Commercial WinSock Applications


Herein I'll talk about some of the WinSock programs that come as a part of what I consider to be the two best commercial packages, NetManage Chameleon and Spry's Internet in a Box. I wanted to separate this section, since you already have an excellent WinSock stack, courtesy of NetManage and Internet Starter Kit for Windows, and you may not want to spend the money on some other commercial package. Installation and setup of these programs is usually covered in some detail with installation and setup of the WinSock software itself, so I'll concentrate on features and use.

It's interesting to note that in many cases, the commercial versions of some Internet programs are merely equal to or even (in some cases) inferior to the shareware or public domain versions. One notable general case of this is News Xpress, which is released to the public domain and I believe far superior to any Usenet newsreaders that you might buy.

Lastly, I speak about the suite of applications that come with Windows 95. I debated where to put this section, but since Windows is a commercial package, even if it is an operating system, I opted to put it here.


NetManage Chameleon


As described in the chapter 11, "WinSock, PPP, and SLIP," NetManage has several different offerings depending on whether you use TCP/IP for LANs, dialup, Internet, or Web.


Mail


Mail from NetManage is a relatively generic POP3 mail program, providing all the essential services we ask of a mail program. One thing that distinguishes Mail from other packages that I've used is its accommodation for several users on the same machine, all with their own email accounts. Because of this, the first window that you see is somewhat confusing and unclear, though in the end simple (see figure 12.1).

Figure 12.1: NetManage Mail Login window.

NOTE: POP3 is the protocol used by virtually all Windows email clients. It enables the client to attach to a email host, download the mail, and then disconnect.

Each user maintains his or her own ID and password, which means that you can keep prying eyes off of your mail.


Setup

The first time through, simply click on OK and call yourself Postmaster. If you are the only one that's using this software you can just leave it as Postmaster, since this name has nothing to do with your actual mail; it's just a configuration name. If you wish to have multiple users, from the Services menu choose Mailboxes and type in the names of the individual configurations that you would like to use. Once these other users have been added, you can select these user names at startup to customize your session.


Basic Usage

Normal interaction with NetManage's mail product is pretty clear, with the exception of setting up your return address. The place for you to type in the address that people will use to reply to your mail is hidden under the Settings menu as Preferences. Clicking on the Advanced button opens up a window that enables you to type in the address for others to see.

Reading new mail is as simple as double clicking on the subject line shown in the main window, which opens a new window containing that message. All of the usual options are available, so you could respond to the message, forward it to others, or print it (see figure 12.2).

Figure 12.2: NetManage Mail inbox.


Overall Evaluation

I can't get too excited about this program as an email package, but it does accomplish the basic tasks reliably. The ability to filter incoming mail and the important capability to search for text in saved mail would make this a far more usable mail program for me since I get so much mail.


NetManage Telnet


There are other Telnet programs available on the Internet, but since one text window is pretty much like another, there's no pressing need for you to go find the coolest and best.


Basic Usage

Operating NetManage's Telnet (and every other Telnet program that I've seen) is a matter of deciding what machine you wish to connect to and then telling it to connect. The thing to remember is that once the connection is made, you are playing by the rules of the remote machine. Telnet is merely a way of connecting a local text window to a remote machine. The interaction that happens from there is determined by the ingenuity of the application programmers on that remote site (see figure 12.3).

Figure 12.3: NetManage Telnet connected to archie.sura.net.

By clicking on Connect and choosing archie.sura.net as the host, you initiate a connect to the Archie server at sura.net as a Telnet client. You then login as user archie and read the text it displays for further information on how to run the Archie server.


Overall Evaluation

Telnet is an essential part of your Internet toolkit, since many services available on the Internet still aren't offered via Gopher or the Web. Library databases are probably the best example of these, but the list is surprisingly long and includes many useful information services. NetManage provides an excellent full-featured Telnet, with items such as session capture and scripting that can help out when trying to deal with character-based interfaces.


TN3270


TN3270 is a version of Telnet that enables you to connect to IBM mainframes, emulating an IBM block-mode terminal as opposed to plain-old Telnet, which emulates an ASCII terminal. If you can avoid TN3270 and still accomplish what you need on the Internet, do so. IBM 3270-type terminals are what I learned to use in college, and hold a special fascination for me, but then so do teletypes and card punches.


