We stirred up hornet's nest with our review of the PPI and Supra modems in TidBITS-163. People made many comments, which you'll see a sampling of below, but first I want to explain that TidBITS is not MacSolarSystem, so it is impossible for us to review every modem or test every situation. Instead, we used these modems heavily in our daily work, which occasionally produces results you couldn't find any other way.
Supra Problems -- The comments that concerned us the most had to do with the Supra modem, which evidently has not worked out well for some.
Tony Huang <email@example.com> writes:
As anyone who occasionally browses the relevant newsgroups on the net would know, there are two groups of Supra users: those that are very happy with the product and those that are extremely dissatisfied. The majority seem to be in the latter category. I own a Supra modem. I use it primarily to access the Cornell SLIP server and a few commercial services. For these applications, the Supra is a fine product. However, Supras are known to have problems connecting (and maintaining the connection) to many modems, especially to one another! So, Supras are not good choice for BBSing, if that's your primary application. The commercial services typically use more-expensive modems (such as the Motorolas, Hayes or USR Couriers) that will connect to any modem.
Joe Clark <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes:
I own one of those kooky Supra modems you talked about and have had a few problems. I ordered the free ROM upgrade and couldn't install it because one of the screws on the case simply wouldn't budge. Then the speaker died. Also, Microphone 1.7 is primitive, and FaxSTF's interface and performance are much less fabulous than you think. (If it "can't confirm the last page," whatever that means, it keeps redialing and sending the whole document over again, possibly racking up major phone charges.) In addition, I have a hard time logging onto my local Internet source (up to fifty tries are necessary). If I can get enough money together to buy a completely new modem, I will. You'll find lots of flames like mine on comp.dcom.modems, where opinion is split about the Supra models.
Other good modems -- A number of people wrote to tell us about how much they like various other modems, including modems from ZyXEL, US Robotics, and Global Village.
I'd suggest that while the Supra may be fine for the casual communications user, it may well prove problematic for those with intensive data communication needs, noisy phony lines, etc. I know that in response to Usenet discussion threads I bought two ZyXEL PLUS's. I'm glad I spent the extra money because these modems have been exceptionally reliable (not a single lost connection) in many intensive tasks.
Thomas B. Cowin <email@example.com> writes:
We have been using Global Village TelePort/Gold modems, which have performed well - high marks to Global Village for fax software and capability. Also, in researching v.32bis fax modems for PCs, I ran across a religious conversion occurring on comp.dcom.modems - almost everyone seems to be absolutely crazy about the ZyXEL modems' features and reliability. I have one on order. In a rating of popular modems on a scale that runs from -10 to +10, the ZyXEL comes in at +8.2, and Supra a +5.8 (over 40 survey responses.) There's a summary put together by <firstname.lastname@example.org>, and even a ZyXEL FAQ by <email@example.com>.
Eric Hoffmann <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes:
US Robotics (USR) has a number of modems that support v.32bis, such as the Mac & Fax Sportster, and I feel it is a better modem than either of the two you reviewed for a similar price. Proprietary protocols are nothing new, or even unique to USR. By my reckoning, USR, Hayes, ZyXEL, and Telebit have all introduced modems with proprietary protocols that achieve top speed only when connected to another modem of the same model.
Fax Software -- A number of comments concerned fax software, both recommendations for other programs and fixes for FaxSTF (which does have some problems - just the other day I tried to fax something and FaxSTF sent it all fine except the PICT of my signature).
Doug Smith <email@example.com> comments:
I have the Global Village PowerPort/Gold modem. If the fax software for Global Village's desktop modems is anything like what comes with the PowerPort, it is fantastic. I've had total success in both sending and receiving faxes; even the first time I tried it.
Eric Hoffmann writes:
FaxSTF does have a nifty little application that goes into your Apple Menu items folder: FaxState. Using FaxState, you can completely bypass the seven steps it takes to activate or deactivate the software. You bring up the application and if the software is active, it turns it off. If the software is off, it turns it on. Look for it inside the "Unsupported Software" folder on the FaxSTF software disks. You might also mention a utility called CommCloser that forces a serial port to close. Sometimes ports get left open and you can't get communication programs to work without restarting. CommCloser closes the port and lets you avoid a restart.
