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OpenXP: From Shareware to Free Software

By Eloquence in Technology
Sat Apr 05, 2003 at 10:53:13 PM EST
Tags: Software (all tags)

OpenXP (German page) is a combined open source (GPL) mail/news client for Linux and Windows. It is interesting because of its history and its functionality.

OpenXP was originally known as CrossPoint. Development started in 1992, and the program quickly became one of the most popular mail/news clients in Germany. The program was used primarily to connect to Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). BBS, for those who don't know, are computers, usually run privately, with a dial-in network connection (modem, ISDN etc.). There are still some BBS around, many of which now use the Internet infrastructure (you can log into them via telnet). But before everyone had Internet access, you could dial into your next local BBS and get files, messages (from the eponymous bulletin boards) etc. Also popular were direct chats, with the sysop of the BBS or other users in case it had multiple dial-in lines.

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.

Offline readers

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.


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Is there old software you would like to see brought back to life?
o Dunno -- most of the DOS stuff was before my time 5%
o Yeah, one or two apps 41%
o I could probably find dozens of cool apps and games. Time to browse SimTel .. 25%
o Absolutely - I spend half of my time running DOSEMU! 8%
o Bah, DOS -- real hackers use Unix software only 18%

Votes: 74
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o OpenXP
o German page
o FidoNet
o Usenet
o "## CrossPoint v3.1 R ##",
o Crosspoint
o the gift economy
o OpenXP [2]
o Free Pascal
o mailing list archive
o XPFilter
o Aurora text editor
o improved form
o Ada Lovelace
o Also by Eloquence

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OpenXP: From Shareware to Free Software | 33 comments (22 topical, 11 editorial, 0 hidden)
A great website on BBSs (3.50 / 2) (#3)
by subversion on Fri Apr 04, 2003 at 10:30:47 PM EST

www.textfiles.com (.org, .net are also there, I believe - same content, more or less, different hosts) is a collection of BBS textfiles, some writings about the history of BBSs, and related.

Some of the connected sites (artscene, timeline, scene, etc.) collect and analyze related aspects of the BBS scene - demos, ASCII art, and the like.

Great site, the maintainer is currently working on an immense documentary about the BBS scene.  Lots of fun stuff, check it out.

If you disagree, reply, don't moderate.

Ah, the wonderful process of development (4.50 / 4) (#5)
by Merc on Fri Apr 04, 2003 at 11:01:03 PM EST

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.

I couldn't describe the process of software development better if I tried.

Everyone knows: new bugs are better than old ones! (none / 0) (#19)
by mr strange on Sat Apr 05, 2003 at 06:52:38 AM EST

intrigued by your idea that fascism is feminine - livus
[ Parent ]
Stupid name (2.60 / 5) (#7)
by SleepDirt on Fri Apr 04, 2003 at 11:04:46 PM EST

I can't take any software seriously that tries to cash in on Microsoft naming schemes.

"In a closed society where everybody's guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity." - Hunter S. Thompson
agreed (2.50 / 2) (#8)
by zephc on Fri Apr 04, 2003 at 11:19:15 PM EST

at the least, it's a confusing name.  I would have thought it was an Open Source Windows XP implementation or something.

[ Parent ]
time travel? (none / 0) (#33)
by Lyssander Agarwaen on Wed Apr 09, 2003 at 11:30:59 AM EST

Open Source Windows XP implementation...

...started in 2000?! talk about time travel here...

[ Parent ]

CrossPoint .. (5.00 / 3) (#9)
by Eloquence on Fri Apr 04, 2003 at 11:23:23 PM EST

.. was known as XP from the beginning. The executable is called xp.exe.
Copyright law is bad: infoAnarchy Pleasure is good: Origins of Violence
spread the word!
[ Parent ]
Nevermind then (NT) (4.00 / 1) (#11)
by SleepDirt on Sat Apr 05, 2003 at 12:08:23 AM EST

"In a closed society where everybody's guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity." - Hunter S. Thompson
[ Parent ]
think before engaging keyboard (none / 0) (#32)
by Lyssander Agarwaen on Wed Apr 09, 2003 at 11:25:49 AM EST

I can't take any comment seriously that tries to link M$ to an 11-years-old piece of software. ;-)

[ Parent ]
Great to hear it... (5.00 / 5) (#12)
by pb on Sat Apr 05, 2003 at 12:39:40 AM EST

You have your pet ancient applications, and I have mine; it's nice to hear your success story about OpenXP; I sincerely wish I could say the same about OpenCP.

I used and loved the Cubic mod player in DOS; it was way ahead of its time, and had amazing features. It had graphic visualizations that changed in real time with the music. It could play mods, midis (with software patches!), wavs, and later even mp3s. You could set up a playlist with your favorite music, and then drop down to a DOS prompt, and run other apps!

Years went by. The source was released. The code is totally dependent on DOS and Watcom C. It hasn't been ported to any significantly different environments, although it is possible to run it somewhat decently in DOSEmu on Linux (x86). However, although Cubic was way ahead of its time, the world caught up.

