Task: Connect Your Atari Computer to the Internet
Time: 15-30 minutes
Although the internet was invented before Atari 8-bit computers were released in 1979 it was not available to most of us until years later. I don’t recall using the internet until I was in graduate school at the University of Michigan in the early 1990s. I believe I sent my first email around 1993. The only way to connect with the outside world with Atari-bit computers was by using a modem to dial up a Bulletin Board System (BBS) using your phone line. This was both slow and expensive if you didn’t have a local BBS to call. Remember how expensive long distance calls were? I didn’t have a modem in the early 1980s and thus had no experience using my Atari “online”. Here is some info about the Atari 1030 modem. I have one of these now but have not tried it yet. I will do a post on later it if it works and I can use it to dial up a BBS.
The BBS had its start in the late 1970s and the services were very popular through the 1980s and into the 1990s. If you are interested in learning more I recommend you watch the BBS Documentary that is publicly available here & here. Very interesting stuff. The SysOp war stories is somewhat shocking. A common use for the BBS was to download both public domain and pirated software. There were also early message boards. I show in this post how to connect you Atari computer to a BBS using the Atarimax SIO2PC and APE software to allow telnet over the internet to establish a connection.
Connect your Atari to your PC using the SIO2PC from Atarimax. See my previous post on this.
Launch the Atari Peripheral Emulator (APE) software from Atarimax and load the 850 Express 1.1 ATR file. You can download it with this link or this one. This is the communications software from back in the day that we will use on the Atari. I tried several other including later versions of 850 express, MPP, and BobTerm but this one seemed to work the best.
Boot the 850 Express software from your Atari. If you get a DOS menu simply binary load (L) the filename. Mine was called EXPRS850.COM.
From the 850 Express 1.1. menu press A to toggle ATASCII mode. Also press B to increase the BAUD rate from 300 to something faster like 2400 or 9600. This is the modem speed in bits per second.
Press SHIFT + ! to enter the terminal mode. The terminal should say Connected! with a cursor below it. You are now ready to connect to a BBS using the OPEN ADDRESS PORT command. Here are two to try:
OPEN BROADWAY1.LOREXDDNS.NET 23
OPEN BASEMENTBBS.DDNS.NET 9000
OPEN DARKFORCE-BBS.DYNDNS.ORG 520
The text on the screen should say Trying… and then Connected… After it says connected hit RETURN four times. The BBS will then prompt you with some questions. That is it! You are on a BBS!
It took me a few hours to figure this all out and I am certainly not yet a BBS expert. There are not good instructions online and many of the Atari Age posts are old and lacking important details. Hopefully my experience trying this will save some time. Here is a list of other BBS you can try. Many of these are pretty simple and don’t seem to have much content. Many also don’t seem to be live. Note that these tend to ask for your personal information including name, address, email, and phone number. This is usually required if you want to create a full account to access more stuff. Nonetheless, they do provide a glimpse into what connecting by phone to a BBS was like in the 1980s. It is really fun that these are being resurrected. I will post some updates as I play with this more and have some additional items to share. Feel free to email me questions.
It is also worth noting that you can connect your Atari to an 850 interface via SIO and then connect the 850 to a Lantronix device via RS-232. Some have used the Lantronix UDS-10 device. From their web page it looks like you need to contact them for a price. You can search the Atari Age 8-bit computer forums for Lantronix to pick up the discussion threads on this. Another approach is to purchase a wifi modem. I have not tried these options myself and don’t know all the details about how to make them work. Projects for another day!