ASCII by Jason Scott

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A Story of RBBS (and PC-Talk, and Andrew Fluegelman) —

This arrived in my mail, as pure uncut History. If you care much about RBBS or knowing a little more about Andrew Fluegelman, this will be of interest to you. (The first episode of the BBS Documentary is dedicated to him.) Note that RBBS predates the IBM PC – a version on CPM existed in the 1979-1980 era. But it was definitely Russ Lane who created RBBS-PC, the port that exploded into wide use on the newly-dominating IBM.

My name is Larry E. Jordan.

I was chairman of the Communications Special Interest Group of the Capital PC User Group in 1982 – one of the first user groups for the PC and located in Washington, DC. At the time I was testing BBS software named HostComm written by Don Withrow. One of the members of my group approached me one day and asked if I would like to try another BBS for a while. He worked for IBM in Gaithersburg at the time and did not want to become visible in the public discussion of BBS software.

To make a long story short, the software was RBBS that had been written by Russell Lane. I really liked the software features and functions. I also liked the idea that it was written in interpretive BASIC. That meant I could add to the software.

I was well underway “improving” the RBBS, when I received an update which included the XModem file transfer protocol. I believe it was written by Brad Hanson. Anyway, I did not want to throw away the work I had done, so I integrated the protocol into the version I was working on.

When the software was stable, I started to use it full time to replace the HostComm I had been running. I became a full-time SYSOP with RBBS-PC. I also started to distribute the source code to other members of CPCUG. Needless to say, I was not very popular with Don Withrow and some of his friends who were active members of our SIG. The free BBS software cut into Don’s sales of HostComm.

At the time I was running and modifying RBBS-PC, I was writing articles for the CPCUG Monitor newsletter about IBM PC communications. I was also using the PC-Talk software written by Andrew Fluegelman. PC-Talk was also distributed in source code…so I took the liberty of adding the XModem from RBBS-PC to PC-Talk. That way I could send and receive files between my computer at home and the one at work.

As a result of my work on PC-Talk, I got to know Andrew. He and I spoke on the telephone several times. During those conversations, he asked if he could include my XModem file transfer module in the next version of PC-Talk that he planned to release. I believe it was version PC-Talk II. Anyway, we agreed to that plan.

Also during those conversations, Andrew asked if I would start writing for PC Magazine where he was an editor. I agreed to do so, but before I got underway half of the staff at PC Magazine left and started PC-World magazine. Thus, I became a Contributing Editor of PC-World.

The first article I wrote for PC-World was a review of 12 communications software packages, including PC-Talk. That article made PC-Talk famous…and enhanced both my career and Andrew’s income…as documented by Kevin Strehlo and Bob Ketcham in the following link:

Part of the outcome was a publishing contract that I signed for my first communications and networking book for the IBM PC. Bruce Churchill was in my Comm SIG and agreed to be my co-author because of his networking knowledge at the Pentagon.

While all of this was happening, I ran for and was elected president of CPCUG. Shortly after I took over from the guy who was the first president, I concluded that I no longer had the time to write articles and a book, SYSOP, enhance RBBS-PC and keep my day job as an engineering manager at Halliburton. I concluded that I had to give up something, and the something was enhancing RBBS-PC.

Tom Mack had shown a strong interest in the software and was running one of my versions. Ken Goosens was also interested in helping. Thus in 1983, I turned the maintenance and enhancement over to Tom and Ken.

I saw that Tom added a copyright either later that year or early in 1984. I had long conversations with him about doing so. He felt strongly that he had to maintain control over RBBS-PC development, and that a copyright was the way to do it. I was so busy that I did not argue the point with him.

As time passed, I could see that Tom was really into RBBS-PC. It became a big part of his identity. He really wanted to ride that horse into history… and he did. He did a great job with lots of help from Ken and others.

The irony in all of this is that I missed the challenge or developing BBS software. RBBS-PC had hooked me too. Within six months of turning RBBS-PC over to Tom et al, I started the development of another BBS written in C. Jan van der Eijk worked for me at the time. He and I agreed to develop the TCOMM package and sell it as a retail software package. I used a lot of the ideas and designs I had added to RBBS-PC as well as enhancements that I had planned to make. Jan and I sold the software through local advertising for about a year. At one point, we were negotiating with the folks at The Source to have them publish the software, but they decided that it would be difficult to compete with none other than RBBS-PC.

That decision among others caused me to reconsider my career options. I finally decided to go to work for IBM in their newly-formed systems integration business. I became so enmeshed in that business that I no longer had time to track and participate in IBM PC communication activities. IBM never asked me to stop writing and publishing PC books, but they did ask me to give up my software business. I turned it all over to Jan in 1986 as documented in the following link:

So you see, there was a long and convoluted history with RBBS-PC. It added to all of our lives and I believe it was a precursor to the Internet. We all felt we were part of a movement that was bigger thanany of us. Living and working near Washington, DC and having some big name folks in our user group probably added to that high. I never saw Al Gore – but maybe he was there somewhere?thinking about inventing the Internet.

The only sad part of the story involved Andrew Fluegelman. He wanted to port PC-Talk from BASIC to C or Pascal to improve its speed. Apparently a package called Qmodem was on his heels. He approached me in early 1985 with a request for help in making the port. He said he wanted to keep the concept away from the eyes on the west coast. After much discussion, I found a group in Columbia, MD to do the port. I also signed a contract with Andrew to include TCOMM under the covers as a BBS extension of PC-Talk. Well, as you well know Andrew disappeared near the Golden Gate Bridge in July 1985. With his disappearance, the new version of PC-Talk with TCOMM never happened.

I still think of Andrew on occasion. He was one hell of a guy, and a visionary. I loved to just sit and talk with him. We even rowed ocean kayaks around Angel Island once while I was on a trip to San Francisco.


Larry Jordan

And thanks to you, Larry. Additional reminiscences are available at Rich Schinnell’s Weblog. Rich was also interviewed for the documentary. I never did get a hold of Tom Mack, and Ken Goosens was available but I was unable to travel in the scope of the documentary to interview him. I think some phone interviews are in order.

Categorised as: computer history

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