Synergy Software's VersaTerm has been one of the preeminent terminal emulation programs for years. Developed by Lonnie Abelbeck, of Abelbeck Software, VersaTerm always seemed to support more terminal types than other terminal emulators, which made it a favorite in academia, where strange terminal types are more common. In more recent years, Lonnie updated VersaTerm to work with the Communications Toolbox, in the process opening it up to MacTCP connections. I don't know the history for sure, but it seems as though that introduction created additional interest in MacTCP utilities. Lonnie then came out with VersaTilities, a package that included numerous Communications Toolbox tools, including a Telnet tool, an FTP Client tool, a Terminal Server tool, and others designed for Ethernet networks. Also included were a SLIP implementation, an FTP server, a time server, and a simple application for using the FTP Client tool without firing up a full-fledged terminal emulator.
All that stuff still exists in VersaTilities. Until the introduction of the free InterSLIP, it was an excellent way to purchase a SLIP program. However, Lonnie added a new application, called VersaTerm-Link, to the VersaTilities package, and that's what I'm going to concentrate on, because it is of most interest to the individual wanting to access the Internet.
VersaTerm-Link is an integrated client application for email, news, Finger, FTP, and Telnet. I look quickly at each part of the program in turn, but in summary, none of the parts quite compete with the best of the freeware or shareware applications I talked about in previous chapters. The synergy created by the links between the different clients, however, makes for some interesting capabilities. More on those links as I go.
First, VersaTerm-Link provides a toolbar that enables you to access all of its parts with a double-click or keystroke (see figure 28.10).
Figure 28.10: VersaTerm-Link toolbar.
I find the need for a double-click odd, because most toolbars require only a single-click, but the shortcut of being able to type a single key without even using the Command key makes up for it. I'd also like to see the toolbar be somewhat configurable to accommodate different working styles and programs.
Although I'm not as fond of VersaTerm-Link's interface as Eudora's, there's a lot to like here. You can have multiple mailboxes, and the program provides icons for indicating mail status (see figure 28.11).
Figure 28.11: VersaTerm-Link In and Out Baskets.
You can sort the messages, move them to another mailbox, trash them (and as in Eudora, they are then moved to a special Trash mailbox), reply to them (and the text is quoted automatically), and forward them. I don't see any command corresponding to Eudora's Redirect command, and when you reply to a message, even if it includes only one person in the header, VersaTerm-Link asks whether you want to reply to all or only the recipient.
VersaTerm-Link works offline in the sense that you can queue messages and send them later. If you use VersaTerm SLIP, VersaTerm-Link automatically connects (asking whether it's OK first), transfers your mail, and then disconnects. If you aren't using VersaTerm SLIP, you must select the messages in your Out Basket to send, which is a minor pain.
In messages that you cannot edit, such as incoming mail and news, you are limited to selecting entire lines. This interface decision is extremely odd because many people want to copy an address or directory path from a message without getting everything else on the line. One nice touch, though, is that with a message open (and this applies to news articles as well) you can select Add to Address Book from the Edit menu, and VersaTerm-Link adds the person to your address book.
The address book is generally well-done, enabling you to add people and groups, along with notes about who they are. It's available whenever you create a new mail message or news posting. You can enter an address into a message manually if you like, but unfortunately there's no way to import that address into your address book with a single click. It's a minor point, but a tad annoying.
VersaTerm-Link supports one or more enclosures to messages. If you so choose, it even compresses them in the StuffIt format before binhexing them and sending them out as an attachment to the message.
You cannot put more than approximately 30K of text in an outgoing message. I didn't check this figure exactly, but it was easy to get VersaTerm-Link to complain that the clipboard was too large to paste. In the most recent version of VersaTerm-Link a previous limitation relating to the amount of text you could view in a message has disappeared.
Overall, the email part of VersaTerm link is good, but not great. You won't go wrong with its simplicity, but you may wish for some of Eudora's features.
VersaTerm-Link's newsreader was the first implementation of a non-threaded newsreader that I like. I didn't think it was possible because I'm addicted to reading and killing threads while scanning Usenet. When you double-click on the toolbar's Read News icon, VersaTerm-Link opens your Subscribed News Groups window (see figure 28.12).
Figure 28.12: VersaTerm-Link Subscribed Groups window.
If you want to subscribe to more groups, clicking on the Groups button enables you to view a list of either all groups or only the new ones that have appeared since you last checked. When you open a group (groups that have new articles have a little folder icon next to their name) from the Subscribed Groups window, VersaTerm-Link displays the newsgroup window (see figure 28.13).
Figure 28.13: VersaTerm-Link Newsgroup window.
The trick here is that even though VersaTerm-Link doesn't understand threads (although it can group articles with the same subjects), you scan through the list of new articles and select the ones you want by Command-clicking on them. After you have selected articles, you can read through them relatively easily by using the Spacebar to page down through an article and using the Return key to move to the next selected article.
