Product: 8BS Web Site
Publisher: 8BS
Compatibility: BBC B/B+/Master 128
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #71

8BS Dancing Master
The 8BS Dancing BBC Master
8BS's Collection Of Eds
The Three Amigos That Kept 8BS Alive And Well
8BS's Catalogue Pages
The 8BS Catalogue - Download 100s Of Freebies!
Visit 'Downloads' -> 'Free Software Downloads Catalogue'
8BS Logo
The 8BS Logo - In Teletext
8BS Books
The 8BS Book Cover Scans
 
8BS Repton Animation 8BS Repton Animation 8BS Repton Animation
 
Three Reptons Doing The LookAbout

8BS Dancing Electron
The 8BS Dancing Acorn Electron
8BS On Line Magazine
The 8BS On Line Magazine - It's Just Like EUG!
8BS Solutions
A Flyer From Superior/Acornsoft
8BS Has The Original Artwork For This
8BS Solutions
A Collection Of Maps And Solutions Available
8BS Menu Screen
The Menu Screen Found On 8BS/BBC PD Discs
8BS Solutions
A Collection Of Cheats For Popular BBC Games
8BS Solutions
The 8BS Guestbook - 305 Signatures - Still Going Strong!
8BS Info
The 8BS Information Pages

 
8BS Logo
The 8BS Logo

As reported this issue in our news column, after four and a half years dead, this April has seen the return of 8 Bit Software (http://www.8bs.com). It actually reappeared whilst we were full flow into an article lamenting its disappearance! Anyone who has arrived on the Beeb scene recently (as a result of watching Micro Men last Christmas!) will be unaware of the wonders it holds. So, without further ado, let's have a wander around some of the main streets and back alleys of 8BS. Much as I would like to, I am not going to be able to peer into every nook and cranny - it's simply too big.

So for the past four years there have been two big BBC/Electron sites - AEW and Dave M's Stairway To Hell. However, this was not always the case. I remember at the beginning of 2000 (and through potentially rose-tinted glasses!) when there was a multitude of Acorn pleasures on the net - trips every few days to The BBC Lives, the BBC Games Resources site, Retro BBC, Acorn Cybervillage, eBay, the BBC Documentation Project and of course 8BS. (Was it really almost a decade ago? Yipes. - Ed)

Most, if not all, of the above sites, do still exist - in one form or another; almost antiquities in their own right. All followed a similar pattern in their liquidation; suddenly going from regular updates every couple of days to a virtual standstill. But 8BS did not stand still, in mid 2006 it was wiped. Without any warning, it was suddenly gone, replaced with a 'splash' screen which said the site was being revamped and would appear again in early 2007. At the time, this brought almost twenty years of service to a sudden, and very abrupt, end.

As with many user groups, 8BS started life as a disc-based magazine for BBC B, B+ and Master owners; its first issue was out in 1990. It was one of the first hobbyist internet sites to appear in 1997 - this explains why, as you will see, it is primarily a text-based site. In the years inbetween its first issue and its transistion to cyberspace, it produced 66 separate issues and scooped up whole libraries of disc-based public domain software. The end result was a site with a great deal of content behind it. But, in 1997, the BeebEm et al emulators that we know and love today remained at somewhat prototype levels of development. It was certainly a brave soul, or someone with a lot of time on his hands, who was willing to tackle discs decribed thus:

"CJR-21. Most Of The Software That I Have Ever Written. NOT MENU DRIVEN. This Is Not A Disc for the Faint Hearted. Software Found On CJR-11, 13 And Samples Discs Is Not Here. There Are A Few Items That Have Not Been Previously Released."

You can't really tell what's on here until you download it and investigate. And, truth be told, it's not even immediately apparent where the free software actually is (Visit 'Downloads->Free Software Download Catalogue'). In 1997, some BBC emulators still also required a lot of coaxing for you to even be able to read a disc into them!

The web site is kitted out in a quite boring shade of light grey. This does not mean it is without its fancy touches. Chris has code which randomly plays either the opening beep of the different Acorn Computers whenever the site is visited and, by photographing his Model B from various different angles, has strung together an animation on the index page of the Beeb dancing and twirling like a ballerina. In another opening section there is a guest list which boasts a surprisingly long list of comments, all of them from people impressed by his efforts to preserve the heritage of the Beeb.

