WinComm Pro is something of a Swiss-army-knife program for Windows modem communications. I include it here because, along with everything else, it provides a graphical interface to Internet electronic mail by dialing up a Unix Shell account and running commands in the background, away from your sensitive eyes. This feature enables you to use a nice graphical interface to access a nasty command-line Unix mail program.
Delrina enters this arena with lots of experience in Windows modem communications, although until now its communication products have been fax-related. It's easy to see how Delrina's experience in writing fax software is reflected in how nicely WinComm Pro interacts with both Windows in general and with your modem.
Start the software loading process in the usual way: insert the first disk into your floppy disk drive and from the File menu of the Program Manager, select Run. In the dialog box, type a:\setup, assuming that you put the disk in your a: drive. The installer program loads and gives you an option to proceed or quit. When you choose to proceed, it presents you with another screen that asks you what type of installation you want to do: Complete, Laptop, or Custom. I chose Complete because I like to play with all the bells and whistles of a new program before I decide which pieces I like and which pieces to discard.
Next, the installer program asks where to put the files and suggests c:\wincomm. Choose a place that works well for you and click the Continue button to start loading all the files onto your hard drive. After all the files are loaded, the installer presents you with a new dialog box where you enter the COM port number and modem type that you use. The list of modems supported is impressive, a tribute to the focus that Delrina has on modem communications. Select the proper settings for your setup and click OK. Another small dialog box appears, where you can choose the speed at which your PC speaks to the modem. The program's advice about selecting a slower initial speed is a good recommendation because you can always increase the speed later, after you are sure that everything is working fine.
After the installation is complete, WinComm Pro creates a new program group and several items in it. For right now, let's look only at the Internet Messenger. Double-click its icon to start it up for first-time configuration.
The first time you bring up the Internet Messenger, it prompts you to choose to register as a new Internet user or to work with an existing account. Because I have an existing account, I chose the latter option.
The next dialog box (see figure 10.5) lets you choose a provider from a list that the program can already access or a generic provider that you can then customize. It turns out that my current provider, Northwest Nexus, is listed, so I selected it from the list. Then click OK.
Figure 10.5: Preconfigured service providers.
WinComm Pro then presents a Dialup Settings dialog box so that you can change the access phone numbers and add your local area code. WinComm Pro has the ability to define alternative phone numbers for a single provider. Because busy signals and malfunctioning modems are a chronic problem with all dial-up providers, this is a useful feature.
After you enter the phone numbers, WinComm Pro displays yet another dialog box that asks for your Unix username and Unix password. Fill in the names and click OK. Because this is the last piece of information that WinComm Pro needs, it now connects to your chosen provider and proceeds to download your email.
Because I changed my Unix prompt from the standard one that Northwest Nexus gives new users, my first try at retrieving mail failed. The message that WinComm Pro displayed was clear, saying that it was waiting to see a Unix prompt. I edited the script service.scr by selecting Scripts, Edit from the On-Line Menu. It was a simple matter to change the character that the script was looking for from a ">"to a "]" and correct the problem.
With that problem solved, WinComm Pro was able to retrieve my email and present it to me in a nice graphical interface (see figure 10.6).
Figure 10.6: Graphical mail.
At this point, the Internet Messenger behaves as you would expect a more conventional POP3 email client to behave. If you double-click a message header, the message appears in a new window. Single-clicking the header displays the message in the original window in a nice split-screen format (see figure 10.7).
Figure 10.7: Split-screen viewing.
WinComm Pro includes all the functions that I have come to expect in an Internet email package. You can compose mail, forward received mail, and file mail away in folders. Most of these function are available by using the buttons across the top of the window for quick access. One big difference between this application and most of the POP3 email clients that I've seen is that WinComm Pro assumes that you are always working offline and will eventually reconnect to the server to exchange mail. In contrast, most of the POP3 clients assume the opposite. How you feel about this is a matter of taste, but the offline model will certainly save phone bills if you must call long distance to your Internet access provider, since you are only conected (and using the phone line) while actually sending and receiving mail, not while composing or reading (see figure 10.8).
Figure 10.8: Offline mail composition.
Synchronizing your offline mail with that from the host is a matter of selecting Update Mail from Host from the On-Line Menu. I see no way of setting up a timer to check periodically for new mail -- such a feature would certainly be a nice addition.
I'm quite impressed with how well WinComm Pro is able to put a pretty face in Unix mail. The Unix mail programs are quite ugly and hard to deal with, and this application hides all the ugliness completely. Like many other email programs that I am unable to use personally, this one also lacks the ability to do full-text searching of my email database. If this feature is important to you, you'll have to look to another product.
I'm somewhat confused by WinComm Pro's scripting structure, and that's a shame. WinComm Pro's scripts could be extremely powerful tools, but the way that Delrina put the scripts together seems needlessly complex. It takes six separate scripts just to accomplish the simple tasks of connecting to and disconnecting from the server.
Remember those proprietary protocol programs that I mentioned earlier in passing? Pipeline is the graphical client software for an Internet provider of the same name in New York City, and Pipeline has licensed its proprietary protocol and client software to a few other providers around the world. In addition, Pipeline has added support for SprintNet, the telephone network that many of the commercial online services use, so you can access Pipeline's NYC service from anywhere in the country, although for a higher fee than a local call.
Pipeline covers mostly email, news, World Wide Web, Talk, Archie, FTP, and Gopher, with some additional features thrown in to handle weather reports, Internet Relay Chat, and straight VT100 terminal emulation (see figure 10.9).
Figure 10.9: The Pipeline main menu window.
