I must confess up front to a certain bias against the next few programs that I talk about. This is not so much because they're bad programs -- on the contrary, they're quite good -- but because they provide access to standard shell accounts and ugly command-line interfaces, and I have a MacTCP-based connection and lots of great graphical software. Oh well, as Bill Watterson, creator of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, has said, "Scientific progress goes 'boink.'"
That's right, I'm talking about NCSA Telnet, Comet, TN3270, and the various Telnet tools, all of which let you travel back in time to the days when you couldn't do the sorts of things that I've talked about so far in this chapter.
NCSA's best-known application is also their most recent -- NCSA Mosaic -- but NCSA Telnet comes from the same organization and is equally as much an essential part of your MacTCP toolkit. The latest version of NCSA Telnet is 2.6, although there's a 2.7b2 in testing right now.
There isn't any configuration necessary for you to start using NCSA Telnet, but just like the Unix Telnet, there's not much to do with it unless you know where you're going. Telnet doesn't do anything on its own; it's merely a conduit to another program running on a remote machine.
After you launch NCSA Telnet, go to the File menu and choose Open Connection. NCSA Telnet opens a dialog box in which you enter the host to which you want to connect (if you must enter a port number, enter it here to with a space separating it from the host name). There's also a pop-down menu for selecting a predefined host (see figure 27.10).
Figure 27.10: NCSA Telnet Open Connection dialog.
Don't worry about the FTP Session checkbox and the Authenticate and Encrypt options. They are only valid if you get additional software. If you don't want to provide a window name, that's no big deal, either. Click OK and NCSA Telnet opens a terminal window that enables you to log in to the machine you specified, in my case, my account on halcyon.com (see figure 27.11).
Figure 27.11: NCSA Telnet Terminal window.
Once you get to this point, you must play by the rules of the remote machine, which in this case involves using the basic Unix shell account. You could also have connected to an Archie server, to a MUD, to a library catalog, or any other resource that's available via Telnet.
Although NCSA Telnet certainly has plenty of other commands in its menus, on the whole, you shouldn't have to mess with them regularly. A number of them control how NCSA Telnet reacts to certain types of host machines; with others you can query the network; and various options enable you to determine how your terminal windows look and act. But at the base level, NCSA Telnet enables you, from your Mac, to access services that are limited to the command line.
I like the shortcut for accessing commonly used sites from the Open Connection dialog (you define those sites in the Session submenu from the Preferences menu in the Edit menu). Version 2.6 of NCSA Telnet added a hierarchical Open Special menu to the File menu -- it provides even quicker access to the shortcuts that you've defined. What I'd really like, though, is to have NCSA Telnet remember the last 10 or so sites I've visited and provide instant access to them as well.
I may have sounded terse in the preceding section, but NCSA Telnet does provide some extra neat features. I'm impressed by the capability to open multiple sessions to different sites or even to the same site. Switching between sites is as simple as clicking on another window.
If you regularly use one or more Telnet sessions, you can save Set documents that record the open sessions. Opening that document later automatically connects you to all of those sites.
One feature that I often find myself using is the Delete/Backspace toggle under the Session menu. Some sites interpret the Mac's Delete key differently, so if pressing the Delete key doesn't delete a character, try switching to Backspace (or vice versa, if the Backspace key is the problem) from the Session menu.
If you are running NCSA Telnet and you go to the File menu and select FTP Enable, NCSA Telnet turns your Mac into a simple FTP server. Be careful of this capability because it constitutes a possible security risk. Check your settings in the Preferences submenus carefully.
Finally, in a feature that exists only in the forthcoming Telnet 2.7, if you use Internet Config, you can Command-click on any URLs you may see in the course of your Telnet session, and NCSA Telnet passes the URL to the appropriate helper application.
Although I'd like to pretend that you can avoid Telnet in general, that's not true, and thus NCSA Telnet is an essential part of your MacTCP software collection. For instance, there are some services which provide excellent information that you must access via Telnet.