Basic Usage

Running TN3270 is exactly the same as running normal Telnet, so you shouldn't have any problems there. It's after you connect that things might seem a little strange to you.

Unlike most other terminal types, block-mode terminals only send characters to the host when a special attention key is pressed. This attention key is typically the Enter key on the keypad (which is different from the Enter key (also called Return) on the main keyboard, and has a different function). A standard IBM 3279-A has 24 function keys, and some applications will use all 24 of them, making for lots of Alt-F6 sorts of key mappings. Probably the most important thing to know about interacting with a 3270-type terminal is that there is a key called Clear. This key is mapped to the Escape key of your PC keyboard, so you should press Escape whenever you see MORE in the status line of the TN3270 window. This is IBM's way of telling you that there's more information ready to scroll onto the screen. TN3270 thoughtfully holds it for you -- enabling you to read page by page.


FTP


NetManage's FTP was the first graphical FTP I used on the PC, having learned to live with a command-line version on Unix machines during my early Internet life.

The basic idea behind this and most graphical FTP programs is that they should show a current picture of the file structure on the remote machine, along with a picture of your local machine, and enable you to move files from one environment to the other as quickly and intuitively as possible.


Basic Usage

When first launched, FTP lists the contents of the local current working directory, which is probably c:\netmanag (the default NetManage install directory). The user interface is divided into three vertical sections from left to right: local management, operations, and remote management. They are labeled Local, Transfer, and Remote, respectively (see figure 12.4).

Figure 12.4: Chameleon FTP..

Upon closer scrutiny, you'll be reminded of Windows' standard open and save dialog boxes. You should be able to navigate throughout volumes on both your local machine and attached remote machine with relative ease.

The center column of this application is a list of actions, with arrows on each side. As you may expect, clicking on the arrow pointing left performs that operation on the item selected in the adjoining window. For example, by typing the name for a new directory into the dialog box above the local directory listing and clicking on the Create arrow which points at the local side, you can create a new directory on your local machine.

I'll give another example of this type of operation in a minute. But first, let's talk about connecting to remote machines. The act of connecting is fairly simple; click on the Connect menu item, and you'll be asked to supply a host name, a username for that host, and a password. To connect to the anonymous FTP server at halcyon.com, for instance, use ftp.halcyon.com as the host, anonymous as the username, and your mail address as the password (something along the lines of yourID@halcyon.com). Note that with most password edit boxes, asterisks will be substituted for keystrokes. In just a few seconds, you should see the right-hand side, the Remote side, filled with information.

By double-clicking on the pub directory (found on almost all anonymous FTP sites) on the Remote side, you will descend into that directory and automatically see the list of remote files displayed in the lower-right file window. Clicking on one of those remote file names and clicking on the Copy arrow pointing at your machine (the Local side), you can retrieve that file from the remote host. NetManage's FTP client has a nice feature here, one that is lacking from most nongraphical FTP clients, in that it enables you to know how much of the file transfer is complete as a percentage of the entire transfer. If, for instance, you use the Windows multiple select feature (Control-click) to choose several items to be copied, and then click on the copy arrow, you will see the copy process as a function of the number of files copied, and a percentage of the entire transfer completed.

The only remaining part of the interface that isn't intuitive for new FTP users is the little Transfer box in the center column of the FTP window, on top. The choices here are Binary or ASCII. The rule of thumb here is that if you plan to load the file into Notepad directly and read it (like readme, or better yet, readme.txt files), choose ASCII. If the file is stored on a Unix machine remotely (which is very likely), choosing ASCII will do some essential conversions for you and make it easier to deal with on the local machine. If it's anything else, such as a .zip file, for instance, then choose Binary. This is critical to your enjoyment of FTP services, because transferring a file using the wrong format will produce unusable results, requiring you to repeat your transfers and wasting precious bandwidth.


Special Features

I like the layout of NetManage's FTP. It is very intuitive (simple is good) and clear (clear is also good). The amount of information conveyed during an actual file transfer is quite nice -- especially when I'm attached via modem rather than a high-speed network. It gives me a way to predict how long a transfer will take.


