Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 11, NO. 2 / FEBRUARY 1985 / PAGE 106

Communications software in brief. (evaluation)


TermExec is a rather complete communications package for the Apple II series of computers with a very small price tag ($95). It is different from most of the other packages we have seen because it relies heavily on the command format of user interface: that means that you tell TermExec what you want it to do largely by issuing short commands rather than by choosing items from a menu. This feature makes for very rapid transition from one function to another for frequent users. It is a bit more difficult for infrequent users, but there is always a help screen online.

TermExec supports virtually any modem available for the Apple II series. For Apple IIe and IIe users it displays 80 columns and scrolls 40 columns for II + computers.

A few features set it apart from the competition in this price range. We found these to be most useful:

* The command format of address.

* Forward and backward scrolling buffer (much like HP 3000 series terminals).

* A "timed" set of commands which requires no clock card.

* Remote control.

The scrolling feature allows you to view the last five pages or so of information which have scrolled off the screen; these pages may be scrolled back from where you are in the current terminal session or forward from where you initiated the session. This is a fantastic feature for looking at a previous page to see just what a message said or what command you just used to get a certain result.

The "timed" command actually uses the 6502 processor as a sort of clock card. If, for instance, you wish to send a file to remote computer eight hours from now, TermExec can handle the job.

The remote control feature allows your computer to act as a "bulletin board" by answering the telephone and allowing any remote user to use the normal set of TermExec commands.

TermExec creates macros (like your own special log-on sequence) in a rather unique way. You place the program in the Learn mode and go through the actual log-on.

While you are actually logging on to the remote computer TermExec is remembering the sequence of keystrokes you used as well as the time delays between them. Data Capture

Data Capture comes in versions for IBM and Apple IIe and IIc computers. The package we used was the Apple IIe version, but the materials we received indicated that the IBM version was quite similar. A novel feature of both versions of the unprotected program is that most of the program is written in Basic and is therefore easily modifiable by users with rudimentary programming skills.

Don't misunderstand this feature; the program works quite nicely just the way it comes out of the package, but if you really can't resist...

The name of the program bespeaks its best use: it is meant to be used to capture and transmit information from a remote machine. The program uses a fast menu system which allows you to use a transparent command system once you have become familiar with the package. Just as in TermExec, you can skip menus for fast operation and less connect time.

Data Capture uses "one key commands" or macros. Macros are limited to 40 characters.

Of the programs we have tried, this may be the easiest for the novice user. The manual concentrates on explaining how to use the program and includes sections on capturing, merging, printing, writing to disk, editing, transmitting, and listing data. Few users would have difficulty getting this program up and running in short order. Era-2

One company packages its communications software with a 300/1200 baud modem which incorporates a unique communications protocol. Microcom sells its Era-2 package in versions for the Apple II series of computers (excluding the Apple IIc) and the IBM PC. It sells a similar combination software/modem package for Macintosh users called MacModem.

All three of the Microcom packages incorporate the MNP (Microcom Networking Protocol) which allows any of the three to establish an error-free interactive link with any of the others and also allows file transfer among the three with error checking. It is apparently possible to send files from any of the three to a mainframe if the mainframe is equipped with a Microcom modem.

The package we examined was for the Apple II series. The modem is a Hayes command compatible modem on a board which fits into any of the Apple slots. The modem also has an onboard speaker.

Telenet and Uninet are now offering MNP service to some cities. This service allows error free transmission. These local access numbers are listed in the Era 2 manual.

Among the advanced features present in the package are:

* Terminal emulation (DEC VT100, VT52, and IBM 3101).

* Very flexible communications settings (compatible with most mainframes).

* Programmable keys (macros).

* Timed communication if you have a clock card.

* Error-free transfers with other micros and mainframes.

* Direct (hardware) transfers to another micro.

While in terminal (called "interactive") mode in Era-2 a menu is available with a single keypress. This allows you to move around in the background and work on files or change your communications settings while connected to a remote machine. A Help command explains most of what you may have forgotten from the manual to eliminate time consuming manual reading while online.

