by Jon Loveless
After you purchase a modem and install it, you will soon be very aware that there is one more important purchase you need to make, software. Without a good flexible program your modem will be useless. In this article we will introduce you to six different programs designed to be used with modems. These programs vary in ease of use and capability. We will show you the trade-offs and introduce some new vocabulary which will make our discussion more understandable.
download--this refers to the physical reception of data. It can be in the form of a complete program that you are receiving from another computer, or simply data that you are saving from CompuServe, or The SOURCE. The key word is "save". So, download means to receive and save data or programs.
upload--this is just the opposite of download. Upload refers to the act of sending a specific program or text to another computer via the trusty old modem.
host computer--this is the computer that your ATARI will talk to, assuming that you make the call. If you use the "auto-answer" capability of your modem, your computer becomes the host.
translation--refers to the degree of character code incompatibility the specific software will compensate for. This inconsistency is often a problem with those characters where no real standard has been acknowledged like special control characters. Translation also refers to a program's ability to convert from one character encoding scheme to another, ASCII to EBCDIC for example.
terminal emulator--refers to a program's capacity to make your ATARI respond as if it were some other type of terminal. VT100 or ADM-3A come to mind as widely used terminals. This is usually accomplished by redefining key and control code function.
buffer--is often used to refer to a reserved portion of computer memory. This reserved area is used by terminal software to store programs which have been downloaded. These programs can be saved to disk later off-line. Programs which force you to save to disk online cost more money--disk is slower.
There are many other terms you will come across, but these few will give you a start. Now, let's see what you need in the way of software. It depends largely on your application. If you only want to "look" at the data available from some other computer system, your needs are simple. If you want to save that data, your needs are more complicated. and if vou want to send and receive programs, communicate with a computer at your office, or perform other such sophisticated operations you need a fancier program yet.
You will find a need for several different types of programs as you proceed, so let's sort out a few programs to see what they do, and then refer to the accompanying table for a quick reference comparison:
TELELINK--This program is available on cartridge from Atari. It is an excellent beginning for the new modem user and it comes with a free subscription to CompuServe. This alone makes it worth the money. Telelink's beauty is its simplicity. Plug it into the left slot of your ATARI and "log-on" as they say. The major drawbacks are its inability to save incoming data to disk or cassette and the inability to upload and download programs. Telelink can save data to your printer but this can be costly in terms of connection costs. This is not a bad way to introduce yourself to telecomputing but you'll end up wanting more features.
DATALINK--Swifty Software's program is probably the best all around choice you can make as either a new or intermediate user of the modem. It is simple and friendly, yet very powerful. It will fulfill most of your needs including uploading/downloading, text capture, save to disk or printer, and screen review of data in memory. It allows you to prepare text before you make the phone connection, and save text after you hang up, both important features when analyzing your phone costs. Above all else, Datalink is very easy to use. Documentation is pretty scant (6 pages) which can be a handicap to the uninitiated, but is also a reflection of how easy this program is to use.
DOWNLOAD--This software by Computer Age is a great program, but has received little promotion or publicity for some reason. It is written in BASIC and machine language (where needed for speed) and offers a benefit in that it can be modified by the user. I particularly like this feature with the Hayes Smartmodem since it allows you to add a phone number menu and make full use of the power of auto-dial. In addition, it has two menus, one for parameters and another for memory management. The [OPTION] button accesses the main menu and that allows you to go to memory management as one of the options. It is not as easy to use as Datalink, but is more flexible.
CHAMELEON--by APX (Atari Program Exchange) is a powerful machine language program that lets you tailor your ATARI to a wide variety of configurations to satisfy almost any host computer requirement. The documentation is good, but the program must be used extensively in order to feel comfortable with the many commands and options. One of the unique features is the 80-column screen emulator. Using the ATARI scrolling capability you can make it think it is an 80-column computer rather than 40. I have found little practical use for this feature yet, but it sure looks nice. I wouldn't recommend this program to beginning users of modem software unless they are ready to roll up their sleeves and work with it. For the more sophisticated user this is a powerful tool. One caveat with this program is that it transfers files more slowly because it writes to disk rather than saving to a memory buffer.
