Mastering CompuServe's New Command System
Guide to all those changes sweeping the SIGs
By MIKE SCHOENBACH
It has been a little over nine years since CompuServe first introduced its Forum software. Now used by over 130 CompuServe special interest groups (SIGs), the basic look and feel of this software remained consistent despite many changes and revisions.
Meanwhile, during the past seven years CompuServe's navigational command-and-menu software became the system-wide standard because of its intuitive, easy-to-use style. The Forum software menu interface was left untouched for the most part, resulting in two radically different menu systems.
As CompuServe branched off into new markets and its subscriber base grew, it became obvious that it was time to bring Forum software up to the system-wide standard. The main goal was to make it easier for users to concentrate on the content of the Forum rather than the command system.
Toward that end, CompuServe held several focus group meetings around the country last year (and also sought online feedback) for information on how to improve the Forum environment. The second generation of CompuServe Forum software is now ready and I want to introduce you to the new system.
JOINING A FORUM
As with any local bulletin board system (BBS) or a SIG on a commercial information service, before you can actually use the facilities you must electronically "sign up" as a member. This sign-up is usually nothing more than answering a few simple questions. Joining a Forum generally does not require any commitment from you-—you can participate as much or as little as you like.
In past Forum software, if you accessed a Forum where you weren't already a member, you'd see a Visitor's Menu with five choices. If you chose to just visit the Forum, your name and User I.D. were not added to the membership files and you were limited to whatever commands the Forum Administrator (chief system operator) allowed for non-members, usually only the ability to leave a message for the system operator (sysop).
Needless to say, CompuServe wanted a less confusing way for its subscribers to join Forums. So the new software eliminates the visitors menu on all public Forums. Now, when you access a Forum where you're not listed as a member, a visitor's bulletin from the sysop appears. Then you see the Forum's Main Functions menu. One command has been added—JOIN this Forum.
Choose that option or type JOI (you only need the first three letters of a command) to add your User l.D. to Forum membership and activate all privileges. The sysop can also disable certain Forum features for non-members. If you try to access a disabled feature, the software tells you that you need to join and asks if you want to do so now.
The Main Functions menu is the first one most people see. Each of its seven choices branches off into a different area of the Forum. The new main menu looks like this:
Atari 8-bit Forum Fundions Menu
3 LIBRARIES (Files)
4 CONFERENCING (# participating)
5 ANNOUNCEMENTS from sysop
6 MEMBER directory
7 OPTIONS for this forum
Enter choice !
Each department can be accessed by typing the appropriate number or the first three letters of the area's name. The new Forum software lets you choose to automatically enter the Forum at any menu. Therefore, the Main Functions menu does not necessarily have to be the first menu you see when entering the Forum. You set this within the OPTIONS category.
Though the new Forum menus are very straightforward and easy to use, you really should read the instructions. As with all software, you are bound to fnd something that you missed before which might end up saving you time and money.
The Online Instructions area menu offers individual information on all the major areas of the forum, an online Help file and a copy of the Forum's reference card. You can also download the entire Forum User Guide. Instructions are available for:
6 Member diredory
9 Complete HELP facility
10 Forum Reference Card
11 Forum User's Guide
Enter choice !
When reading any online instructions, be sure to keep your capture buffer open so you can read the information off-line and cut down on your connect charges. (8-Bit users should use the "capture to disk" feature of your terminal software.) I recommend the complete Help Facility and Forum User's Guide.
The Forum's Message Center is where members can find assistance and meet new people (who might live halfway around the world). CompuServe's redesign effort is most noticeable here. Cryptic commands such as RF have been replaced by more intuitive commands such as READ FORWARD which, like all commands, can be abbreviated to its first three letters (REA FOR).
Several new menu selections enhance message retrieving. You can enter the Message Center by choosing command 2 (above) or typing MES from the main Functions menu. The Messages menu looks like this:
Atari 8-bit Forum Messages Menu
Message age selection = [New]
1 SELECT (Read by section and subject)
2 READ or search messages
3 CHANGE age selection
4 COMPOSE a message
Enter choice !
