KGS without Collateral Damage

The KGS Go server is almost certainly the most well-known Go server in the Western world, today. It is populated largely by friendly, English speaking players from American and European time-zones and, during popular hours, after work and on weekends, one is almost guaranteed a sufficiency of opponents at or very near to one’s own rank, from abject beginner to dan-level amateur. For beginners, it is a very good place to start playing online Go, for the more experienced, it is a good place to improve. Sadly, getting started on KGS is a little obtuse.

In light of the recent press frenzy surrounding the Google DeepMind Challenge Match and the great coverage that Go received, I present a tutorial in two parts that will dispel the fog of confusion that surrounds the fun and welcoming land of KGS. In this first part, I will explain how to install the KGS client, cgoban, without causing collateral damage to your Windows computer.

Official Method: Oracle’s JRE

If you have Oracle’s Java Runtime Environment installed or you are able and willing to download and install it, the official method is quite simple: navigate to the KGS Go Server homepage, download the executable file that will install cgoban, run it and follow the prompts.

If you cannot install Oracle’s JRE or, like me, you are repulsed by the thought of installing something which was bundled with malware in the form of the Ask Toolbar until very recently and now supposes to change your search provider and world-wide-web homepage, there is another option: you can use Zulu to run KGS and achieve an entirely portable installation with a very light-weight footprint.

Zulu is a build of OpenJDK, an open-source environment for Java programmes, and it can be downloaded as a primitive ZIP-file. Installation is a simple matter of extraction. It does not register processes that check for updates in the background, it will not nag you, constantly, to install said updates, it is not distributed with malware and, perhaps most importantly, it does not automatically integrate itself with your web browser — it does not present a security risk.

Note: at the time of writing, AZUL Systems only publish 64-bit builds of Zulu for Windows. My instructions, below, will not work for users on older processor architectures.

Portable Method: KGS with Zulu

Start by downloading Zulu from the AZUL Systems download page. I have tried several older versions, in the past, and version 8u72 at the time of writing — all of them worked.

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Each version has two download buttons: one for a ZIP file and one for an MSI installer. For this tutorial, you will want the ZIP format.

Next, download the KGS cgoban.jar file.

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You can do so by visiting the KGS home page and clicking the link entitled “Raw JAR File” or by navigating to: http://files.gokgs.com/javaBin/cgoban.jar

Once both downloads have completed, copy both cgoban.jar and the contents of the ZIP file into a new folder on your computer, henceforth referred to as your target folder.

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Create a new shortcut inside your target folder.

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The shortcut should point to javaw.exe — we will modify it to run cgoban in but a moment.

javaw.exe should be found in the ./zulu8.13.0.5-jdk8.0.72-win_x64/bin subdirectory of your target folder although your version numbers might be slightly different. You may name the shortcut anything you like — “KGS” makes a lot of sense.

After you have created the shortcut, right-click on it and open its properties window. Two changes must be made, as shown in the screen-shot, below.

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Firstly, append -jar cgoban.jar to the target of the shortcut. Ensure that there is a space separating this command-line switch from the existing text in the box and, if that existing text ends with a double-quote, append the switch outside the quotes.

Secondly, set the start-in path to your target folder which contains cgoban.jar. This can be done manually or by removing the last two levels (zulu8.13.0.5-jdk8.0.72-win_x64/bin) from the existing text. If the path contains any white-space characters, it will need to be enclosed in quotes.

After closing the properties window, double-click on your new shortcut to launch the KGS client.

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Because you downloaded Zulu from the Web, you are likely to be prompted with a security warning like the one shown above when you launch the programme for the first time. If your download was not corrupt and the executable’s digital security signature is intact, the publisher should be listed as ‘AZUL Systems Inc.’ and it is safe to uncheck the box captioned “Always ask before opening this file” and to click the run button.

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Congratulations — you have achieved an operational installation of CGoban 3, the client for the KGS Go Server.

Your shortcut to launch KGS can be copied to your desktop or pinned to Start or your task-bar just like any other shortcut in Windows. Before you do that, you might want to change its icon by using the change icon button on the shortcut’s properties window — I created the icon I use by cropping the banner image from the KGS server’s home page.

In the future, if you need to update the client, simply download the latest version of cgoban.jar and overwrite your existing copy. If you wish to uninstall the client, you only need to delete your target folder since everything resides therein. You can also copy your target folder to other computers although you may need to update the shortcut’s target and start in paths.

Have fun playing on KGS, comfortable in the knowledge that your computer has not been sullied. In the second part of this series, I will explain how to register a new user account on the server and talk about some issues that are not obvious to newcomers. (In light of my work on KGS Leben, my research for the second part of this article has ceased entirely. I had planned to talk about registering accounts, guest accounts, etiquette in the E.G.R., the escaper policy, the infamous tilde and other oddities. This may yet happen – one day.)

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