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Online San Diego

From the January 23, 1998 ComputorEdge (Issue 1604)

By Jim Trageser

Six years. That's a long time in dog years – and even longer in computer years.

It's also how long I've been writing for ComputorEdge, the last four and a half writing the Online San Diego column. When I took over the column in May 1993, the 80486-based PCs had just come out (and would run you about $1,800 for a 66MHz model), Windows 3.1 was becoming the dominant operating system, the Mac IIci was the hot computer in the Apple world, Atari was releasing its midi-monster Falcon030, the Amiga 2000 was redefining video editing, a 360MB hard drive was well over $1,000 and one of those new 14.4kbps modems would set you back $250-$300.

Things have changed a bit since then – check out the ads this issue to see how much. For me, they're changing even more than usual. With a new job and more writing projects coming in, it's time for me to move on and hand the column over to someone else.

Which makes for a nice opportunity to stop and look back at how we got where we are.

When I started going online in 1987, the computer bulletin board system, or BBS, was the online world for most people. The Internet was out there, but few had access to it – or wanted access. It was a text-only world then – e-mail, USENET, telnet, Gopher and Archie. There was no Web as of yet. And even if you wanted to use the 'Net – Gopher was a pretty good search tool for university libraries and archives -- it was hard to find a commercial account; unless you were in college or the military, getting full Internet access was going to be expensive if even possible.

So we called BBSs. And what did we do on them? Well, you could download the latest shareware – that's how "Wolfenstein 3D" and "Doom" became popular. But there were more than games – manufacturers would post bug fixes and add-ons to their home boards or one of the early commercial services like CompuServe, GEnie or Prodigy, from whence they quickly migrated to local boards around the country.

On a BBS, you could read and respond to messages – many of them from other bulletin boards via a variety of independent BBS-based networks like FidoNet. You could play online role-playing and campaign games against other people – games like Trade Wars 2000 and Barren Realms Elite.

And even then, BBSs were offering Internet e-mail, and many carried some of the then-500 or so USENET groups (compared to 20,000+ today).

San Diego had more BBSs than any other region in the world. There were about 40 in 1987 when I first began calling Bill Blue's PdBMS (now all grown up into CTS, a local Internet service provdier), 1,200 when I took over the column, and about 1,400 at the peak three years ago. Nor does that number include the hundreds of private boards that folk set up for themselves and their friends to swap files and messages.

Today, of course, the Internet is rapidly becoming the single largest technological transformation of human society – more than television, the telephone or even the computer itself. Before this century closes out on Dec. 31, 2000, the Internet will impact every facet of modern life.

Locally, the Internet has taken over from the BBS – there are still about 400 public BBSs in town, but there are dozens more Web sites, many of them commercial: San Diego Online, San Diego Source, SignOn San Diego, RoadRunner, Digital City,, North County Times, Sidewalk, KFMB, KGTV, KNSD, KPBS.

All of which makes Donna Woodka a very lucky writer. Because Donna is taking over Online San Diego next week at one of the most exciting times in the brief history of computer communications.

She's following in a neat tradition of good writers who have held this chair. It was Dan Gookin who started this column in the then-Byte Buyer back in the mid-'80s. After Dan, there followed Jim Kimball, Scott Penrose and my predecessor, Ron Dippold. And, of course, Brad Fikes in between my two shifts.

I'll not be disappearing: I'm still going to be active with the Computer Museum of America, and intend to be at their California Computer Expo booth every year until I die of old age.

Writing this column, trying to stay on top of all the changes that have happened in computers and cyberspace has been a challenge, a privilege and a joy.

I'm going to miss it.