Wikipedia articles on Econet and DFS [citation needed]

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Wikipedia articles on Econet and DFS [citation needed]

Post by tone76 » Sat Mar 14, 2020 12:04 pm

Hi all,

I'm currently looking into the BBC Micro's history in Australia (and there's quite some history!), and I stumbled upon a couple of uncited claims on Wikipedia in relation to the development of DFS and Econet for the Beeb.

On DFS
In 1981, the Education Departments of Western Australia and South Australia announced joint tenders calling for the supply of personal computers to their schools. Acorn's Australian computer distributor, Barson Computers, convinced Joint Managing Directors Hermann Hauser and Chris Curry to allow the soon to be released Acorn BBC Microcomputer to be offered with disk storage as part of the bundle. They agreed on condition that Barson adapted the Acorn DFS from the System 2 without assistance from Acorn as they had no resources available. This required some minor hardware and software changes to make the DFS compatible with the BBC Micro.
On Econet:
In 1982, the Tasmania Department of Education requested a tender for the supply of personal computers to their schools. Earlier that year Barson Computers, Acorn's Australian computer distributor, had released the BBC Microcomputer with floppy disc storage as part of a bundle. Acorn's Hermann Hauser and Chris Curry agreed to allow it to be also offered with Econet fitted, as they had previously done with the disc interface. As previously with the Disc Filing System, they stipulated that Barson would need to adapt the network filing system from the System 2 without assistance from Acorn. Barson's engineers applied a few modifications to fix bugs on the early BBC Micro motherboards, which were adopted by Acorn in later releases.
I have confirmed that the Tasmanian, South Australian and Western Australian education departments entered into a computer education alliance in the early '80s in order to share curriculum resources and software. Further research suggests that the BBC Micro was adopted as the preferred platform between these states. Whilst I couldn't find a direct reference to any joint tenders made, there's enough circumstantial evidence to imply that this probably happened.

Whilst I found some interesting nuggets about Barson and their relationship with Acorn, I can't find anything directly connecting Barson with the development of DFS and/or Econet implementations on the Beeb, nor can I find anything to back up the claim that Barson's engineers were involved with bugfixes on Beeb motherboards. However, I've seen a few posts on here about hardware (expansions, adapters etc) made by Barson, which suggests to me that they had the capability to adapt DFS and/or Econet for the Beeb from the System 2 as claimed.

As such, I'm inclined to believe Wikipedia in this instance ... but I can't really cite Wikipedia, if that makes sense.

If anyone knows a bit more about the Acorn/Barson connection, particularly in relation to any hardware stuff that Barson may have been involved with, I'd love to hear about it. Many thanks in advance. :D
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Re: Wikipedia articles on Econet and DFS [citation needed]

Post by Kazzie » Thu Mar 19, 2020 7:37 pm

A trawl of Australian computer magazines for any Barson advertisments might help corroborate the second quote (and give a useful citation for Wikipedia too). Have you looked on archive.org?
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Re: Wikipedia articles on Econet and DFS [citation needed]

Post by tone76 » Fri Mar 20, 2020 10:09 am

Kazzie wrote:
Thu Mar 19, 2020 7:37 pm
A trawl of Australian computer magazines for any Barson advertisments might help corroborate the second quote (and give a useful citation for Wikipedia too). Have you looked on archive.org?
I've already started this process, although - at this point - it seems as though magazines from the UK and NZ have actually been a little more useful than the Aussie ones I've perused thus far (archive.org's library of Acorn User has been very helpful). I did get some useful info about Barson's relationship with Acorn via the National Library of Australia's online newspaper archive, although I had to sift through a lot of stuff about Apricot to get to it (Barson was also Apricot's Australian distributor).

The biggest challenge is just how few editions of 1980s Australian computer magazines have been scanned. Oddly enough, the easiest mag to find from this era is Australian MacWorld. (!) At this rate, I think I'll need to visit the major library in my nearest capital city and go through their reference copies of Australian Personal Computer (they hold every issue published since 1980). Assuming, of course, that it doesn't shut down because of corona. That could slow down my research a bit, at least for the short term.

I'm also planning on adding a citation to Wikipedia when I can find one! :wink:
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Re: Wikipedia articles on Econet and DFS [citation needed]

Post by Kazzie » Fri Mar 20, 2020 11:08 am

Ah, I had a dim memory of stumbling across some antipodean computer magazines on archive.org when looking for other stuff, but I hadn't paid much more attention than that. As you say, local archives can also be a treasure trove of information.

