CompuServe's interface to Usenet news (GO USENET) is functional, but lousy. After you get to the main Usenet news window, you must first select "USENET Newsreader (CIM)" from the list of options to bring up a modal dialog that enables you to read news, subscribe to newsgroups, create an article, and set various options. CIM provides a searching interface for finding groups, and lets you enter a newsgroup name manually, which is the only way to subscribe to groups like alt.sex to which CompuServe doesn't want to provide easy access. After you've subscribed to a few groups (and the manual entry method is by far the fastest, followed by the search engine), you can read articles in those newsgroups by double-clicking on Access Your USENET Newsgroups, at which point CIM displays a list of your subscribed groups in yet another modal dialog (see figure 12.17).
Figure 12.17: CIM Usenet Newsgroup list.
In the list of newsgroups, you can browse the articles contained within, search for text in the subject lines of the articles (a nice touch), mark all the articles read or unread with the oddly-named Clear and Reread buttons, and unsubscribe from newsgroups with the Remove button. As with all of the other modal dialogs, the only way to back out is via the Cancel button.
Browsing in a newsgroup brings up a modal dialog with a list of articles (see figure 12.18). A Retrieve button provides the only other interesting feature in CIM's newsreader. If you select a thread in the article list, and then click the Retrieve button, CIM downloads the entire thread as a text file to your hard disk, where you can read it later, without incurring any connect charges. The other functions available in this dialog are mundane -- you can start reading an article with the Get button, create a new article with the Create button, mark a thread as read with the Clear button, and back out to the newsgroup list with the Cancel button.
Figure 12.18: CIM Usenet article list.
When you finally click on the Get button to read an article, CIM opens (surprise!) one more modal dialog box (see figure 12.19). CIM's designers should be forced to sleep with Apple's Human Interface Guidelines and have little signs with "Thou shalt not use modal dialogs needlessly" pasted up in their offices. Anyway, the actual dialog for reading news enables you to move forward and backward by the article or the thread, mark an article as unread with the Hold button, reply via email or in the newsgroup, forward an article to someone via email, and see the full header information with the More button.
Figure 12.19: CIM Usenet article reading window.
Sorry if I'm ranting, but CIM's Usenet interface irks me to no end. There's absolutely no reason, other than poor design, to use so many modal dialogs that make it difficult and confusing for the user to do much of anything. For instance, if all you wanted to do was forward a single message to someone else via email, you would have to dive down through six modal dialogs and once you'd forwarded the article, come back to the surface through those six modal dialogs. In contrast, NewsWatcher, one of the best of the MacTCP-based Usenet newsreaders, enables you to do the same thing entirely in modeless windows by opening a newsgroup window, double-clicking on an article to read it, choosing Forward from the News menu, and clicking on the Send button in the message window after you've entered the email address. In other words, what takes many frustrating minutes in CIM is simple task in NewsWatcher, simply because of a decent interface. I'll shut up now. If you use CompuServe and want to read Usenet news, CIM's newsreader works.
Unlike eWorld and AOL, CompuServe does support outgoing Telnet (GO TELNET), which means that you can connect to Internet sites in character-modem and do whatever it is that the particular site in question allows. Telnet is rather dull. It's not really the point for those of us interested in using graphical interfaces, but it can be useful on occasion. I tried CompuServe's Telnet feature by telnetting back to my Unix account on coho.halcyon.com, and it sort of worked (see figure 12.20), but because the CIM 2.4.1 on the Macintosh doesn't provide full VT100 emulation, some things I tried were a little ugly or, in the case of Lynx, a Unix-based character-mode Web browser that requires VT100 emulation, unusable.
Figure 12.20: CIM Telnet window.
CompuServe's FTP service (GO FTP) includes a list of selected popular FTP sites (see figure 12.21), although it only includes eight sites, and the List of Sites button brings up almost exactly the same list, with a few minor additions. Similarly, the Site Descriptions button provides descriptions on the same basic list with a few exceptions. Given the hundreds, if not thousands, of useful FTP sites available, the limited lists and seemingly duplicated information are odd.
Figure 12.21: CompuServe FTP window.
More interesting than CompuServe's pre-chewed-for-your-convenience sites is the Access a Specific Site button, which enables you to connect to any other Internet FTP site, assuming it's not running on a Macintosh (via Peter Lewis's FTPd) or a couple of other platforms. Humph! I'm utterly unimpressed with CompuServe's FTP interface. First of all, when you click the Access a Specific Site button, CIM presents you with an ugly dialog box for you to enter the site name, the initial directory, and your userid and password (the last two of which it fills in for you with "anonymous" and your email address). Then, when you actually make the connection, CIM shows a window with two panes and some buttons along the bottom. The left hand pane shows the current list of directories, whereas the right hand pane shows the list of files in the current directory (see figure 12.22).
