May 30

About Fidonet

Fidonet is a very useful way of communicating between bulletin boards via a computer network. It is able to transfer messages as well as files between these boards in a very effective manner. The exact origins of this system are a little fuzzy as there are a couple of differing accounts as to how the system actually came to be in the first place. Regardless of how the system came into existence, the truth of the matter is that the system has been very useful in helping to transfer messages and files between BBS all over the country as well as the world.

Tom Jennings Version of Things

Around Christmas time of 1983, Tom Jennings was working with a bulletin board system that was MS-DOS based. This was the first few steps that would eventually end up being the foundation of Fidonet. His system was set up in San Francisco while his business partner set up a system that was similar in Baltimore. In June of 1984, the first trial version of Fidonet was released and John Madil and Tom Jennings began the process of sending messages back and forth. In the early part of 1985 a document was created that explained how to use Fidonet as well as a little history behind the system. In this document it was told that the purpose of this system was to simply see if the system could transfer mail between two bulletin board systems on different sides of the country. This was never meant at first to be a real thing but when the process actually worked, and then they decided that it might be a good idea to develop the system.

Ben Bakers Side of the Story

Ben Baker is another person that should be discussed when talking about the history of Fidonet as he played a large role in the setup of this system and had an influence in how popular it would become over the years. In the early part of 1984, Baker was working for McDonnel Douglas and was looking to set up a system for their newly created computer club. Baker was having some issues in getting software to run on the computer that had been donated and that was when he learned of Fidonet through a mutual friend of Madil. The use of this system though needed that there be some changes made to the serial drivers. These changes required that there was going to need to be an effort between Baker, Jennings and Madil. This also meant that there was a large amount of long distance calls being made. They had to come up with a way that they could exchange mail back and forth and still not rack up a large bill. The idea came to Baker that they could exchange messages at 4AM. This was a good time of the night as rates for long distance calls were a lot cheaper and thus there was a lower amount of charges being accumulated.
As work continued the bugs that seemed to popup were getting worked out and that meant that the system was soon going to be ready to be up and running with a large amount of nodes being added to the system. In order to help the system work as it was meant to, a system was developed that worked loosely based on the concept of area codes and helped the system to be a lot more efficient.

The System Gets Up and Running

It was June of 1984 and the system was finally up and running in earnest. The initial number of nodes on the nodelist was 30 by August 50 were added by September and by January of the following year; the total was up to 160. All of this success was not without some issues as therewere more and more issues especially of calls being made at all hours of the morning and nothing was on the other end. Baker, Jennings and Madil worked hard to get these issues under control and get the system to working as it should be. In order to help fix these issues, new users had to send a message to a dedicated node with the number of 51. This node was set aside and used to test the system. If the first half of this worked correctly, then it was a sign that at least some of the system was working. The next part involved taking the message and sending it back to the user and if the user received it, then it was evidence that the system was working as it should. This helped to make sure that the issues that had been experienced soon became a thing of the past.

Fidonet Hits its Limit

Fidonet did have one flaw that was soon exposed as it had a limit of 250 users and this flaw was exposed when it hit that limit in the spring of 85. The system once again had to be reconfigured and the concept of area codes had to be adjusted to allow the number of nodes that could be on the system to be unlimited. With this reworking of the system being done, it meant that there was no longer a limit to the number of nodes that could reside on the system as these nodes now were localized and that meant that there was a new way that the nodelist was kept up. Not all of the work with Fidonet was without issues. There was a rapid rise in the number of systems that were on the network and at the peak of its success there were 39,000 nodes on the system. As Internet became more and more available, this also meant that there was a decline along with a lot of fighting among management. The days of Fidonet almost came to an end, had it not been for cooler heads sitting down and getting things back on track. This helped to make
sure that Fidonet would live long and prosper.

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