SO YOU WANT TO START A BULLETIN BOARD?by SUZI SUBECK
More people than ever want to turn their Atari into a bulletin board
system (BBS). It's not that hard to be a system operator (sysop),
and it's a very rewarding way to use your computer. But there are
a few things you should think about before rushing out and buying bulletin
Any BBS system includes hardware and software. Operating a BBS 24 hours a day means your computer is not free for games or other programming. Your system will require at least: one computer, a disk drive, a monitor and a modem. An interface makes life easier, and additional drives give you more room for uploads and downloads. Once installed, your system will be getting an extraordinary workout. The modem is constantly turned on and off, and the drives are being accessed continually.
The second basic cost of a bulletin board is the software. Public domain software is available, and commercial programs cost between $40 and $80. Antic will examine the best software and hardware for starting a BBS next month.
Running a BBS requires a phone line for your computer, which means you will need a second line to handle all the rest of your everyday phone calls. Don't expect to be receiving or making voice calls on your BBS line. Also, if your board line includes call waiting, BBS callers will be bumped off every time a second call comes in.
A second phone line means a second phone bill. But if you were previously addicted to microcomputer telecommunications and run up big long distance phone bills, starting a BBS will cut down on those bills. Other addicts will be calling you!
Expect to invest considerable amounts of time with a BBS. If the board uses passwords, you will constantly be updating your password log. You will also be responsible for rotating the downloads, testing the uploads, cleaning up and updating the message bases, as well as chatting with callers. You will have to create welcome messages, bulletins, and any other file you want to make available. Regular maintenance of your BBS will take at least an hour a day.
Because part of the time you invest in your BBS will be spent customizing features, or solving software and modem interface problems, a knowledge of BASIC is extremely helpful. The ability to program in Atari BASIC will allow you to tailor your system to your wishes. It is also a good idea to keep a printout of your BBS program handy, with function divisions clearly marked, so that if a problem arises, you can quickly identify where it occurred and solve it.
In addition to anticipating the time and money it takes to run a BBS, you must consider a few of the potential problems with boards, including abusive callers. These sickos are rare, but can cause major problems. Some abusive callers harass the system operator about the alleged shortcomings of the BBS, while others try to crash the system by uploading programs that have buried commands to format the system's disks.
It's not hard to protect yourself from abusive callers. Have your board's software backed up. Test all upload files before allowing others to access them. Write protect any disk before running newly uploaded files.
An additional hazard exists with callers who leave messages with illicit Sprint or MCI access numbers. Phone companies warn that using or providing access numbers is illegal. If you run a board which lists such numbers, you could have your equipment confiscated and be subject to criminal charges. The best way around this is never to list access numbers on your board. If a caller leaves numbers, you should erase them immediately.
A final caution-running a bulletin board is addicting.
Suzi Subeck contracted the Atari bug from her husband and two children.
She now edits the Computer Squad users' group newsletter, operates a BBS,
and writes articles on telecommunications for Antic. The Subeck family
is a familiar sight at Atari events within range of their Chicago suburban