Ad.Lib Closure

It is with deep regret that we make this announcement - the Ad.Lib BBS is closing its doors for the final time. After a long and prestigious five year history as a major Atari BBS, Ad.Lib will be powering down for the final time at 11:59 p.m. on February 28th, 1997.

There now follows a brief history of the board, detailing some of the major landmarks of the last few years. If you don't want to read the long message, please accept our heartfelt thanks if you ever called the Ad.Lib BBS.

We don't really want to close, but it seems that Ad.Lib has reached the end of its natural life. It was not an easy decision, but Frank and Andy (The SysOps) decided that they could not, any longer, commit the time and energy to give the BBS the care it so richly deserves.

Now, those of you who are interested, read on...

Ad.Lib began as the brainchild of Andy Curtis many years ago, when he was first bitten by the comms bug after connecting to the old Bath BBS, a MichTron system for Atari users. He acquired a copy of the STarnet BBS software, and armed with a single ST and old 300 baud modem (!), he set up a simple test system. Andy placed an ad in the Fidonet Atari area on a local PC BBS, looking for test callers. Another Atari user recently bitten by the comms bug - Frank Charlton - decided to call. Andy cocked up that first time, though - he left his answering machine on, and it picked up the call before the BBS did. Frank left a message, Andy got back in touch, and the Ad.Lib team was born...

The BBS graduated to an Amstrad 2400 modem before it actually went on-line for the first time, with the MichTron BBS software. Back then, the BBS ran MichTron from a dual-floppy setup. Different files were offered using a 'Request Disk' system - a different floppy was on-line every night, with different downloads. It all sounds rather arcane in these days of superfast modems and vast hard drives, but storage space was ridiculously expensive back in those days! From its early beginnings as a weekend only system, the BBS grew to a nightly 8pm-9am system, still running from a large RAM disk and floppies.

Andy returned from an Atari show in London with a shiny new 50MB hard drive from Gasteiner, which cost him a small fortune. He devoted his proud new purchase to the burgeoning BBS, and Ad.Lib finally offered a large selection of files. With the acquisition of a dedicated phone line, Ad.Lib became a full 24-hour BBS. Back then, MichTron was still a popular BBS system, even though it showed its age in some areas. (Wot, no Z-Modem?) With the help of ace programmer Dave Meaker, Ad.Lib pushed the boundaries of MichTron as far as possible. Ad.Lib even joined the fledgling MNet system, a BBS network similar to NeST, linking MichTron boards as far away as the USA and the Netherlands (Hi Dana and Werner!). A lot of the users from this MichTron period became firm friends of Andy and Frank - in particular, ST FORMAT's Clive Parker appeared for the first time, going on to become a regular uploader to both Atari and Star Trek file areas. Without Ad.Lib to introduce them to Clive, neither Andy or Frank would have gone on to write for a living - for ST FORMAT and beyond. (Hi Clive, please make cheques payable to "Ad.Lib Media".)

Eventually though, the BBS needed to evolve. With the non-appearance of MichTron 3, Andy and Frank decided to jump ship. Andy ordered a copy of the brand new and very powerful RATSoft/ST BBS software from the USA. Mark Matts, SysOp of the old System ST BBS popped up on the train from Nottingham, and spent a long day with Andy and Frank, installing and configuring the new BBS. Within a day or two, the new Ad.Lib was born, using the relatively new 14,400 modem technology.

Gradually, the BBS got bigger and bigger, thanks partly to a link-up with ST Format magazine which it supported right up until the magazines demise in December 1996. With RATSoft supporting Fido-style networking, Ad.Lib linked into the NeST, Atarinet and Fidonet networks to exchange mail across the globe. Dave Meaker and Martin Stacey were by now running the Holodeck BBS, and were fiddling with their own network, Fishnet - Ad.Lib joined in, too.

Slowly but surely, the BBS file bases grew. Andy invested in more hard drive mechanisms, all built into a huge Heath Robinson style case built from an old desktop PC case Frank had salvaged. At this peak, the BBS was almost constantly engaged, and it became something of a comms 'trophy' to say you'd connected to Ad.Lib without hearing the engaged tone! During 1994 and 1995 there were over 13,000 calls per year. Andy was concerned that a lot of users were becoming frustrated at not being able to connect, and the fledgling Ad.Lib 2 was born.

Ad.Lib 2 was a second ST system with its own phone line and modem. By now, both boards progressed to the new 28,800 modems which had just become available, Andy splashed out on a new Optima 288 from Hayes at a large price we'd rather not remember! Even though very few users had these modems - it was probably only Frank who did, if truth be told, Ad.Lib became an early adopter of this now standard speed.

