BBSs meet the Internet

Although bulletin board systems (BBSs) aren't as popular as they used to be, the BBS paradigm is still useful for many companies as a way to connect with the Internet. These companies need to make files available to their users and to the outside world, or they want to host private discussion groups and external email. Thus, Wildcat! Interactive Net Server (WIN Server) is worth a look. Mustang Software has taken the company's decade of experience with BBS software and bridged it to the Internet in one package.

WIN Server is a good choice for any company that needs to make information available in a BBS-style model. Users of older versions of Wildcat! will find this version familiar yet much more powerful than its non-Windows predecessors. You can integrate its mail and discussion-group components with your internal email and net news. At the same time, you can easily make the connection to the Internet, so anyone with a Telnet program or a Web browser can access the same information and the same files as a dial-up user.

Installation
Compared with earlier versions, WIN Server is a dream to install. Following the manual, you can set up a new Wildcat! nondedicated one-line server in a half hour from CD-ROM. To add other lines, designate their COM port and modem types, up to the maximum number of lines you purchased from Mustang (you can purchase more line licenses later). The Enterprise Edition, which I tested, has full Internet connectivity, including a Web server, an FTP site, a pay-for-services module, sample BBS configurations for different types of businesses, support for making CD-ROMs available for download, an email gateway, and an activity report generator. Different applications control and monitor these features, as Screen 1 shows. The applications are straightforward and well documented in the 500-page Administrator's Guide and the 600-page Reference Guide.

As soon as the server software is running, you can go back to your desk. You can customize almost all features from anywhere: locally on the server, remotely via your LAN, through the Internet, or by dial-up.

Most companies dedicate a BBS computer, but Wildcat! will run nicely in the background of a 100MHz Pentium. For two or three phone lines, you don't need to dedicate an entire system, and Windows NT provides good crash protection. These features make WIN Server Personal Edition ideal for hardware-poor, independent projects.

My test system was up and running (albeit with little content and no custom menus) in an afternoon full of other tasks. Once Mustang's Auto Update server was working, it produced 15MB of new files to download, which refreshed most of the product. Auto Update runs over the Internet or via modem dial-up.

Included Modules
Although you can use the program solely through dial-up, Mustang hasn't neglected the Web aficionado. The company includes Wildcat! Navigator (wcNav), its Web-browser interface. Confusingly, Mustang based wcNav on Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) 2.0 (included with Wildcat!), not Netscape's Navigator. Either browser will work, however. If the Wildcat! system has a connection to the Internet, wcNav users can surf the Web through WIN Server, too.

WIN Server Enterprise Edition includes wcExchange and wcReports. wcExchange is a bidirectional, Mail Application Program Interface (MAPI) 1.0-compliant message mover. With wcExchange in place, dial-up users can send messages to any person on any network WIN Server is connected to. The wcReports module provides scheduled activity and exception reports, so problems come to light before they get serious.

Other Considerations
WIN Server isn't NT-specific; it was designed for Windows 95, NT 3.51, or NT 4.0. Although WIN Server has no way to share user information, security, and the like with its host operating system, you can manage WIN Server from any connected workstation, browse it with familiar tools, and back it up like any other application. You have to establish a pool of WIN Server modems to support non-Point-to-Point Protocol dial-up, separate from your Remote Access Service/Dial-Up Networking modems. The WIN Server server module runs as a taskbar icon, rather than as an NT service, but it never interfered with my Windows applications. If you want to combine your BBS functions with Internet access, WIN Server will do the job.

Wildcat!
Interactive Net Server
Mustang Software
805-873-2500 or
800-999-9619
Web: http://www.mustang.com
Price: $3995 Enterprise Edition;
Free Personal Edition
Other editions are available.