The program disk is copyable, so it can be used from a hard disk, and includes setup files for The Source, CompuServe, MCI Mail and Dow Jones News/Retrieval, (a default setting works with EasyLink, RCA Global Communications, and Freedom Network). You can create other setup files for computer systems you call frequently. Loading a setup file is a menu selection. Softerm

Softerm is aimed at users who wish to emulate certain terminals in order to interact with a mainframe or those who wish to exchange files directly with a mainframe. There is an IBM PC version of Softerm and an Apple II series version of the package. (The Apple version includes a board which fits in any slot inside the Apple and provides extra function keys which adhere to the outside of the machine.)

Softerm will emulate more terminals than any package we have seen. There are 24 popular terminals listed, and Softronics claims that all keyboard and display functions are supported. For mainframe/micro communications there is a Softrans protocol which involves putting a fortran program called softrans.F77 on your mainframe. The Softrans.F77 program is included on the Softerm system disk. Note that the version of Softrans.F77 supplied may require some modifications to work with your mainframe.

The Softerm program itself is remarkably versatile, offering keyboard macros, a phone book for autodialing, printer capability, and a complete file utility program.

A novel feature is a "communications agent" program which manages both the serial and parallel ports for communications and printing. This communication agent allows you to transfer files over the telephone while you print a separate file. Whether this feature will be useful to you depends upon your particular needs.

The program disks are copyable, but you must use an original as a "key" to start the system; this is also true if you use a hard disk--you must have an original of the Softerm program in the drive to startup the copy on the hard disk. MacTerminal and LisaTerminal

MacTerminal and LisaTerminal are similar programs. MacTerminal runs on both the Macintosh and Lisa (when the Lisa is running MacWorks); LisaTerminal runs only on the Lisa. Both programs make extensive use of windows and pulldown wenus.

Both programs are full featured in that they allow the saving of material coming across the screen, terminal emulation, and a full range of communications parameters. With extra hardware both can emulate an IBM 3278, but in most uses a 300 or 1200 baud modem would be used with the terminal program set to emulate a DEC100. The programs create "documents" which are shown on the screen as icons when the disk boots. Each of these documents can contain the parameters for a different remote system and a record of the last communication with that system.

The entire communication with another computer takes place "within" a document. The menu bar remains at the top of the screen and is accessible at all times, while the cursor indicates the position of incoming and outgoing data. The mouse may be used on the righthand side of the screen to position a "scroll bar" so that you can read things that have already scrolled off the screen. Scrolling can be smooth or page-by-page. Once you have a document set up, you can save it to disk and it will be available with the same communications settings the next time you choose the icon that represents it.

Parts or all of the text which has scrolled over the screen during a session can be saved or placed on the clipboard for transfer to another document in MacWrite or LisaWrite. It is also possible to print part or all of the captured material. At all times the Apple menu is available with its calculator, clock, and various other utilities.

One shortcoming of both programs is the lack of a redial feature. This is perhaps a function of the modems which can be used with each machine, but it is annoying in these days of busy computer numbers. Another flaw that became obvious after some use is that neither package allows you to build macros.

Finally a word about the manuals accompanying MacTerminal and LisaTerminal: both are very easy to read and quite complete in their examples. A novice will have little trouble setting up the hardware and beginning to use either package. PFS:Access

PFS:Access is designed primarily for those who wish to contact an information utility to download information and perhaps print it. It is not designed to be used primarily as a terminal emulator, nor does it allow the wide range of communications protocols supported by some of the other packages.

It is designed to handle without hassles the calling of an information utility (like The Source), an automatic log-on, and the saving of information flowing across the screen. The single copy protected disk (which allows you to make one copy only) comes set up to handle CompuServe, Dow Jones, EasyLink, MCI Mail, and The Source.

You may also set up three additional communications settings for other services. Once the automatic log-on has been set up, you simply select an information utility from the menu, and log-on is completed with only one or two keystrokes.

