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Gateways II/CompuServe

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We talked a few issues back (TidBITS-130 and #133) about various fascinating things on the Internet as an introduction to a series of articles aimed at bringing all of the users of commercial services closer together via the Internet. Along the way, we'll talk about where TidBITS lives on each of these services and what special connections those services have made available, along with their limitations and workarounds.

One of the oldest commercial services, CompuServe, has long provided basic Internet access through an email gateway. Some people find it a bit harder to use than some of the other gateways, since you must prefix the Internet address with the string

>INTERNET:

and if you don't get that right, your mail won't go through. Sending email to someone on CompuServe from the Internet (or through another gateway to the Internet and then on to CompuServe) is quite easy. Just take the ugly CompuServe address like 72511,306 (my address), replace the comma with a period, and add (minus the quotes) "@compuserve.com". Thus, the Internet form of my CompuServe address is:

72511.306@compuserve.com

Gateway size limitation -- CompuServe has one of the better gateways to the Internet, especially with some recent changes. Until quite recently, CompuServe imposed an approximately 50K limit on the size of incoming messages, which made it difficult to for CompuServe members to participate in certain digest-based mailing lists like the ever-popular Info-Mac Digest. Recently, however, CompuServe upped that incoming limit to the thoroughly-useful 500K, so most everything will fit through.

Do keep in mind that not all systems along a path will necessarily allow 500K files to go through, so even though CompuServe will allow such a large file, another system in the line may refuse to send it along. You shouldn't run into that with most true Internet machines, but UUCP-only sites often impose message-size limits. Of course, a 500K file may cost up to $10 given the various fees you will have to pay. More on fees in a bit. First let's talk about some of the problems you might encounter with transferring files via the gateway.

BinHex problems -- CompuServe's Internet gateway does have its fair share of problems. It is text-only, so you will have to Binhex (with the BinHex 4.0 format, found in StuffIt Lite, Compact Pro, Downline, and numerous other programs) any binary files that will pass through the gateway. You may at some time run into a serious problem where certain lines in a BinHex file are different lengths, which is a great evil and will prevent you from defunking that file. Apparently CompuServe's HMI (Host-Micro Interface) uses the @ sign for its own nefarious purposes, which prompts CompuServe Information Manager (though version 2.0.1 seems to be OK) and Navigator to double the @ sign in sending mail and to strip an extra one from incoming mail. You will not see this problem if you avoid the HMI programs for uploading and downloading mail, but, as Joe Sewell says, "depending on who sends and who receives, the phase of the moon, and other predictable factors, you might get zero, one, or two @'s for each @ in the original message." Be careful out there, and when in doubt, drop back to a terminal program.

TidBITS on CompuServe -- Now that you know a bit about the gateway and things to watch out for, how can you get TidBITS through it? Those of you interested in subscribing to our Internet mailing list for TidBITS via CompuServe can do so easily. Just send email to:

>INTERNET:LISTSERV@RICEVM1.RICE.EDU

with this line in the body of the mailfile:

SUBSCRIBE TIDBITS your full name

But... Since email comes in as uncompressed text, you will find it cheaper to download each issue of TidBITS from CompuServe directly each week. I currently make TidBITS available in three places, the ZiffNet/Mac DownTech library #7 (GO ZMC:DOWNTECH), the Macintosh Community Clubhouse library #8 (GO CIS:MACCLUB), and the Desktop Publishing Forum library #16 (GO DTPFORUM). I upload the straight text version to the Desktop Publishing Forum's library, so if you cannot defunk a StuffIt 1.5.1 file for some reason, you will want to get TidBITS from there or via the mailing list.

CompuServe's charges -- As long as we're talking about money, what will all this cost you? CompuServe charges for you to receive mail, so participating in Internet mailing lists can add up. CompuServe has two fee plans. The recently-introduced Standard Service costs a flat $7.95 per month and allows free access to a certain subset of CompuServe services (others, including the computing forums, are billed at normal connect time rates listed below). Internet email costs extra however, so the first 7,500 characters will cost $0.15 and each additional 2,500 characters of Internet email will run you $0.05. However, just to confuse the issue, you get a $9.00 credit each month, and CompuServe only charges you when your email charges exceed that $9.00.

The connect time fee structure (which makes more sense if you spend all your time in the non-free areas that would use this fee structure even under the Standard Services plan) costs $2.00 per month plus $22.80 per hour for 9600 bps and $12.80 per hour for 2400 bps, but Internet email doesn't cost anything extra. Despite no additional charges for email, the connect charges can add up, especially since CompuServe appears to limit its 9,600 bps connections to 960 characters per second throughput, whereas internal modem compression protocols like v.42bis could theoretically increase throughput to 3,000 characters per second on uncompressed text such as email.

One note of interest - if you do not read an Internet message sent to you within 30 days or delete it without reading it, CompuServe doesn't charge you for it. That can be handy if you can identify junk mail by the subject. Of course, if you automate your mail with MicroPhone II's LORAN, CompuServe Information Manager, or Navigator, you won't have a chance to delete mail unread easily.

Still, you may find CompuServe a useful and economical choice for limited Internet email access, although I should mention quickly that the most economical choice for receiving lots of Internet email is a deal through MCIMail because receiving email is free after a $35 per year fee. We'll cover that in a bit more depth in a future Gateways article.

