Friday, April 28, 2017

Time Warp - BBS'ing with an Atari 8-bit Emulator

I heard "Bill's Modern Segment" on ANTIC Episode 40 about BBS's in the middle of the BASIC 10-Liner game competition. Now that it's over, I was able to spend a little time exploring the 1980's era online world. There are a slew of BBS's created or resurrected as telnet servers. This wasn't my scene as a teenager. I didn't have a modem, although I always wanted one. I was fascinated by the idea of the Atari 850 interface and being able to hook up other devices to my computer. Alas.

My latest quest was to use the emulated 850 and Hayes modem to connect to an Atari BBS. It took me a while to figure out so I thought I'd post a step-by-step guide. If you're more interested in using the BBS's from your modern computer, I suggest using a native terminal program. But, the point here is to (re)experience the 1980's online world available through one's Atari 8-bit computer.

I use the Altirra emulator. It can emulate an attached 850 interface and Hayes modem. To set it up, selected "Devices" from the "System" menu.
The device list will appear. You might already have the Hosted disk and Printer devices.
Click Add... and select the 850 Interface Module and click OK.
Some options will appear.
You can click OK without changing anything. The Devices list will now have the 850 Interface Module listed as a device.
This next part took me a while to figure out. Select the 850 Interface Module and click Add again.
Select Modem and click OK. More options will appear. You can click OK.
Now the devices list will have an 850 with a modem. Finally, click OK.
You have an Atari with a modem! Next is software. There are four terminal programs I had success using, In age order:
  • APX Chameleon CRT TTY Emulator
  • Disk Version 3.1 by 
  • John Howard Palevich (1982). Palevich was interviewed for the ANTIC Podcast.
  • 850 Express! v1.1 by Keith Ledbetter (1986). 
  • Bob Term by Robert Puff (1990). Download an ATR file at The original ARC compressed files are available at the legacy CSS site.
  • Ice-T XE by itaych on Atariage. This is an evolving modern terminal program that runs on the XE series (requires extra RAM) and has a software driven 80 column display.

Boot one up, change the mode to ASCII so you can talk to the modem, switch to terminal mode, type "AT" and it should respond "OK." There you go!
To connect to a BBS you need the URL and port number. You "dial" the URL instead of phone number: "ATDI url port." Once connected, change back to ATASCII mode if the BBS supports it.
You can find tons of telnet sites on the BBSTELNETGUIDE, although the search tool isn't useful. Even a Google search for Atari of the site is tough. I did find the YYZ-BBS.Here is its menu page in all its ATASCII glory.

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