BIX is one of the oldest of the commercial online services, and until it was purchased by General Videotext Corporation a while back, it was the online arm of BYTE magazine. Because of its association with BYTE, BIX boasts an eclectic group of technically minded subscribers.
BIX has been accessible from the Internet for quite some time, but through a relatively odd gateway that wasn't common knowledge. BIX has a direct connection to the Internet, which makes it much easier to send and receive Internet email. As an added bonus, you can FTP files from Internet hosts, telnet into BIX from the Internet, and read news with the popular Unix nn newsreader. Other outbound services, such as Finger and Telnet, have arrived more recently.
BIX boasts reasonable addressing schemes and an interesting group of subscribers. Its support of FTP and other Internet services, such as Usenet news, Telnet, and Finger, is also a major plus. Those with local Internet access can even telnet to BIX over the Internet, saving on the costs because BIX charges less for Telnet access than for dial-in access. You can telnet into BIX by logging into an Internet machine, typing telnet x25.bix.com, and replying BIX to the Username prompt before logging on normally.
NOTE: The login message that appears when you telnet to BIX warns you that uploading to BIX over the Telnet link doesn't usually work. Downloading requires making sure your Telnet session is in binary mode and isn't using the escape character.
I won't talk here about reading Usenet news with nn, since there's a whole section on that in the next chapter on Unix. Suffice it to say that nn was a good choice of character-based Unix newsreaders for BIX to pick. Finger seems to work just as you would expect, and so does Telnet, assuming that you expect to be using the Unix command-line. Again, check out the next chapter for more information on these programs.
BIX provides a great deal of Internet hand-holding in its Internet message areas (try typing join internet or join ask.bix/internet). Although getting the hang of the massively strange interface may take you some time (you reply to a message online with the comment command, for example), the hand-holding and constant advice are a great help. The Internet discussion areas on BIX are an excellent place to talk about exploring the Internet.
As it currently stands, FTP on BIX works rather oddly. Because you don't have a full Unix-like account, BIX had to come up with a way to get the files from the remote Internet machine to your PC. The manner in which it sends these files is interesting, although occasionally confusing. Instead of storing the file on the BIX host machine and requiring an extra step to download it, they set it up so that files are automatically dumped to your PC via ZMODEM or whatever transfer protocol you normally use to download files from BIX.
I can't decide whether this system is good or bad, although I do like the way it queues up files and then downloads them when you're done. That approach can be more efficient than your sitting through each successive download, especially if you have a slow modem. Check out the following FTP session transcript to see how it works. I recommend using ZMODEM if you can; I accidentally got sucked into XMODEM, and it wasn't nearly as clean a process. Setting up BIX to use ZMODEM requires you to look in the Options area.
:ftp ftp.tidbits.com Connected to ftp.halcyon.com. 220 ftp FTP server (Version wu-2.1c(2) Fri Sep 24 14:51:24 PDT 1993) ready. Name (ftp.tidbits.com:anonymous): <Ñ hit Return to accept "anonymous" 331 Guest login ok, send your complete e-mail address as password. Password (tidbits@BIX.com): <Ñ hit Return to accept default password 230-Please read the file 00-README 230- it was last modified on Sat Sep 25 03:57:27 1993 - 251 days ago 230 Guest login ok, access restrictions apply. Remote system type is Unix. Using binary mode to transfer files. Type "help download" to find out how to download files from an Internet host computer using BIX end-to-end ftp. BETA TEST FTP!! Questions? Bugs? Contact peabo in ask.bix/internet! Sorry, Kermit is not supported in this version; please use X-, Y-, or ZMODEM to download. Uploading is not supported at all yet. ftp> cd /pub/tidbits 250 CWD command successful. ftp> ls 200 PORT command successful. 150 Opening ASCII mode data connection for /bin/ls. total 113 -rw-r--r-- 1 1961 235 903 Feb 8 13:47 .message -rw-r--r-- 1 1961 235 42432 Mar 11 11:56 fulldirlist.txt drwxr-xr-x 7 1961 235 512 Jan 11 15:22 issues drwxr-xr-x 2 1961 235 512 Jun 2 10:14 misc drwxr-xr-x 2 1961 235 512 May 16 10:55 private drwxr-xr-x 2 1961 235 1024 Jun 1 14:53 select drwxr-xr-x 2 1961 235 512 May 1 23:26 thewordbook drwxr-xr-x 7 1961 235 512 Sep 29 1993 tisk drwxr-xr-x 2 1961 235 512 Jun 1 15:01 www 226 Transfer complete. ftp> get .message get .message Starting a new queue of files to be downloaded; type "help download" if you need assistance using BIX end-to-end ftp. Download queued files? y Download file: .message Get ready to receive using XMODEM/checksum.... [ bytes: unknown, blocks: unknown, block size 128 ] Forgetting files previously queued. 221 Goodbye.
I must admit that BIX bothers me. I have major trouble with the custom command-line-based interface, and I'm always fighting to end up in the proper place. For instance, to go to the section where I upload TidBITS, I must type join mac.hack/tidbits, something that I seem incapable of doing reliably. There is a graphical front end to BIX for Windows, but I've not yet seen it. It could assuage some of my complaints with the BIX interface.
In addition, BIX has relatively high rates of $13 per month supplemented by a connect time charge ranging from $1 per hour for Telnet access to $9 per hour for dialup access via SprintNet or Tymnet during weekdays. The standard nonprime-time rate that you most likely pay is $3 per hour. You don't pay extra for 9,600 bps access, luckily, and Internet email is free until you have sent and received 10M-worth in one month, after which BIX charges $1 for each subsequent 100K. That rate is fair for Internet email.
If you plan to use BIX heavily, there's a 20/20 plan that costs $20.00 and provides 20 hours of connect time. This charge is in addition to your $13.00 per month membership fee. Time over the 20 hours is charged at $1.80 per hour, or $1.00 per hour if you telnet in.
BIX does addressing right. To send email to someone on the Internet, you type his Internet email address instead of his BIX username. To send mail to me from BIX, for example, you type mail: to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sending mail to BIX is equally easy. Simply append @bix.com to the end of the BIX username and send it out. My address on BIX is simply email@example.com.
The sole advantage of a command-line environment is that it makes signing up for the service easy. To get an account on BIX, have your modem dial 800-695-4882 or 617-491-5410 (use 8 data bits, no parity, 1 stop bit, full duplex). Press Return a few times until you see the Login: (enter "bix") prompt, and then type bix. At the Name? prompt, type bix.net. If you prefer, you also can telnet to BIX to sign up, following the instructions in the preceding "Advantages" section.