT with Bob Garth (PROTREE), and the GEnie Sysop's private RoundTable.<8>  Fillmore left GEnie in October 1987 and Tom Weishaar took over some of those RTs.  Fillmore later returned to GEnie in June 1992 to become the Product Manager for Computing RoundTables/ChatLines.<9>
     To stay competitive with older and sometimes larger information services, GEnie has usually kept its online costs below those of the other systems.  The association with Tom Weishaar and his newsletter, "A2-Central" (originally "Open-Apple"), has been beneficial for both.  GEnie's 100,000th member in March 1988 was an AppleII user that joined because of a special offer through Open-Apple.  And Weishaar has been able to keep more direct contact with AppleII users, from both those who work professionally with the II to those who use their AppleII's for special purposes only.<10>

AppleLink-Personal Edition / America Online (1988-Present)

     Beginning in May 1988, Apple Computer contracted with Quantum Computer Services to start a consumer version of its AppleLink network.  Apple's original network, in operation since 1985, had been used primarily for communication functions within Apple Computer and its various sites across the country, as well as a source of technical support for certified Apple developers.  When their new consumer service, AppleLink-Personal Edition (ALPE) was introduced, they changed the name of the original network to AppleLink-Industrial Edition.  Apple's hope was to use ALPE as a method of providing better support to its customers.
     AppleLink-Personal Edition was unique for an online computer service in its use of a custom terminal program.  Rather than requiring the user, (possibly a novice) to spend a lot of time in learning how to use a terminal program, a modem, and ALPE, Quantum and Apple designed a special program that handled all the communications details, including the sign-on password.  Each time that the user signed-off from ALPE, a new, randomly selected password was selected and saved on the ALPE disk for the next time.  ALPE was aware of this password, and so the chances of someone breaking in on another user's account and using time (and money!) was nearly eliminated.
     The ALPE terminal program was intuitive, as was the use of the Macintosh (and AppleIIGS) desktop interface.  Icons (pictures of desired functions) were selected with the mouse or cursor (depending on how you had it configured).  Making the call and logging in were handled by the terminal program, transparently to the user.  When the connection was made, a choice between Apple-specific services and ALPE general services was available.  The general section was directed to entertainment, business services, online shopping, and general education.  There was also a place for playing online games, alone or with other users.  An "auditorium" could be used for members to attend conferences with special guests, allowing direct questions and answers with the guests.
     The Apple Community section was the part most important to the dedicated AppleII (or Macintosh) user.  Here direct contact with Apple Computer, Inc. was available (through the "Headquarters" icon), as well as other hardware and software vendors.  Apple product announcements and information about products in testing could be found here, as well as direct access to Apple engineers and developers.  There were Forums (special interest groups) for various aspects of Apple computing, Apple University (with courses on productivity, programming, and specialized software applications), and Software (library of available programs for downloading).
     In 1990, AppleLink-Personal Edition was modified to connect with the services Quantum provided for other home computers, and the name was changed to America Online.  It was still slightly less expensive than the other major online services, and because of the icon-based terminal software, still the easiest to use for the beginner.<11>

     The main benefit for an AppleII user on a large, online service such as those described above is the availability of many experienced users that can provide prompt, timely answers to questions or problems.  Some hardware and software companies maintain an online presence, to allow immediate feedback for their customers with technical problems.  There are also many files in the libraries on these services, providing software at low cost, some quite professionally written.  Apple Computer has also allowed most of these services to act as official "user groups", and so have availability of official technical notes and file type description notes for the AppleII series.





     <1> E'Sex, Lunatic.  GEnie, A2 Roundtable, Feb 1992, Category 2, Topic 16.

     <2> Bouchard, J.  GEnie, A2 Roundtable, Jan 1992, Category 12, Topic 7.

     <3> Kohn, Joseph.  "The Source", Call-A.P.P.L.E., Jan 1989, pp. 25-28.

     <4> Kohn, Joseph.  (personal mail), GEnie, E-mail, Feb 1992.

     <5> Utter, Gary.  GEnie, A2 Roundtable, Feb 1992, Category 2, Topic 16.

     <6> Gerber, Carole Houze.  "Online Yesterday Today And Tomorrow", Online Today, Jul 1989, pp. 12-19.

     <7> Apfelstadt, Marc.  "All About CompuServe", Call-A.P.P.L.E., Nov 1988, pp. 44-47.

     <8> E'Sex, Lunatic.  GEnie, A2 Roundtable, Feb 1992, Category 2, Topic 16.

     <9> Fillmore, Kent.  GEnie, A2 Roundtable, Sep 1991, Category 2, Topic 16.

     <10> Weishaar, Tom.  "All About GEnie: General Electric's Online Information Service", Call-A.P.P.L.E., Sep 1988, pp. 46-50.

     <11> Cooper, Vince.  "AppleLink-Personal Edition", Call-A.P.P.L.E., Jul-Aug 1988, pp. 8-13.


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