A poster on a railway forum I frequent made the good suggestion that if we find ourselves spending more time idle at home, we might spend some time using our specialist knowledge and editing Wikipedia pages. Of course, on this forum, being stuck at home doesn't exactly stop us from continuing our hobbies in the same way!
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Re: Wikipedia articles on Econet and DFS [citation needed]

Post by BeebMaster » Mon Mar 30, 2020 12:28 am

Barson Computers produced what I think is the only known Econet interface for the Electron:

http://www.beebmaster.co.uk/Econet/ElkNet.html

It's also possible that they produced an unbranded Master-type Econet module seen in Australia:

http://www.beebmaster.co.uk/Econet/UnNet.html

Barson also had their own version of the L3 file server:
capture86.png
However it doesn't ring true to me that Acorn had them effectively writing the DFS and NFS software for the Beeb. Both filing systems had been around a while in earlier Acorns, all of which used the 6502, by the time of the BBC micro, as had the disc and net interfaces, so it was hardly a question of starting from scratch. The original Disc System User Guide dates from 1982 and documents DFS 1.00, which came after 0.90 and 0.98, so it seems unlikely that it was being developed by a third party in another country in an era when inter-continental communications were nothing like we have today.

The PCB bodges for issue 1, 2 and 3 boards to fit the disc and Econet components are well-documented, but I suppose it's possible these modifications were originated by Barson and then incorporated into the design from issue 4 onwards.

It would be good if we could get information on when Beebs first went to Australia, and if they really did have disc & Econet interfaces earlier than the UK.
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Re: Wikipedia articles on Econet and DFS [citation needed]

Post by tone76 » Fri Apr 03, 2020 12:05 am

Thanks heaps for that, BeebMaster! That's given me some more clues.
BeebMaster wrote:
Mon Mar 30, 2020 12:28 am
However it doesn't ring true to me that Acorn had them effectively writing the DFS and NFS software for the Beeb. Both filing systems had been around a while in earlier Acorns, all of which used the 6502, by the time of the BBC micro, as had the disc and net interfaces, so it was hardly a question of starting from scratch. The original Disc System User Guide dates from 1982 and documents DFS 1.00, which came after 0.90 and 0.98, so it seems unlikely that it was being developed by a third party in another country in an era when inter-continental communications were nothing like we have today.
That's the thing. Barson's involvement with bringing DFS and Econet to the Beeb appears plausible, but it also seems a bit odd that Acorn's top brass would tell one of their overseas distributors to roll their own hardware/firmware/software.

Having said this, the Beeb is famous for having several aftermarket DFS variants, suggesting that Acorn wasn't averse to third parties providing solutions. Then there was the tiny issue of Acorn struggling to keep up with demand for the BBC Micro (particularly the Model B) in the UK, thus adding weight to the claim that it may have been up to Barson to come up with a solution to win these contracts.

Ideally I'd ask Chris Curry or Hermann Hauser the question, as Wikipedia suggests that this directive to Barson originated from one or both of these men. But I can't see myself being in a position to put this query to Messrs Curry and Hauser anytime soon.
BeebMaster wrote:
Mon Mar 30, 2020 12:28 am
The PCB bodges for issue 1, 2 and 3 boards to fit the disc and Econet components are well-documented, but I suppose it's possible these modifications were originated by Barson and then incorporated into the design from issue 4 onwards.
That one of the hypotheses I've formed, based on recent Steve Furber interviews where Steve noted that the Beeb struggled in hot climates. Given that two of Australia's strongest markets for the Beeb (Western Australia and South Australia) also happen to be the two hottest and driest states, it's possible that Barson's engineers came up with improvements that eventually made it into the official BBC Micro design. It's not as if the Beeb suffered from a short lifespan, either ... when I finished high school in Adelaide at the end of 1993, there was still one room of Model Bs remaining (although I'm told these were replaced with a roomful of beige box MS-DOS machines over the 1993-94 summer school holidays).
BeebMaster wrote:
Mon Mar 30, 2020 12:28 am
It would be good if we could get information on when Beebs first went to Australia, and if they really did have disc & Econet interfaces earlier than the UK.
I've been able to track the Beeb's journey Down Under from when it was first announced at the beginning of 1982 through until 1986 or so, and my goal is to document the Beeb's role in Australian computing history before memories become even hazier (or worse still, completely lost). I'd just like to clear up the Barson connection re: DFS/Econet development, as - if Wikipedia's version of events is accurate - this could be a pretty big deal in Beeb lore IMHO.
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Re: Wikipedia articles on Econet and DFS [citation needed]

Post by jgharston » Fri Apr 03, 2020 12:58 pm

BeebMaster wrote:
Mon Mar 30, 2020 12:28 am
However it doesn't ring true to me that Acorn had them effectively writing the DFS and NFS software for the Beeb. Both filing systems had been around a while in earlier Acorns, all of which used the 6502, by the time of the BBC micro, as had the disc and net interfaces, so it was hardly a question of starting from scratch.
Also at the time it wouldn't really have been possible as the MOS firmware to support sideways ROMs hadn't yet been written. DFS and NFS were written in parallel with MOS 1.00 as DFS and NFS needed a MOS with the ability for service ROMs, and MOS 1.00 needed some service ROMs as a target for developing sideways ROM support.