The steps described above are what you do if you connect via SLIP or PPP and want to stay online. Most interesting, and VersaTerm-Link is still unusual in this regard, is that you can alternately click the Receive to Disk button and VersaTerm-Link downloads all of your selected articles as fast as it can, which is much faster than you can read. Later on, you can check Local via Disk in the News menu (it's normally set to Remote via Network) and read the news you saved just as though you were logged on. You can reply to messages, and forward them -- and you can do all that offline as well, because VersaTerm-Link knows how to queue both mail and news.
When it comes to FTP, unfortunately, VersaTerm doesn't hold a candle to Anarchie or Fetch. Double-clicking on the FTP Files button on the toolbar opens the FTP Client List (see figure 28.14).
Figure 28.14: VersaTerm-Link FTP Client List.
You can define shortcuts with the New button, and they appear in the list, as shown in figure 28.14. However, there is no way to connect to an FTP site without creating a shortcut for it in your list, and once you create one, it may take a bit of searching to realize that the only way to delete it is by choosing Clear from the Edit menu (a fact that is buried in the manual). All too often I want to connect to a site once, without creating a shortcut; so even though the shortcut asks for the same information that I'm using in logging at once, it feels slightly clumsier. Okay, maybe it's not that big of a deal.
When you double-click on an entry in your list to connect, though, you see the problem (see figure 28.15).
Figure 28.15: VersaTerm-Link FTP window.
VersaTerm-Link doesn't display a large window, so some filenames extend past the window, making it impossible to see their extensions. Even though you can use the Get Info command to view a straight Unix directory listing for the file, VersaTerm-Link doesn't show the file size as a matter of course, which I dislike. In addition, when you're downloading a file, the program gives you a running count of the bytes transferred but never tells you what kind of throughput you're getting, or how many bytes remain. I often abort a file transfer if I'm getting poor throughput; poor throughput tells me that something is wrong with the remote site, and they don't need to handle my download just then. VersaTerm-Link doesn't try to determine the transfer type automatically by looking at the file extension, as Fetch and Anarchie do, and it has no facility for calling another program to debinhex or expand the downloaded files after the fact.
The primary good thing about the FTP client in VersaTerm-Link is that you can have it download in the background as you read news or email, although the same thing works with Anarchie and Fetch and one of the free newsreaders.
VersaTerm-Link's Telnet client resembles all other Telnet programs with the exception of being able to define a login script when you create the shortcut for a site. Like the FTP client, with Telnet you must create a shortcut; there's no provision for a one-time connection without saving that information.
If the Telnet client in VersaTerm-Link isn't powerful enough for you, you can open another one, such as VersaTerm itself (because the entire VersaTilities package comes with both VersaTerm and VersaTerm Pro) or presumably, NCSA Telnet. The Telnet client isn't sufficient in two major areas. First, it supports only the "dumb" terminal type, which prevents you from using Gopher via Telnet, for instance, because that requires a VT100 terminal type. Second, you can have only one Telnet session open at a time, unlike either VersaTerm or NCSA Telnet.
VersaTerm-Link can query Finger, Whois, and Ph servers (which are used to store phone books of users, usually at universities), although using them is often an exercise in frustration when you're looking for someone. Unlike Peter Lewis's Finger, with VersaTerm-Link you must make sure to type the userid and the machine name in the appropriate fields. Other utilities exist too, so you can find out the IP number that goes with a domain name by using the Resolve Domain Name command in the Network menu. And you can do all sorts of stuff using the Tools menu (see figure 28.16).
Figure 28.16: VersaTerm-Link Tools menu.
You can encode and decode BinHex files, check spelling with the included dictionary (a nice touch, especially considering the abysmal spelling habits of many people on the Internet), use rot13 to encode or decode a news message, encrypt or decrypt a message with a password that someone has given you, view a text file, or archive your mail to a text file.
Note: Interestingly, VersaTerm-Link includes the code used for the encryption and decryption in the manual, and encourages others to implement it as a method of keeping messages private. The encryption is not secure, in the sense that any good cryptographer could crack it quickly, but it does discourage prying eyes.
Finally, a new addition to the Tools menu, the Set Privileges command, lets you password protect a number of parts of VersaTerm-Link to prevent others from messing with them. Although I don't personally subscribe to such techniques, preferring education and communication instead, it would be a good way to prevent a child from accessing undesirable newsgroups or FTP sites.
VersaTerm-Link doesn't contain a Gopher or Web browser, but the Open Special Client command in the Network menu enables you to link a single MacTCP application into VersaTerm-Link. I'd like it even more if you could add one or more applications to your toolbar, but I'm glad to see the VersaTerm-Link folks acknowledging that you might want to use other software.
As a clever touch, VersaTerm-Link has a hierarchical Paste Face menu in the Edit menu that lists and describes a number of the common smileys used on the Internet (see figure 28.17).
Figure 28.17: VersaTerm-Link Paste Face menu.
