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The Digital Manifesto (1996)

“The Internet Killed the BBS Star”

(Synchronet: Past, Present, and Future)

Original Document, Rob Swindell, August 1996

If you're reading this message, then you probably are or have been at some time interested in Synchronet BBS software in some way, shape or form. If you don't know what Synchronet is, then you'll probably be bored to death. :)

I'm attempting to address all the questions and concerns about the future of Digital Dynamics and Synchronet BBS software in one message in a very VERBOSE and conversational manor (since my usual terseness is often unappreciated). It is my intention to include WAY more detail than is necessary so I won't be accused of leaving anything out. This message is not directed at any one person or group of people specifically, but will be most interesting to sysops running Synchronet BBS software.

Many of the questions answered here-in (however often asked) have never been answered before in the interest of personal privacy (my own), appropriateness, professional confidentiality, company image, and/or time.

You have my permission to re-post this message anywhere, as long as it is re-posted IN ITS ENTIRETY. It's rather long (over 600 lines and over 32k in size) so be sure you can post that much text before you attempt to re-post this message elsewhere (so it isn't unintentionally cut-off).

DISCLAIMER: Not everything in this message is guaranteed 100% accurate. If you find any inaccuracies, please don't correct me, just ignore them.

Chapter 1: A Little History (trivia)

Digital Man is Born

I've been computing and BBSing since 1982 (age 12). First computer was a Commodore VIC 20 (2K of RAM and a cassette drive interface!). Started BBSing with my brother, Mike (Dr. Seuss) and his Apple II. The popular BBS software was GBBS (written in Apple Basic). AI (file transfer) lines were popular too, but with a 300bps modem, a lot of patience was necessary.

I didn't run a BBS back then but I called quite a few regularly, almost (?) obsessively (even a couple of boring IBM-PC based BBSs). I've used the alias “Digital Man” from the very beginning (inspired by the Rush song of the same name on their “Signals” album from the same year). One of my favorite BBSs was “The Beast's Domain” run by a character named King Drafus (Allen). We met once that first year when I bartered some fireworks for a paid membership to his BBS.

Vertrauen is Born

I got out of the computer scene for a number of years until I received a 10mhz XT (with EGA and 20MB hard disk) for a high school graduation gift. It wasn't long at all before I had a 2400bps modem and was back on the BBS scene (Spy vs. Spy was the first board this time).

Everyone in the local area (Orange County, California) seemed to be using the same (or similar) BBS software and it was available for download (as shareware) on most of the BBSs. The name of the BBS software was “WWIV” and the author was Wayne Bell (who called me voice years later to ask if Synchronet was a WWIV hack - HA!). While on this topic, Synchronet does not contain and never has contained one line of WWIV source code. While the user interface was initially intended to look and work identically to WWIV, this was just a starting point from which I was familiar (the look and feel, not the source code). The WWIV “clone look” proved to be more of a hassle than a benefit, so I've moved away from that direction since I got sick of people asking if I had (or accusing me of) hacking Wayne's code. [Side note: when talking with Wayne on the phone, he actually divulged that the WWIV user interface was copied from the “Network BBS” (an Apple BBS program). Who knows where the author of the Network BBS got his interface ideas from.]

I, of course, HAD to run a BBS, so I downloaded this WWIV program (v4.02), installed it, ran it and liked it (it was pretty simple, and I didn't mind the absence of documentation). I wanted to pick a BBS name that was unique (so my BBS wouldn't be confused with another of the same name). I played drums in a progressive rock band with a pretty unique name, so I thought it would serve well as a BBS name - “Vertrauen” (German, translated loosely to “Trust”). Pronounced: “ver-trow-en” (or “fair-trow-oon” if you're German). So having decided upon a name and having set-up some message and file areas (and installed Food Fight!) I began to advertise the phone number (714-529-9525). This was 1988.

DOVE-Net is Born

After a month or so of operation, I noticed a new user logging on with a very familiar name, King Drafus. Not believing my eyes I popped him into chat (F10) and confirmed: It was the same Drafus from the Apple days with an IBM XT just like me. It wasn't long before The Beast's Domain II was up and running under WWIV. We soon networked our BBSs together (with WWIV's proprietary networking software) and the DOmainVErtrauen (DOVE) Net was born!