Now there are music players on every platform that have graphic visualizations, playlists, and support for mods, midis, wavs, and mp3s. There are programs both at the user and the OS level for midi synthesis. And music players don't have to worry about v86 mode or protected mode--they run on real, multi-tasking OSes now.

So I guess Cubic contributed as much or more to the scene just by showing what could be possible. But I still wish it could have stayed at the cutting edge. Even though it was free, and the source was opened, it didn't take off. Maybe it didn't have the noteriety that OpenXP had; maybe it wasn't worthwhile to try to port it. But it seems destined to fade away into obscurity--just another curiosity from the past.
"See what the drooling, ravening, flesh-eating hordes^W^W^W^WKuro5hin.org readers have to say."
-- pwhysall

*snif* (4.50 / 2) (#17)
by jt on Sat Apr 05, 2003 at 03:24:09 AM EST

Here's another Cubic Player user shedding a tear for such a great piece of software... oh such fond memories... that and memories of my friend downloading porn from every BBS in Hong Kong go hand in hand!

[ Parent ]
Yeah (5.00 / 1) (#18)
by fluffy grue on Sat Apr 05, 2003 at 04:33:18 AM EST

And Cubic Player is still miles beyond any other player out there. iTunes beats it UI-wise, but in every other respect, I can't think of any player which surpasses CP in any respect, aside from OS/platform/format support issues, anyway.

I also seem to recall that CP had rudimentary video support, as well. I know it could play FLI/FLC files as one of its visualization plugins, and I'm pretty sure it eventually got MJPEG AVI support as well (but I'm not positive).
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
ESD is a fucking piece of shit.

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Heh. (none / 0) (#26)
by it certainly is on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 01:26:32 AM EST

DeliTracker kicked any PC-based player's ass. Simple truth. Of course, the joke's on us now, as the DeliTracker authors have become Windoze freaks and aren't interested in letting anyone but Windows-running lamers run the fresh DeliPlayer. We have to support the underdog UADE (UNIX Amiga DeliTracker Emulator) instead.

kur0shin.org -- it certainly is

Godwin's law [...] is impossible to violate except with an infinitely long thread that doesn't mention nazis.
[ Parent ]

Ah, the good old days. (5.00 / 1) (#20)
by j1mmy on Sat Apr 05, 2003 at 07:44:13 AM EST

Watching demos, listening to mods, coding up my own shitty demos and composing my own shitty mods. So much of my youth was spent on such activities.

[ Parent ]
i never like it that much. (none / 0) (#22)
by noogie on Sat Apr 05, 2003 at 12:35:00 PM EST

i used dmp.

[ Parent ]
But does it support EMACS? (nt) (3.66 / 3) (#21)
by porkchop_d_clown on Sat Apr 05, 2003 at 10:12:36 AM EST

Note that the depiction of the president as a deranged or Nazi paranoid is coming mostly from people who constantly tell us how passionately they

My main question... (5.00 / 1) (#24)
by SleepDirt on Sat Apr 05, 2003 at 09:20:30 PM EST

Does this program actually do anything better than Agent, PAN, Newsbin, etc? Why should I use it over those other programs?

"In a closed society where everybody's guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity." - Hunter S. Thompson
Other nice fido readers (none / 0) (#27)
by izogi on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 01:50:04 AM EST

Wow, you've brought back some memories. In fact, you've reminded me of some of the TimEd verses GoldEd flame wars that I used to waste my time on back in fido years ago. (I can't find a web page for TimEd, but it was another BBS sysop mail reader.)

I've just checked out how GoldEd's getting on. It never quite died despite becoming more obsolete WRT fidonet. It's on sourceforge with win32 and linux builds and apparently being maintained, but the documentation doesn't seem to've changed at all.

- izogi

Spot (none / 0) (#28)
by LeftOfCentre on Mon Apr 07, 2003 at 09:47:49 AM EST

My favourite FidoNet offline reader was Spot by Nico Francois, for the Amiga. Ah, the good old days...

Misuse of "literally" (none / 0) (#29)
by wonko on Mon Apr 07, 2003 at 05:37:54 PM EST

It has literally tons of options.

Really? So did you weigh each option one by one and then add up the results, or did you weigh the entire group on one large scale?

Good catch :-) [nt] (none / 0) (#30)
by Eloquence on Tue Apr 08, 2003 at 01:30:43 AM EST

Copyright law is bad: infoAnarchy Pleasure is good: Origins of Violence
spread the word!
[ Parent ]
Old times (none / 0) (#31)
by Lyssander Agarwaen on Wed Apr 09, 2003 at 11:03:52 AM EST

Whoa, you brought back some memories there!
I must still have my XP installation, tools, tagfile and my FIDO/Z-Connect message base on the hard disk of my old 486. I even registered this program :-)
Now if I could remember my old Point address...

I am afraid to say it,  but the Internet of the Masses killed the cozy atmosphere of the BBSs.


OpenXP: From Shareware to Free Software | 33 comments (22 topical, 11 editorial, 0 hidden)
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