You can get the Pipeline Internaut software at the following location:
It is a self-extracting file that contains two compressed files, disk1.zip and disk2.zip. You're supposed to unzip them and put them onto separate floppy disks. I followed these instructions and found out that the setup program could not recognize the second diskette. I ended up unzipping both files to the same directory on my hard drive and then running the setup application from there. Then the software worked like a champ.
NOTE: Pipeline looks like it was created in Visual Basic. And as such, there are plenty of .dll and .vbx files to clutter your /windows and /windows/system directories.
The setup program is typical of all installation programs in that it asks for directory location and then creates a special group in the Program Manager. You can then start Pipeline by double-clicking the Pipeline icon.
Once launched, you must configure your modem. My configuration is so standard that all I had to do was find the correct phone number. Needless to say, the only phone numbers listed were in New York City. Once online, you can get the local SprintNet phone number so that you can make local calls in the future.
The basic choices in the middle of the main menu window are essentially Gopher items, and clicking one of them opens another window displaying the next Gopher menu (see figure 10.10), and so on. Displaying text items works as you'd expect, and should you download images in GIF or JPEG format, Pipeline automatically displays them for you.
Figure 10.10: Entered Guides and Tools.
Clicking the buttons on the sides of the main menu window brings up additional windows dedicated to specific functions. Pipeline has some nice touches, especially in the Mail section (see figure 10.11).
Figure 10.11: Pipeline mail composition.
Your Mail Center window provides access to multiple mailboxes, and the new message window has a clean look to it. Most interesting, though, are the views that enable you to sort and display mail according to various criteria. Pipeline can automatically uuencode or binhex binary files when they're attached to outgoing mail, and it can also automatically decode them when they're attached to incoming mail.
The News Center window provides much the same display as the Mail Center window, but for newsgroups, of course. There appears to be a fairly tight integration between the parts of the program that make sense to integrate. For instance, you can mail the contents of a Gopher window to someone with the Mail Contents command in the Readers menu.
My main complaint with Pipeline is merely that it doesn't use a WinSock-based connection, so if you use Pipeline to make your Internet connection, you cannot use such WinSock-based applications as Netscape.
Similarly, you may never be able to use Cornell's CU-SeeMe video-conferencing application, and if you don't happen to like Pipeline's FTP interface as much as WS_FTP's, too bad. That aside, Pipeline provides a nice interface to a subset of common Internet services, and if Pipeline support is all your local provider offers, Pipeline is definitely the way to go. Pipeline is slightly easier to configure than WinSock and SLIP or PPP because all you have to enter is the telephone number, modem initialization string, and username and password.
An odd twist is your ability to access Pipeline via a WinSock connection rather than dialing up its servers in New York (see figure 10.12). I'm not sure why you would want to use this feature, however, because you must be connected to the Internet already. If you are already connected to the Internet, you probably have access to the Web, email, Usenet news, and other Internet-related clients, so why would you want to connect via a commercial account at Pipeline instead? I found it quite odd to connect to Pipeline via the Internet and then bring up Pipeline's Web browser to view a document on a remote server. Actually, this method is not recommended because you can double the bandwidth on the Internet. Web packets must travel from their source to Pipeline and then to you.
Figure 10.12: Making a WinSock connection.
I don't want to review all the possible terminal emulation programs available for the PC because there are a ton of them. But you are guaranteed to have Windows Terminal because it ships with every copy of Windows. Terminal is a simple terminal emulator with few options. But because it's always available, it's worth getting to know (although it won't take you long). You may wish to look at some more full-featured terminal emulators, though, and I'll write about a few here that I've seen or used.
NOTE: According to Computer Select, a CD-ROM resource for hardware and software, there are 147 different PC communications products that operate under Windows. Needless to say, there is no need to cover them in a book about the Internet.
In a market where there are so many PC-based Windows communications programs, it is no longer enough to provide basic terminal emulation and the ability to upload and download files. Many of the modern packages now support network modem pools and remote control of computers, and some even include WinSock as a low-level protocol.
Because basic Unix access requires little more than VT100 terminal emulation and basic protocols for file transfer, these products can be overkill. I've only bothered to list the most popular products.
Procomm Plus supports 34 different terminal emulations and 12 file transfer protocols:
PO Box 1471
3212 Lemone Blvd.
Columbia, MO 65205-1471
WinComm Pro supports eight major online services and can detect viruses automatically on file download:
895 Don Mills Road
500-2 Park Centre
Toronto, ON M3C 1W3
Crosstalk has support for 20 different terminal emulations and many file transfer protocols. It supports both modems and network connections:
Digital Communications Association, Inc.
1000 Alderman Dr.
Alpharetta, GA 30202-4199
Smartcom is designed for use with ISDN, Hayes ESP, LANs, and TCP/IP internetworking. It also supports many terminal emulations and file transfer protocols:
Hayes Microcomputer Products, Inc.
5835 Peachtree Corners East
Norcross, GA 30092-3405
Carbon Copy's primary feature is remote control capability with accounting and security. It supports four terminal emulations and various file transfer protocols:
500 River Ridge Dr.
Norwood, MA 02062-5028
pcANYWHERE also supports remote control of a PC with accounting and security. It provides built-in access to major online services and electronic mail and supports six terminal emulations and five file transfer protocols:
10201 Torre Avenue
Cupertino, CA 95014-2132
Though I think you will be happiest with a WinSock/PPP (or SLIP) connection, I realize that it may be beneficial for you to use a Shell account. Therefore, I talked about somethings that will put a reasonable face on the normally ugly command-line interface. I started out discussing some of the programs that put a graphical interface on a standard Unix Shell account, touching on things like SlipKnot and WinComm Pro. I also wrote about dedicated programs like Pipeline that require specific proprietary accounts. Enough with this. Now it's time to get to the really good stuff!