One of the biggest libraries in Utah has millions of bits of information, but no books. It's a software library contained in four computers running night and day in the basement of Burgoyne Computers Inc.
And while it may not lend out books to users, it does lend out massive amounts of information and computer programs to hundreds of users a week.The Burgoyne library, more properly called a bulletin board, has more than 1,000 computer programs ranging from games to word processors and data bases. The bulletin board contains more than 200 megabytes of information in its files. A megabyte is 1 million computer characters, or approximately 170,000 words.
Randy Burgoyne, son of Burgoyne Computer founder Charles Burgoyne, started the bulletin board a little over two years ago mainly as a means of offering support to the company's customers.
"People with questions could call in and ask them, and when I had time, I would go back and answer them," he said.
The bulletin board quickly caught the attention of the Blue Chip Users Group a local organization of some 300 members using IBM and IBM-compatible computers. "They used the bulletin board as a message transfer system to communicate. They can leave messages at odd hours for each other," Burgoyne said.
The bulletin board started with one phone line and one 20-megabyte computer, a Burgoyne, of course, and soon was working to capacity. Within six months, a second phone line was added and the software was upgraded with a special bulletin board program developed by a Salt Lake company that could run two modems at the same time on one computer.
"After a year, we added a second computer and now we have four machines all networked and four phone lines." The bulletin board number is 531-7149.
All of the software listed on the bulletin board is in the public domain or else it's what is called "shareware," that is, programs written and distributed to be paid for only if the user likes them and believes he's getting his money's worth. Sort of software on the honor system.
Qmodem, one of the best and most popular modem programs, is a shareware program. The 24-year-old author receives annual renumeration in the six-figure range, Burgoyne said.
Shareware, a fairly recent software development, appeals to software developers because of the millions of computer users and to computer users because of the ability to try out software before plunking down a sizeable sum of money.
"I think shareware is definitely affecting regular software prices," Burgoyne said. "Borland, one of the largest software companies, has been few programs selling for more than $100. They're taking the idea that the average computer user can't justify spending more than that for a program."
The largest group of bulletin board programs is the so-called utility programs, such as those that print labels or send escape sequences to printers, he said.
There are lots of spreadsheet programs and a couple of word processing programs. While he wouldn't put one of his shareware word processing programs in the same league as one of the highly popular commercial word processors such as WordPerfect, Burgoyne says the shareware programs are good programs for beginners.
The best time to call is before noon. In the afternoon, when school is out, the lines get busy, he said.
"From midnight to 10 a.m. is probably the best time to call. We handle 150 callers per day and the last time I checked, we had 1,600 registered users. You must call in and register via computer to use the service.
"Anyone can call in and get 25 minutes of public access free per day. If you feel you need more time, there is a form you can print out on your personal printer at home and mail in with $36 for a year's subscription, which allows one hour per day." The bulletin board can handle calls at rates ranging from 300 to 9,600 baud.
The most popular programs downloaded are QMODEM and PC File, a database.
The bulletin board gives each user a three-minute warning before it automatically disconnects.
Randy estimates it takes 5-10 calls before most users get familiar enough to really feel comfortable with the system, depending on the user's computer knowledge.
The most successful bulletin boards, he said, are supported by businesses, such as Burgoyne. Those run by individuals as hobbies tend to come and go. At one point last year, there were about 30 local bulletin boards, mostly run by individuals.
Burgoyne said his business started charging a fee for heavy users because they have "so much money tied up in hardware and we have so much software available, we feel those people can justify it."