some BBS nostalgia: show and tell
While the internet had been around since the 1960's, the web that we know today only took off with the advent of GUI browsers in the mid-1990's. Until then, Bulletin Board Systems (or BBSs) reigned supreme. [reference: Wikipedia on BBS's]
In it's simplest form, a hobbyist could set up a BBS with only a phone line, a modem, and a computer running BBS host software. Users would dial up, running a terminal client, and kibbitz in various discussions, swap files, or play online games.
These were the pre-GUI days of text-based computing. In the very early 1980's, many BBS users had no display at all, and relied on printing terminals. These early BBS's asked users "How many nulls?" in configuration options: the host would send do-nothing null bytes before each line, allowing a printhead time to return to the left margin. More users graduated to CRT displays, but the incoming data was still text-based.
The best one could do for visual interest was "ANSI" art. [reference: Wikipedia on ANSI art] ANSI art was not true ANSI, but rather the derivative IBM DOS ANSI.SYS driver. Using color, brightness, and annoying blinking, one could enhance text appearance ... and use the IBM high-ASCII line and block characters to produce very low-rez images. BBS sysops, or system operators, used such artwork to add pizzazz to their menus.
The BBS community had evolved non-TCP/IP networks (RIME, Intellec, ILink, FidoNet) for conference traffic. Subscribers to a conference could share posts with folks from all over (OK, so this doesn't seem like a big deal today, with the global web). Several such conferences were devoted to ANSI art, and they attracted a large audience of artists and geeks, dedicated to maximizing the visual appeal of a text-based system.
In 1993, a company called TeleGrafix introduced RIP - Remote Imaging Protocol. The protocol used vector graphics in EGA video mode (640x350x16 colors). A RIP host would send a series of ASCII sequences to the RIP-aware client, which would draw an image on the client's screen. RIP was mouse-aware, so the protocol was a specification for a BBS GUI. RIP screen filesize was small, and worked fine with the 2400 baud modems prevalent then. TeleGrafix offered its RipTerm client for free, and hoped to make lots of money selling an editor to sysops, and charging licensing fees to other BBS software developers such as WildCat!, Major, and SearchLight.
The BBS community generally, and the ANSI art crowd in particular, jumped on the RIP bandwagon. Shareware authors developed RIP editors and stand-alone RIP viewers. Subscribers to the ANSI net conferences redefined themselves to include RIP ... since a RIP file was only ASCII, it could be transmitted as a message, just like ANSI art. RIP files were tiny; a complex picture could easily be done within the 1 KB net conference message limit. Soon the net conferences were brimming with RIP art. All this cannot have been TeleGrafix' intent, with its host/client model ... to its credit, the BBSing public transformed this into a user-to-user model.
I have a fairly large collection of RIP and ANSI images; unfortunately, it would be hard, if not impossible to contact the artists and get permission to display their work. So included here are only my own images from that time. Further, these images will only be accessible to folks with an old DOS box, or a command prompt window in Windows.
This will unzip to a folder named RIP which includes 5 batch files:
While playing around with some old stuff, I rediscovered a RIP viewer that will still function on a Win 32-bit OS ... FreeView.exe, written by Wayne Thomas in 1994, and released as freeware. (Here is Wayne's original distribution archive: freevi11.zip (106 KB)). The protocol spec included support for ANSI text windows. For FreeView, Wayne wrote an emulation of the old DOS ANSI.SYS driver, so the display will look the same even though you're not running DOS with that driver. (The included ANSI art demo files have been RIP-ified to give a full-screen text viewport and font.)
Wayne extended the ANSI emulation to embrace ANSI music. This was a quite primitive notation for PC-speaker melody based loosely on the BASIC "play" command ... terminal software packages Qmodem and Robocomm pioneered support for ANSI music notation. But besides musical accompaniment, ANSI music pauses could be used to time events, and thus animation became possible.
Recollect that back then, most folks were using 386s ... the ANSI music support was written for these. You will note that it plays extremely fast now, which is what that brief growling noise is in the background. The animations based on music timing also display rather quickly. Wayne's viewer has a command-line parameter to emulate slower modem ASCII transfer rates. I used this in the batch files to slow down things somewhat ... this is what the fast and slow versions of the batch files above are all about. Both display the same images, but at different speeds.
If you are reading this at all, chances are that you are familiar with the command line. If not, clicking on any of the batch files will open a full-screen command prompt window and begin displaying the ANSI or RIP files. Hitting the "any" key will abort the rendering of the current image, or move on to the next image if fully rendered. The "ESC" key will abort the show; type "exit" at the command prompt to close the window, or hit "windows" + "m" to minimize the command prompt window. You can also play around with FreeView on the command line ... there is a /trace option that reveals each RIP command sequentially.
This page is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.