Around this time, Mark Matts closed System ST for the last time, and Ad.Lib 2 actually ran from the original System ST hard drives, which Andy bought from Mark. Rather than run a completely separate second BBS, Andy and Frank experimented with various networking options. MIDI networking proved too slow, and the software available at the time wasn't particularly good. After a while, Andy picked up a pair of cartridge port networking devices, which meant Ad.Lib could share data between the 2 systems. Sadly, it proved to be a nightmare for Andy and Frank to keep this system running, and to keep the two machines synchronised. After a while, Ad.Lib 2 was slowly phased out.

As Frank became Reviews Editor then Technical Editor at STF, work pressures gradually took him away from the BBS. In stepped Steve Dent, a genial Clevelander, to take up Co-SysOp duties. Andy and Steve slaved away at keeping the BBS up to date, despite on particularly nasty hard drive crash when a vast proportion of the file bases were irretrievably lost. At this point, the Ad.Lib users showed how loyal they were - as well as a massive amount of uploading, users sent in boxes of disks stuffed with files they'd originally downloaded from Ad.Lib. At the time, Andy was amazed how the regular crowd rallied round to rebuild Ad.Lib, rather than defecting to another BBS.

Later that year, Andy and Steve hooked up a couple of CD-ROM drives to Ad.Lib, with the Crawly Crypt 1 and 2 CDs being provided by 16/32 Systems along with a copy of Mega Archive 1 from System Solutions. By mid-1996, ST FORMAT wasn't a healthy magazine, and eventually closed down. With more time on his hands, Frank popped back again to his original comms home. Steve stayed on too, bringing the Ad.Lib team up to three.

By October, it became obvious that Andy was about to move house very soon. It was to be a complex enough move to begin with, and Andy was unsure about how to proceed with the BBS. Rather than keep it offline for ages, it was decided that the whole kit and kaboodle would be relocated to Frank's house. Preparations were made, and the new number was advertised across the networks. Finally, on September 8th, Ad.Lib was sparked back into life some 13 miles across the North-East, after only a day offline. Andy's original ST was put into semi-retirement, and Frank's Falcon became the new host for the BBS. Despite some worrying hiccups like another HD crash - we had a backup of the system burned onto CD-ROM this time - Ad.Lib continued.

As 1996 ended, it became painfully obvious that things just weren't the same. Neither Frank nor Andy had anywhere near as much time as is really needed to run a 24-hour dedicated BBS, and calls were gradually beginning to dwindle as long-time BBS users were bitten by the Internet bug.

A look through Ad.Lib's userlog from the past few years has shown some surprising things. Very few of our users ever came from the North-East area of England - almost every user was calling at the National rate. Over the years, a lot of International users stuck with us. Some, like Lasse Eldrup, popped up at regular intervals, and uploaded more files than local users! Others like Dale Wright made a telephonic journey of over 300 miles every day to collect and send mail, despite having Atari boards closer to home. We thank them for sticking by us over the years, just as much as we thank everyone who ever added the Ad.Lib number to their autodialler. Without the users, a BBS is nothing. Without loyal and caring users, a BBS has no life. Thankfully, we've had both in droves, and we've loved every minute of it.

It is impossible to mention every valued user by name, there were so many, but there has to be space to mention the incredible Jessica Long. We really don't know who she is, but she called the BBS faithfully over 3 years, almost every single night! Her fast wit and charming message style were sorely missed when she left the BBS scene in 1995. Whoever and wherever you are, Jessica, thanks!

But, in the words of Star Trek - All Good Things must come to an end. For the final month of Ad.Lib's life, all restrictions have been lifted. If you've never logged on to the BBS before, now is your final chance. You don't have to wait for verification any more, and you can grab files from the very first minute you call. All download ratios have been lifted, and you can happily trough the file bases as much as you like.

Still, the Atari BBS scene lives on! We warmly invite you to call 42 BBS and join the growing numbers using it to exchange messages and files. We must be grateful to all Atari BBS SysOps for their continued dedication to the market, along with the hard work of guys such as Daron Brewood.

Finally, to anyone who ever called Ad.Lib - if you enjoyed the BBS, then please do let us know. If you have any tales to tell of your early Ad.Lib experiences, please tell us - we'd love to create a memorial to the BBS, probably in the form of a website. Both of us will still be knocking about - we both turn up on the IRC channel #atari with alarming regularity - and we don't want to lose touch. Thanks from both Andy and Frank for all those fantastic years of fun, files and friendship...

So long, and thanks for all the sausages.

Frank Charlton
Andy Curtis



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