Bizarre-64 BBS Software by Bill Atchison.
Bizarre-64 BBS was created by Bill Atchison for the Commodore-64 in 1984 and continued to be developed until 1988. Additional contributing authors to the project were Tom Wheeler and Michael Gentryl . The software was the first Commodore-64 BBS in it's class to maximize the performance of the minimal hardware capability of that computer. The system could run on a single disk drive or grow to fully utilize as many disk drives as the operating system could address in Commodore Basic.
The Bizarre-64 BBS ran on the following hardware:
- C128 running in C64 mode.
- 1650 compatible modem
- Hayes Smart Modem compatibles (up to 2400 bps)
Disk Drives supported:
- SFD-1001 or compatible drive.
Bizarre-64 features the following:
- 300/1200/2400 bps operation
- IEEE and/or Serial disk drive operation
- Pop-up Sysop menu offers instant control of the system
- XMODEM file transfer
- Question and Answer files
- Sysop definable menus, limited by disk space
- Nested menus, may next 25 levels deep
- Security access defined per each menu line item
- - HOT MENUS - touch a single key and it responds instantly
- 100 messages online subdivided into 16 Message Boards
- Free format message entry
- Self-maintaining message base with selective automatic space reclamation of inactive or received mail.
- REL file message base, No DISK FULL errors.
- Dayfile of callers with security trace
- Operates in Open, Closed or Private mode
- Minimum of 255 total users on a single disk system
- Logon by name only, no user IDs with access in 3 seconds or less!
- ..... and MUCH MORE!
How Bizarre-64 outperformed other Commodore-64 BBS software:
All these years later I suppose it's OK to let out the secrets of how Bizarre-64 worked.
Being a professional programmer and somewhat of a hardware hobbyist gave me insights into that little box that eluded most of the arm chair programmers of the day that didn't fully understand how the Commodore IRQ system worked which serviced the disks and modems.
Bizarre-64 used several revolutionary techniques such as staggering asynchronous requests between the devices so it seemed fast and fully interactive like the BBS's on the IBM-PC's of the day. How this was accomplished was by sending commands to the disk drive but not waiting for them to complete since the device was interactive. Some filler cached text like the message board name, message number information, etc. would be flushed out to the modem serial buffer so the online visitor saw what appeared to be fluid data transfer over the modem while the BBS software was waiting for either data from the disk drive or a "hot" incoming command from the modem to skip to the next message.
Additionally, where Tom Wheeler's help came in was a bit of 6502 assembler he gave me to allow me to use the 8K ghost RAM behind the ROM which was used to store a hash table of 4K registered members of the BBS. This allowed the software to validate the member name without accessing the slow Commodore-64 disk drives until it located the member first.
For what it's worth, some of the caching techniques were inspired by the Bizarre-PC BBS that I previously developed (never sold) that was used to test a Tallgrass Technologies tape drive that was mounted as a disk device. That's right, you're reading correctly, I ran a BBS on a 75 IPS tape drive for 6 months just to test the concept of using tape devices interactively like a disk and visitors never knew the difference.
Why Bizarre-64, like the Commodore-64, ultimately failed - bad hardware.
Bizarre-64 wasn't exactly a failure because people bought and installed many copies, one even ran on a packet radio BBS!
However, some of the design issues of the Commodore-64 caused BBS's with multiple disk drives to randomly lock up every now and then. With the help of Tom Wheeler this problem was figured out and resolved but it proved to be to troublesome to continue selling the product to an ever increasing customer base. What happened was different versions of the ROM software in the Commodore disk drives had slight variations in the timing software so 2 drives with the identical ROM's would work fine but if you had ROM's of different versions they would just freeze with protocol timing errors.
The solution was simply to pick one of the disk drive ROMs and burn an exact copy so both (or all) drives worked the same. However, legally I couldn't ship ROMs pre-burned and repair shops wanted an outrageous amount for replacement ROMs or burning duplicate ROMs. To make matters worse, most people weren't technical enough to even understand what needed to be done which was frustrating.
So, with the mounting frustration with the flaky disk hardware, the decision was made to withdraw the product from the market in 1988 and most Bizarre-64 BBS's faded from existence by 1990.
Overall it was an interesting project to develop and do things nobody thought could be done with such limited hardware.
Thanks to all the Sysops that ran Bizarre-64 as they were a great bunch people that I enjoyed being associated with over the years.
Copyright (c) 2001-2014 by Bill Atchison