Although not the cheapest of the services, CompuServe has recently put more reasonable rates into place. CompuServe has had an Internet gateway for some years, and in the last year or so removed the file size limitation on incoming mail (it used to refuse incoming mail larger than 50K or so). CompuServe has added Usenet news and FTP recently, and has promised outgoing Telnet and World Wide Web support in the future, although it's entirely unclear when those features will actually arrive.
CompuServe deserves some points for providing access to the Internet. Yet, when I compare how it does it with, say, the way America Online does it, it seems clumsy. There doesn't seem to be a central entry point, although a GO INTERNET is a start. When using WinCIM, I noticed that some windows look like they're top-level when in fact they are subordinate. It isn't all that confusing; it's just that it doesn't seem to be very well organized. At present, the only real Internet services provided to the CompuServe customer are Usenet news and FTP. I suspect that CompuServe is scrambling to catch up to America Online's better Internet support.
Although you can use CompuServe's menu-based interface from Windows Terminal, it makes my teeth hurt. The only reason to use the menu-based interface these days is that CompuServe has made it possible to telnet in at the same rates as local dialup, which can make for easier and cheaper access, especially for people in other countries.
NOTE: As with BIX and Delphi, if you telnet into CompuServe, make sure you use a program that supports standard transfer protocols such as XMODEM, YMODEM, and ZMODEM, or in CompuServe's case, their B-protocol. Windows Terminal supports only XMODEM so you might want to splurge for a better terminal emulation package if you want to do a lot of CompuServe downloads.
CompuServe sells two graphical applications that make using its services easier and cheaper. Even if you anticipate using only email on CompuServe, I recommend that you get either NavCIS or Windows CompuServe Information Manager (WinCIM).
NavCIS is based on Navigator, a Macintosh program, specifically designed to save users money when using CompuServe. You tell NavCIS 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 NavCIS to log on and do everything for you. Because it works quickly by itself when online, it stays on for a shorter time than you normally would and thereby saves you money. That's good. However, NavCIS was designed for reading discussions on CompuServe, so it's clumsy for email use. Every item, mail or otherwise, is appended to a NavCIS session file that rapidly grows large and cumbersome to navigate when searching for old mail that you haven't yet replied to (see figure 9.20).
Figure 9.20: NavCIS mail composition window.
In contrast, WinCIM works much better for email because it too can transfer all mail quickly and automatically, but also 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 NavCIS does (see figure 9.21).
Figure 9.21: WinCIM 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 NavCIS, whereas in WinCIM you can easily see which messages need a response. WinCIM 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.
Overall, I strongly recommend that you purchase WinCIM if you intend to use CompuServe email seriously. NavCIS is a good value only if you intend to read many of the discussion sections on CompuServe itself (possibly worthwhile, but out of the scope of this book). WinCIM is also a much better overall package for browsing CompuServe's many areas, and I'll use it for the remainder of this section.
CompuServe provides two discussion forums dedicated to the Internet: New Users and Internet Resources. In true forum fashion, there are really two useful sections: discussions/messaging and file site. I'm not sure why there are two forums since New Users is really meant for discussions and messaging and Internet Resources is a file library. Go figure!
Actually, I'm not sure why people would be on CompuServe and talk about the Internet rather than just talking about the Internet on the Internet. Personally, I prefer Nike's advertising slogan Just Do It! However, for existing CompuServe users who are baffled by the Internet and wonder why it appears in their daily newspaper so often, I guess these forums do have a place.
The real gems in this mess are the actual files stored in the Internet Resources. Inside you'll find all sorts of documents relating to the Internet -- including the text for Request for Comments (RFC). I can't count the number of times I've known of a document's existence, yet didn't remember the URL, or even the agency/domain that provided the source. Having CompuServe store them with a fairly reasonable search engine is useful -- OK, so it's expensive, but at least I can remember where to go on CompuServe (see figure 9.22).
Figure 9.22: CompuServe Internet Resources file store.
CompuServe now provides access to Usenet news. Although the interface provided for reading news does work, it's really bad. I don't know why commercial services seem to think that the heirarchical dotted notation is so confusing. How else would you categorize over 9,000 different newsgroups? CompuServe also collates by the description rather than the actual newsgroup name, which is somewhat distressing if you can't think of a proper description (see figure 9.23).
Figure 9.23: CompuServe's Subscribe to Newsgroups window.
But what really kills me is more of a deficiency in WinCIM than anything else. WinCIM does not download everything into a listbox at once -- a newsgroup listing, for instance. Rather, it does a chunky download. You must click the scroll bars to download additional pages. For those that want information that would naturally appear at the bottom of the list, you must continually click on the page-down portion of the scroll bar. I find this utterly unacceptable. Notice in figure 9.24 that we're only to the letter C in the alphabet. Yet, the scroll bar indicates an 80% completion through the list. This is obviously an imcomplete list.
Figure 9.24: CompuServe's partial newsgroup listing.
I guess the CompuServe people found that paging through long lists was a pain, because they do allow searching for newsgroups. This isn't great, but it's an alternative way to access a newsgroup.
The actual subscription and message windows are pretty uninspiring, but at least it supports proper threads (see figures 9.25 and 9.26)
Figure 9.25: CompuServe's Usenet news message listings.
Figure 9.26: CompuServe's Usenet news subscription list.