Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 5, NO. 4 / AUGUST 1986



Step-by-step to your first download

Dear Antic:
I'm having problems downloading software from SIG * Atari with my 800XL, 1030 modem and HomeTerm. Help!

Paul Marquette
(The blind, stumbling user on CompuServe)
Auburn, IL

CompuServe can turn into ConfuServe if you don't know your way around. Wandering through any online service, be it Delphi or DowJones or Plato, is like roaming around in the dark through the stacks at a huge university library you'll never find your way around until you get lost a few times.

We can't show you everything, so we'll show you how to do the one thing readers ask us about the most:


When you download, you're simply transporting a file, a conversation you had on a Special Interest Group (SIG), an electronic mail message, or a program, from CompuServe's huge Digital Equipment VAX mainframe computers in Columbus, Ohio, over telephone lines and "down" into your computer. "Uploading" means going the other way, sending something from your Atari up into the big computers at CompuServe.


Sound easy? It is, once you learn. First, put your CompuServe manual away, consulting it will only make you thoroughly confused. With these instructions, even if you're a total novice, it should take about 30 minutes to do your first download. We think it's a small price to pay for "free" software. After you stumble around a few times, you'll be doing downloads completely from memory, in a matter of minutes. later you can take out that CompuServe manual, turn to page 28 of the Forums section and discover how to turn off the menus completely, speeding the process up even more.

Our system is an Atari 800 computer with disk drive and a Hayes 1200 baud Smartmodem. In this article, we'll demonstrate Express, which according to our reader surveys is the most widely used 8-bit Atari telecommunications software. We downloaded our copy of this public domain program from CompuServe. You can also obtain Express from an Atari users group. The Antic Catalog carries Express 1030, for the Atari 1030 modem ($10, PD0025), and Express 850, for modems requiring the Atari 850 interface ($10, PD0024).

If you already know how to log on to CompuServe, skip ahead to the Welcome to CompuServe section below. Otherwise:

1. Boot up Express on your Atari. The 1030 and 850 versions of Express are almost identical.

The main menu appears. Just like the menu in a restaurant, it offers many specialties we can "order" in this case, by pressing a key. The menu "toggles" back and forth with the [OPTION] and [SELECT] keys.

[We spent hundreds of hourswading through CompuServe so you won't have to (highlighted excerp from article)]

2. Set the software for the mode that your information service requires. In this case:


To do this, type the letter A it will toggle back and forth from ASCII to ATASCII.

Duplex: FULL
Parity: NONE

3. Type E to dial manually and type in your nearest CompuServe telephone number. This information comes in the CompuServe starter kit. Press [RETURN]. The computer will beep and you'll see:


Don't believe it this software lies. Wait a few seconds until you see:


If it doesn't connect, start over. Charlie and I tried five times before it worked. Now hold down the [CONTROL] key while you type C.

When you use an online service or a Bulletin board, you are really using your Atari as a remote terminal. You are now "leaving" your Atari computer and logging onto CompuServe's VAX computers in Ohio. Express 850 is still in memory; and you'll go back to it later.

You're asked for your CompuServe ID number otherwise known as a PPN. (Antic readers are always asking us what this means. Contrary to popular belief, it does not mean "Please Pay Now." PPN stands for "Project Programmer Number.")

When you see these "prompts'; type what they ask for:

USER ID: 12345,678 (your user ID number)

Your password will be "invisible" when you type it in. If this is your first time on CompuServe, at this point you'll need to follow the rather confusing procedure in your starter kit to finish the logon procedure. If you're not a CompuServe subscriber yet, see your local computer dealer or phone (800) 848-8199 for information about signing up. Ohio residents phone (614)-457-0802.


You'll get this menu first:

CompuServe TOP
1 Subscriber Assistance
2 Find a Topic
3 Communications/Bulletin bds.
4 News/Weather/Sports
5 Travel
6 The Electronic MALL/Shopping
7 Money Matters/Markets
8 Entertainment/Games
9 Home/Health/Family
10 Reference/Education
11 Computers/Technology
12 Business/Other Interests
Enter choice number !

CompuServe is structured like a pyramid. Picture this menu as resting at the top of thousands upon thousands of menus that form the base of a vast, perhaps even infinite, pyramid. By typing T at any ! prompt, you'll always eventually work your way back up the pyramid to this first menu. If you ever get lost, (and you will, believe us) think of it as home.

Why meander on back roads when you can take the freeway? That's what the Compuserve GO commands are like a shortcut that bypasses all the intermediate menus. Any time you see a ! prompt, you can type GO ANTIC, for example, and be whisked into ANTIC ONLINE, or GO CB 1 and boom you're in the CB simulator. A complete list of these commands is published monthly in CompuServe's Online Today magazine.


