Classic Computer Magazine Archive A.N.A.L.O.G. ISSUE 62 / JULY 1988 / PAGE 37

Update On

by Andy Eddy

In ANALOG's March, 1987 issue, I covered a fledgling consumer telecommunications service, started by the General Electric In formation Services Company (GEISCO), and discussed its intentions for the consumer telecommunications marketplace. Although it hasn't been all that long since we took that glance at GEnie (General Electric Network for Information Exchange), a great deal has taken place under its roof.

    The GEnie system came about as an attempt by GEISCO to utilize their existing worldwide telecommunications network-initially dedicated to their business dealings-during its non-peak hours and generate additional income with it. When it first came online to consumers, its offerings were somewhat sparse. Taking a look at it now, you'll see that they've come a long way.

Then . . .
    Since their introduction in 1985 GEnie has struck at the core of similar services with their bargain cost ($5.00 per hour at their off-prime, evening time rate) and the wealth of services they offer. They were also the first to offer free file uploading to their "software libraries" (a move that started as a test, but was so successful in boosting their public domain acquisitions that they've made it a standard feature) and no additional surcharge for 1200-baud service.
    Even with all these positive features in their corner, the menus were pretty thin at the beginning of GEnie's existence. At that point, the system was limited to a scattering of "Roundtables" or RTs (the name GEnie uses to describe what many services call Special Interest Groups or SIGs) for the more popular computer brands, and basics like Electronic Mail, a Real Time Conferencing (RTC) area, some online games and a section for computer-related columns and news. During the period between our last visit and now, they've done quite a bit to build up and enhance their offerings to bring the system up to what you could consider a full-service telecommunications network.

. . . And Now
    Many of these additions and alterations have taken place to the satisfaction of Atari computer owners specifically. The fast noticable change is in the separation of 8-bit and ST areas, which are now two distinct sections. At any prompt, you can type "ATARI8" for the 8-bit area or "ST" to reach the 16-bit SIG. Each SIG supports their respective computer handily with bulletin boards for ongoing message threads, file-filled software libraries and a conference area for real-time chats.
    To keep the personal touch, there are also weekly meetings scheduled - Wednesday night for the ST users and Thursday night for 8-bitters. User attendance for these events is high with dozens of people filtering through each get-together on a good night. You'll find a strong cross section of Atari users, discussing new software and hardware, passing tips and chatting with Atari Corp. employees.
    For software buyers a reassuring aspect of these meetings is the frequent appearance of developers and manufacturers' representatives from such companies as Intersect (makers of Interlink, QMI, Supra and FTL (prominent as the creators of Dungeon Master and Oids), among many others. The ability to go tete-a-tete with companies to get the latest product information and assistance is invaluable to Atarists. Occasional formal conferences are also scheduled for users to ask questions of industry members. Recent conferences have had FTL's president, Wayne Holder, and Atari's Sam Tramiel fielding queries from the gallery.
    This brings us to another major change you'll discover, which is the active involvement of Atari Corp. personnel in the operation of these areas. Neil Harris has taken over the Sysop (System Operator) reins, a move that makes it easier for GEnie users to get the straight scoop on Atari products and viewpoints.
    To further the embracing of GEnie as their official home, Atari offers a developers' SIG, where questions and concerns of programmers can be tackled by the people who know best.


    Another attraction is Michtron's Roundtable (type MICHTRON from any prompt). As a strongly dedicated developer and distributor of ST software, Michtron is showing the focus of their support by linking with users to answer questions, pass on new product info (in the way of press releases and demo files within their software library) and as a follow-up on the sale of their products. Much of the latter covers the growing GFA line of software, particularly GFA BASIC. Many ST users are developing commercial software with GFA BASIC, and the Michtron RT lets them make contact with others for help.
    Data Pacific, makers of the Magic Sac, a Macintosh emulation hardware/ software combination for the ST also has a section on GEnie. Their new RT is a good source for compatible PD software, as well as the latest news on updates and other add-ons.