The first three choices deal with retrieving messages. Choice 4, or COM, lets you compose your own message to post on the Forum's message board using one of the two message editors available—-LINEDIT (a line-oriented editor, much like those available on local bulletin boards) or EDIT (a powerful File Generator and Editor, formerly called FILGE).
Forum message boards tend to become very large, and message numbers get up to five or six digits. Now you can specify how far back you want to retrieve messages in terms of days instead of message numbers—-no more guessing which message number was the first one posted three days ago. To do this, just change your age selection. The default age is set to retrieve new messages since your last log-in to the Forum. The age selection can be changed by choosing command 3 (above) or typing CHA at the Messages menu command prompt. The Change age selection menu looks this way:
Atari 8-Bit Forum Change Menu
1 [*] NEW messages
2 [ ] ALL messages
3 [ ] STARTING message number
4 [ ] Number of DAYS
Enter choice !
Your current setting is the one with the asterisk [*]. If you want to read only the last three days of messages, choose command 4 and respond to the "# of days:" prompt with 3--or type DAYS 3 at the change menu command prompt.
The message number and age aren't the only retrieval criteria you can specify. You can also select messages by individual message number, message subtopics, or message subjects. By choosing command 2 or typing SEL from the message menu, you can select a second retrieval criteria.
Next menu is Forum Sections, which offers different choices depending on the specific Forum you're in and your retrieval age selection. This menu will show a list of subtopics containing messages pertinent to your age selection. Next to each subtopic are the number of subjects (threads) and the number of actual messages in the subtopic that meet your age selection. Here's an example:
Atari 8-bit Forum Sections Menu
Section names (#subjs/# msgs)
1 Games/Entertainment (2/5)
2 Telecommunications (7/20)
4 Sound & Graphics (1/1)
5 Applications (3/10)
Enter Choice(s) or ALL !
From this menu you can choose to read from one, some or all subtopics. Multiple subtopics are separated by commas, so if you want to select only Telecommunications and Applications messages, you'd type 2,5 at the Enter Choice(s) or ALL ! prompt.
Next, the Forum Subjects menu lists all subjects and the number of messages displayed. From here you can again choose to read one, some or all subjects in that subtopic. You'll see a Forum Subjects menu for each subtopic you choose to read from the Forum Subtopics menu. Here's an example:
Atari 8-bit Forum Subjects Menu
Subject (# msgs)
1 When MPP EXPRESS 3.0 (2)
2 Viewing RLE Pics (3)
3 New Forum Menu Q's (4)
4 New term software (2)
5 Using ATAR18 (5)
6 New BBS (1)
7 ANTIC ONLINE (3)
Enter choice(s) or ALL !
All the submenus resulting from the SELECT command aren't nearly as complex as they seem. The online Instruction Guide gives you more in-depth information.
But how about experienced users who want access to the "classic" CompuServe reading commands. By selecting choice 2 or typing READ from the Forum Message menu you'll get the following:
Atari 8-bit Forum Read Menu
1 [NEW] messages
2 Message NUMBER
3 WAITING messages for you (0)
Search [NEW] messages
4 FROM (Sender)
6 TO (Recipient)
Enter choice !
The Read menu lets you read an individual message selected by its number, read all messages based on your age selection, do Read Searches, or read any waiting messages addressed specifically to your User I.D. Read Search seeks messages by the sender's (or receiver's) name or User I.D., or the subject.
Eventually you'll be able to bypass many menus by chaining commands--for example, typing REA DAY 8 FRO:SCHOENBACH at the main Functions menu will search the last eight days' worth of messages from anyone named Schoenbach. CompuServe's online documentation explains command chaining in more detail.
