AOL's FTP client has some interesting features that set it apart, although it also suffers from AOL's overly window-based interface and the fact that it can only download, not upload. Once you tunnel into the FTP area by clicking on the FTP button in the Internet Connection, you get a window that provides buttons for using FTP or for searching a somewhat limited set of FTP sites on some keywords. Although useful, the search didn't turn up nearly as many sites as it should have in an ideal world when I searched on "apple.com".
Nevertheless, when you click on the Go To FTP button, AOL presents you with a short list of popular sites (see figure 12.9) that it mirrors, which means that AOL keeps a copy of the files from those sites locally to reduce Internet traffic and load on those machines.
Figure 12.9: AOL FTP Favorite Sites.
Although this list of favorite sites is fairly short, you can connect to any other site by clicking the Other Site button and entering the FTP site's name. You also can enter full FTP URLs in the Other Site window to navigate all the way into an FTP site, although you cannot enter a URL that specifies a file -- the URL must end in a directory name only, such as:
In either case, once you connect to a site, you see a dialog displaying whatever message that site sends out to all who connect, and then a window listing all the files in the default directory. Files are sorted alphabetically, and there is no way to change that. Dates, file sizes, and little icons are provided for each entry, so you can tell when a file was uploaded, how large it is, and if it's a file or a folder or the equivalent of an alias in Unix (a little squiggly icon, according to AOL's help -- I haven't seen one yet).
Now, the most interesting part of AOL's FTP client is that when you actually retrieve a file by clicking on the Download Now button (see figure 12.10), AOL first retrieves it from the Internet site (assuming you're not using one of the AOL mirror sites), and once it's on AOL's machines, proceeds to download it to your Mac.
Figure 12.10: AOL FTP file downloading.
Note the Finish Later button. Because AOL has downloaded this file, Disinfectant, in my example, to an AOL machine before letting me download it to my Mac, I can click the Finish Later button to put the download process in my Download Manager (located in the File menu) and finish the download at a later time, even during an automated FlashSession. I've never seen any other FTP client allow for interrupting and resuming downloads, so this is a welcome feature. Why sit through a long file download when it can happen when you're off doing something, anything, else?
Note: If you connect to a site that requires a userid and password (which is possible) via AOL and download a file that contains sensitive information, remember that your file exists on AOL's machines, at least temporarily, and for the truly paranoid, that might be unacceptable.
Overall, AOL's FTP client is clunky, but useful, and it's extremely handy to be able to use it while getting files from the Internet for setting up an Internet connection. I would like to see it offer multiple connections at the same time like Anarchie does now, so that you could work on more than one site at a time rather than being forced to sit and wait for AOL to retrieve the file and then start downloading it to your Mac. One easily added feature would be to turn FTP into a batch operation -- let the user basically mark a file for downloading later, and have it come in via the next automated FlashSession.
Along with its other Internet services, AOL provides limited access to Gopher servers and WAIS sources. Once again, I'm not all that impressed with the interface AOL provides, compared to the MacTCP-based clients for Gopher and WAIS. Clicking the Gopher & WAIS Databases button in the Internet Connection window brings up the Gopher and WAIS window, which contains a number of top-level topics. Delving into the topics that America Online presents is much like working with a normal Gopher server, with WAIS and searchable Gopher items represented by little book icons (see figure 12.11).
Figure 12.11: Gophering on America Online.
There are several major limitations to AOL's implementation of WAIS, and -- somewhat more so -- Gopher. Most importantly, you can only retrieve text items. There is simply no way to download a file of any other type, such as a JPEG or GIF picture, as far as I can see. I'm also bothered by the selection of Gopher and WAIS items that AOL includes. There's nothing wrong with it, but they make it downright difficult to get out to the normal Other Gopher and Information Servers item that you can easily access with TurboGopher. Scroll all the way down to the bottom of the Gopher and WAIS window to the Other Gophers item. Double-click on it to open its window. But that's not it, yet. Finally, click on the More "Other Gopher" button to bring up the More "Other Gopher" Resources window. It shows you the full geographical hierarchy of Gopher servers that can be handy for finding a new Gopher server.
Luckily, using Veronica to find something isn't nearly so hard, because there's a Search All Gophers button on the main Gopher and WAIS window that brings up a search window for searching with Veronica. AOL has set up a private Veronica server so response is generally pretty good, although I had trouble finding some Gopher sites that I know are present (see figure 12.12).
Figure 12.12: America Online Searching in Veronica.
Note: You can even use the -t switches that limit the search results to certain types of information. Use -t1 to limit the results to directories, and -t7 to limit the results to searchable items.
My main irritation with America Online's Veronica, and with the Gopher interface in general, is the slow speed, although I would also like to be able to enter a Gopher address or URL directly, rather than schlepping through all the lists and windows.