Synchronet is Born

After a couple years of running WWIV and honing my own programming skills (professionally and for fun), I decided it was time to write my own BBS software (for my own BBS). The most important feature was the ability to run multiple simultaneous nodes (WWIV was not multi-node capable and lacked other features I desired - such as batch uploads and bi-directional transfers). Being a network specialist and an aspiring C programmer, I knew I could write software to work fast and reliably in a multi-user environment on a LAN (I already had a Novell NetWare Advanced Server [v2.1] in my BBS office).

I worked on “the” BBS software in my free time while still running a self-modified multi-node/chat WWIV system for Vertrauen until “the” BBS software was complete enough to replace WWIV. This completion may have taken years, but I had the fortune of an unplanned surgery that left me on disability and house-ridden for two months. I had all the time in the world to work on “the” BBS software. I spent nearly every waking moment of that recovery period working on it (obsessively). It was during this time that the name “Synchronet” was suggested by Steve Deppe (Ille Homine Albe), the keyboardist and songwriter for Vertrauen (the band). “Synchronet”, for its ability to run “synchronously” on a “network” (LAN). And it sounds cool. Synchronet it was.

July 1991, I took down WWIV for good and put up Synchronet. All the users had to logon as new, there were no messages, the file bases were in shambles and Food Fight didn't work anymore. But we had r0dent write and The Guru! :)

Interest Brewing

The first outside interest came from the sysop (The Zapper) of a local DOVE-Net node (Mid-Nite Hacker BBS). The Zapper soon became the first person to run Synchronet besides myself (and obviously, the first beta tester). Not long after that, Drafus decided to give Synchronet a try.

I had already started working on a multi-node game (Synchronet Blackjack) and King Drafus (a fellow programmer) was interested in writing his own multi-node game (Domain Poker). So I extracted some of the source code from SBJ and made an external program software development kit (XSDK) from it that made his life (and later, the life of many other Synchronet door programmers) a lot easier.

It wasn't long before sysops began hounding me for a copy of the BBS software (and the source code). I had been pestered often for a copy of my WWIV-mods, but when I began running Vertrauen with Synchronet, the word got out fast that someone had finally written a WWIV-like multi-node BBS program and was actively improving it. I began receiving offers of money and favors. I refused all. I didn't want to give out Synchronet, it was my baby.

Digital Dynamics is Born

After months of pestering (and waving money in my face), I finally agreed to sell copies of Synchronet to local sysops. But before I could sell products I had to get a business license, reseller's permit, etc. which required a business name. After some thought (during a long drive back from San Diego), I came up with “Digital Dynamics”. It kinda sounds like General Dynamics, it uses part of my handle, and being a musician I can appreciate dynamics. I liked it.

I also had to set a price: $100 without source code, $200 with source code. All copies were 250-node capable. I offered no voice support or netmail support (Synchronet was not yet network capable) and guaranteed nothing. I sold exactly 8 copies (two with source code) over two months. Not bad for someone who really didn't want to sell any at all.

Going Commercial

About this time (April 1992), the software development company that employed me went out of business. After a few weeks of unsuccessful job searching my brother told me about a magazine he had seen (BBS Callers Digest) and suggested I let him put together an ad for Synchronet and see how it does (lending me the money to pay for the ad). I told him that another sysop (The Mad Bomber) had shown me a magazine recently (Boardwatch) and we might investigate that one too. After examining both and not being able to decide, we agreed to advertise in both ($325/issue for BBS Callers Digest and $650/issue for Boardwatch).

Mike designed a black and white, full-page ad with a list of bullet items (features) and an incredible introductory offer ($49 for competitive upgrades). $99 was the regular price (all copies 250-node).

We ran the ad and I started getting calls immediately, but sporadically. It seemed that all everyone was interested in were DigiBoards and FidoNet. I knew very little about either so I didn't sell very many copies those first few months. Synchronet already included batch/bi-dir transfers, internal QWK off-line reader support (with bi-dir xfers), CDROM buffering, multi-node chat, and great door support (along with a long list of other features unique to Synchronet and others not-so-unique). It was also fast, reliable, and relatively easy to configure, so I still sold a few on those merits. However, it was a few months before I was selling enough registrations to even cover the advertising expenses.

When communicating with customers, I always tried to live up to the professional image portrayed in our ads. Always referred to the company as “we” and “us” and never wanted anyone to know that it was “just me”. This type of deception is common in small businesses (smoke and mirrors). I've always attempted to maintain this image and would even go as far as to out-right lie to a customer about the size of the company or refuse to answer a direct question if it would reveal how small and un-established Digital Dynamics really was. You'll notice that even in this message I usually refer to the company as we/us (old habits are hard to break).