Online Services can be expensive if you don't have any idea what's going on. Users need a roadmap, and a good book provides that map. Here are a few.

by William J. Cook
Dell Trade Paperbacks
$5.95, 182 pages

This Newsweek reporters breezy intro to the online world is limited, but worth reading for the chapter on improving your sex life with online dating services.

by Robert Chapman Wood
Scott Foresman and company
Glenview, IL
$15.95, 264 pages.

Some limited Atari 8-bit specific information, but worth checking into for irreverent, outspoken reviews of services, good and bad, for the budget-minded telecommunicator.

Second Editiion
by Charles Bowen and David Peyton
Bantam Books
New York, NY
$16.95, 322 pages

Columnist John Dvorak tell the story about the time comedian and computer hobbyist Robin Williams was visiting his house. "The first time he saw "Get The Most Out Of CompuServe" he held it to his chest and said 'I need this book.' Thats when I realized that Bowen and Peyton had stumbled onto a hot property." Heck you need this book. Throw away your CompuServe users manual. This invaluable resource by two dedicated online addicks is clearly a labor of love. Peyton is the sysop of the GoodEarth Special Intrest Group and frequents the CB Simulator under the alias "Hermit Dave," and you can even send electronic mail to the authors. Also from the same authors and publisher: "How to Get the Most Out of The Source."

In this case, at the ! prompt, type GO ATARI8 to reach the Atari 8-bit forum in SIG*Atari:

Enter choice number ! GO ATARI8

If this is your first visit to SIG*ATARI, your first stop will be this menu:

1 Membership Information
2 Forum Administrators
3 Instructions
4 Visit ATARI 8-Bit Forum
5 Join ATARI 8-Bit Forum
0 Exit
Enter choice:

Membership in SIG * ATARI is free.

enter choice: 5

Just follow the prompts to join. (If you're already a member, you will bypass this and go directly to the forum, saving valuable time.)

Please enter your name: John Doe
John Doe
Is this correct? (Y/N) Y
Inserting name and ID...
Welcome to ATARI 8-Bit Forum, V. 4A(63)
Hello, John Doe
Last Visit: 14-May-86 14:25:26
Forum messages: 156431 to 151146
Last message you've read: 0
No members are in conference


Now that we're in SIG * Atari, let's download a file! Here's the first menu you'll see:

ATARI B-Bit Forum
1 (L) Leave a Message
2 (R) Read Messages
3 (C0) Conference Mode
4 (DL) Data Libraries
5 (B) Bulletins
6 (V) View Member Directory
7 (SS) Set Subtopic
8 (OP) Set User Options
9 (H) Help
10 (E) Exit from ATARI 8-Bit Forum
Enter choice: 4

This tells SIG*Atari we want to use one of its Data Libraries.

0 General
2 Telecommunications
3 Utilities
4 Graphics
5 Application pgms
6 Sound & Music
7 Hot News/Rumors
Enter choice : 4

This tells SIG * Atari we want to use Data Library number 4, the Graphics library. You'll find downloadable Atari software in these libraries, but you may also find text files, news stories and tutorials.

DL 4-Graphics
1 (DES) Description of Data Library
2 (BRO) Browse thru files
3 (DIR) Directory of files
4 (UPL) Upload a new file
5 (D0W) Download a file
6 (DL) Change Data Library
7 (T) Return to Function Menu
8 (I) Instructions
Enter choice or H for help: 2

You can type either a 2 or BRO. We'll browse through the library's files until we find one we want to download.

Enter keywords (e.g. modems) or <CR> for all:

We can search for specific topics like "Opus" or "Boink," or we can browse through the entire library. For now, just press [RETURN] to browse through the whole thing.

Oldest files in days
or <CR> for all:


What is an online database?

An online database is nothing more than an electronic library. Instead of storing information on paper' it's stored in huge mainframe computers.A membership fee and password are the library card you need to "check this information out" and send it to your computer where you can browse through it, store it to disk, or make a paper printout. It's expensive, but unlike a library, you can keep it forever. No fines, no overdue notices.

Many databases are available within a larger services. CompuServe and Dow Jones News Retrieval, for example, are online libraries. You can think of the databases within them as electronic encyclopedias. Books about databases are paperbound information sources that lead you to electronic information services where you can, in turn, find more information about information. Here are a few.

Mike Edelhart and
Owen Davies
Macmillan Publishing, New York
$10.95, 292 pages

Already outdated but well indexed book takes the "cutting edge" approach with opinionated reviews of 1,000 online databases.

by Matthew Lesko
Avon Books, New York
$14.95, 900 pages.