    Outside the Atari-specific focus, GEnie has concerted their efforts toward building a well-rounded network. From their relatively bare bones start, they've consistently added to the menus to provide travel and shopping services, more online games and a wider variety of Roundtables to get people with similar interests together to discuss different computer brands and hobbies, and help manufacturers with product support. Some of these newer groups cater to such diverse subjects as scuba diving, photography (with a marketing service for professionals), taxes, working at home and writing.
    The power of online services is expanding greatly, sliding away from just being a bulletin board or gathering place. Some of the offerings now provide admittance to functions that previously were accessible only to professionals.
    One of these services. EAASY SABRE (American Airlines' own network), opens the airlines' reservations networks to telecomputing enthusiasts. While taking a bit of getting used to, these menu-driven services are being employed by many frequent travelers - particularly those who carry portable computers - enabling them to get quick transportation information from any phone and to stay on top of the volatile scheduling that flight traffic is governed by.
    There are many other support groups and entertainment choices available, too many to cover thoroughly here. You can access the day's news headlines, send a paper mail letter, peruse movie and music reviews or even check the financial world through a gateway to the Dow Jones network. Some of these selections are surcharged, as is the case with the Dow Jones link, but you are told of that ahead of time: a "$" will precede any surcharged menu choice.
    For recreation, online games are available. Some are single-player games and others, like Chess, are meant for head-tohead or group participation. One of the contests I tried, though it is still a little buggy, is an interactive Blackjack game. Factory Programming, programmers of some of Michtron's ST offerings, is creating software modules for different computer brands that assist in providing a graphics foundation to the Blackjack game.
    In the ST version, you can move your mouse around to pick what table and seat to sit at, choose how to play your cards and how much to bet, all the while keeping up a conversation with any other players at the same table. Users without a compatible module can play a text version

Inside the
GEnie's Bottle

    One of my only complaints is directed at the surcharge for 2400 baud usage. Due to mass production and new integrated circuitry, there are many companies now offering 2400 modems for reasonable prices, making this technology accessible to the average telecommunications enthusiast. GEnie tacks on $7.50 an hour to the regular rate for this feature, which doesn't seem to make any sense on the surface, as it's more than double the cost of 1200-baud access.
    As Bill Louder, GEnie's top man, explains it: "Our 2400-baud price is the same as CompuServe's. The price is more a function of its newness to the market: Costs of deployment are higher, and usage is quite low when compared to 1200 baud. Given our already low, price structure as well as the increased costs for this new technology, the argument `twice the speed for twice the price' does not address all of the business cost issues. We are currently in over 60 cities with two 2400 baud. I cannot state what our expansion plans are; but I will state that we expect major expansion over the next two years:"
    Perhaps with that expansion, we can expect a trimming of the associated rates.

Where GEnie Stands
    There's no question that GEnie has kept on a strongly upward pace. That is demonstrated by the fact that they've become the second most popular consumeroriented service in the U.S. behind CompuServe (who claims a 400,000 user base), based on their 100,000 subscriber count. Looking ahead, they estimate that they add approximately 10,000 new users per month, which could bring them close to CompuServe's heels before too long. Also on the horizon, Louden figures to add more and more to GEnie's offerings: over 50 new products are slated for introduction during 1988.
    In our last visit, GEnie was offering a "test drive" of the system via a toll-free number, and, doubtlessly, this sampling of the menus and operation got them to the subscriber level they're at now. Unfortunately it's no longer available, but they still offer an online sign-up, also by way of a free call.
    If you dial 1-800-638-8369 from your terminal software (set it up with half duplex or local echo on), type HHH once you achieve connection, then enter GENIE at the U#= prompt, you'll enter their sign-up area. At that time, you'll see a short advertisement of what GEnie offers, then be able to enter information for initiating an account of your own.
    The processing of the account was very quick when I first signed up; hopefully that's still the case. The initial sign-up costs $29.95. For that, you'll receive a copy of their new manual and two free hours of access time.