T-SMART--by Microperipheral Corporation is a powerful and flexible program written expressly for their Microconnection modem. Its power rests partly in the fact that it was written with a particular modem in mind, and partly in the fact that it is reasonably simple to use for all the flexibility it has. It is completely menu driven, but a nice feature is the option to override the menu as you become familiar with the commands. It incorporates real autodial so that you can include your own list of phone numbers right in the program. Much of the program is written in BASIC allowing you to tailor it to your own needs. Finally, as with the Microconnection itself, it is well supported through a simple contact on CompuServe. I understand this even includes updates as they become available.
T.H.E.--BINARY COMPUTER SOFTWARE presents this recent addition to the communications market. It is possibly the most complex modem program available for the ATARI. As with any powerful program, this one requires study and practice to use effectively. The documentation is well done and is readily understood by the first time user. There are many possible system configurations possible using T.H.E. With all the bulletin boards being made available, each with different requirements, this flexibility is T.H.E.'s most important feature. This is the only package that will translate ASCII to EBCDIC. This feature would only be needed when communicating with an IBM system.
TAKE YOUR PICK
So you now have a bird's eye view of 6 pieces of software for your new modem. If you are like most users you will find your needs satisfied by a simple program, with occasional need for more power or flexibility. For example I still use Telelink because of its simplicity. I check the electronic mail service (EMAIL) of CompuServe with Telelink and nothing could be easier. I use Datalink often because it is simple yet quite powerful. T.H.E. is a newcomer and yet I already am finding some of its features and power attractive. Finally, if I owned a Microconnection, I would certainly use T-SMART because of the powerful design interaction between software and hardware, a well-planned pair.
For a first purchase I would be hard pressed not to recommend the Datalink program because of its nice blend of power and simplicity. It will satisfy the majority of your needs, and will allow access to most common services such as CompuServe, The SOURCE, and nearly all of the bulletin boards available. The greater parameter flexibility of some of the other programs is necessary for sophisticated communications between your ATARI and non-ATARI equipment, especially if you plan to do a fair amount of program exchange.
Our goal has been to shed light on the sometimes confusing topic of data communications. We would suggest that whatever hardware and software you decide to purchase that it be checked for compatibility. A good package will make your introduction to telecommunications easy and enjoyable. It really is a thrill when you successfully transfer your first program to a friend across town.
NAME TELNK DATLK DWNLD CHAMN TSMRT T.H.E. MANUFACTURER (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) MEDIA (c=cass/d=disk) cartg d c/d c/d c/d c/d LEVEL OF FLEXIBILITY low mod mod high high high DOCUMENTATION good fair fair excl excl good MEMORY REQUIREMENT cartg 24k 24k 24k 24k 24k ------------------------------------------------------------------ FEATURES ------------------------------------------------------------------ TRANSMISSION upload programs no yes yes yes yes yes download programs no yes yes yes yes yes download text yes yes yes yes yes yes full duplex yes yes yes yes yes yes half duplex yes yes yes yes yes yes terminal type 1 1 (7) 4 (7) (7) BAUD rates 300 300 300 (8) (9) (10) translation choice yes yes yes yes yes yes ------------------------------------------------------------------ SEND DATA off-line prepare no yes yes yes yes yes store ID codes no no no yes yes yes preload programs no yes yes yes yes yes ------------------------------------------------------------------ RECEIVE DATA online save yes yes yes yes yes yes to printer yes yes yes yes yes yes to disk no yes yes yes yes yes to cassette no no yes yes yes yes off-line save no yes yes no yes yes to printer yes yes yes no yes yes to disk no yes yes no yes yes to cassette no no yes no yes yes parity options no no yes yes yes yes memory toggle no no yes no yes yes memory management no yes yes yes yes yes ------------------------------------------------------------------ MISCELLANEOUS user modified no no yes no yes yes phone# storage no no no no yes no format screen mrgns no no 40/80 mrgns mrgns redefine keys no no lmtd yes yes yes
(7) Terminal type may be defined largely through flexible parameter definition, if not by name.
(8) Widest choice from 48 to 9600 BAUD.
(9) Choice of 300 or 600 BAUD.
(10) Zero to 9600 BAUD.
(11) Source code is provided for the adventurous assembly language programmer, but is sparsely commented.