RAR Beginnings

Categories: RAR, RAR & WinRAR History, RAR Command Line, WinRAR | Posted on Jul 30, 2013

Over the last month or so I have been researching WinRAR and RAR for my forthcoming WinRAR How To eBook series and that reminded me of its beginnings nearly 20 years ago. But first let me set the scene as it was way back then in late 1993 when RAR version 1.0 was released.

The Soviet Union had collapsed two years earlier, allowing its citizens a lot more freedom than previously. Meanwhile in central Russia, 1440 km south-east of Moscow close to Russia’s border with Kazakhstan, in an area that had previously been closed to all foreigners for 45 years, a brilliant software programmer Eugene Roshal had just released version 1.0 of RAR (Roshal ARchiver). This was a project he had been working on for a while as he had used it as his university doctoral dissertation.

The Personal Computer, IBM style, was then all of 12 years old. When it first appeared in August 1981 it ran at the then dizzying speed of 4.77MHz (that’s less than 0.0016% of today’s 3GHz multiprocessors!). The  8088 processor communicated via 8 bits (today, 64-bit processors are swiftly overtaking 32-bit). They cost upwards from US$1,565 and came ‘complete’ with 16 to 256MB of RAM, an 11.5″ green screen (16 colors was extra), one 160KB 5 .25″ diskette drive, and PC DOS 1.0.

Remember in that DOS was still king back then in 1993, particularly among enthusiasts. Even though Windows 1, 2 and then 3.0 had been around since late 1985, Windows didn’t even begin to go mainstream until after 3.1 was released in April 1992. At that time there was no publicly available free Internet as we know it today, as that was still several years away. But for computer enthusiasts around the world we had BBS’s (Bulletin Board Systems).

Of course these were based on dial up modems, usually running at 300 bits per second. In the early 1980’s BBS’s were just available locally, that is until 1983 when Tom Jennings released FidoNet. At last local BBS’s could swap data, including forum chats and software, globally over local and international phone lines with other like minded groups. So that by the 1990’s we had a worldwide hobbyist BBS network in full swing.

For this, a dedicated computer was required to run each BBS, usually 24 hours a day, along with its own dedicated telephone line. Plus all the toll calls to exchange the data, especially interstate, nationally and internationally had to be paid for by someone, usually by individual hobbyists or local computer clubs and groups.

As you might have guessed by now I was definitely involved in the BBS scene from very early on. With my background as a telecom technician for over 20 years at that time, it meant that I was well and truly hooked on computers and communications. I had started writing about BBS possibilities since the early 1980’s and was the first Sysop (System Operator) of the New Zealand Microcomputer Club BBS ‘NZ MICRO’, FidoNet 3:772/1 for 5 years. Then after starting my own computer troubleshooting business in 1992 I started ARROW BBS, FidoNet 3:772/185.

RAR NZ Registration banner 1994

So what has that historical digression got to do with RAR and WinRAR? Well BBS’s needed an efficient way to send all of that data from place to place. Firstly toll calls cost money, usually the Sysops, though sponsorship definitely helped. And secondly, while transferring a lot of data (slowly) through the ad hoc BBS network meant that the BBS, and its telephone line, was not available for local callers – and they would usually complain about that!

The answer to these problems was to compress the data to make it smaller and therefore quicker to send. Various archivers had been used such as ARC and PKZip, but when RAR arrived with Eugene’s uniquely optimised code which meant that files were now much smaller due to his highly efficient compression algorithm. Even better, he had designed his text compression code specifically for use with the multiple text BBS forum files. Up until then each text ‘chat’ file had to be individually compressed, and all compressed files each needed their own individual indexes. But RAR could archive thousands of text files that only required one index, so saving space as well as extraction and transmission time. RAR became a must have!

So in early 1994, just a few months after RAR v1.0 was released I was invited by the international distributor for RAR,  Ron Dwight (1944 – 2002) an American living in Finland, to join their international team of distributors. A year or so later Eugene released version 1 of WinRAR, the Windows based version of RAR. I plan to cover more about that here another time.

Originally posted by Selwyn Arrow, November 22, 2012
Fyi, WinRAR How To - Starting was published in June 2014. More details.

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