RAR Beginnings

Back in the days before the internet appeared, I had already been running BBS’s (Bulletin Board Systems) for 10 years. These were spread around the world thanks to an ad hoc network called FidoNet. We used 300bps (bits per second) hand built modems to connect via telephone and toll calls. Each BBS had one or more file areas where you could upload or download documents and public domain programs etc. The vast majority of that stuff was stored in archive files.

So 27+ years ago, in January 1994 RAR version 1.0 was released and archiving was then changed forever as up until then each and every text of downloadable file was individually compressed as a zip file.

The Soviet Union had collapsed a couple of years earlier, allowing its citizens more freedom than previously. Meanwhile in central Russia, 1440 km south-east of Moscow north of Russia’s border with Kazakhstan, in an area that had previously been closed to all foreigners for 45 years, a brilliant software programmer Eugene Roschal had just released version 1.0 of RAR (Roschal ARchiver). A project he had been working on with its advanced mathematics for a while as he had used that as his university doctoral dissertation and had released the Russian Beta version in late 1993.

To provide some background to that time, 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 3GHz multiprocessors!). Its 8088 or Z80 processor communicated via 8 bits (todays 64-bit processors have taken over from 32-bit). Their cost started from US$1,565 and came ‘complete’ with 16 to 256MB of RAM, a 11.5″ green screen (16 colors was extra), one 160KB 5 .25″ diskette drive, and PC DOS 1.0 or Microsoft DOS.

Despite (slightly) faster processors, DOS was still king 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 Windows 3.1 was released in April 1992 and then Windows 95 – you guessed it in 1995.

At that time there was no publicly available free Internet as we know it today, as that was still several years away and only businesses (and some enthusiasts) could afford CompuServe’s dial up service. So for computer enthusiasts around the world BBS’s (Bulletin Board Systems) were the only option, often using hand built modems to connect via telephone and toll calls.

At first BBS’s were just available locally, that is until 1983 when Tom Jennings released FidoNet software. At last local BBS’s could swap data, including forum chats and software apps, globally with other likeminded 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 local data interstate, nationally and internationally had to be paid for by someone, usually by individual hobbyists, local computer clubs and groups, or better still by sponsors allowing us access to their nationwide toll links after hours.

As you might have guessed by now, I was definitely interested in the BBS scene from very early on due to my background as a telecom technician for over 20 years at that time. So of course I was well and truly hooked on computers and communications. and had been writing about BBS possibilities since 1981, so I became the first Sysop (System Operator) of the New Zealand Microcomputer Club BBS ‘NZ MICRO’, FidoNet 3:772/1. Then in 1992 started I started my own computer troubleshooting business and started ARROW BBS, FidoNet 3:772/185.

So what has that historical digression got to do with RAR and WinRAR? Well BBS’s needed a more efficient archiver that Pkzip etc. to send all of that data from place to place. Toll calls and in most areas (not New Zealand!), local calls cost money, usually paid for by the BBS owners, though sponsorship definitely helped. And secondly, while transferring a lot of data (very slowly) through the ad hoc BBS network meant that the BBS, and its telephone line, was not available for local callers – so a dedicated phone line was essential.

So Eugene Roschal’s answer to reducing the data transfer costs was to compress the data to make it smaller and therefore quicker to send. Previously ARC and then PKZip archivers had been used but they only archived individual messages and files. So when RAR arrived with Eugene’s uniquely optimised code it meant that files were now smaller due to his unique 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 each of those compressed files needed  their own individual indexes. But RAR could archive thousands of text tiles and only require one index, so saving disk storage space, and of course much reduced transmission time. Combine that with its more efficient program file compression, and of course RAR became a hit!

In January 1994, RAR v1.0 was released and a few weeks later when I found it among the shared files on Arrow BBS, I immediately purchased (by snail mail) my business license. Within a few days I was invited by the then international distributor for RAR, Ron Dwight (1944 – 2002) an American living in Finland, to join their international team of distributors to be the New Zealand and Australia distributor of RAR, and of course WinRAR, a year later.

So in 1995 Eugene released the WinRAR version for Windows based computers, and that become even more popular.