Bullet III - A Part of UK Network History.

An article by Stephen Usher (Ford Prefect)

2nd Edition.

Bullet was spawned from an age before JANET (the UK's academic network) had been connected to the Internet (other than via a mail gateway), when the UK's resident online community was still in its early days. (Many of the members of this original community can be found on the version of Bullet running here.)

Before Bullet there were a number of small scale bulletin board systems such as one placed on the DEMO and GUEST accounts on University College London's GEC 4190 multi-processor EUCLID timesharing system, written in the system's scripting language, JCL. These were not at all complex, mostly just appending messages to the end of a text file. There were also simple talker systems.

The first major advance in these systems was Aberystwyth's Honeyboard, written by a bunch of hackers(1) there using the B language on an old Honeywell running GCOS-3. This system later mutated into AberMUD. Bullet was originally designed to be a MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) based upon well known British children's television programmes such as "The Magic Roundabout" and "The Wombles" which would include a bulletin board in one of the rooms. It was decided to get the bulletin board system up and running first, then work on the rest of the system. This was the point at which I left the development, before the first line of code was written.

At this point I'd like to thank Andrew Gosling, the UCL Computer Centre's head honcho at the time. If he hadn't have removed the "SEND" command from undergraduates(2) on the 2nd December 1986 Alec and myself would not have been prompted to replace the "POOL.GOODYAP" and "MISC.YAP" talker programs with our own JCL based talkers(3). If this had never happened I wouldn't have known Alec and Rob, Bullet would then have probably never been devised and it definitely wouldn't have been called Bullet.

During the summer of 1987 and into the autumn Rob Newson (Whalemeat) and Alec Muffett (Roadrunner) worked on this system using the newly installed GEC OS4000 C compiler. At the end of this was Bullet II, Bullet I was really just a prototype system. The Talker for Bullet II was mostly written in one weekend whilst Rob and Alec were visiting the other major hacking community at Aberystwyth with help from Anarchy, White and friends.

In early 1988 Ian Smith (Wraistlyn), a physics student at UCL, borrowed the Bullet code and ported it onto the UCL Physics Suns, creating "Sun of Bullet." This was then released to Michael Lawrie (Lorry) at Leeds University who set it up as the Ulcers (Leeds University Computer Society) bulletin board on an Ultrix system.

Later that year I started back at UCL doing an MSc in Computer Science. This allowed me to get back into the Bullet development, and for Rob to start developing the Unix version of Bullet way beyond the version on the GEC 4190 cluster. The result of this was Bullet III.

The main rival to Bullet by this time was the version of UNaXcess running at Bradford University. The original UNaXcess software was written by Brandon S. Allbery but it was found to be very buggy so it was extensively modified by Andrew G. Minter (Bobo). The Bradford UNaXcess was a victim of its own popularity. It was killed by an ill fated attempt to gain funds to upgrade the machine it was running on (an old Sun 2), and political infighting between the people running it.

Bullet III has been worked upon intermittently ever since, being ported firstly to UCL's Pyramid, the temporary replacement for Euclid, and then to the IBM RS6000's which are the permanent replacement for Euclid. Bullet III has also run on a number of other systems such as the original Tardis system at Edinburgh University, Olajier, a public access BBS at Imperial College London (now closed) and Milliways, an open BBS run by the Swansea University Computer Society (which now runs a much simpler bulletin board system). Bullet until very recently ran on the machines at UCL but has now fully moved to Oxford.

The main advantage of Bullet III was that it was designed to be small and fast. In the days it was written computers were slow and disk space was tight. It's main disadvantage was that it was designed to be able to be run on a "Glass Teletype" terminal, common at the time of its creation, so it didn't do any screen handling, it was thus not as flashy looking as other bulletin board systems.

Bullet III will compile and run on most Unix-like systems and has now been verified that the latest version will run under Linux and should do so on any POSIX complient platform.

Events have overtaken the native UK bulletin boards so that they are no longer popular. The spread of the Internet onto JANET has allowed users access to Usenet news and IRC effectively giving much of the functionality of the old bulletin boards without having to log into overloaded remote computers. The only UK bulletin board which is at all popular these days is Monochrome` at City University which used to be run by David Brownlee (Abs). The unfortunate side effect of these changes has been a lessening in the sense of community on the British network, such is the effect of progress.


  1. In this context the word "Hacker" has its original meaning of "a person who plays with computers" as opposed to the newspapers' warped meaning of "computer criminal."
  2. The SEND command would generate a beep after each message displayed which could not be blocked or silenced. The "POOL.LEFANT" program, which caused the problem, used the SEND command to send elephant jokes to a target user, one every 5 seconds. The incident which caused the removal of the send command involved a certain user running a number of "POOL.LEPHANT" processes at the same user, who was attending a practical in one of the public terminal rooms at the time.
  3. We independently devised and implemented the initial versions of "POOL.CONFLAB" (Alec's talker) and "POOL.CONVERSE" (mine) within a few hours of the barring of the SEND command. Alec knew Rob already, and when he saw Alec's talker program he effectively took over the development. My friendship with both Rob and Alec began then when we tried to get our programs to interwork.

Accessing Bullet III

If you want to see what Bullet III is like ssh to demo@euclid.earth.ox.ac.uk

Or try telnet and login as follows:-

Trying ...
Connected to euclid.earth.ox.ac.uk.
Escape character is '^]'.
too long - terminated


Euclid Rel 4.17.2c Rim-C SAT 03 SEP 1994 11:03:09

enter userid and account DEMO
Started - SAT 03 SEP 1994 11:03:20
ID last used SAT 03 SEP 1994 09:33:15
Session limit 121 minutes

                               BULLET III

                     by  Whalemeat  &  Roadrunner

                        (C) 15:07:63 28/04/88
Good morning, welcome to Bullet III (Version 2.14e)
Please enter your name: 

At this point type in your handle/nom-de-plume/alias/name. If the name already exists Bullet will ask for a password, so you'll have to pick another, otherwise it'll ask you if you typed in your name correctly, you then just follow the prompts.

Note: If ANY misuse of this system is found it will be closed and the system manager of the site from which the offending person came will be informed. If the offender is in the UK the police may also be informed if the misuse is deemed to be in breach of the Computer Misuse Act.

Abuse of the system includes the following:-

Note Also: All connections to this system (including abortive logins) are logged to paper and may be used to track down offenders. The Talker system is also logged for the same reason. None of the information will be used for any purpose other than for tracking down law breakers. If you don't like having this information logged, please don't use the system.

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