Twinsock and early windows internet usage

A friend of mine let me know that there is a current drive by former users of trumpet winsock to actually send the author the $25 ($35 in adjusted money) that he had asked for the shareware program. While I’ve seen Trumpet, it required a SLIP or PPP connection which I just didn’t have back in 1993/1994 timeline. Sure there was SLiRP, but it was far more involved to compile on the Ultrix machine university gave us access to, or the pay internet connection (!) that ran IRIX. So I ran Troy Rollo’s Twinsock.

Besides being GPL’d twinsock proxied the socket access from your Windows 3.1 computer, and ran the requests on the Unix host you connected to. The best part is that they didn’t have to know that you even ran it. Twinsock transformed the internet from being a Unix shell account that kept many people away, into a graphical experience with windows applications executing on our desktop. Since it wasn’t a real TCP/IP stack, it effectively firewalled us, and seeing we were running Windows 3.1 that was a good thing.

So to make this experence more… realistic, I took the 386BSD 0.1 image from sourceforge, and made one tweak into how it runs. I added the following to the Qemu execution:

-serial tcp:,server,nowait

Then I installed MS-DOS, Windows 3.1, a terminal program, and some tcp/ip programs to test into another Qemu virtual machine. I then connected the two Qemu instances like a null modem like this:

-serial tcp:

This way COM1 on both machines now talk together. The only major downside I’ve seen is that if the client VM is killed re-starting it doesn’t get the serial connection working, both VM’s have to be restarted from the command line.

The cool thing was I was able to use a dos terminal program and zmodem to transfer the source to 386BSD to build. Surprisingly this part went pretty smooth on all the versions of Twinsock that I tested, but version 1.3 and higher was the version that actually worked.

So with the executable built on the Unix machine, you launch the windows program, which included a minimal terminal program. And from there you can dial up, login to your Unix account, then launch the twinsock Unix component and the window minimizes and now you are ‘connected’.

Launching Twinsock


One of the most popular programs & protocols of the “early” internet was NNTP or Net News. Net News transitioned the world from BBS’s and Forum Software. The topics were incredibly diverse, and the system was distributed by nature. And news traversed the internet in a semiquick fashion. Especially the nodes that had T1 or faster access at the time. Unlike down stream UUCP BBS’s that may only take a small feed once a day, now with Twinsock you could get whatever groups and feeds you wanted, and as fast as your little modem could download it.

So for this fun experiment, I downloaded a suitably old version of WinVN, 0.92.1. The first thing I went looking around for was a public NNTP server. A great resource for locating various news servers that have certain groups is newzbot.

So with a suitable server in hand, I was able to connect up and check a news group. It was slow and clunky like it was in the old days, but it was neat in that client server feel to know that it was running on my desktop.

MS Telnet

Naturally it wouldn’t be the internet if you still telneted all over the world for MUD’s, and even access to compilers, different systems, and school work. I had a chore of a time finding a ‘good’ telnet client, so I ended up settling with the one that Microsoft had released their own stack, ‘Wolverine’ as part of a TCP/IP protocol update for Windows for Workgroups. This stack was also significant in that this was the first time a ‘full’ and ‘real’ TCP/IP stack had been released for free. As mentioned above with Trumpet winsock, and the rest, you had to buy the network stack. This free stack was only meant for LAN access, though I’ve heard of people trying to hack PPP/SLIP stuff at the dos level, but again it wouldn’t help me, since I couldn’t SLiRP. But this was the forshadowing of how the internet was going to finally take off, and the short thriving window of 3rd party TCP/IP stacks for Windows was about to slam shut in the next release of Windows.

Mosaic 0.7

And finally we come the program that basically changed the way we do everything – Mosaic. The first web browser only worked on the NeXTSTEP, and I don’t think that Mosaic was the first PC browser, but at the time it certainly was the best. I loaded up an old version to see if it could at least hit a site by IP address, and it worked. Sadly downloading files causes the browser to crash. Mosaic was rather touchy back in the day too. Because Mosaic came from the Unix world of browsers it was a 32bit program, and needed large amounts of memory. It also was a large exe too, around 2MB! Which is far larger then doom & the dos extender! So Mosaic was the first program I can recall that needed the magical Win32s add on. I’ve mentioned Win32s before so I won’t go on and on, but like the TCP/IP from Microsoft, this also basically killed the DOS Extender market.

The first time I saw Mosaic, I was blown away, we left the world of terminals and archie/gopher/veronica to something you could use a mouse with, and enter in your own URL! It was amazing, but at the same time I thought the internet was doomed to failure as you had to READ. Oh how wrong I was to be shown later. But in the time between Windows NT 3.1 and Windows 95, there was a lot of reading expected to be done. Much like everyone at the time would reply with RTFM in the news groups for stupid questions, why there even was the “Big Dummies Guide to the Internet“, thankfully made available online, put on various shovelware CD’s and saved thanks to

I couldn’t get MiRC to work.. I forget what other IRC programs would actually work with Twinsock. But I didn’t spend that much time on IRC.

Oh well, that is how the internet stood in that pre Windows 95, pre wide scale PPP world. It really was amazing how fast things changed.

2 thoughts on “Twinsock and early windows internet usage

  1. Man, I loved good old Twinsock. PPP on my home computer when all we had was dial-up to the university’s UNIX system. Just don’t click on anything until the entire page loads or the thing would crash. Good times.

    • Yes, it was old days for sure, not sure about the ‘good’ part, but twinsock certainly gave those of use poor Windows 3.1 users a taste of what a real internet connection was like from our dumbed down shell accounts… Then again it was fun having compiler access on a shared environment hogging up /tmp space, and once we learned about screen exceeding the amount of simultaneous logins on Ultrix!

      I don’t know if kids of today could even cope with sharing a computer.

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