Material that has already passed over the screen is easily viewed by scrolling, and information may be saved with a privacy code if desired.

Potential purchasers should note that PFS:Access is able to save only files readable by PFS:Write. You may not be able to use another word processor to read and edit these files. Also note that the Apple version of this program is for the Apple IIe or IIC (not the II+) and that it is incompatible with many popular modems. PC/InterComm

PC/InterComm is billed as a terminal emulator and that is its strong point; it emulates either a VT100 or VT102 terminal. At $99 it provides a good value with many features found on only the more expensive packages. Our only difficulty with PC/InterComm was that the manual, while short and to the point, was a little too short in some places and seemed to assume that the reader was an experienced telecommunicator.

The single disk is not copy protected, so it can be used with a hard disk. Your modem can be connected to either COM1 or COM2. The program makes it easy to set up the protocol for the computer you are calling from a menu and save it as a file for later use. You can also define 30 function keys with macros.

Any screen can be dumped to a printer at any time (a useful feature), or you can save long files of information that have come across the screen. The capture buffer can be viewed by scrolling. A 25th line at the bottom of the screen displays useful status information. Perfect Link

The Perfect Link software package is, indeed, perfect for those with little telecomputing experience who want a package with a detailed and readable manual combined with a powerful communications program. For the IBM, Perfect Link includes a single disk and two cardboard overlays for the function keys.

While the package is designed for users new to telecomputing, it also includes features which allow it to converse with most microcomputers and mainframes. It will, for instance, emulate a VT52 or IBM 3101 among others.

The manual begins with the assumption that you are a new user totally unfamiliar with modems and communications, and that theme is carried throughout the manual. There are also technical chapters and appendices which belie the impression of simplicity. An entire chapter explains, for instance, how to connect your IBM with other micros.

In a feature unusual among communications manuals, the Perfect Link manual has a separate chapter describing six information utilities: Dow Jones News Retrieval, CompuServe, The Source, Official Airlines Guides, NewsNet, and Knowledge Index.

Perfect Link allows you to create programmable keys (macros), and its online file handling abilities are admirable. You may list the directory, rename files, or list the files--all while connected to a remote machine. Please note, however, that Perfect Link requires two disk drives. ASCII Express

The manual for ASCII Express calls the software the "most sophisticated communications software available for the Apple computer," a claim which is certainly not far from the truth. ASCII Express has been around in one form or another for quite some time; it has been updated from time to time, and the latest version includes most of the options an Apple computer owner might need for telecommunications.

Many of the options in ASCII Express are simply not available in many other communications packages.

Why has this program survived while others have come and gone? It is probably not because it is the easiest program to use or because it is the fastest program around. The secret of ASCII Express is probably its completeness. Regardless of what situation you may encounter, no matter what problem in communications you dread, ASCII Express can probably handle it.

The program is supplied on a double sided disk with the main program and utilities on one side and the less used materials on the other.

The disk is not copy protected (hard disk users note) and so serves as your archival copy. A complete tutorial is included in the manual.

Two menus contain most of the information on the commands. In addition, new users will appreciate the help feature, which explains each of the available commands in detail. While ASCII Express is a menu driven system, users familiar with the system can save time by issuing commands directly.

A full editor can be used either onor offline. It is the most complete editor we have seen in a communications package--not quite a word processor, but close.

A capture buffer can be toggled on or off. You can increase or decrease the viewing speed, a feature that is especially helpful when you wish to skim past a large section of the buffer in search of one small item. Anything coming across the screen can be saved to the buffer, and files can be transmitted using an error checking protocol.

For uploading information to a remote system ASCII Express has features to overcome most problems: nulls are available to put delays between the lines; the transmission speed can be slowed down if the remote machine is unable to accept characters at the full baud rate; a prompted send is available allowing ASCHII Express to wait for any character before sending the next line; character supression or filtering can remove unwanted characters sent by any remote system; protocols or configurations can be changed while online.