Looking at the DFS code in particular, it is clearly the System DOS with BBC sideways ROM support added.

Code: Select all

$ bbcbasic
PDP11 BBC BASIC IV Version 0.25
(C) Copyright J.G.Harston 1989,2005-2015
>_

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Re: Wikipedia articles on Econet and DFS [citation needed]

Post by jgharston » Fri Apr 03, 2020 1:01 pm

BeebMaster wrote:
Mon Mar 30, 2020 12:28 am
Barson also had their own version of the L3 file server:

capture86.png
I'm not sure that's "their own version", the file server code has a block of nulls or blanks or a message such as "Pre-release IV.05" after the startup message which presumably can be overwritten with a customised startup message.

Code: Select all

$ bbcbasic
PDP11 BBC BASIC IV Version 0.25
(C) Copyright J.G.Harston 1989,2005-2015
>_

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Re: Wikipedia articles on Econet and DFS [citation needed]

Post by SteveBagley » Fri Apr 03, 2020 2:32 pm

Looking at the Wikipedia edit history, it looks like those comments were added by the user Rob Napier in 2013. Chris Dawkins' Econet book (scans in the other thread) mentions a Rob Napier at Barson Computers and, of course, there was a book about Econet written by Rob Napier.

I wonder if there's a way to email him.

A bit more digging around Wikipedia finds this:
It's a shame that throughout the articles on the Beeb that the story is so one-sided. The contribution that Australia and New Zealand made to its development seems to have been forgotten completely. e.g. The first machines sold into the Education market occurred when the Australian Distributor for Acorn and Sinclair won state supply tenders in Western Australia (which required the DFS), Tasmania (which required the NFS) and South Australia (which required both filing systems). With assistance from Brian Cockburn, I ported the Atom DFS in 1982 and the NFS shortly after that. They also required a word processor, so I ported an Atom text editor -- probably the first ROM resident word processor in the Beeb -- well ahead of the UK releases. I wrote the first networking text in 1984. So from a technical standpoint, Australia and New Zealand were the crash test dummies for the DFS and NFS, at least two years before Europe; and we sold literally thousands of machines into schools while the UK was still focusing on the home/entertainment market. Rob Napier (talk) 13:44, 15 February 2012 (UTC)
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Re: Wikipedia articles on Econet and DFS [citation needed]

Post by BigEd » Fri Apr 03, 2020 4:15 pm

That's a great find!

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Re: Wikipedia articles on Econet and DFS [citation needed]

Post by Coeus » Sun Apr 05, 2020 4:18 pm

This is very interesting. Some of the limitations of DFS, like rather short filenames, 31 files per disc etc. feel like they really belong to a prior era. If DFS was ported quickly from the the Acorn System to fill a space that certainly explains that as well as the choice of 8271 which was old even for the time. On the other hand the speed of DFS in loading whole files is one of it's advantages.

But with Rob saying that typical coverage is one-sided and using Wikipedia to set that straight, is the Wikipedia article a bit one-sided in the other direction? Clearly there must have been co-operation with Acorn to have the 8271 and surrounding logic included in the mainboard design. If DFS had been an afterthought one would have expected the FDC and logic to have to be inside the box with the disc drives and the whole thing would connect to the 1Mhz bus instead of there being a separate floppy connector.

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Re: Wikipedia articles on Econet and DFS [citation needed]

Post by Kazzie » Sun Apr 05, 2020 6:30 pm

Coeus wrote:
Sun Apr 05, 2020 4:18 pm
This is very interesting. Some of the limitations of DFS, like rather short filenames, 31 files per disc etc. feel like they really belong to a prior era. If DFS was ported quickly from the the Acorn System to fill a space that certainly explains that as well as the choice of 8271 which was old even for the time. On the other hand the speed of DFS in loading whole files is one of it's advantages.

But with Rob saying that typical coverage is one-sided and using Wikipedia to set that straight, is the Wikipedia article a bit one-sided in the other direction? Clearly there must have been co-operation with Acorn to have the 8271 and surrounding logic included in the mainboard design. If DFS had been an afterthought one would have expected the FDC and logic to have to be inside the box with the disc drives and the whole thing would connect to the 1Mhz bus instead of there being a separate floppy connector.
Remember also that the Outline specification from the BBC included:
The manufacturer should be able to demonstrate a production model disk operating system
If Econet got its own design space on the mainboard, it's perfectly reasonable that DFS got included too.