The first copy sold commercially (through the ads) was to Las Vegas Playground BBS. This was June of 1992. Some other early purchasers who have been with us a long time are Fire and Ice BBS, The Promised Land BBS, The Rest In Peace BBS, Daicom BBS, The Detroit Data Exchange BBS, Popcorn BBS (Alien Systems), The Nerd Escape BBS (Megabyter) and the BBS at the end of the Universe.

Sysops (purchasers and potential purchasers) immediately began making (very) strong suggestions. FidoNet support topped the list, but QWK Networking was easier (since I was already very familiar with the QWK format and had much QWK pack/un-pack code already written for the internal off-line reader support) so Synchronet had QWK Networking first. To my knowledge we were the first BBS software to ever internally support QWK Networks (no external QWK utility or mail door needed) with v1a rev 10 (06/25/92). Since no front-end mailer or external tosser was necessary, QWK Networking was also simple to setup (a scripted terminal program, like Telix or QModem was required though).

One customer who had attended ONE BBSCON (Online Networking Exhibition BBS Convention) in 1992 insisted that RIP (Remote Imaging Protocol developed by TeleGrafix) was the future and that it was imperative that Synchronet support it. It sounded like a good idea and the customer was persistent, so Synchronet v1b rev 1 (01/23/93) was the first BBS software to ship with internal RIP support and stock RIP menus. Another BBS package (SearchLight) claimed to be the first to ship with RIP support but the facts are Synchronet was first (although admittedly, SearchLight had better RIP support). RIP proved to be marginally successful.

Since many potential customers were asking about intelligent DigiBoard support, I spent about $8,000 on consultant fees having it added to our existing communications driver. I could have written the code myself quicker and for less, but with a business to run, I simply didn't have the time and it appeared very important to customers. As it turns out, DigiBoards (or any proprietary serial boards) are not a good choice for most BBS operators and we've probably had, at the most, 10 sysops actually use a DigiBoard for their BBS. In hindsight, FOSSIL support was more important and indirectly adds DigiBoard support (with the use of DigiFOSSIL). FOSSIL support was added later (with additional consultant fees, of course).

I wrote a FidoNet import/export program (SBBSFIDO) and released it for free in September 1992. I released a RelayNet (RIME) import/export program (UTI driver) for free in January 1993.

Vertrauen Changes

From the very beginning of commercial sales, sysops complained that they couldn't choose their own password on Vertrauen, the support BBS (I used to force random passwords for security). Now that the number of Synchronet owners was in the hundreds, Vertrauen was a pretty busy board and the complaints about how I ran my BBS (thousands of adult GIF files, new user computer knowledge quiz, new user magic word, forced bulletins, etc) were beginning to trickle in.

So I began to eliminate the “non-professional” and “user-unfriendly” aspects of Vertrauen. I ceased to run the BBS that I wanted to run and began running the BBS my customers demanded.

Domain Entertainment

Allen (King Drafus) began selling his Synchronet add-ons (mostly games) under the company name Domain Entertainment about this time. I hired him on part-time to help with tech support and sales in the summer of 1993 and in 1994 he began working for Digital Dynamics full-time (while still developing and selling Domain Entertainment products on the side).

Magazine Ads

Having had received good response from the ads in Boardwatch and BBS Callers Digest Magazines, we experimented with other publications (Online Access, Sysop News, and Connect) hoping for similar success, but none of those ads ever even paid for themselves. Boardwatch and BBS Callers eventually doubled their advertising prices (to $1395 and $650 per issue, respectively) although we never saw a representative increase in sales from either.

Conventions

In August 1993, Boardwatch magazine was having its second annual ONE BBSCON in Colorado and to appear as professional and established as our ads, we had to have a booth (and brochures, and demo disks, and manuals, and signs, and suits, and demo computers, and a BLIMP!). A very expensive lesson (sold a whopping 8 copies of Synchronet). We also had to have a big product announcement to stir interest and controversy (we were the new guys): an OS/2 version to ship fourth quarter that year (even though very little had been coded at that time). Another expensive lesson.

