FARNET: 51 Network Success Stories


FARNET Stories Project

51 Reasons to Invest in the National Information Infrastructure


Submitted by:

Marianne Granoff
Director of Operations
New Mexico Technet
4100 Osuna NE, Suite 103
Albuquerque, NM 87109 USA

v: (505) 345-6555
f: (505) 345-6559
e: granoff@technet.nm.org


Education, higher; Education, continuing or distance ; Research, academic; Research, government; Research, commercial; Library; Other


Innovative or improved ways of doing things; More equitable access to technology or electronic information; Creation of new ideas, products, or services; Technology transfer; Local commitment to network-based activities; Leverage of public funding; Volunteer contributions of time and energy; Partnerships between public and private sector

Supporting Documentation (contact author for more information):

Software; Documentation; CD/ROM; Other

Story Site (if other than location listed above):

White Sands Missile Range
New Mexico

The Story:


SIMTEL20 is well known among the Internet community as the world's largest on-line repository of freely accessible software and documentation on the Internet. What is not well known today, is how it came into being.

In 1979, CP/M (Control Program for Microcomputers) was the primary operating system on smaller (micro) computers. One summer evening back then, Frank Wancho, an employee of WSMR (White Sands Missile Range) in New Mexico, and at the time, the volunteer sponsor of the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) INFO-CPM mailing list, made a phone call from his home in El Paso, Texas to a newly published phone number for a computer bulletin board system outside Detroit, Michigan. The 2:00 am phone call was answered by the BBS operator, Keith Petersen, rather than by the computer, as expected.

Keith was, at the time, employed by the local Detroit CBS affiliate as a technical engineer, but was also an avid computer enthusiast. As a result of his computing interests, Keith had started collecting CP/M utilities, files, software, etc. from other enthusiasts and keeping them on his system. He was informally encouraging others to send him new software to add to his collection. The unusual part of this activity was that he provided a way for other users to SECURELY do this using the actual remote CP/M commands, by using multiple directories for uploading and downloading.

As a result of that phone call, Keith began to be an active contributor to the MIT INFO-CPM mailing list. This was at a time when the PDP-10 at MIT had no file transfer protocol that was compatible with CP/M. Keith used "blind uploads" via modem to send new public domain CP/M software, patches, and documentation to the MIT machine on a daily basis. The files themselves were sent directly to the MIT mailing list as messages (i.e. each person on the list received a separate copy of the file).

It soon became clear that all this traffic was straining the MIT mail delivery system. MIT agreed to set aside disk space to hold the CP/M collection, and only the announcements of the new software were sent to the mailing list. Several volunteers at MIT, notably Gail Zacharias, soon managed to write mainframe versions of the MODEM2 file transfer protocol and other CP/M utility programs for the MIT machine. These significantly improved the accuracy of the file contents that Keith uploaded.

In 1983, as availability and access to the MIT computer was removed, Frank Wancho (the System Administrator for the WSMR computer), arranged for the contents of the MIT CP/M and the newly formed MS-DOS collections to be moved to a DECSYSTEM 20 that had excess CPU and Disk capacity at WSMR. This computer was also on the ARPANET. Because of the existing network requirements at that time, ARPANET hosts had to have 8 character names. SIMTEL20 was named for the SIMulation and TELeprocessing organization's DECSYSTEM 20 machine by a vote of the local employees at WSMR.

Along with the original CP/M and MS-DOS collections, the CP/M User's Group, SIG/M(icros), PC/Blue, Ada Software Repository, and the Unix/C collections have been added to SIMTEL20 over time. The MS-DOS collection alone contains over 9,000 ZIPped files in over 200 subject subdirectories. A full range of topics is covered, including learning aides for children, handicap aids, and the latest anti-virus checking programs. SIMTEL20 is the primary distribution center for the INFO-CPM, INFO-MICRO, INFO-IBMPC, INFO-ADA, and other mailing list digests, and hosts the archives for those lists and 20 others.

The availability of freely distributable software programs from SIMTEL20 has had a significant impact on the advancement of computer technology both within the United States, and in many foreign countries, especially those who have recently experienced freedom. Many new software authors (even some Shareware author cooperatives) have emerged from these countries - adding their own freely distributable programs to the SIMTEL20 collection.

The management and staff of SIMTEL20 (and Frank Wancho, who was the system administrator for many years), with the help of Keith Petersen and numerous supporters around the world, are proud to be active, contributing members of the Global Internet Community.

(SIMTEL20 is still owned and operated by the Unites States Army at WSMR. It is connected to the MILNET, and to the Internet through the facilities of New Mexico Technet, Inc., a private non-profit corporation, and the WESTNET Regional Network. Access to its archives is available through Technet and via anonymous FTP.)

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