Hidden in the back of the manual, I noticed one really neat feature. If you double-click on a word in any display text window (even though you can select only an entire line, you can still double-click on a word), VersaTerm-Link searches for the next occurrence of that word. You can continue searching forward for that same word by pressing the Tab key, and Shift-Tab searches backwards. That's elegant.
Speaking of the manual, although it's not inspired or particularly fun to read, it covers all of VersaTerm-Link quite thoroughly. A separate manual talks about using all the connection and transfer tools included with the VersaTilities. With commercial software, much of what you're paying for is the documentation and support (which I had no need to call), so it's nice to see adequate manuals.
Despite its many nice features, I cannot necessarily recommend that you spend $85 for VersaTilities when you can use programs such as InterSLIP, Eudora, NewsWatcher, NCSA Telnet, Anarchie, and Netscape. If they didn't exist, buying VersaTilities would be a no-brainer, and Synergy deserves credit for pricing the package reasonably. You may decide that the offline news reading feature and some nice integration between the different parts of the program with items such as the Address Book and the spell checking, make the cost worthwhile. And remember, even if you do agree that Anarchie is the best FTP client, for instance, you can still use the rest of the VersaTerm-Link package quite happily. There's no shame in not using one of a number of bundled features. Now, if only you could reconfigure that toolbar with your favorites...
If, however, you are the sort of person who doesn't mind spending some money and wants a set of utilities in a single package complete with full documentation and support, VersaTilities is definitely a good way to go, especially in conjunction with a Web browser like MacWeb or Netscape. I usually assume that people want to make this choice on their own and spend the least amount of money possible because that's how I am, but I also realize that many people prefer to spend some money and avoid the hassles.
You can buy VersaTerm-Link in the VersaTilities package for a list price of $145, in the VersaTerm package for $195, or in the VersaTerm-Pro package for $295. All of these prices are at least 30 to 40 percent lower if you buy through a mail-order vendor or direct from Synergy. You can contact Synergy to find out more about buying any of their programs via the Internet at firstname.lastname@example.org, via phone at 215-779-0522, or via fax at 215-370-0548.
Although VersaTerm-Link and TCP/Connect II truly are integrated programs, there's another that almost fits into the category, MicroPhone Pro from Software Ventures. It's more a bundle of software than an integrated program, though. Wait a minute! This book is a bundle too -- I'd better do a short capsule review of it here as well.
Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh (ISKM) is a book/disk combination, not an integrated Internet program, but it provides much of the same functionality through a set of freeware and shareware Internet programs that are among the best available. Along with MacTCP and either MacPPP or InterSLIP for the Internet connection, ISKM includes Internet Config, Anarchie, Eudora, and MacWeb and a set of Anarchie bookmarks to all the rest of the major Internet programs available on the Internet. A version with a second disk and paid-up shareware fees is available in software stores; it adds Finger, Talk, a fully functional demo of NewsHopper, and utilities for creating Web pages. At street prices ranging from $16 to $30, ISKM is well worth the money for the hundreds of pages of information in the book alone, and the bundled software is an excellent bonus. Highly recommended. But of course, I'm biased. :-)
MicroPhone Pro doesn't exactly provide integrated Internet access, but it does provide many of the tools you need for Internet access in a single package, including the CommToolbox MP Telnet tool, for use with MicroPhone itself along with other Communications Toolbox-aware programs. Then there's MacSLIP 2.0, the Internet Mail and Internet News modules that offer basic email and news, Fetch from Dartmouth (which means that if you buy MicroPhone Pro, you do not have to pay the shareware fee for Fetch), and TurboGopher from the University of Minnesota. MicroPhone Pro actually duplicates FTP, since it now includes Snatcher, another decent FTP client (see chapter 23, "FTP"). To be complete, I should mention that it also includes a slightly older version of the FaxSTF fax software, and MicroPhone's graphical environment for various commercial services, called Loran. You can purchase MicroPhone Pro 2.0 by mail order for approximately $150, and if you have questions or comments about it, you can contact Software Ventures at email@example.com, or call 510-644-3232; 510-848-0885 (fax).
Perhaps the impression that I'd like you to take away from this chapter is that the Internet is a vast and multi-faceted place. Although the integrated programs may offer some advantages in terms of bringing together the common things you do on the Internet, the trade-offs and compromises often don't seem to me to be worthwhile. Perhaps it's less the fault of the integrated programs than merely the comparison with a set of truly great stand-alone programs that just happen to be freeware or shareware, programs like Eudora, Anarchie, and NewsWatcher. However, remember that the main feature of a MacTCP-based connection to the Internet is choice, and you're more than welcome to choose one of these integrated programs as your base set of Internet applications. The MacTCP-based connection doesn't limit you to that set, luckily, so you're able to mix Netscape with VersaTerm-Link, Anarchie with TCP/Connect II, or any other combination. Just make sure the end result fits your needs.
That said, for those of you who are feeling somewhat overwhelmed with all the possibilities and the feature sets of the main programs that I recommend, let's move next to a simple, step-by-step discussion of how to use these recommended applications.