I was, however, interviewed for the local evening news (I demo'd our RIP support) and I met John C. Dvorak (I demo'd our new ARS security feature - his only interest: When would the OS/2 version ship?). I also met Roy Perierra (Merlin Systems) there and he showed interest in adding Synchronet support to his UUCP (Internet) mail program. I also met a hand-full of Synchronet sysops (and I remember each one).

A few people asked us about Internet support and I had very little experience or knowledge of it at the time, so they went elsewhere. SearchLight had the good RIP interface, Major had the most simultaneous lines, TBBS had the best booth and professional presence, Robo/FX had the best graphics, TeleGrafix (RIPterm/RIPaint) had the most interest, and Wildcat had the most customers. We had an upcoming OS/2 version and not that many people cared. We did have a huge Synchronet blimp though! You couldn't miss it. Yet somehow, when Boardwatch later printed their issue covering the show they managed not to print a single picture of, around, or near our booth. There wasn't a single place in the main hall you could stand where you couldn't see our blimp. And amazingly enough, not one of the printed photos included our blimp.

No one from Boardwatch ever came to our booth to ask any questions or take pictures. When a reader of Boardwatch wrote to Jack Rickard (the editor) and asked about the obvious omission of any pictures or editorial about Synchronet in the BBSCON issue, Jack claimed that when he tried to ask questions at our booth he was ignored. I know damn well what Jack looks like and I was there every minute. He never came by. Jack Rickard is a liar and unfairly excluded us from the press coverage of ONE BBSCON 1993. Had Boardwatch given us equal editorial coverage (which we were promised), the BBSCON might have even paid for itself in public exposure and latent Synchronet sales. Instead, it was a huge financial mistake for Digital Dynamics. Phil Becker (President of eSoft, maker of TBBS) is half owner of ONE, Inc. and Boardwatch Magazine (coincidentally).

In April of 1994, BBS (Callers Digest) Magazine held their own convention (BBS Expo '94) in Washington, DC. I was invited to attend and speak on a panel (supposedly including the vice president, Al Gore), but still feeling the sting from ONE BBSCON, I decided not to attend (and save the expenses). Al Gore didn't attend and due to the poor attendance of BBS Expo '94, there never was a BBS Expo '95. Apparently, I made the right decision that time.

The last public appearance that I've made to represent Digital Dynamics and Synchronet BBS Software was at The California Computer Expo '95 (August 19) in San Diego, California. I instructed a seminar titled “Setting up an Electronic Bulletin Board System (BBS)”. It didn't cost me anything (other than my time, gas, etc.) and was a pleasant experience for all.

Chapter 2: The Past Year (or so, as of 1996)

Sales

To date, I've sold 1584 Synchronet BBS registrations, 318 Synchronet Callback registrations, 85 SBBSecho registrations, and 172 Synchronet Match Maker registrations. It has paid the rent for a little over three years and allowed me to continue to program (one of my obsessions). I've had three full-time employees and two consultants work for Digital Dynamics over the years. The best year was 1994 with gross sales of $124,563. The overhead (cost of payroll, phone bill, satellite, utilities, equipment, supplies, printing brochures and manuals, mailings, and advertising) brought the net profit (my personal income) way down to a more humble amount. I was surviving, not getting rich.

Nearly every customer has had their theories about the one major feature that Synchronet needed to become #1. Many of those theories were tested and they all failed to produce the sales that the customer had predicted. I can't count how many times I've heard “I know several sysops that would buy your program if you only added this or that”.

Sales have always been up and down, but they dropped off the face of the earth in 1995. When they started going down in late 1994, I hired another office person (Mark Schuler, singer for Weedpuller) to help defer some of the phone traffic so I could get more programming done and hopefully stimulate more sales with new features and/or products. In early 1995, I took a break from the OS/2 version of Synchronet and I wrote and released the Synchronet Match Maker to stimulate some revenue. Its popularity kept us alive for six more months (along with SBBSecho sales, SBBS upgrades, and sporadic Synchronet sales).

Due to lack of sales, I had to lay off Mark in May of 1995 and told Allen the future was looking grim (it was obvious). By September the sales were barely enough to pay the bills and Allen was kind enough to continue working with only the promise of payment when I could afford it. With the eminent end in sight, I began mailing and Faxing resumes. It was a difficult decision to make, but in November, I accepted a full-time position at a hardware company in Irvine (writing Windows 95 device drivers).

Digital Dynamics was, for all intents and purposes, bankrupt in the fall of 1995.

