Texnet. (evaluation) Robert Cashman.
I bought my TI99/4 because I had always wanted to own a home computer but didn't have any programming experience. Today, I have the ability to hold my own when discussing computers, but no one to discuss with.
Apple, Atari, and TRS-80 owners don't have to look very far for someone to talk to. Most computer outlets sell one of these and can supply information on hardware, software, user's groups, or whatever.
It's different for TI users though, as about the only places that carry the 99/4 or its accessories are mail order houses and retail stores. If you have a question, forget the retail stores. You probably know more than they do.
I suppose I could join a TI user's group, but I live in Massachusetts where there are no user's groups. As a matter of fact there isn't one in all of New England that I know of. I could also join a few clubs in distant locations and communicate by mail, but it just isn't the same.
There is, however, an alternative; it is called Texnet, the information service that with Source Telecomputing created a system developed specifically for users of the 99/4 and 99/4A home computers.
When I first heard about Texnet, I thought it was too good to be true. First, you receive all the products of The Source--some 1400 different services-- everything from electronic mail to catalog shopping, from dining and travel to home and leisure.
But you also get Texnet, a service which adds custom features such as:
TI Software Directory
TI User's Groups
TI Service Centers
TI Phonetic Dictionary
TI Voice Chat
TI Graphics Library
TI Music and Sound Library
TI Logo Exchange All of these are terrific, but none can compare with the TI Software Exchange --free software supplied by the International 99/4 User's Group. (Note: software can be downloaded to a disk drive only.)
We all know how difficult it is to find software, but can you imagine getting it for free? Recently, Texnet made it possible to upload your own programs to the TI Software Exchange. If even half of the current TI owners would contribute, think of the library of programs we would have to share.
Without giving it a second thought, I decided to subscribe. But first I had to get several accessories. This wasn't a cheap experiment; I needed a modem, an RS-232 interface, and a terminal emulator. I decided to get the TE II for its text-to-speech capabilities, since I already owned a speech synthesizer. In all, those three items cost me about $400. I also had an extra telephone installed for another $50.
The cost for a one-time registration is $100. Once on-line, you incur charges of $20.75 per hour weekdays between 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., $7.75 per hour evenings, weekends and holidays, and $5.75 an hour from midnight to 7:00 a.m. daily for 300 baud service. Prices for 1200 baud users are $25.75, $10.75, and $8.75 respectively.
I can't tell you how excited I was when I received my ID number and password. No longer did I feel alone. Everything I wanted was at my fingertips, just a phone call away. It's a good feeling to know that you are no longer communicating only with a computer, but with literally the whole world. Some Texnet subscribers live as far away as Australia.
Making friends on Texnet was great, but what I really wanted was some of that free software, and for that I needed a disk drive. Just as I began to shop around for a disk drive and controller, a classified section for the TI99/4 appeared in The Source POST category. I inserted a "free' wanted-to-buy ad for the things I needed, and got an immediate response and some excellent prices--better than I had seen anywhere. Needless to say, I am now downloading programs.
How difficult is it to access the more than 1400 services on The Source and Texnet? It is not difficult at all. When you receive your confirmed application, an extremely easy-to-read user's manual is included. It is a three-ring binder with dividers that allow easy retrieval of subject matter.
Can I find any fault with Texnet? Unfortunately, yes. Texnet is accessed primarily through two computer telephone networks called Tymnet and Telenet. They are located in over 350 metropolitan areas in the United States. The city that I live in is not one of them. This surprised me as there are approximately 200,000 people living within a tenmile radius of my city.
The closest city to me with the telephone access line is some 20 miles away, and I have run up some very high telephone bills. I have contacted the local Telenet office (Tymnet did not have an access line) to see when they planned to install a line in my city, I was told that if there was a demand, a line would be installed. Until that happens, I have to be careful not to lose track of time while I'm enjoying Texnet.
I did experience a little difficulty while on-line a few times. I was downloading from the TI Software Exchange and lost the carrier signal. This can be aggravating when you are close to completing the data transfer and lose it all. It can take as long as 25 minutes to download a program, so you could end up paying for 25 minutes of on-line time and have nothing to show for it. This has happened to me a couple of times.
Another nice feature of Texnet is their terrific customer service. If you should have any problems or questions that the manual can't help you with, you can call a toll-free number and get immediate assistance.
The Source, 1616 Anderson Road, McLean, VA 22102.
Products: The Source TEXNET (information retrieval system)