Data Libraries in a CompuServe Forum contain user and sysop-submitted programs and text files for you to download. CompuServe currently supports the following file transfer protocols: XMODEM (MODEM7), CompuServe A, CompuServe B, DC4/DC2 CAPTURE, Kermit, and CompuServe Quick B.
To enter the Forum's Data Libraries, type 3 or LIB at the Main Functions menu. At the next prompt, type the number of the Data library you selected. You'll then see the following menu:
Atari 8-bit Forum Library 7
- News & Reviews -
1 BROWSE thru files
2 DIRECTORY of files
3 UPLOAD a new file
4 DOWNLOAD a File
Enter choice I
Command 1 (BRO) puts you in Browse mode--the system goes through the Data Library files, from most to least recent, showing a complete description of the file followed by the option to download it or move on to the next one. Before Browsing, you'll be asked whether you want to search only files containing certain "keywords." If so, the system will find only the type of files you're looking for. Command 2 (DIR) simply lists a directory of files for that Data Library.
Use command 3 (UPL) to submit a file to the Data Library. There are no CompuServe connect charges for upload time. Use command 4 (DOW) to download a file from the Data Library. And command 5 (LIB) lets you change Data Libraries.
If you know the number of the Data Library you want to access, you can simply type LIB followed by the Data Library number at the Main Functions or Library menu. For example, typing "LIB 7" puts you directly into Data Library 7.
The Conference area is the basically the Forum's "lounge" where you can communicate electronically with other users in real time. Often the sysops invite a special guest, such as Bill Wilkinson of OSS, Leonard Tramiel of Atari Corp., Tom Harker of ICD, Express! programmer Keith Ledbetter, or spokespersons from Antic, Virtusonics and Datasoft.
On the other hand, impromptu conferences as well as regularly scheduled gab sessions are also very popular. Every Sunday at 9 p.m. EST, members from all over the United States gather in the Atari 8-Bit Forum (type GO ATARI8) to talk about any number of topics.
The Conference area takes a little getting used to, but many online Help files are available. I recommend HOW2CO.HLP and NEWCO.TXT in Data Library 2 (LIB 2) of the Atari 8-Bit Forum. You also should consult the Conference documentation in the Instructions area of the Forum.
Each Forum contains eight announcement (bulletin) files with important, timely information about the Forum. Some announcements are automatically displayed when ever the sysop updates them, and others can be read only if you enter the Announcements area of the Forum and choose to read them. Choosing command 5 (ANN) at the Main Functions menu presents something like the following:
Atari 8-bit Forum Announcements Menu
1 News Flash
7 Sysop Roster
8 New Member
Enter choice !
The News Flash Announcement is displayed automatically to membes entering the Forum if they haven't seen it yet. This Announcement is kept brief, often directing you toward other, more detailed Announcement files. The General Announcement, for instance, often elaborates on the News Flash Announcement.
The Messages Announcement contains information on any Hot Topics discussed on the Forum's message board.
The Conference Announcement is automatically displayed to members entering the Conference area who haven't seen the latest update. This Announcement informs you of any upcoming conferences and provides tips for using the Conference facility.
The Library Announcement often highlights some of the most recent uploads to the Forum's Data Libraries. It also contains tips on uploading and searching the Libraries for interesting files.
The Membeship Announcement includes the purpose of the Forum. Pertinent operating rules are also listed here.
The Sysop Roster lists the names, interests, and the User I.D.s of the Forum Managers.
The New Member Announcement of important Forum information is displayed automatically when you join the Forum.
The Membeship Directory is one of the best places to meet new people who share your interests. Choosing command 6 (MEM) at the Main Functions menu presents:
Atari 8-Bit Forum Member Directory Menu
your current entry
4 USER I.D.
Enter Choice !
The first three choices pertain to your own membership directory entry. If you haven't filled one out, choose command 1 (ADD) at the prompt. Command 2 (LIS) lets you list out your entry to be sure it's accurate. And command 3 (DEL) lets you delete your membership directory entry.