Edward Reid <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes:
I just got an upgrade from STF. (You can do this for $9 by sending in your original disk, even if it came bundled with a modem and has some other vendor's name on the disk.) They claim the OCR package is available for $109. It's a special-purpose version of the Calera software (WordScan), so it should be good. I can't compare directly; I have TypeReader, which I find nothing short of amazing. However, even a clean high-resolution fax requires editing after recognizing, and graphical objects like logos, letterheads, mastheads, etc., are likely to be handled poorly.
A review of OCR programs in the Jan-93 MacUser included fax tests. Unfortunately, although they tested lo-res and hi-res paper faxes from a fax machine, they only tested a fax modem with hi-res faxes. In my experience, most people use lo-res unless you insist on hi-res. MacUser's review placed WordScan at the top of the heap at recognizing faxes, though TypeReader was too new to make that review. Accuracy on hi-res to the fax modem was good (about 99%), possibly good enough to auto-delete faxes after recognizing if you are willing to accept some errors, or to review the text version and delete the image without looking at it if the text looks OK. Recognition of lo-res paper faxes, scanned, was down at 90%, which is unusable. Even though that will improve with eliminating the paper step, I doubt it will reach the 97% level that is needed to make the effort worthwhile.
On the other hand, it might be useful just to display the recognized text side-by-side with the image. That way one could choose to read whichever turns out better. That could be especially useful, since viewing faxes on screen is such a disaster that I usually print important faxes anyway.
Another feature which would make fax OCR much more useful would be for the recognition engine to save as graphics any images (obviously not text) and any sections of text that are not recognized with high reliability. Perhaps future versions of these programs will offer something like that. The MacUser review says little about saving graphics.
Technical Support -- Comments about technical support from various companies and interested users included these two bits.
Eric Hoffmann writes:
For support issues, you should mention that people should hang out on the Usenet newsgroup comp.dcom.modems. You will find terrific support for Telebit, Hayes, US Robotics, and ZyXEL modems there. Over the past several months there has been a high level of dissatisfaction with Supra modems with various ROM revisions.
Geoff Duncan <email@example.com> writes:
I had a Supra technician talk me through a very confusing set of undocumented command settings to get the thing to connect to - get this - a bookstore POS (Point Of Sale) system. Not only was that out of the realm of "normal use," but he spent a good hour with me getting it to work correctly - all on Supra's phone bill. As a result, I have a high opinion of their support staff. However, I've yet to receive my promised ROM upgrade, and I found several important technical errors in their documentation. Still, good support is hard to find.
Bits and Pieces -- And finally, we received a bunch of random pieces of information that should be useful to those who need to know.
Eric Hoffmann writes:
While you're mentioning sources for genuine "hardware-handshaking" cables, don't forget about Paul Celestin's company. He has been making the correctly wired cable for years now. He worked (and may still) for Software Ventures, makers of MicroPhone. He's a nice guy to boot, and I swear by his cables.
P.O. Box 10949
Oakland, CA 94610
Norm Steffen <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes:
Patrick Chen has compiled a good document on the nuts and bolts of modem communication. It is titled "What You Need To Know About Modems" and is part one of three in a work titled "The Joys of Telecomputing". Part one is free. I plunked down the $18 bucks for parts two and three and think it was a good deal. It took him a little longer to respond than I had hoped, but he came through.
My edition is out of date as far as prices go, but much of the rest of the information is still good. [Patrick Chen didn't answer email at any of his electronic addresses. -Adam] You can find this file via anonymous FTP on sumex-aim.stanford.edu as:/info-mac/report/modem-guide-10.txt
Edward Reid writes:
Users might want to compare prices of these modems in Computer Shopper; some distributors sell them without software or cable, both of which you can purchase elsewhere.