by Wynn Wagner


Opus started life in 1983. It was originally called Chameleon because it was a virtual system that could take a single "message base" and present it to a caller in a number of different ways. Chameleon was written using Borland's Turbo Pascal.

By 1984, FidoNet was beginning to get popular. FidoNet was founded by Tom Jennings.

In Dallas, one Fido system operator ("sysop") --- Chuck Lawson --- started whining about some things he didn't like about Fido. This mainly dealt with the lack of any colors in Fido's user interface. Chuck kept after me ... trying to convince me to stop playing with a virtual system like Chameleon and to start concentrating on a Fidonet system.

Another computer'oid in Dallas -- Nathan Svensson -- took Chuck's side in this. Between Chuck and Nathan, Chameleon didn't stand a chance. (Nathan died of AIDS in 1993.)

Release zero

So, Opus was born -- written in Microsoft C (because I needed to learn C) and assembly language (because that's the only real way to discuss things with a computer).

By the way, the word opus came from the Latin word for "project" -- not from the comic strip character.


At about that time, Vince Perriello popped up. He wanted to be able to run a BBS on his DEC Rainbow computer -- which wasn't "IBM PC-compatable" enough to run other BBSs. He and I worked out an interface for a hardware-independent communications driver. Vince made sure that it worked with the major Fidonet systems pieces at the time: Fido, Opus, and SEAdog.

FOSSIL was born -- the "Fido Opus SEAdog Serial Interface Layer."

Vince wrote the first FOSSIL for the DEC Rainbow. Bob Hartman wrote a version -- called OpusComm -- for other IBM PCs. Later, Ray Gwinn wrote a really fine FOSSIL device driver called X.00.

The pieces fell into place for a release of Opus (v 0.0) in 1985. It used most of the support files (menus, messages, etc) used by Tom Jenning's Fido, but Opus was in blazing color.

AIDS care and research

Beginning with the first release, users were urged to send money to The Shanti Project in San Francisco or to any other AIDS facility.

From the first day, nobody associated with Opus development has ever made any money from the project. All proceeds have gone to AIDS care or research.

Sysops in Europe got together and picked an AIDS facility in Europe.

A few years ago, we switched from Shanti to AmFAR. Today, Opus-CBCS sysops are asked to send $50 to AmFAR.

I have no idea how much money Opus has raised because Shanti (and now AmFAR) kept no separate records and because other AIDS organizations also received money. I do know that Shanti newsletters used to list "Opus Sysops" next to such notables as Xerox as being a major contributor.

Round two

The next release of Opus concentrated on three main areas:

Long lines are down

I knew Opus was popular when we released the second cut (v 0.1) because we took out the "long lines" coming into Dallas.

Opus had a fairly long and brutal beta and gamma test cycles. So, most folks in Fidonet knew that a new version of Opus was on its way. We passed the word that it would be available on a certain date on some of the Opus systems in Dallas.

At the appointed time (actually an hour or two before the appointed time), it became impossible to make a long distance call into Dallas. So many people were using modems to get to the Opus sites in Dallas, that the telephone network couldn't handle the load.

Even so, Opus (v0.1) was on five continents within the first hour of its release. And, according to Bob Hartman -- who did a survey of the BBSs listed in Fidonet's address book ("nodelist") -- about 95% of Fidonet was running Opus v0.1 within a week of its release.

Version One

Version 1.0 was actually the third major release of Opus. Being the techie type, I used zero-based numbering system. The first release was v0.0.

Even though Opus had become the most popular Fidonet system, it still didn't do networking. Opus couldn't exchange e-mail with other Fidonet systems. Opus sysops had to have some other program to handle electronic mail.

That was fixed with Opus 1.0, but we didn't just stop with electronic mail. Opus v1.0 included Echomail -- a conferencing system for Fidonet.


Before Opus, Fidonet used a file transfer protocol called "Telink."

( NOTE: There is an excellent overview of the technical aspects of Fidonet -- written by Randy Bush. Randy did this paper for INET/92. Click here to get to Randy's paper. )

The efficiency of Fidonet was 40% - 50%. When one Fidonet system was exchanging messages with another Fidonet system, more than half of the connect time was unused. Because I was paying my own phone bills, I wanted something more efficient. But I also wanted something that could work with existing Fidonet systems.

I created the WaZOO (Warp-zillion Opus-to-Opus) to make Fidonet more efficient. It included ZModem as the file transfer mechanism -- which brought the efficiency of Opus networking up to 98% - 100%.

To establish the connection, I designed YooHoo and YooHoo/2U2 --

These packets of data had information like the software being run on the system and the capabilities of the system. Using YooHoo and YooHoo/2U2, two WaZOO systems could establish the most efficient communications methods.

"That's not very business-like," I was told about using the term YooHoo. I had to explain several times that Opus was very serious about network efficiency, but it wasn't very solemn. There's a big difference between begin serious and being solemn.

This was way back in the dark ages, of course. TCP/IP had barely been invented. Almost nobody was using Usenet. I never kept a list of the folks running Opus, but I do know that such folks as Coca-Cola and the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Navy were running it. And it gave me a warm fuzzy feeling to know that in the middle of the night, official U.S. Navy computers would wake up and say "YooHoo" and "YooHoo/2U2" to each other. It kinda-sorta made me feel more secure about our national defense.

I released WaZOO specifications and YooHoo sample source code to the Fidonet community in 1987. They can be used freely with no royalties by anybody for any application. Here's what's happened since that release of WaZOO to the public domain --

See what happens when technology is freely available? All sorts of folks jump in and help!


Another interesting addition to Opus for 1.0 was Avatar -- a compressed form of "ANSI" (or VT-100) video. It made color and cursor positioning more efficient.

Communications packages such as Telix have since incorporated Avatar.

Multiple languages

Opus v1.03 was the first BBS system to be available in multiple languages. The end user can pick from a menu of languages. Today, Opus is being run in English, French, Spanish, Swedish, and on and on. Several dozen languages are supported.

More recent happenings

The last version of Opus that I wrote was v1.03. I started getting out of BBS development in 1988. George Stanislav took over Opus development when I finally turned off my PC. He completed several utilities.

The next major release of the core Opus system was done by Doug Boone. He did more with streamlining file structures than anybody else.

The person currently doing Opus development is Jon Morby.

Other folks