Unfortunately, there's not much to say about using the Web via AOL until the next version of the software is released. Once that version, 2.6, comes out, you will be able to browse the Web via AOL as well, and that may make the Internet experience via AOL significantly more compelling. Tune in next edition for the next installment of As AOL Turns.
Unlike CompuServe, America Online doesn't charge for internal email or for email that goes in or out through their Internet gateway. In addition, AOL has reasonable monthly base rates of $9.95 for the first five hours and $2.95 per hour for each hour after that. You can sometimes get special sign-up deals that offer even more free time for the first month.
You need America Online's special software to log on to the service, but they distribute it for free. Simply call 800-827-6364, and ask them to send you the software. Alternatively, if you have a friend who already uses AOL, that person can ask AOL to send you the software, and she receives some free time online when you first log on.
If you have an account somewhere that enables you to send Internet email, you can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for a free AOL software kit, or, if you have FTP access, it's available for downloading in:
CompuServe is one of the oldest of the commercial online services, and until recently, it has moved relatively sluggishly to provide Internet services. It had one of the first Internet email gateways, but only added access to Usenet news, FTP, and Telnet somewhat recently.
In a more astonishing move, however, CompuServe recently spent $100 million for Spry, a developer of Windows Internet software that used the CompuServe Packet Network to provide full TCP-based Internet access for Windows users. With that hefty purchase, CompuServe suddenly became a full Internet provider via a PPP account, although only Windows users can take advantage of the software CompuServe provides, since it comes from Spry.
CompuServe provides a number of forums for discussing Internet issues (GO INTERNET to get to them), although they seem to concentrate on Windows topics and software, so you may want to check out a couple of other places where people talk about Macs on the Internet. In the Mac Communications forum (GO MACCOM) there's a section for "Macs on Internet," but a more useful place is in ZiffNet/Mac, which runs on CompuServe's machines. It does cost an additional $3.50 per month (same connect time charges), but the Internet Help section in the ZiffNet/Mac Download and Tech Support (GO ZMC:DOWNTECH) forum is a good place to ask questions.
I don't want to get into the details of configuring MacTCP and Config PPP for use with CompuServe here, because unless you're skipping around, you haven't the foggiest idea what I'd be talking about. However, I can't think of any better place to give these details, so I'll try to keep them brief. Read the chapters on MacTCP and PPP before you try to configure MacTCP and Config PPP with the information below.
CompuServe provides Server-addressed accounts, so make sure that you have PPP selected in the outer level of the MacTCP control panel and then click the More button to bring up the Configuration dialog. Make sure the Server button in the Obtain Address area in the upper right is selected. In the Domain Name Server Information area, enter compuserve.com. in the first left-hand field and 126.96.36.199 in the first right-hand field. Select the Default button next to the IP address that you just entered. In the second left hand field, enter a period, and in the second right-hand field, enter the same IP number. In the third left-hand field, enter a period, and in the third right hand field, enter 188.8.131.52. Close MacTCP, restarting your Mac if it asks you to.
In Config PPP, the only settings that are specific to CompuServe are the phone number, which you can get from CompuServe's automated voicemail system at 800-848-8199, and the Connect Script, which should look like the following screenshot, substituting your CompuServe ID number for "77777,777" and your password for "Your-Password" (see figure 12.13).
Figure 12.13: Config PPP connect script for CompuServe.
For information on how to configure everything else, read chapter 18, "PPP." While testing, I noticed that the performance was about half what I got with the exact same settings on my local Internet provider. My tests were quick and non-conclusive though, so form your own opinions.
Unlike America Online and eWorld, you can use CompuServe's menu-based interface from any terminal program such as ZTerm. However, CompuServe's character-based interface is so ugly that it makes my teeth hurt. Luckily, CompuServe sells two graphical applications that make using CompuServe's services easier and cheaper. Even if you only anticipate using email on CompuServe, I recommend that you get CompuServe Information Manager (CIM), or, if you don't want to use the Internet aspects of CompuServe, get Navigator.
Mike O'Connor designed Navigator specifically to save money when using CompuServe. You tell Navigator what you want to do in terms of reading mail, sending mail, reading discussions on CompuServe, downloading files, and so on, and then you tell Navigator to log on and do everything for you. Because it works quickly by itself off-line, it stays on for a shorter time than you normally would, and thereby saves you money. That's good. However, Navigator was designed for reading discussions on CompuServe, so it's clumsy for email use. Every item, mail or otherwise, is appended to a linear Navigator session file that rapidly grows large and cumbersome to navigate when searching for old mail that you haven't yet replied to.