With creditors and the IRS demanding their overdue monthly payments, I had to borrow $5,000 from a family member just to stay out of deep-trouble. Allen continued to work here part-time until he left in December to work on his own software company, Domain Entertainment, full-time (Synchronet add-ons are not his primary products). And I'm happy to report that both Mark and Allen are doing very well today.

I continued to spend time and money (whatever I had) on Synchronet through the early months of 1996 (including a new $1000 4GB hard disk to replace the 2GB disk that crashed at the end of 1995). I released a wide-beta of SBBS4DOS v2.3 in January and an alpha of SBBS4OS2 in February and the public wide-beta in April. I've continued through the months to program, print manuals, ship orders, and answer tech support e-mail as often as possible. I'm still paying Digital Dynamics' bills for 1995.

Many customers were unhappy about the disappearance of voice tech support and the delays in answering e-mail that started in 1996. I don't blame them. Some have switched to other BBS packages, but most stopped running any kind of BBS software many months ago. Synchronet sales are non-existent (and I don't expect them to increase).

The Internet

It's no secret that the World Wide Web and other Internet services have reduced (not eliminated) the attraction of BBSs sitting on an antiquated analog telephone network. The Internet is a local call for most everyone and connects you anywhere (with no distance and often no per-minute charges). You can search the World Wide Web for content across the globe and transfer data as fast as you can connect to your local service provider (most Internet Service Providers support ISDN, Frame Relay, T1, and other digital connections that make analog modems and telephone lines look antiquated, if not prehistoric).

Most BBS software companies that are still around today are integrating FTP servers, Web servers, mail and newsgroup servers into their packages (for a price of course). Most companies that once ran tech support BBSs have replaced them with FTP and WWW sites. The Internet is huge and attractive. Companies like Microsoft and Netscape have made it easier and more powerful. The attraction of easy-to-use services like America Online and Prodigy has also been reduced by the World Wide Web.

The name of ONE BBSCON has been changed to ONE ISPCON (Internet Service Provider Convention) and BBS Callers Digest (later named BBS Magazine) folded in 1996.

Digital Dynamics has been pounded with requests and demands for direct Internet integration for years. Some just wanted internal mail and newsgroup support while others wanted FTP, telnet, MUD and IRC. Some wanted service provider type features (allowing users to FTP from or telnet to other sites from their BBS, for example). While others wanted content provider type features (allowing users to FTP from or telnet into their BBS, for example). Many asked for HTTP/HTML support (again, some wanted inbound, some wanted outbound, everyone wanted BOTH!). Many of these things can be done with Synchronet today with the assistance of third party applications (admittedly, not a great Internet solution).

I had always wanted to and planned on integrating Internet support but wasn't sure where to begin. I designed the SMB (Synchronet Message Base) format introduced in v2.0 (06/02/94) to support multiple network technologies and explicitly worked with Roy Perierra (Merlin Systems) on Internet e-mail and newsgroup support. I worked closely with the Internet RFCs that document the newsgroup and e-mail formats to be sure SMB would be able to store all Internet messages types (for now and the future). I was definitely thinking ahead.

The first Internet add-on for Synchronet I worked on was an IRC link (linked Synchronet's internal multi-node multi-channel chat with multiple Internet Relay Chat channels). It lost steam when I started working on Synchronet Match Maker and I haven't worked on it since.

Basically there's always been something else that needed to be done that was more urgent or could be completed quicker and generate immediate revenue (a constant issue). It would have taken a 100% drop in the development of Synchronet BBS Software in order to switch gears and focus on Internet applications in time to save Digital Dynamics. And DOS is not the operating system of choice for developing Internet applications, so the 32-bit, cross-platform issue was more crucial than ever.

I've never wanted to give up on Synchronet. I always knew it could be better and just wanted to improve it some more and do “these few things” that sysops have been screaming for before I start on that next big project (OS/2 port, Win32 port, Internet e-mail, whatever).

I, personally, haven't called a BBS other than my own (for testing) in over a year. It's been several years since I've had the need to use telnet. If I want or need something online, I fire up my Web browser. The Internet is a great research tool and all the companies I need support from have Web and/or FTP sites.

Synchronet for OS/2

Some might blame the demise of Digital Dynamics on the lengthy development time of SBBS4OS2. Considering OS/2's current market share, every moment I spent on it was a waste of time (should have been working on a Win32 version). The BBS companies that produced OS/2-only BBS products are out of business. Every BBS related company that ever made OS/2 products has not profited from them. The companies that make development tools for OS/2 have stopped supporting them. I've sold exactly 23 upgrades to SBBS4OS2 (at $25 each). Hardly profitable.