Overall Evaluation

NetManage's FTP is well designed and easy to use. A good indication of this is the number of public domain FTP clients that mimic the interface almost exactly. I'm not sure who came up with the design first, but for now it seems to be the way things are done, with one notable exception (which I'll mention briefly later in this section).

One notation is that FTP has trouble reading some FTP directory listings. The result is that no files or directories appear in their respective lists. Typically, it is the fault of the site and not the FTP client because the site is not adhering to the correct protocol (although FTP clients from other vendors do not have this problem).


NEWT News


The folks at NetManage have included a newsreader with their standard TCP/IP suite for the last couple of versions. I've used it occasionally ever since they began supplying it, but some shortcomings, such as the lack of threading, have kept me from adopting it as my everyday reader. If you have the commercial package, you may be able to live with NEWT News for a while.


Setup

To read news you need to supply only the name of your NNTP server. Start NEWT News by double-clicking on the icon, and then choose Connect from the menu bar.

Enter the NNTP server name supplied by your systems administrator for News Server Name. Go and get some coffee and some reading material (like the rest of this chapter!), because now, one by one, NEWT News retrieves the list of newsgroups, all 5,000 of them (on my server -- your server may have more). This can take about seven minutes on a 14,400 bps modem, significantly more time with slower modems.

Once this list is compiled, you are faced with a tedious task. From the list of all newsgroups, you must now choose which ones you would like to read by selecting them from the scrollable list and then clicking on the + icon to add them to the subscribed list. Having finished this process, closing the groups window returns you to the main news window -- ready to select a group to read (see figure 12.5).

Figure 12.5: NEWT News newsgroup list.


Basic Usage

Double-clicking on a group name retrieves a list of the current articles available in that group. The articles list has three columns of information: Flags, From, and Subject. The flags column shows some status information about the article in question. For instance, once you've read that article, the flags column will have an "R" in it. The From and Subject columns are self-explanatory (see figure 12.6).

Figure 12.6: NEWT News article listing.

Double-clicking on an article opens a new window that contains the text of the article. If you invoke the Smart Buttons from the Settings Menu, the most commonly used operations also become accessible via large, well-labeled buttons across the top. For instance, when reading an article, you may read the next article by clicking on the Next button or reverse the process with the Previous button (see figure 12.7).

Figure 12.7: NEWT News posting.

Clicking on the Reply button brings up a new window containing the quoted article -- ready to annotate and send off to the world. From here you can add additional newsgroups to post your reply to by adding them to the To dialog box in the upper right. Although it's not instantly clear, you may also forward this article to any valid Internet mail address by entering it instead of the newsgroup name into the To dialog.


Overall Evaluation

Although NEWT News is usable, it's about as utilitarian as you can get and still claim to be a newsreader. The interface is clean, easily learned, and compliant with Windows standards.

NEWT News is a training wheels-type newsreader. If you have purchased the commercial NetManage Chameleon package, you should use it for a while before scraping your knees with a more fully featured threading package. For an advanced news user, the lack of threading is unforgivable.

NOTE: Threading is the concept of grouping messages with a common theme. Messages are threaded whenever someone replies to a posting as opposed to creating a new posting. There are various ways of graphically representing threads. Some newsreaders utilize an outline form, others simply show the top-level posting.


WebSurfer


WebSurfer is NetManage's first World Wide Web browser, and one of the few commercial ones today that does not benefit from either a member of NCSA's Mosaic team working on it, or actual source code licensed from NCSA. Because of this, WebSurfer exhibits quite different behavior from most of the Web browsers that you will find, and takes a bit of getting used to.


Setup

When you first launch WebSurfer, it show a local home page that has links to several useful places, including technical support from NetManage. If you have a favorite place that you like to go or some other thing of interest that you would rather see at startup, you can pull down the Settings menu and under Preferences change the name of the startup document.


Basic Usage

Using WebSurfer, like all of the Web browsers that I've seen, is as simple as reading and clicking on links for whatever looks interesting. NetManage has gone to some trouble to make the look of this browser configurable by providing the Style Schemes item under the Settings menu. This enables you to make changes in font choice and size in a way that makes sense (see figure 12.8).