In contrast, CIM works much better for all of the Internet services that CompuServe provides because CompuServe is designing and updating it specifically to provide graphical access to Usenet news, FTP, and Telnet (as much as you can provide graphical access to Telnet). Also important is the fact that CIM provides a much more flexible interface for reading and replying to email. If you plan to use CompuServe for anything other than participating in the discussion forums and uploading and downloading files, I recommend that you get CIM instead of Navigator. I actually use both, because CIM is lousy for reading discussions and retrieving files.
You can use CIM to connect to CompuServe if you have the latest version of CIM (2.4.1 or later) and a Communications Toolbox Telnet tool like the VersaTerm Telnet tool. To connect to CompuServe using CIM, go to the Special menu and choose Connection from the hierarchical menu (see figure 12.14). In the Method pop-up menu, choose a Telnet tool that you've previously installed in your Extensions folder. I've only found two that work at all reliably, the VersaTerm Telnet Tool and the TCPack Telnet Tool (I used the demo). The others I tried, including the versions of the TCPack Tool for AOL and for eWorld, the Mark/Space Telnet Tool, and the MP Telnet Tool, either didn't work or crashed CIM. You can get the TCPack Telnet Tool demo from:
Click the Configure button and enter compuserve.com for the host name. All other default settings should work. Make sure the Network pop-up menu is set to Internet, and the Connect Type menu is set to Direct Connection. Click the OK button to save your changes.
Figure 12.14: CIM Settings window.
Although this might seem to be an attractive way to connect to CompuServe, I've found it rather flaky. In addition, CompuServe reportedly (and it seems this is true based on performance) limits the speed at which you can connect to the speeds supported by its modems, even if you happen to have a much faster Internet connection. The policy makes sense, given that some of CompuServe's accounts charge different rates based on speed of access, but it's still irritating to have a fast Internet connection throttled down to the speed of a modem.
CompuServe is an old service; it wasn't designed with the Internet in mind. Thus, all of the Internet services feel as though they've been badly tacked on to a framework that simply wasn't designed to support them. When you add in the fact that CompuServe could really use some good interface designers, you end up with tools that work, but may cause more frustration than they're worth. Currently, the four Internet services that CompuServe provides internally are email, Usenet news, Telnet, and FTP. You can access all of them (see figure 12.15) from the CompuServe Internet Services window (GO INTERNET).
Figure 12.15: CompuServe Internet Services.
Do remember that CompuServe also provides straight MacTCP-based access through a PPP connection -- check out Part IV, "Full Internet Access," for information on how to configure and use MacTCP and the MacTCP-based software.
CIM is good at email (GO MAIL), especially in comparison to Navigator, because it can transfer all your mail quickly and automatically. CIM shows you a nice list of all your mail and enables you to sort it in several different ways. I seldom mess with the sorting, but listing mail makes much more sense than forcing the user to scroll through each message, as Navigator does. See figure 12.16.
Figure 12.16: CIM In Basket.
I often find myself receiving email that I don't have time to respond to immediately, or perhaps the message requires enough research that I don't want to respond for a day or two. In either case, it's easy to lose email in Navigator, whereas in CIM you can easily see which messages need a response. CIM also makes it easy to save copies of outgoing messages (useful for those times when you want to say, "I didn't write that!" in a hurt tone). Also, you can file messages in different folders, essential if you receive email about different projects.
The hard part about sending email to the Internet from CompuServe is the addressing. You must know the magic words to add to an Internet address for CompuServe to behave properly. It's not difficult, only obscure and easy to type incorrectly. If you want to send email to my account on the Internet, email@example.com, you prefix >INTERNET: to my address, so the ungainly end result looks like >INTERNET:firstname.lastname@example.org. Easy enough, but people often type the address slightly wrong. It doesn't seem to make a difference whether a space lives between the colon and the start of the Internet address, but remember that spaces are verboten within an Internet address. To further complicate matters, when you receive Internet email in CIM or Navigator, they both politely strip the > symbol from the beginning of the message. "Oh no," you think, "then replying won't work." If you thought that, then you're quite clever, but wrong, at least for CIM. Don't ask why, but CIM doesn't mind not seeing the > symbol if it isn't present in a reply. Navigator at one point couldn't do that, so replying to Internet email without adding that > symbol manually didn't work. I believe it works fine now, so feel free to strip the > symbol if you're using the latest versions of CIM or Navigator.
Luckily, sending email from the Internet to CompuServe poses fewer problems. You merely must follow two simple rules. First, all CompuServe addresses are pairs of octal numbers, or some such nonsense. My CompuServe address looks like 72511,306. Commas aren't allowed in Internet addresses (they usually indicate a list of addresses), so you must change the comma to a period and then add @compuserve.com. My address, then, becomes email@example.com. Unless you have a better memory for octal numbers than I do, put CompuServe addresses in a nicknames file or address book.