Since OS/2 was the predominant 32-bit desktop operating system at the time of ONE BBSCON in 1993, that's what we committed to. It was a mistake. Certainly, we would have sold many more licenses had we released SBBS4OS2 earlier, but it wouldn't have sustained us. My personal opinion on OS/2 itself, as an operating system, is irrelevant.

Synchronet for Win32

Some might say if we had a Win32 version, we would be selling tons. I doubt that. BBS software isn't dead, but it's dying. I've been working on the Win32 version and it's nearly complete, but I question how many people will actually use it considering the dwindling number of BBSs, the fact that I don't advertise anymore and my company image is (deservedly) poor.

Graphical Interface

A common argument was one for a remote GUI (Graphical User Interface). I attempted to support RIP (Remote Imaging Protocol) and WIP (Windows Interface Protocol) but neither emerged as a standard. WIP was dead before I even added the support. The developers of WIP (Durand Communications Network) saw the fate of BBS software and began working solely on Internet applications. If either RIP or WIP had become widely used, I would have spent more resources developing the stock RIP/WIP interfaces. I am well aware that the stock RIP/WIP menus are very lack-luster. Some might say if the interface were better, more would have used the RIP/WIP terminals. Considering the instability and poor performance of DCTERM for Windows (the only WIP compatible terminal program ever written), I doubt that it would have ever been widely used unless it was overhauled by its authors. DCTERM for DOS was just RIPTERM with a different name (and it didn't support WIP). I still have a few regular callers on my BBS that use RIP, but they're an extreme minority.

Some have asked if/when/why we couldn't do a proprietary graphical terminal or Web plug-ins like WorldGroup or WildCat 5. The answer: I don't even have a fraction of the resources those companies have. While I may have taken a few hundred sales from each of the major BBS companies in the past, they left me in the dust with their expensive advertising campaigns and enlarged programming teams. I'm a good programmer, but I'm just one person and I had to handle many more duties here than just programming. Other BBS packages have attempted to force their own proprietary remote GUI protocols (Coconet, EXEC-PC/ETGC, RoboBoard, FILEX, DarkStar, etc) and failed. And a few proprietary GUI BBS packages (MediaHost, Excalibur, FirstClass, PowerBBS, and MindWire) have had marginal success. While not proprietary, NAPLPS (North America Presentation Level Protocol Syntax) also failed to become a standard in the BBS industry (TurBoard BBS software was the first and only(?) to ever support it).

Chapter 3: The Future (?)

Facts

For all intents and purposes, Digital Dynamics is out-of-business. I haven't answered the phone (or returned a voice mail call) in nine months. I know this isn't good news to most of you (though some of you might cheer). As with any company you do business, they always have the right to go out of business. I have never guaranteed life-time support of the product.

Plans

SBBS4DOS and SBBS4OS2 v2.3 will be released this fall. All those who subscribed to the auto-update plan will receive their upgrade (with manual if applicable). The feature set of v2.3 is close to that of the current wide-beta release. Some bugs in the current wide-beta have been/will be fixed before its release. Since this may well be the last release of Synchronet, the beta test period has been extended (but mainly due to my lack of available time to spend testing and coding).

No more manuals will be sold or printed after the 2.3 upgrade.

No more auto-upgrade plans will be sold. No more products will be shipped after the 2.3 upgrade (registration keys will be available for download). All auto-upgrade subscribers will receive free upgrades for the remaining upgrade life of Synchronet (however long that is).

If Vertrauen (the main DOVE-Net hub) is taken down, a one month notice will be given so other hubbing arrangements may be made. At this time there are no plans to take Vertrauen down.

Things I'd Like To Do (in no particular order)

Complete SBBS4W32 (looks and works like Synchronet for DOS, but it's a native 32-bit Windows 95/NT console mode application).

Utilize the WINSOCK API to make SBBS4W32 and SBBS4OS2 support telnet, FTP, SMTP and possibly HTTP (and who knows what other Internet protocols) internally.

Run a Web server that integrates the Synchronet Match Maker database (using CGIs), Vertrauen's complete file base (available via FTP too), Synchronet related bulletins, Synchronet Chat (using CGIs), etc.