When 8BS was around in the early noughties, Chris genuinely cared about the Acorn machines themselves, and all of the visitors to his site. He had a workshop to fix BBCs (which the bastard tax authorities apparently forced him to close down). He also had a frequently changing 'Guest Questionnaire' which popped up if you attempted to close the browser, which simply asked if you had been looking for anything in particular and, if so, if you had found it.

And if you did venture into the archives, what a lot there was to find! Without Chris' 8BS site, one hesitates to imagine the hundreds of companion discs and public domain software which would have been lost forever. There were sections for Fast Access, Jonathan Hartston, John Lyons' Educational Software, M512 games, Music 5000 compilations and multiple others. And, before you all start saying that some of these names aren't familiar to you, that's exactly the point - many of these discs are not, and may never be, available elsewhere.

The biggest library of them all was the TBI archive, which stretched to over 179 discs and was still growing when the site shut up shop. There were also lots of other interesting sections on the site - articles related to games programming, reviews, general information on the BBC scene and early Acorn shows which Chris had attended... All were reached via a navigation bar on the left hand side of the screen. Chris also liked his Javascript, at one point changing the mouse pointer to a floating clock for no other reason than it was eyecatching and different. Chris was also the founder of the 8-bit web ring, which, in those days where there were a considerable number of sites, linked them all together.

Now the site has returned (with many of these lovable features intact), Chris has given an explanation as to why it disappeared for so long. It seems he lost motivation to continue as a result of criticism of the textual nature of the site. There is no escaping that such criticism was valid. Web design is clearly not Chris' strongest skill. Users are now used to a world where web sites have to be dynamic and extremely user friendly. 8BS has not moved with the times - there are no screenshots of the many demos and games hiding away on its discs, for example - it's hardly surprising someone made this observation. More importantly, there is no distinction made between a good, and a duff, contribution to the archives, let alone the proper classification of any contributions.

For example, at one point Alligata made many of its ex-professional titles public domain. These were added to the TBI archive, whereas a better move would have been to create an Alligata archive. Some people had submitted badly digitised black and white pictures back in the day when these were considered marvellous. These fests of boredom happily sit in the TBI archive next to fantastic compilations like The Sicksoft Collection and The Boobs Collection. Many discs do not have menus. It is one thing to SHIFT-BREAK a disc and choose a program; it is quite another to have to CHAIN it individually.

In the alternative however, Chris' catalogues tell their own stories in a way that proper segregation does not allow for. The early inclusions on discs are basic; the later ones semi-professional. You see the proliferation of random number generators thanks to the launch of the National Lottery and the release of Sunday in both its BBC/Electron version - and the little known 128K Master 128 version (Yes, there is a Master 128 version, which was only ever available from 8BS!). And, because you never really knew what to expect from the text description, using 8BS was, and indeed now still is, the equivalent of going treasure hunting!

Also, when you download a disc from 8BS you are getting exactly what the original author of that disc intended you to get. Whilst I am proud of the very user-friendly Acorn Electron World disc archive, precisely by giving every disc a 'generic' menu system, you can take away the 'uniqueness' of the disc itself. Menus are a very good example. All the BBC PD discs supplied by Acorn Electron World have the small text, green background Mode 1 menu. Over at 8BS the same discs exist but they have either no menu, or one in Mode 7 - and the menu is different on every disc. I prefer my versions (else I wouldn't have made them!) but my versions are not what the original author put together!

Other ways to while away your time over at 8BS include traversing its solutions archive, laughing at some of the horrors Chris received in the post, perusing old catalogues and business cards, reading up on the history of Acorn - or even reading the full history of 8BS. Often, as with the libraries, the presentation leaves something to be desired - even the history of 8BS is badly formatted with CAPITALS used for emphasis instead of italics.

As I mentioned in the introduction, I originally set out writing this review to celebrate the contribution made by 8BS. 8BS then returned, slightly improved (with drop-down menus at the top of the browser), but there is very little difference between how it used to work and how it now operates. Design quirks aside, what a resource it is!! If you have the time to go treasure hunting, you'll discover 8-bit gems here that so far are missing from the rest of the 'net. Spare a thought too, as you navigate, for Solinet - which was 8BS' main fanzine competitor, and also stretched to over sixty issues. Solinet did not make the jump to cyberspace - its discs and its library of PD software has been completely lost. Thanks to Chris, this didn't happen to all of the work that went into 8BS. Immediately it re-appeared it again became, if you are a BBC/Electron fan, a 'must visit' site.