Digging around in the System schematics on TheOddys' System Pages, I find that the Issue 1 schematic for the FDC Eurocard (200.004) is dated February 1980, whereas the Econet Eurocard (200.024)* Issue 2 is dated January 1981 (as is Issue 1, per the dates at the bottom of the sheet).

I believe Acorn and the BBC started hammering out a contract around February-April 1981. On that evidence, the System's DFS implementation pre-dated any BBC-related development, but Econet and NFS development may have been done in parallel on the System and the Proton/Beeb.


*The numbering also indicates that Econet was a much later development.
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Re: Wikipedia articles on Econet and DFS [citation needed]

Post by richardtoohey » Mon Apr 06, 2020 6:10 am

Not sure if this helps or hinders or has been mentioned already - this is from the preface to "Networking with the BBC Microcomputer" by R.G. Napier.

It seems (in my reading) to be indicating that Australians were the first to purchase and use Econet. And it ends with the thanks to Julian Barston for introducing Econet to Australia.

No mention of origin - purchase and introduction. But obviously it's not definitely saying Econet did not originate in Australia either - so not sure it helps too much! But maybe a few more names ...
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Re: Wikipedia articles on Econet and DFS [citation needed]

Post by BeebMaster » Thu Apr 09, 2020 11:00 am

jgharston wrote:
Fri Apr 03, 2020 1:01 pm
BeebMaster wrote:
Mon Mar 30, 2020 12:28 am
Barson also had their own version of the L3 file server:

capture86.png
I'm not sure that's "their own version", the file server code has a block of nulls or blanks or a message such as "Pre-release IV.05" after the startup message which presumably can be overwritten with a customised startup message.
Yes, it's very probably a hack, as that version doesn't respond to FS call 25 (return file server version) correctly, it just gives the last 4 characters (ie. "TERS".
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Re: Wikipedia articles on Econet and DFS [citation needed]

Post by BeebMaster » Thu Apr 09, 2020 11:04 am

richardtoohey wrote:
Mon Apr 06, 2020 6:10 am
Not sure if this helps or hinders or has been mentioned already - this is from the preface to "Networking with the BBC Microcomputer" by R.G. Napier.

It seems (in my reading) to be indicating that Australians were the first to purchase and use Econet. And it ends with the thanks to Julian Barston for introducing Econet to Australia.

No mention of origin - purchase and introduction. But obviously it's not definitely saying Econet did not originate in Australia either - so not sure it helps too much! But maybe a few more names ...
Interesting...lots of famous names there, including Jes Wills of "JesMap" fame.

Slightly unrelated, I remember talking to Hugo Tyson (of "Hugo" fame) who came to the Bletchley do in 2010. I recall him being Australian, so maybe that's another link.

P.S. Is there a scan of this book already?
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Re: Wikipedia articles on Econet and DFS [citation needed]

Post by matt_nottm » Thu Apr 09, 2020 11:30 am

It is too large to upload here, I assume, as I get the error "Failed to move uploaded file." but I have a hi-res version at 48MB and a low-res version at 10MB. I have PM'd you a link.

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Re: Wikipedia articles on Econet and DFS [citation needed]

Post by tone76 » Mon Apr 13, 2020 1:10 am

SteveBagley wrote:
Fri Apr 03, 2020 2:32 pm
Looking at the Wikipedia edit history, it looks like those comments were added by the user Rob Napier in 2013. Chris Dawkins' Econet book (scans in the other thread) mentions a Rob Napier at Barson Computers and, of course, there was a book about Econet written by Rob Napier.

I wonder if there's a way to email him.
Cheers Steve! TBH I keep forgetting about the Wikipedia talk/edit history pages ... it should have occurred to me that there may have been some big old clues lurking within. I might have to dust off my LinkedIn account and see if Rob Napier is on there...
richardtoohey wrote:
Mon Apr 06, 2020 6:10 am
Not sure if this helps or hinders or has been mentioned already - this is from the preface to "Networking with the BBC Microcomputer" by R.G. Napier.

It seems (in my reading) to be indicating that Australians were the first to purchase and use Econet. And it ends with the thanks to Julian Barston for introducing Econet to Australia.

No mention of origin - purchase and introduction. But obviously it's not definitely saying Econet did not originate in Australia either - so not sure it helps too much! But maybe a few more names ...
Thanks heaps for that, Richard! You're what us Aussies would call a "dead set legend"! This is very helpful. I was concerned that the lack of access to a major library would be an impediment to my research, but it seems this may not be the case.
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