Release above mentioned CGIs for other Synchronet sysops to use with their Web servers.

Add internal e-mail and newsgroup support to Synchronet.

Add MAPI support to Synchronet to utilize Microsoft Exchange for local messaging.

Moderate a Synchronet newsgroup (I'm a glutton for punishment).

Continue the evolution of Baja, multi-node chat (IRC), and Synchronet Match Maker.

Convert Synchronet's local interface to GUI.

Redesign the Synchronet file base (faster and more flexible).1)

Write a full-screen message editor (I personally don't like any of the ones out there).2)

Complete the documentation for SMBLIB v2.0 and release it.

Write a split-screen sysop chat and all the other miscellaneous things that sysops have requested.

Finish the Synchronet Transfer Protocols (STP) program (DSZ replacement).3)

Install professional voice mail menu/FAX on-demand system on 714-529-63284) for voice callers to get FAQs, recent news, etc.

Reality

All of the above things cost time and money. While I am making a pretty good living now (much more than I ever did selling Synchronet), as I mentioned before, I'm still forking out money from my paychecks to pay off Digital Dynamics' bills from 1995. And I have little spare time as I'm currently in the studio recording my second CD with the band Weedpuller. I may not have the time or money to do any of the above.

If Weedpuller gets a promotional contract (and a tour), I'll be out of the computer industry completely (for a while at least). While this is a long shot, it is my life's ambition and (for me) a best case scenario.

If I decide (or need) to move for some reason, Vertrauen will not likely relocate with me.

I may at any time, not be able to afford to run Vertrauen (costs roughly $300 a month) or certain network connections (like FidoNet or ftp.netcom.com) might disappear.

Summary

While I realize this is not pleasant news for most of you, it is the truth and I don't want to attempt to deceive anyone any longer. If I've not lived up to your expectations in some way, please accept my apologies. I'm glad I've made a product that interested you at least at some point.

I've never enjoyed the business aspect of selling Synchronet and actually hate sales (and salespeople in general). While selling and supporting Synchronet has been a taxing experience, I don't regret it. It's taught me to appreciate working for others where you have limited responsibilities, the ability to leave your work at the office, and the predictability of working for only one boss (hundreds of sysops have been my bosses over the past few years). I met some really cool sysops across the states and around the world, had at least some amount of impact on the BBS community, and (most importantly) I've had the opportunity to further develop my programming skills.

However, I've enjoyed my newfound financial freedom over the past nine months and I vow never to run a business again (applause). Digital Dynamics was my second company (the first was a marginally successful computer sales/network installation company) and I've had my fill. I love programming and that's exactly what I get paid to do now, nothing more.

While I'd prefer to just silently disappear and avoid you all (like many other BBS authors have done in the past), I feel I owe you an explanation of my position and my (however indefinite) plans. And a thank you for your business.

If you plan on running your BBS for years and years (regardless of what happens with the Web and the Internet) and you want a package that is likely to be supported for the duration, I'd suggest purchasing a package from an established software company like Mustang (Wildcat), Galacticomm (Major/WorldGroup), Clark Development (PCBoard/whatever they're calling their Internet suite) or eSoft (TBBS). You won't be hurting my feelings (or my pocketbook). Beware that even the above mentioned “Old Boys” of the BBS industry may be on their way out. The fact that Microsoft doesn't make a BBS package should clue you into something (check out the declining value of Mustang's stock).

If you already run Synchronet and you're not in a big hurry to get integrated Internet features (or whatever major feature you desire), hang-out and see what happens. This isn't intended as a panic notice. Vertrauen and Synchronet may continue on for years. Or they may not. I just don't know at this moment and I'm making no predictions or guarantees.

If you hear nothing more from me, you can assume that everything in this message remains the same (unless Vertrauen disappears for a lengthy time). If I do decide to disappear, I intend to post a warning message stating that fact (at least a month in advance). There is of course, the possibility that I could get hit by a bus and never get to post that message.

Please do not send me a message in response to this message. I don't require (nor desire) any thank you's, f-you's, apologies, condemnations, good-bye's, or whatever. I'm all e-mailed out. I hope you'll understand.

Rob Swindell, Digital Dynamics

See Also

1) still planned, for Synchronet v4
2) there are some cool fullscreen editors in JS now
3) this program ended up becalled SEXYZ and was released years ago
4) don't bother calling, I'm not there

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