Figure 12.8: WebSurfer main window with a typical Web home page.

Normal browsing on the Web doesn't require that you use any of the menus, but you should probably familiarize yourself with what's there. I would say that the only critical one to know about is the Go to URL item under the Retrieve menu. Using this, you can type in any of the URLs that you've seen in this book and be transported (Web-wise) to the site identified in the URL.


Overall Evaluation

WebSurfer is an okay Web browser, and basic link following behavior seems to function just fine, but the product seems to suffer from an extreme lack of features. About two years ago, while the World Wide Web was in its infancy, I might not have noticed this much, but in today's competitive world of Web browsers, one that is less feature-rich stands out.

I'm somewhat disappointed in the way one can save documents while viewing them in the viewer. One reason is that I would ordinarily look for a Save command under the File menu, but it's not there. The only real option is to use the Edit HTML option under the Retrieve menu, but that means putting up with Notepad and the fact that if the original document was created in Unix, it has no carriage returns (making it almost unreadable in Notepad).

I'm encouraged by the fact that this is NetManage's first try at a Web browser, and I know that the quality of its work in general is terrific. I would expect that this tool, driven by thousands of helpful comments from customers, will evolve into one of the best browsers available. For now, it has a simple interface and is easy to operate. Missing features, such as saving documents as clear text and supporting the mailto URL, should come quickly.


Gopher


NetManage has chosen a book paradigm very much like some other Gopher clients (most notably GophBook). I'm not sure that the paradigm works all that well for me, especially when we start talking about filling in forms for queries and such -- but so many people use books to describe Gopher servers that I must be part of a minority here.


Basic Usage

Start NetManage's Gopher client by double-clicking on the bookshelf icon in the program manager; it presents you with a screen split between right and left. On the left side, you see a sideways tree structure, with the root of the tree labeled GopherSpace. Gopher servers appear as books under that root. On the right side, you see a collapsed version of the same tree, but that changes as you start navigating around in Gopherspace.

Figure 12.09: NetManage Gopher client.

To navigate this Gopher client, double-click on an item on either side -- try anything that looks interesting. This can be confusing, because it is sometimes possible to produce the same result via two different actions. For instance, if I single-click on the left-hand item "NetManage Gopher," I see a small tree representing the NetManage Gopher server appear in the right side window. Double-clicking on the "NetManage Gopher" item on either the right or the left side now produces the same result. It opens the book icon for "NetManage Gopher" and opens up the tree a bit more on the left side.

If you continue to double-click on leaf items in the tree, Gopher eventually presents you with at least one item whose icon is neither an open nor a closed book, but a page or image. Double-clicking on either of these two items downloads the file indicated from the Gopher server and usually attempts to display it if it's ASCII text.

To choose a Gopher server that it not listed on the current tree, you must add that new server by choosing Add Gopher Server from the Item menu. This brings up a dialog box asking you for a name to display on the tree, as well as the actual machine name. You are also allowed to choose a TCP port number other than 70, which is the default service number for Gopher. Unless you know otherwise, stick with 70.


Overall Evaluation

I have a few problems with the user interface. The fact that two different actions can produce exactly the same result is a trifle confusing -- especially if you're trying to learn what actions match with what results. I'm also not pleased that to access a new Gopher server, I must add it to the ever-growing tree on the left-hand side. If the new server is something I only need once, I would like a more convenient way of accessing and disposing of it.

NOTE: The metaphor used in NetManage's Gopher is not unlike the Windows File Manager. But then again, I'm not overly fond of that one either. Good thing it's being replaced in Windows 95.

All of that said, it is a perfectly functional Gopher server and supports the gopher+ extensions to the protocol, which certainly not all clients do. I'm also happy with its forms support when accessing, say, a CSO Index -- which is a way of storing and retrieving indexed data such as names, addresses, and phone numbers. Gopher by its nature is not a very complex paradigm, and even the simplest clients usually function for most people.


Other Applications


NetManage has one of the largest suites of WinSock applications you can buy. I've spoken only about the ones that you'll use over and over. However, there are still quite a few more that I haven't covered. These include:

With the exception of Whois and Finger, you probably won't have a use for the remaining applications. They are far more useful in a LAN environment.