A remote mode allows you to use ASCII Express from a remote machine. You could, for instance, boot up ASCII Express and put it in remote mode with a text file on the disk in the drive. A remote user could dial your machine, ask for the file, catalog the disk, change disk drives, or view any text file on the disk.

A powerful set of macro commands allows you to do many things with single keystrokes. Macros can be linked to one another and may include conditional statements. Apple Access II

Apple Access II was designed specifically to take advantage of the features of the Apple IIe and IIc machines; it is not intended for use with the older Apple II + makchine. It is the only package in our survey based on the Apple ProDOS operating system.

The Apple Access II package makes start up simple by providing a separate tutorial disk with an interactive program.

Access II uses a menu system which displays the menus in a fashion similar to the popular Appleworks package--that is, they look like notecards placed on top of one another as new menus are chosen. This feature makes it easy to see exactly where you are.

The program supports autodial modems and has the ability to handle automatic log-ons. Sample automatic log-on files are supplied for dow Jones, Compuserve, and The Source. Since there is no lone editor in Access II, however, you must use a word processing package to insert your own password and ID to make these files complete.

The absence of a line editor also means that although the program can capture data as it comes across the screen or one file at a time, it is impossible to review information which has scrolled off the screen. The capture buffer is about 3000 characters long. For short files, obviously, there is no problem, but saving longer files can be complicated, and the absence of a common protocol, discouraging.

Help screens are available on Access II, and you can use the file utilities while online. Printing is simple. Configurations for remote computers are stored in files and called when needed; it appears that just about any configuration can be simulated.

The Access II manual is exceptionally well written and includes many step-by-step examples. Crosstalk

Crosstalk XVI is one of the best selling communications packages for the IBM PAC, AT, and jr. Other versions are available for CP/M machines.

The program is provided on a single, copyable disk (the actual files take up about 90K on the disk leaving considerable room for your own files). It is an impressive product which is complete in the same sense that ASCII Express is complete for the Apple. Both are mature products which have stood the test of time in the market and proven popular with a wide range of buyers because they are able to adapt to most communications situations. Crosstalk provides the basic terminal emulation routines, but it also has the more advanced features you expect in a complete communications package.

The manual for Crosstalk is a professional publication with tutorials as well as the standard reference sections. Actual photographs of screens enhance the manual and make it easier to understand the many features of the program. There are also help files on the disk.

Functions can be invoked either with a menu system or, more often, by issuing direct commands. Most often, Crosstalk will be used from the keyboard, but there are other options. You can also command the program from "command files" and "script files"; both hold details of what you want the program to do.

A script file is like the script of a play in the sense that it tells Crosstalk what you expect it to do. An entire exchange with another remote computer can be handled with the 17 words (commands) available for use in a script file. A command file contains the setup required to begin communications with another computer.

Crosstalk offers the ability to review the capture buffer on-line (in a 128K machine, the capture buffer is a rather large 66K) and will automatically save the buffer when full. The capture buffer can be on continuously, or you can save only a screen at a time.

A filter allows incoming data to be screened for unwanted characters, which can be deleted. Crosstalk is one of only a few programs we have seen which allows you to define the background color of the screen (if you have a color system). Microstuf provides a customer support telephone (voice) line to answer questions. PC-Talk III

This program is free! That's correct; PC-Talk III is a piece of "freeware," and while Headlands Press no longer sends out free copies, many bulletin boards will let you download the program free. Users' groups also are a source of PC-Talk III.

Since it's free, you might be inclined to think that this IBM program would not stand up to close comparison with other communications software. That would be a mistake. If you find the program useful, you are asked to send Andy Flugelman (the author) $35, and many people are finding PC-Talk III useful. It is a good program that will run on a 64K IBM.

