Editorial license. (use of telecommunications, computer networks and online software) (Editorial)
by Clifton Karnes
Face it: If you're not wired into a network like CompuServe, GEnie, MCI Mail, America Online, BIX, DELPHI, or COMPUTE's own under-development COMPUTE/NET, you're working too hard, and you're only tapping a fraction of your computer's power. I know that telecommunications is a challenge and it can be expensive, but it's also the most exciting arena in computing today.
What makes telecommunications so great? First of all, information flows over your phone lines at the speed of light, so news and data travel fast. You can get files from an online service days, weeks, or sometimes even months before they're available elsewhere.
Speed is one thing, and it's great, but the sheer quantity of information and pooled resources available online is an even better reason to get connected. All of the networks mentioned above have tons of data--everything from the latest shareware to the latest product information to hot pictures to encyclopedias, and all of it is ready to be down-loaded into your machine at home or work. And the services' members are an ever-growing source of information when you have questions on almost any available topic.
If telecommunications is so great, why isn't everyone doing it? Well, before long, everyone will be. And the reason is a new breed of online software. If you tried telecommunicating a few years ago, you should try it again, because things have changed. Now there's a good chance your favorite online service offers a Windows interface that's as easy to use as a potato peeler.
First on this list of online GUIs is WinCIM, a Windows-based front end to CompuServe. With WinCIM, you can do everything you can do while communicating with CompuServe in character mode, but you can do it faster and easier. Browsing through files, searching databases, and sending mail are all indecently easy with this beautifully designed program. If you're a fan of the CompuServe Information Manager for DOS, try the new Windows entry--it's even better.
If you've used MCI Mail, you know that the interface is about as friendly as a damaged boot sector. But even with this Spartan interface, MCI is very powerful and probably connects more businesspeople than any other network. Great news for MCI users comes from Swfte, heretofore famous as an electronic type foundry. The company's new offering is called The Wire, and it's a Windows-based front end for MCI Mail that makes sending and receiving mail a snap. The Wire gives you all of MCI Mail's power, including multiple attachments and group routing, but in an easy-to-use, point-and-click environment. If you use MCI Mail and Windows, The Wire's a must.
Next is BIX, a sanctuary for programmers and technical users. For programming information, especially multiple-platform information, BIX has always been hard to beat. But its menu system has never really had that come-hither look. Enter BIXnav, a Windows interface for BIX. BIXnav isn't as full featured as WinCIM--as its name suggests, it's primarily a navigator--but what a difference it makes to BIX! You can navigate through BIX's scores of conferences and download files in all of them with a few mouse clicks. The first version is good, and I expect future versions of BIXnav to be even better.
These are just three of the excellent new online interfaces available. They all make using online services much easier, but there's still a problem with them. The problem is that you can't use WinCIM with BIX and you can't use The Wire with CompuServe. All of these programs are dedicated, proprietary communications tools.
For each online service you access, you'll have to use either a boring terminal program or, if you're luckier, a dedicated front end, like the ones just discussed. But if you telecommunicate much, you'll find yourself using half a dozen communications programs a day.
This is the problem the online industry needs to solve. Online services are, at their heart, databases, and the problem of universal access is a problem of protocols. With a standardized protocol system for all telecommunications, one Windows-based interface would work with any online service. When that happens, we'll have crossed the final online frontier.