In addition, there are times when it's handy to be able to go in and use Unix. As long as the PPP and SLIP accounts generally available are based on Unix, there will always be some reasons why you might want to log in via Telnet and use Unix. Perhaps you need to unlock a POP mailbox or want move a file from one Unix host to another without bringing it to the Mac in between. Those tasks and various others require access to the Unix command-line, and Telnet provides that access.
NCSA Telnet is a public domain program, which means you can use it for free in any manner you want. You can retrieve NCSA Telnet from either of the following:
Although not in as widespread use as NCSA Telnet, Cornell's Comet has many of the same features as NCSA Telnet, with a few added in. Comet offers a number of additional emulation modes, most notably 3270 (full screen IBM mode), and it provides access to various special keys via buttons on the screen. This is especially handy with 3270 sessions, since they require special keyboard mapping. If you click on the zoom box, rather than zooming the window, Comet minimizes it into an icon on your desktop, much the way Microsoft Windows applications behave. Although less useful for people using PPP or SLIP accounts, for people who must be logged in to a terminal session all day long, this is a great feature for getting Comet out of the way while keeping it easily accessible. Comet 3.1.1 is free from Cornell University.
NCSA Telnet cannot handle all the mainframe sites that you may want to explore. Some IBM mainframes use 3270 terminals, and without delving into the ugly details, let me say that if you want to telnet to one of these machines, you must use either Cornell's Comet or Brown University's free TN3270, which looks as though it were based on NCSA Telnet. TN3270 is similar to NCSA Telnet, but unfortunately, it doesn't appear that you can have multiple windows open with TN3270. You need both the main file for version 2.3d26 and the updated files from 2.4a4 for a complete package.
Several Communications Toolbox (CTB) tools for Telnet also exist. These tools should work with any CTB-aware communications application, such as the free Termy, MicroPhone II, SITcomm, or Communicate. I know of four main Telnet tools at the moment. MicroPhone Pro ships with one called the MP Telnet Tool; VersaTerm includes the VersaTerm Telnet Tool; Tim Endres has written a free one called TGE TCP Tool, and there's a demo of the TCPack Tool that AOL and eWorld use. There's not much to differentiate these tools because all they do is allow a CTB-aware terminal emulator to pretend to be a Telnet application. All provide methods of listing commonly accessed hosts -- the most important user feature. I have had trouble with all of them, which may be the fault of the various applications I was using, but I've had the best luck with the VersaTerm Telnet Tool. You can get the TGE TCP Tool, along with a demo of the TCPack Tool in:
Thinking Machines' WAIS has spawned a number of client applications for the Macintosh. However, with the rise of the World Wide Web as a front end to WAIS databases, the importance of the WAIS clients has significantly decreased. And in fact, none of the WAIS client programs have been updated since the second edition of this book came out in August of 1994. This tells me that there's simply not much interest in stand-alone WAIS clients, so I've reduced the discussion to a capsule review of the client that is still worthwhile, MacWAIS.
In addition to the old and ignored WAIS for Macintosh, I've run across three other specialized WAIS clients that run on the Macintosh -- HyperWAIS, JFIFBrowser, and WAIS Picture Browser. However, none of these seem to have been used seriously, and they certainly haven't been updated in years. I don't recommend you bother even looking for them.
If you don't want to mess with a WAIS client at all, simply point your favorite Web browser at this URL:
MacWAIS provides a decent interface to WAIS sources, and it gives you easy ways to choose which sources to search, what terms you wish to search for, and ways of handling relevance feedback. Simply double-clicking on a document that MacWAIS returns displays it, and if it's large, MacWAIS has a Find command to help out. MacWAIS is a good, simple program that does its job well, but it could use some cleaning up, such as the capability to resize its main window. MacWAIS is $35 shareware from the EINet group of the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation.