In the early 1990s, BBS became increasingly interconnected. The bulletin boards on one site were synchronized with those on another, usually by dialing into it in regular intervals. Now you could not only post messages to people on the same BBS, but also to those in a different city. We take a much higher degree of interconnectedness for granted today -- but back then, it was amazing, especially for small town people like yours truly.
Because local telephony was still expensive at the time in many countries, people had to limit their connection time. As warez were increasingly traded on BBS, some people accumulated phone bills in the hundreds of dollars range. Phreaking (cheating the telephone companies) became increasingly popular.
As the aforementioned BBS networks grew (one of the most popular ones being FidoNet, which is still around), the need for software to browse files and messages offline arose. One of these programs was CrossPoint. Together with a terminal client, it was to become one of the first programs I used to access the matrix. (Later on, I started running my own BBS, which even grew into a small network. I was mighty proud of myself, until I learned that practically every computer literate person did the same at the time.)
CrossPoint would simply dial into your local BBS and fetch the messages and/or files using one of the supported protocols (UUCP for Usenet, ZConnect for the large German Z-Netz, Fido and QWK). You could also use it to send electronic mail to other members who were part of the same network. CrossPoint eventually was to become the entrance for many to the world of Usenet and e-mail. Those who did not have access to the WWW yet used mail to web gateways to retrieve webpages via e-mail.
Peter Mandrella, the author, developed XP in Pascal and sold it as shareware. The unregistered version would append the string "## CrossPoint v3.1 ##" to all outgoing messages. This led generations -- well, one generation -- of bean counters to speculate about the amount of bandwidth wasted by these footers and to flame Mandrella about them, until he finally allowed unregistered users to turn it off.
The registration fee was 50 deutschmarks (around 25 dollars), and if you search for "## CrossPoint v3.1 R ##", you will find thousands of messages posted using the registered crosspoint (which still had the footer on by default). Clearly, Mandrella made enough money to support CrossPoint development. A Usenet search for Crosspoint currently returns 320K results (not all of which are relevant, of course). There is also a Usenet newsgroup devoted to the program, de.comm.software.crosspoint (German).
Gift economy and open source success
CrossPoint is a success of the concept that many refer to as the gift economy. It provided a small, primarily honor based incentive to pay for the program -- and thousands did. Yet, the BBS faded into irrelevance as more and more people got full, cheap Internet access. The fact that CrossPoint remained a DOS application did not help as Windows 95+ became the de facto OS standard for home users. In 1997, active CrossPoint development stopped.
And then in early 2000, Peter Mandrella released CrossPoint as open source (first under a more restrictive license, then under the GPL). The OpenXP project was quickly born and dozens of hackers looked at the Pascal source code. Long known bugs were fixed and new ones created. And then the porting began. OS/2, Windows, even Linux were to become target platforms. For once, the fact that OpenXP is console based with its own menu/window library (text-based menus) actually helped. The Linux version was developed using Free Pascal. A CVS server was set up. Development continued at a rapid pace, as the mailing list archive documents.
Why use OpenXP?
The question remains why anyone might be interested in OpenXP after such a long time -- does it offer anything that modern software doesn't? As a matter of fact, it does.
OpenXP is now a normal Internet-enabled application -- no need to specify a dial-in BBS, although this still works. You can receive mail using POP and send it using SMTP. It is a combined mail/news client, so you don't have to switch applications. Its menu structure is relatively intuitive and it comes with a powerful, built-in editor.
OpenXP organizes incoming mail by recipient. That means that mail sent to a mailing list is automatically put in a folder with that list's name, e.g. "openxp-dev(@)lists.sf.net". This saves a lot of time otherwise spent with setting up filters. It also auto-categorizes spam which does not specify a recipient address. By switching the main view (using the tab key) you can see a list of recipients, quickly allowing you to browse the private mail you have sent or to find users to send mail to without having to set up any address book.
Apropos views: The view structure (folder view -> folder list -> message view) which can be navigated quickly using enter/escape creates a very good workflow, as opposed to window-based GUIs, which are often slow to work with. Ever had the problem that you ignore many of the filtered mailing lists you are subscribed to? Then OpenXP is for you.
It has literally tons of options. You can configure shortcut keys for every program action. You can define templates for mail/news postings. You can set external filters (the specifically developed XPFilter [German] is almost as powerful as Unix' procmail). Properly configured, you can quickly extract and view binaries. You can set purge and hold limits for your messages, or even create groups of mail/news with different limits. In any case, you can select individual messages for holding or follow-up.
In fact, the number of options is a bit overwhelming, so here's what you need to do to get started: Configure your mail and/or news server in "Edit|Servers", and check for mail/news using "Netcall|Single". Extract binaries using "Message|Extract". Configure often needed keyboard shortcuts using "Config|Keys". Reply to mail by typing "Control+P". This is a program that actually provides useful context-sensitive help for most functions -- just type F1 anywhere. The English help file is not as comprehensive as the German one, though. But the program itself is well translated.
Return of the living dead
OpenXP is a testimony to the open source model. An ancient DOS application which was already as good as dead was revived and became relevant again simply by being released as open source software. OpenXP now joins the fray of excellent mail/news software that is freely available (such as Ximian's Evolution, KDE's KMail, and the newsreader PAN). That makes you wonder how much other good old DOS software is out there that could be brought back to life.
It also highlights the importance of communities. CrossPoint still had a large user community at the point the source was released, a substantial number of whom were familiar with Pascal. But even DOS applications that were dormant for years might regain much of their strength as former users remember their power. For example, I still consider the Aurora text editor for DOS one of the best ones ever developed. Unfortunately, the editor is proprietary and the author seems to have no interest in releasing the source.
Unlike proprietary software, open source applications never really die -- they just fade away. There are at least three actively developed text mode browsers (lynx, w3m and links) which support many of the latest web features. The popular Unix vi editor is ancient -- development began in the early 1980s -- but in its most improved form has all the advanced editor features one could hope for -- under the same braindead^Wunconventional 1980 user interface. How much effort is wasted rewriting proprietary software? If you want your favorite old piece of DOS software brought back to life, maybe you should lobby the author to release it as open source software. It certainly worked for OpenXP.
Don't rely on the public domain, though: With copyright lasting life+70 years, CrossPoint would probably have been released at some point in the 22nd century (and only the binary version would become PD, as the source was never published). So far, not a byte of code has passed into the public domain by expiring, unless you count those written by Ada Lovelace.