Figure 12.22: CIM FTP file list.
If there aren't any directories in the current directory, CIM leaves the previous list of directories in the left-hand pane, ignoring the fact that you can't click on them to go anywhere. You must always click the Back or Top buttons to move out of a directory. Although you can select multiple files to download from a directory, you cannot select multiple files from different directories -- when you leave a directory, CIM forgets any files you've selected by clicking on the checkbox to the left of the file name. The Filter button is handy because it enables you to limit the list to files matching a certain string, like *.hqx. And the View button is a nice idea that can't work with long files -- I suspect it's limited to 32K or less. You can connect to a site where you have write privileges and upload files, should you want to do that. Finally, the Leave button enables you to disconnect from an FTP site.
Overall, I'm unimpressed with CompuServe's FTP client. It feels sluggish and the interface is clumsy. It does work, and if you need to get a file via FTP, it's worth using. For daily use, though, I strongly recommend that you use CompuServe's PPP connection and Anarchie or Fetch.
Cost-wise, CompuServe holds the title for the most confusing pricing structures around. A while back, CompuServe introduced a Standard Pricing Plan, which allows unlimited access to a limited set of CompuServe services (most of which aren't the ones you, as a Macintosh or Internet user, might find interesting) for $9.95 per month. Internet email is not included in the Standard Pricing Plan, and services that aren't included are billed at an hourly rate of $4.80 per hour (regardless of speed, although it's still locked at modem speeds for users with fast Internet connections). However, as of May 1, 1995, FTP, Telnet, and Usenet news will be billed at the Internet Services rates, which include three free hours each month and a charge of $2.50 per hour after that. Still with me? Good, because email is another story.
With the Standard Pricing Plan's monthly fee, you get a $9.00 credit toward email, which is billed at a rate of $0.10 for the first 7,500 characters and $0.02 for every 2,500 characters after the first 7,500. Confusing the issue even further, those mail charges apply to sending all mail, but only to reading email from the Internet. You don't pay for reading CompuServe email.
The Alternative Pricing Plan costs only $2.50 per month, and has a higher connect charge, but doesn't charge extra for Internet email. The hourly rates for the Alternative Pricing Plan are $12.80 for 2,400 bps access and $22.80 for 9,600 or 14,400 bps access. I have no idea how the Internet services interact with the Alternative Pricing Plan, or even if that is allowed.
If you plan to use more than nine hours of Internet services each month, CompuServe offers Standard Pricing Plan users the option to join the Internet Club. The Internet Club charges $15 for 20 hours of use (on top of your normal $9.95 Standard Pricing Plan monthly fee) and then charges $1.95 per hour after 20 hours. Unused free hours disappear at the end of the month, and CompuServe Internet Services are free of communications surcharges if you use CompuServe's network in the U.S., Canada, or Western Europe. If you use a different network to access CompuServe's Internet, additional communications surcharges apply. Luckily, no matter what you choose for Internet access via CompuServe, it all ends up on a single bill.
You must purchase a CompuServe Membership Kit to access CompuServe. You can order it from mail order vendors or directly from CompuServe at 800-848-8199. The package I've seen in a recent MacConnection catalog costs only $25 and includes CIM. You also can get more information and sign up for CompuServe via the CompuServe Web page at:
The most recent arrival in the commercial online service world is Apple's new eWorld service, which opened to the public in the summer of 1994. Apple based eWorld heavily on AOL, using the same server and client software, but with various modifications and a somewhat different interface (see figure 12.23).
Figure 12.23: eWorld Welcome screen (it's much nicer in color).
Currently, about all you can do with the Internet on eWorld is send and receive email. However, the eWorld folks have announced that they will add Internet access similar to AOL's in 1995. I was able to get a peek at the beta software that should arrive in mid-1995, complete with support for Usenet news, FTP, and the World Wide Web.
Note: eWorld is slated to replace AppleLink at some point in time. Apple claims to have reserved all of the AppleLink userids on eWorld and will transfer those accounts when they take AppleLink down, which means that theoretically, if you know someone's AppleLink account, the same username should work on eWorld as well.
For many people, however, the main advantage of 1.1, the future version of the eWorld software, will be the fact that it supports connections to eWorld via a MacTCP-based Internet connection. In the beta I used, you had to move an eWorld TCP file from a For MacTCP Users folder into an eWorld Files folder before being able to click the Edit Local Setup button and choose eWorld TCP from the Connect Method pop-up menu (see figure 12.24).
Figure 12.24: eWorld Setup window.
As with America Online, the primary advantage to the TCP connection method is that it opens up eWorld to many folks who have an Internet connection but can't call an eWorld access number for free, and it works at faster speeds on connections made over fast, dedicated Internet connections. At this point, it's all I use.