A wealth of objective information about databases available within larger services such as The Source, DIAloG, CompuServe and Dow Jones. The information itself is even available online through NewsNet, an information service devoted exclusively to business newsletters, ($24 an hour at 300 baud during prime time) by calling (800) 345-1301.

by Barbara Newlin
Osborne McGraw-Hill
Berkeley, CA
$16.95, 373 pages

Includes valuable tutorials on how to sign up and search for information on a number of online services.

53 West Jackson Blvd. Suite 1750
Chicago, Il 60604
(312) 922-9292
$24.95 yearly

Online services are growing at the rate of 500 every six months. This quarterly magazine promises current listings of over 4,000 services.

We can also limit our browsing to exclude files which are older than a specfied number of days. <CR> stands for Carriage Return. For now, just press [RETURN] to browse through the whole library.

SHIPS.XMO 12-May-86 12370(5280)
Accesses: 15
A portrait of the USS
Enterprise and the USS Excelsior
Drawn with AtariArtist and
further edited with RAMBRANDT.
-Pat Lancaster
Enter command, N for next file
or <CR> for disposition menu: N

We'll skip this one and go on to the next file in this library by typing N.

BIGLIF.DOC 12-May-86 6020
Accesses: 13
This online readable file is formated to
print on 8Ocol 8 1/2x11 paper. The
doc file for BIGLIFE.OBJ, a
Conways Life optimized for speed.
Gary Holder
Enter command, N for next file
or <CR> for disposition menu:

Let's download this one. Press [RETURN] to get to the Disposition Menu- the download menu.

1 (REA) Read this file
2 (DOW) Download this file
3 (T) Top Data Library Menu
Enter choice or <CR> for next: 2

We type 2. This tells CompuServe that we want to download this file.

Transfer protocols available
1 XMODEM (MODEM7) protocol
2 CompuServe 'B' protocol
3 CompuServe 'A' protocol
4 DC2/DC4 CAPTURE protocol
0 Abort transfer request
Enter choice: 1

There are several customary protocols (formats) used to transfer and check for errors in files. The most popular is XMODEM, sometimes called MODEM7. Most modem programs, including the one we're using, Express, are compatible with it. See your terminal software manual to determine which protocol you need. For more details about these protocols, see page 20 of the Forums section in your CompuServe manual.

Starting XMODEM transfer
Enter a carriage return when
transfer is complete


Remember your telecommunications program? It's time to return to it again. (By the way, telecommunications programs are often called modem programs or terminal programs.) You are still logged onto CompuServe and paying for connect time, but you are simultaneously accessing your Atari microcomputer's memory.

Tell your modem program to download a file. With most programs, you have to press one of the console keys [SELECT], [OPTION] or [START] to display your modem programs Function Menu. (With Express, we press the [SELECT] key). Take the terminal software disk out of the disk drive and insert a formatted disk with enough space to save the file we're downloading.

On the terminal program's menu, tell the Atari to download a file using XMODEM. (With Express, we press R.) The terminal program should then ask you to type in a filename for the file you're downloading. When your modem program receives your file, it will automatically SAVE it to disk using the filename you typed in. You do not need to use the same filename that CompuServe gave it.

CompuServe lets you know when the download is finished. Press [RETURN] to go back to communicating with the CompuServe computers. If you want to log off Compuserve, type OFF or BYE at the ! prompt and you'll return to your modem program. Now you can start your computer again and test out the downloaded file. We downloaded a graphics file, so we'll need to boot a graphics program before we can run it.

This is the fun part, it's like unwrapping a birthday gift. Sometimes you'll find a real gem, like Fuji Boink the 8-bit Atari version of the Amiga bouncing ball demo. Sometimes you'll find some real junk. Charlie and I downloaded what sounded like a very appealing Beethoven symphony, only to find a buggy program that never ran. But some of the finest software around is in the public domain. The free flow of information and the romance of the hacker ethic still thrive in the world of online communications.


If a commercial online information service is like a university, a bulletin board is like a classroom. You enter and see messages pinned up on the bulletin boards by people who have been there before. You read what's there, post your own messages and then leave. Each time you walk in, there's more writing on the board.

A bulletin board system (BBS) is a miniature version of CompuServe or Delphi. When you log on, instead of communicating with a huge mainframe, you're talking to another microcomputer. You can call any BBS that's compatible with your modem's baud rate. However, although an Atari computer can communicate with a Commodore bulletin board, you won't be able to run Commmodore software that you download.

Bulletin boards emerge and die quickly. Some may only be available during certain hours, or to certain modems and baud rates. Others may ask you to register or charge a small fee before you can use them. And you must always pay local or long distance phone charges too. While you try to connect, you may have to endure half an hour of busy signals. Since most bulletin boards are "single user" systems, only one person can call at a time.

For this reason, BBS's are not as "patient" as CompuServe. Most sysops (system operators the folks who run bulletin boards) want you to hurry. An impatient BBS wrn log you off if you're too slow.