The "manual" comes on the disk; the program supports most communications protocols; communications protocol setup files (dialing directories) are utilized; and it supports the XMODEM error checking protocol. Other IBM communications packages must really be good to compete because it is hard to compete with Santa Claus when Santa is providing such a dandy product. PC-Dial

PC-Dial is another very inexpensive IBM package; this one written by Jim Button. It is provided on an unprotected disk and is supplied with a manual.

PC-Dial is like PC-Talk III in that it is a freeware; you are encouraged to copy the software and share it with others. If you find the program useful, you are asked to send Jim Button $29. The $29 payment will get you the printed user's guide and notification of new products.

The program itself uses XMODEM error checking; has an auto redial feature; has the ability to "filter" incoming data; can capture incoming data continuously or a screen at a time; builds automatic log-on sequences; and will adapt to most communictions protocols. The program runs on a 64K IBM with PC-DOS 1.0,1.1 or on larger machines with 2.0 or later. Transend

Transend PC is the only program you will need to set up an electronic mail network operating over telephone lines in either attended or unattended (timed) mode. The clear strength of this program is electronic mail. It is even designed to look a bit like a mailroon with "in baskets" and "out baskets" to hold pieces of mail.

Your can create messages using Transend or you can transmit data already formulated in programs like VisiCalc or 1-2-3. Messages are stored temporarily in baskets which appear on the screen much like Lisa or Macintosh windows (Transend does a credible job of simulating a windowed environment even though it is actually a menu driven program. The window effect will be especially pleasant for those with little computer experience with electronic mail). Addresses are appended to the various pieces of "mail" from an address book previously stored on the system. The messages can be sent immediately, or the system can be commanded to wait until a certain time for transmission.

The "in basket" works in much the same way. Transend waits for calls and accepts mail from other IBMs also running Transend. It then stores the "mail" in a basket for later review and/or printing.

The desktop style of the program is quite well done, and it is easy to visualize what is going on without knowing a thing about how files are stored or where precisely they are at any point in time.

To allow business users to create their own long distance electronic mail networks, the manual includes instructions on how to use Transend with The Source to set up a network. Instructions are also included for setting up a local network without going through The Source but just using Transend to Transend. These instructions should have you up and running on your own network quickly.

Transend can, of course, communicate directly with other machines and information utilities, although it does seem directed toward electronic mail users. Networks

Networks for the Apple II series and E-Mail for the IBM are not actually communications packages as such. They do not allow you to use your computer as a terminal, but they do allow you to use your computer in a quite different way.

Both programs allow you to set up your computer to resemble the electronic equivalent of the cork bulletin board you might see in a supermarket. It is likely that there are a few public bulletin boards in your local calling area; it is also likely that one of them is running one of these software packages.

Jones Engineering actually developed E-Mail for the purpose of keeping in contact with its clients and trading questions and answers with them in a timely fashion.

E-Mail and Networks are provided on single unprotected disks. Both are modifiable at the user's option. Both are designed to be an electronic mail facility featuring the ability to transfer letters, documents, or ASCII text files from the central bulletin board to multiple locations or vice versa. The bulletin board is a "hub" through which messages may be sent--sort of an electronic Federal Express.

Both programs create a log of callers, which includes the time and date they called, the caller's connect time, and other bits of information about the call. Both programs work at only 300 baud. Networks will work with one disk drive (but requires more drives for sophisticated use), while E-Mail requires two drives.

For callers, both programs are extremely simple to use. We doubt if anyone could fail to understand the complete set of commands after one call.

Products: Transend PC (computer program)
TermExec (computer program)
Data Capture IIe (computer program)
Data Capture PC (computer program)
Networks II (computer program)
ASCII Express Pro (computer program)
PC-Dial (computer program)
PFS:Access (computer program)
Era 2 (computer program)
MacTerminal (Computer terminal emulator)
Apple Access II (computer program)
Crosstalk XVI (Communications software)
PC-Intercom (computer program)
Softerm 2 (computer program)
Perfect Link (computer program)
LisaTerminal (computer program)
E-Mail (computer program)
Softerm PC (Computer program)