Chinet -- Public Access since 1982
What IS Chinet?
It all started in 1978 when Randy Suess and Ward Christensen created the world's first computer bulletin board system - "CBBS".
As the years went by, Randy became interested in Unix systems, and in 1982 he created the world's first public-access Unix system, then called "wlcrjs". Two years later it became Chinet. It supported UUCP e-mail and Usenet "netnews" (fed from ihnp4). It ran on one of the earliest Compaq "portable" with a 4 MHz 8088 processor, 640k of memory, and a 10 meg hard drive.
Near this time, Chinet also started using a program called "picospan" to replace its bbs software. Eventually, "yapp" (Yet Another Picospan Program) replaced picospan and remained in use until Chinet's migration from Unix shell-based access to web based interfaces in the late 90's. Many believe that yapp is still one of the best computer conferencing systems around.
In the early days of Chinet, the Internet was still a research tool, not available to the general public. If you wanted e-mail and newsgroups, you didn't get an account from an ISP, you got an account on either a university computer or a system like Chinet. E-mail and newsgroup postings were relayed from one computer to the next (via UUCP), mostly at night, mostly over regular telephone lines at 1200 or 2400 BAUD. It was rare indeed that your e-mail would cross a gateway and pass through the then-young Internet.
In the late 80's, Chinet had between 300 and 600 active users. It sported 12 dialup ports (remember, this was Randy's hobby; most of those users were non-paying "guests") and was considered one of the main Chicago area hubs.
Eventually, the UUCP model became obsolete. More and more companies started getting direct Internet access, and finally cheap ISPs came into existence. Use of Chinet's dial-up ports started to shrink, especially when the Chicago-area phone company did away with "call-pak" (which meant that you had to start paying for connect time by the minute). Also, e-mail/news users didn't need Chinet any more since their ISPs supplied those functions. In May, 1996, a fire at Chinet HQ almost put Chinet out of business for good. But you know what they say ... "you can't keep a down man good."
Still open to the public, Chinet is now entirely web-based, running Simple Machines Forum software on a Debian GNU/Linux system.