The last three choices are for searching the membership directory by User I.D., name or interests. Once you find the names and User I.D.'s of people you'd like to know, be sure to drop them a "Hello" note through EasyPlex mail or in the Forum.
The last major area of the Forum is Options, where you can tailor the Forum to your needs. This includes setting a different prompt character, turning menus on or off and setting the message editor you wish to use:
Atari 8-bit Forum Options
1 INITIAL menu/prompt [Forum]
2 Forum MODE [MENU *]
3 PAUSE after messages [Always]
4 NAME [Mike Schoenbach]
5 Prompt CHARACTER 
6 EDITOR [EDIT*]
7 SECTIONS [..]
8 HIGH msg read 
9 REPLIES info [List]
10 TYPE waiting msgs [OFF]
11 SKIP msgs you leh [OFF]
Enter choice !
INITIAL--The Main Functions menu doesn't necessarily have to be the first area of the Forum you enter when logging in. Here is where you can change your entry default menu or Forum area to the Libraries, Conference center or Message area if you want.
Forum MODE--Every Forum has two modes of operation. Menu mode entitles you to full menus. For more experienced users, Command mode gives brief command prompts instead. By typing GO PROFILE you can make a "global" setting for the entire system to default to Menu or Command mode when you join a Forum. An asterisk [*] shows the global setting in your current Forum mode.
PAUSE--You can set how often CompuServe prompts you for a command when reading messages. Settings include Always (read one message at a time, stopping after each one), To You (only stop after messages addressed to you) and Never (scroll mode). When CompuServe pauses after displaying a message, you can reply, reread, or read the replies to the message. If the message is either TO you or FROM you, you can also delete it.
NAME--You can change the name you use in the Forum. Please note that some Forums have this feature disabled, in which case you can ask the sysop to make the change for you.
CHARACTER--You can specify a prompt character. Whenever CompuServe displays a command prompt requesting your input, the character you specify using this option will be appended to the prompt. This is especially useful if you're using a script-driven modem program.
EDITOR--You can choose which editor you prefer to use when leaving messages—the line-numbered LINEDIT, or the non-line numbered EDIT.
SECTIONS--The Sections option lets you select which message sections you want to read. This will help you bypass messages of no interest to you.
HIGH--High Message Read lets you enter a new value for the highest message you've read in the Forum. You can enter the new value, L for last, or press the [RETURN] key for no change.
REPLIES--Before reading the replies to a message, you can choose to see the message numbers of all replies with the LIST selection, a specified number with the COUNT selection, or no replies at all with the NONE selection.
TYPE--With this option ON, all of your waiting messages are shown in full text when you enter the forum. With it OFF, only the heading of waiting messages is displayed. The REA WAI (READ WAITING) command at the Main Functions menu lets you retrieve the full text of waiting messages.
SKIP--This option lets you avoid reading messages that you posted yourself.
OLD FORUM SOFTWARE
CompuServe will offer the old Forum software for one year after the release of the new version. They encourage you to learn the new menu and command system at your own convenience offline by reading the information they'll send you in the mail. To continue using the old Forum software, type in your User I.D. as follows when logging on:
User I.D.: 76703,4363;0LDF
CompuServe will support as many of the old Forum commands as possible to help you during your transition.
The following commands will not be supported by the new software:
Functions Menu--B, R, RTONLY, S, STONLY, STDISONL, STONLDIS, QSALL, QSONLY
Read Actions Prompt: UA, SM, C
Post Menu: C, P, L, R, I, D, RA
For more information about the new Forum software, call CompuServe Customer Service at (800) 848-8990 or send an online FEEDBACK (type GO FEEDBACK at any system prompt). Connect time spent in the FEEDBACK area is free of charge. And, of course, always feel free to leave a message addressed to a sysop in your favorite CompuServe Forum with any questions you have about the new software.
Mike Schoenbach is one of the sysops on CompuServe's SIG *Atari.
NEW: BBS COVERAGE COMING TO ANTIC
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