ZiffNet/Mac -- I mentioned the ZiffNet/Mac DownTech library rather blithely above, but ZiffNet/Mac requires some explanation. Although it exists on CompuServe's computers, ZiffNet/Mac is a separate, private service that carries a $2.50 per month membership fee. If you already use CompuServe, that $2.50 comes on top of your $2.00/month normal or $7.95/month Standard Services CompuServe membership fee. The same connect charges ($12.80/hour at 2,400 bps, $22.80/hour at 9,600 bps) apply to ZiffNet/Mac as to CompuServe, except for a few special free areas. You can join from CompuServe by typing GO ZMAC at any prompt. Alternately, give them a call at the number listed below.

Although certainly smaller than the MAUG (where the Mac people hang out) forums on CompuServe proper, the ZiffNet/Mac forums do well in terms of lively and interesting discussions, and since many of the prominent journalists for Ziff-Davis publications (including MacUser and MacWEEK) hang out there, discussion often centers on columns and articles in those magazines. All in all, ZiffNet/Mac is thoroughly enjoyable place for hobnobbing with industry wizards and one I often find less overwhelming than the MAUG forums.

ZiffNet/Mac -- 800/666-0330

Internet Access Services -- As much as an email gateway will provide a good deal of access to the Internet, it won't give you certain useful features, like Usenet news. To address this problem, a company called Bear Software set up Internet Access Services. For a fee based on the amount of data you want, they will snag postings to Usenet newsgroups (and even filter them for you for a bit more money), send you by email any file available via anonymous FTP, and even collect and archive all mailing list messages for a day, uploading a compressed file of the day's messages to you via CompuServe mail, thus saving time because you can download a single compressed file.

For these services, Bear Software charges $0.50 per 10,000 bytes of compressed text, or $0.60 per 10,000 bytes if you want them to filter the news. It appears from some rough calculations that Bear Software's services cost about the same as getting information such as Usenet news from CompuServe directly (if it were available there, which it's not) due to the compression of the text files.

Being Unix PC-based, Bear Software generally uses PKZIP to compress everything, but they can also send files in the standard Unix "tar.z" format, and either way, various defunking utilities exist. For more information, contact Bear Software.

Bear Software -- ugf@bearsw.com -- 71561.3021@compuserve.com

Telnet to CompuServe -- Now for the really funky stuff. It appears that those of you on the Internet can connect to CompuServe via a telnet connection provided by Merit in Michigan. Simply telnet to <hermes.merit.edu>, and enter "compuserve" (without the quotes) at the "Which Host?" prompt. Entering "help" at that prompt will return information on other hosts that are available, such as Dialog and Dow Jones, along with lots of other useful help information. Entering "um-dns" even gives you a domain name server if you need to look up a machine's Internet number or other information. Keep in mind that this connection to CompuServe, while neat, does not come free. SprintNet (formerly Telenet) bills CompuServe for those calls, which are set up as collect calls via SprintNet from Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Merit's machines live. CompuServe then passes the charges on to you with a surcharge of $1.70 per hour for non-prime time usage (which isn't too bad) and $11.70/hour for prime-time usage and for calls from Hawaii, Alaska, Canada, or Mexico. For those of you in other countries the surcharge increases to a ghastly $49.70 per hour.

This sounds pretty bad, and not all that useful, but the non-continental United States charges should never apply because that phone call originates from Ann Arbor, Michigan, not from the country you telnet from initially. So CompuServe users in other countries especially may find this an economical access method.

Merit Dial-Out -- Jeff Needleman, in addition to providing much of the information above, also mentioned a cheaper way of connecting to CompuServe or any other modem-based service or BBS via the Internet.

Among the hosts available at hermes are dial-out modems here in Ann Arbor Michigan. Ann Arbor itself has local call access to CompuServe's own network, as well as local access numbers for Tymnet and SprintNet. With a telephone credit card or a University of Michigan telecommunications account (which is available to non-U-M people), you can dial-out anywhere in the world through the Ann Arbor modems. So you can reach any computer anywhere accessible by a modem just by telnetting through the Internet and linking up this way. For local Ann Arbor access, there is a sign-up fee of $50, which includes $10 for set-up and $6.80 for overhead; the balance is credited to your dial-out account. Each local dial-out call is charged at $0.25 regardless of length. CompuServe makes no extra charge for use of its own network, and that's just a local call via Ann Arbor dial-out. The dial-out modems are unfortunately limited to 2,400 bps, but since CompuServe itself is limited to 9,600 bps [and for actions other than up/downloading, which you may not be able to do through this connection anyway, you will never see anywhere near 9,600 bps anyway -Adam] this is not a severe drawback.

You can get more information on how to sign up for this dial-out service by sending email to:

nis-info@nic.merit.edu

with this line as the first line of the message:

send auth.service

You may have trouble downloading binary files from the CompuServe libraries through either of these connections due to the number of different steps and machines involved. If your machine can generate a true hardware break (not a software-generated break), then it's more possible, but frankly, I'm not putting any money on it. You'll have to ask the folks at Merit <info@merit.edu> for the specific details. It gets confusing fast, so we're just trying to point you in the right direction. Basic text access should work fine though. We hope you find all of this information interesting, if not immediately useful, and file it away for some time when your situation warrants. I'm just amazed that all these various connections exist, and I long for the day that we can stop worrying about them and get on with the business of communicating with each other.

Merit Network -- 313/764-9430 -- info@merit.edu

Information from:
Jeffrey L. Needleman -- JNeedleman@MCIMail.com
Mark Nutter -- manutter@grove.iup.edu
Al Heynneman -- 70110.611@compuserve.com
Joe Sewell -- 74136.360@compuserve.com
Robert Hess -- robert_hess@macweek.ziff.com

 

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