It is a common belief that teletype (and telnet) systems are dead. For most applications – they are. Yet, there are some ways you can enjoy the fun of using teletype systems.
Telnet (or “teletype network”) can be traced back to the mainframe days. One form of I/O used with mainframes was a teletype – or a special type of terminal which used a special typewriter to get data in and out of the computer. The teletype became popular during System/360 era before CRT-based terminals became the norm, but teletype systems existed before then.
The first teletype (or TTY, as it was often abbreviated as) was developed as early as 1908, but grew for use with computer systems (in addition to telegraph systems) later in life. The Teletype Corporation, a subsidiary of Western Electric (part of the Bell System/AT&T), was a huge early manufacturer of teletype equipment.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, during the “hey days” of communicating via personal computers, telnet services were used alongside bulletin boards before the internet became widespread.
However, it’s hard to see teletype and telnet systems at work today. Most systems which originally ran on telnet systems via mainframes have been ported to the internet and other technologies.
PuTTY is a program which you can install on any PC to connect to a telnet service. While you can access telnet servers directly from a command prompt in Windows, having a standalone program for telnet can be beneficial for reasons I will explain.
Installation of PuTTY is fairly straight forward. After downloading the executable file from their mirror, the process of installing it onto your computer is similar to other programs.
In this case, I’ve installed and ran PuTTY on my ThinkPad T42.
One of the best-known telnet services still operational is Telehack. Telehack has a wide variety of tools and entertaining functions you can use – from finding out your IP address, encoding or decoding a morse-code message, to converting pig latin phrases.
The best part is since it is telnet, Telehack is readily available on older machines that can run any form of telnet program and can connect to the internet. This includes machines running MS-DOS, such as a PS/2 or IBM PC that has telnet software installed and a network card.
“Telehack users should understand that their activities are logged and may be visible to other Telehack users, including:
- Telehack user name
- connection date and time
- connection IP address
- connection length, first access, last access, and idle time
- geographic location associated with IP address
- process names and files
- information displayed by finger [command]
- information shared in chat and mail services, including send/relay
- individual keystrokes typed into telehack at any time
- other activities
The Fun Stuff…
Now for what you’ve been waiting for… the fun stuff. Only a select few commands (all being entertaining) will be listed here. Since Telehack has quite a list of commands, there is a lot you can do – including some useful tools like finding your IP address or grabbing the time.
One of the many things you can do in Telehack – and one of the first things I did – was watch Star Wars. But not your regular Star Wars… Star Wars entirely in ASCII Art!
We’ve all heard of “igpay atinlay” – or Pig Latin. Telehack makes it quick and easy to convert a string of text into Pig Latin, without you having to think.
With Cowsay, you can have a wide variety of animals and objects (not just cows) say something in a speech bubble. If you use this with the “figlet” command to produce some large text, you can have a caption.
You can play a game of “Colossal Cave Adventure” – a popular text-based adventure game dating from 1977 which originally ran on a PDP-10 minicomputer.
As mentioned, there are some other – more useful commands. You can even check the weather from Telehack:
Below is a *mostly* complete list of the commands in Telehack:
Article written on T420; screenshots taken from PuTTY running on the T42.