Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 9, NO. 5 / MAY 1983 / PAGE 50

Micro-Courier. (evaluation) Dale Archibald.


"Jones, take a letter. I want this to go to all our salespeople immediately. Hrrumph.'

"Right, R.J. No problem. Go ahead.'

"Dear fellows and gals. I'm happy to announce that we have had a tremendous production breakthrough. It allows us to cut the price on our model 2342 from $250 to $150, effective immediately. This price cut should increase sales immensely.'

"Sign it, "R.J. Johnson.' Hrrumph.'

"It'll go out tonight, R.J.'

The secretary walked down the row of offices to a door labeled Corporate Electronic Communications. Inside was an Apple II Plus, two disk drives, a Hayes Micromodem, monitor, and a printer.

He sat down and selected Create/Edit Mail from the eight-part menu on the screen. After a couple of questions from the program, he entered R.J.'s message and saved it to disk.

After hitting ESC a couple of times, he selected Address and Review Messages from the menu. Once there, he chose the list of all 47 salespeople the company had by tying Q, then entered a time of 0100 the following morning.

When that was complete, he added a few extra communications, a couple of text files, a VisiCalc formula, and some other odds and ends. These were addressed to the individual salespeople who had need of them.

After hitting ESC again to get to the main menu, he selected the Send/ Receive Mail menu. Leaving the Apple turned on, he flipped the lights in the room off and shut the door.

The next morning, at 1:00, the disk drives began to whir. In offices around the country, a sequence of Micro-Courier programmed Apple disk drives mirrored this activity.

By 8:00 a.m., when Jones arrived to look at the message log, all salespeople had been notified of the price change; the text and other files had been transmitted; new information had arrived at the home office from the branches; and the company had saved a great deal of time and money.

This fictitious scenario is an example of how a product such as Micro-Courier can operate. It will send text generated by the included text editor, or any DOS 3.3 file, including programs, data, or binary files. A total of 100 different messages can be placed in queue for automatic transmittal.

Automatic service will occur only at other stations using Micro-Courier. However, you can also use the program as a terminal program and send text files only over the telephone lines manually.

The program was written by Microcom, located near Boston, and distributed by Apple to Apple dealers and customers.

When I first received this program to examine, I was impressed by the care that had been taken with it. The 168-page instruction manual is bound exactly as the Apple manuals are.

The manual/tutorial is clear and well documented; the program prompts at every step of the way. Overall, Micro-Courier appears to be a good program for firms that need this type of high performance.

Naturally, a program this expensive is protected against copying. One caveat: I don't like the offer of immediate replacement upon return of the master disk; when a company needs a program like this, they need it now. If they had wanted to put up with delays and slow delivery, they could have continued to patronize the USPS.

After 90 days, replacements cost $35.

Using the Program

You begin by configuring the program to your system. Up to four disk drives can be accommodated, as well as the other peripherals. You also enter your printer line width, and the sender ID which will be attached to each Micro-Courier station.

You have mailbox IDs from 01 to 99 which you can assign. Select Mailbox Director Maintenance from the menu, and the display will give you another menu. Among other things, you can then add or change mailboxes, print a directory or a list of numbers to which you regularly send electronic mail, and other things.

Once you have assigned an ID number to a recipient, you can enter his name and telephone number. Up to 36 digits can be entered here to allow for access and user codes, and pauses (an asterisk will pause for two seconds).

That's it. That's all there is to entering a mailbox ID. To send electronic mail after that just select the recipient's number.

Other Features

If you want to build a specific list (from A to Z) to which you often send a common message, select a name of up to 20 characters. The program will display the valid mailbox IDs you can add or remove.

The built-in editor is simple but complete. You can enter up to 4000 uppercase only characters with it. It will beep at the 3980 mark and at each character thereafter to warn you.

Note: I am told that this 4000 character limit applies to all files. You can transmit a longer file, but it won't be saved. If you want to send longer ones, you must break them into smaller segments and give them different file names.

Once you have saved the file under a name you have selected, you can come back and edit or change it, or print the file.

Next you have the Review/Address Outgoing Mail menu. This lets you address messages with mailbox IDs, see a log of messages ready to go or that have already been sent, and a log of messages that were sent during the last sending session. You could also remove messages, or print copies of them.

In the case of the message R.J. wanted to send to his sales force, he would have picked selection 2, Send Message to List, from the Address Messages menu.

You are asked if a file is printable. Obviously, some text files will be; other files must be interpreted by a program to have any value. It also asks if you want to use the current date and time. Thus, if you select this and go into the Send/ Receive Mode, the message will be sent immediately.

If you have a clock, you will be prompted for a date and time to send. This might be helpful for "timed' announcements such as press releases, the manual points out.

You could also select Send Mail Only, Receive Only, or Send and Receive Mail. A block of four characters, two by two, mirrors what is being sent. This is visible reassurance that something is really going on inside the machine.

During a transmission, you can also stop the action with CTRL-H (Halt) or CTRL-I (Immediate Halt). Even with the precipitous effect of CTRL-I, the program will close any open files and place them into the message log.

With Review Incoming Mail from the menu, you can see and/or get a printed copy of all messages received, plus make a log of received messages, you can even review only messages addressed to a specific person at the receiving Apple.

The receiving Micro-Courier system adds a five-digit number from 10,000 to 99,999 to each incoming message. Thus, if two sending stations happen to use the same file name you won't be stalled, since the numbers will be different.

You can also rename a file incorrectly, using a duplicate of a name already assigned.

Micro-Courier will postpone transmissions if a message is being received while the Apple is supposed to be sending. The print-out of the Received Mail log can be used for record keeping. Thus, records that aren't printable can be tracked.

If a line is busy when the program telephones, it will go on to the next mailbox immediately and try to connect with the missed one later.

You don't need to set protocols (instructions for various machines to connect) for other Micro-Courier machines.

There are some weaknesses, however. The first is that the machine must redial for each message. The second is that to catalog the file names, you must go through the Utility section of the program. I could find no way to print out the file names, either.

Finally, in some segments of the program, entry of information is very limited. That is, a date must be entered as MM/DD/YY.

All things considered, Micro-Courier is a good program. It is easy to use, and would undoubtedly be of great value in the appropriate business situation.

Products: Apple Computer Micro-Courier (computer program)