If you have any problems you can use the YELL command to call the sysop. Don't be shy. Just because sysops have names like "DragonMaster" or "Rambo" doesn't mean they 'll breathe fire if you need help. Sysops are usually friendly, normal people having fun with their alter egos. They wouldn't invite you if they didn't want to talk. Some even keep a "chat bell" next to their beds to wake them up in the middle of the night if someone wants to chat online.

There are currently more than 2,000 bulletin boards in the United States. They include Dial-Your-Match for daters, boards for pilots, parents, peace activists, adventure gamers, genealogists and rock musicians. Even Atari Corp. has a 24 hour bulletin board at (408) 745-5308.

Special boards, known as FIDO boards, can link these smaller networks together. Every morning between 1 and 2 am, all the FIDO boards call each other to transfer messages. You can leave a message on a FIDO in your home town, and the next day, it reaches a board across the nation.

Beyond this are multiuser regional networks larger than a BBS, smaller than CompuServe. One is The Well, a Northern California network operated by the publishers of the whole Eartb Software Review. ($8 a month plus $2 an hour; (415) 332-6106.)


We'll call BUG the Boise Atari Users Group BBS because they have a list of over 1,000 BBS telephone numbers to browse through or download. If you don't live in Boise, Idaho, you'll need to pay a long distance telephone charge to call the BUG BBS but, unlike CompuServe or any other multi user commercial online information service you will not be billed an hourly fee or "connect charge."

First "tell" your modem program to dial BUG at (208) 383-9547. (Type 2083839547-no dashes) With Express 850, we type E.

If your modem has a speaker you'll hear it dial. When you finally connect (be patient), press [RETURN]. "Garbage" characters may appear on screen as the modem tries to determine the baud rate of the BBS we got loads of them while researching this article.

Then select the right Atari mode from your modem program's sofiware menu. Go to your sofiware's Function Menu and choose ATASC II, the mode that the BUG BBS requires. leave the program menu and press [RETURN]. The title screen appears:


Most bulletin boards use commands that are very similar to those on CompuServe. To stop scrolling, hold down the [CONTROL] key while you type S. To start again, it's [CONTROL] Q. Type [CONTROL] X to quit. (Boldface type represents what you type in.)

Enter your Name >Charlie Jackson
From City,State >San Francisco, CA
Calling from SAN FRANCISCO, CA
Logging caller No. 20946 to disk..
On Thursday 05/15/86 13:30:25 MDT

This is what we want! BUG will display current notes, bulletins & greeting messages. Then it will ask you:

First time on this BBS? <Y/N>Y

If this is your fust visit to BUG, type Y Now we see a detailed introduction, along with some helpful hints. After this scrolls past, we're asked to make our selection:

Selection...(?=Menu) -?

(To look at the menu, press the ? key.)


This is the BUG command menu:

(A)TASCII/ASCII switch (B)ulletins
(C)allers file (D)ownload
(F)iles for download (G)oodby
(H)elp file (I)nformation
(L)inefeed on/off (M)essage base
(N)ew user file (O)ther files
(P)rivate mail (T)ime
(U)pload a file (V)alley user
(W)elcome signon (X)pert user
(Y)eII for Sysop (?)This menu
Selection. . . (?=Menu) -O

Choose the O option for the BBSLIST. Now you'll see a directory of files you can download from the O section:

BB51030 008

Type in BBSLIST, the name of the the file we want to download. Then, BUG asks us:

Christensen XMODEM protocol? <Y/N>Y

(Nearly every modem program is able to use this method of downloading files. XMODEM protocol is desirable because it recognizes and corrects any noise or interference on the telephone line.)


BUG is waiting to send you the file but it won't wait long. Quickly, go back to your modem software's Function Menu.


This procedure varies between modem programs, but usually it involves three things:

1. Call up your modem program menu. (With Express 850, we press the [SELECT] key.)

2. From the menu, choose the command to receive a file using XMODEM. (With Express, we type R.)

3. Type in a filename for your computer to use when it begins to store the incoming data.

4. [RETURN].

If you're using Express 850, the download will begin automatically. Make sure you have a formatted disk in your drive to save the program to. (Other programs, such as HomeTerm and BackTalk require you to press a console key to begin a file transfer.)

As Express 850 downloads the file, words will flash by on the computer screen. On the top of the screen, where BUFFER: appears, the number should be increasing as the file is sent.

After your Atari has received the file, it automatically stores it on disk using the filename you typed in earlier; and brings you:


To exit BUG, type G (goodbye) at the Selection... (?=Menu)- prompt. Turn off your computer, boot up your word processor (such as PaperClip or AtariWriter) and read your list of 1,000 bulletin boards. That should keep you busy for awhile...