Xs4all

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See also: ISP | Freedom

Home Page: http://www.xs4all.nl

The first Dutch ISP for the general public started which finds its roots in the Hacktic community. The company was founded in 1993 by Rop Gonggrijp, Felipe Rodriquez, Paul Jongsma and Cor Bosman. Its philosophy resulted in an amount of internal openness unusual in most businesses.

History

In the beginning

In the beginning, Xs4all provided Internet access via dialup modem access to the general public as it was connected to the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Later, they got their own connection to AMS-IX (AMSterdam Internet eXchange, the first and biggest Dutch Internet backbone). ISDN access was provided later, and in 1999 Xs4all started a pilot with cable access in Amstelveen, a town near Amsterdam. During that time, Xs4all also started pilots with ADSL a form of DSL and later also SDSL ("business DSL") for corporate environments. The cable access service never took off, but the DSL services have been arguably succesful.

Free and Open

The companies' philosophy resulted in an amount of openness about how the company functions internally. This was done via Usenet, their website, and e-mail. Examples of this openness includes: Free (beer) Internet access for 6 months to whoever who finds a security flaw in the Xs4all network allowing him/her to gain root access. Though there are various circumstances which need to be obedienced: One may not use the access to exploit any user's privacy nor may one perform destructive behaviour. Another example is the companies' public shell access to customers allowing them to log in using a Telnet or SSH client. From there, all the common Unix utilities are available to the user. The machines used to run BSD/OS but in 2003, faster FreeBSD were installed as a replacement. Another aspect is the Usenet service. Besides a text-only Usenet service Xs4all also provides a binary server which is one of the biggest in Europe. The company also allows its customers to decide what hostname they wish to use for their static IP address and it is up to the customer to decide whatever he wishes to run on his or her computer(s) connected to Xs4all. E.g. a customer may prefer to take the responsibility to run a MTA.

Experimenting and the Media

Xs4all supports several grassroot projects including Freeteam which in turn provides media pioneers and activists hosting of WWW content, online radio, mailing list access and related services.

The company also hosts an IRC server to IRCnet and lately also one to EFnet. Futher experiments involve experimental services for customers such as IPv6, a blog, a (sadly) Windows-only multicast streaming service and other services related to (grassroot) media.

Sponsoring

Xs4all supported and supports several projects involving freedom of speech such as Bits Of Freedom, Megabit, Netkwesties and used to support the anonymity service by Zero Knowledge.

The downfall?

In 1998 KPN, a (major) Dutch phone company which finds its roots in the Dutch government monopoly PTT Telecom before it was privatized, bought Xs4all. The irony of this is that Hacktic, where Xs4all finds its roots, used that very phone network for phreaking and related purposes. According to the contract, Xs4all still has the right to chose to support the cause(s) it was set-up for, namely freedom of speech, but some customers who were devoted to that cause as well were shocked by the news. In which extent it hurt the companies causes is debatable. Opinions differ.

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