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A New Kind of Modem
by Mark H. Anbinder
"Now this is a Macintosh peripheral!"
- John Sculley
TelePort Modem and TelePort/Fax Modem
Global Village Communications
1204 O'Brien Drive
Menlo Park, CA 94025
415/329-0755 Customer Support
America Online: GLOBALVILL
8 Penguins out of a possible 10
Summary: -- Introduced in the fall of 1990, the TelePort broke Macintosh convention by being the first peripheral other than a keyboard or pointing device to take advantage of the Apple Desktop Bus. Almost a year later, here's a look at this still-innovative modem.
Hardware & Software Requirements: -- The TelePort modem works fine on any Mac with ADB, in other words, the Macintosh SE and up. Compatible with System 6 and 7.
Price and Availability: -- The TelePort is widely available from dealers and mail order firms, and MacConnection sells it for $139. The TelePort/Fax is slightly more at $185. (Note that we quote the MacConnection price in recognition of its industry-leading efforts to use ecologically-conscious packaging and its overall excellent service.)
Mark H. Anbinder -- firstname.lastname@example.org
The coolest Macintosh telecommunications gadget is the TelePort modem from Global Village Communications. Global Village has created a small, unobtrusive modem that doesn't need a power cord and won't even take up one of your serial ports. It's a 2400 bps modem, complete with MNP capabilities through level 5 for error correction and data compression. There's even a 9600 bps fax version that lets you send faxes right from your computer (fax receiving has not been implemented in the current crop of TelePorts).
An Apple Desktop Bus (ADB) device, the TelePort plugs into the computer the same way your keyboard, mouse, or trackball does, at least on the Macintosh SE or later. Either the spare ADB port on the back of your computer or the one on the side of your keyboard will work fine. For computers with only one ADB port, like the Macintosh Classic, LC, or IIsi, the TelePort comes with an ADB "Y-splitter" that lets you connect two devices to one port.
Not only does the TelePort communicate with the computer through the rarely-used ADB channel, it also takes its electrical power from the ADB. While the ADB normally provides power and communications only to the keyboard and mouse, Apple originally intended it to support other devices from third-party developers. Other than keyboards and mice or mouse-replacements, the TelePort is the first. The TelePort should work just fine with any other ADB devices that come to market, though the ADB could be overtaxed by too many devices talking at once. At worst, this would slow down communications a bit.
Because the TelePort is a Communications Toolbox (CTB) compatible peripheral, any communications software that knows how to work with the CTB can simply access the TelePort directly. Unfortunately, most older communications software was designed to work only with the modem port or printer port, and lacks a setting to talk through the ADB port. CTB-savvy software includes VersaTerm, MacTerminal, PacerTerm, uAccess, QuickMail 2.5, and a couple of shareware offerings, and a CTB-aware update for Microphone II is in the works. Global Village solved this problem for older software by writing special driver software in the form of a system extension that can be set to fool the Mac into watching for software that tries to access either the printer or modem port, and rerouting the communications to the TelePort. The user can decide which of the two serial ports will be "shadowed" by the TelePort. One disadvantage to the way Global Village wrote this software is that the TelePort can be set up either as a CTB device, or with serial port shadowing. It would be much better if it could be set to do either, and block the other method when one was in use. That way the user could use several different communications programs without having to worry about reconfiguring the TelePort software each time. This would not be a terribly difficult thing for Global Village to add; they simply have to add it to their list of things to do.
One of the TelePort's main features is its support of MNP. When the TelePort is talking to another modem that also supports MNP 1 through 4, you should have a reliable connection; no line noise will appear in all but the worst connections. This function, designed by Microcom, has both modems check the data that is being exchanged to be certain that no errors have come through the phone line. If an error is detected, the receiving modem will ask the sending modem to send the garbled information again. In addition, MNP 5 provides data compression, which can increase your "throughput," or the speed at which data travels over the line, as much as two times. This is similar to compressing data using a utility such as StuffIt or Compact Pro, but the compression and decompression are done by the communications device instead of using separate software in the computers at either end, without the user having to do anything special. The disadvantage of this method is that transferring already-compressed files, such as StuffIt archives, can occasionally decrease the speed if you have MNP turned on.
The TelePort actually handles MNP a bit differently from most modems. Rather than implementing the MNP routines in firmware, or in the modem's chips, Global Village chose to handle it within the TelePort software. This would allow for future improvements in the compression technology, and for updates that would not require replacing the modem. Unfortunately, the current software does not handle MNP connections properly all the time, so Global Village is working hard to fix the software and release an update. The recent System 7 compatible release, version 1.06, improves the situation, but doesn't quite eliminate the problem. Users who do experience problems with the MNP function are advised by Global Village's technical support folks to turn off that feature in the TelePort control panel.
[Do note that few, if any, of the online services support MNP. I've recently been dealing with finding UUCP mail servers, many of which use Telebit modems, and several people have said that they don't turn on MNP on those modems because it can cause trouble. Thus, although MNP is excellent if you know you will connect to other modems using MNP, don't assume that everyone uses it. -Adam]
The TelePort's fax capability is elegant and easy to use. If you purchase the fax version of the TelePort or purchase a fax upgrade later, you receive a TelePort/FAX file to join the TelePort control panel in your System Folder. This new file is a Chooser extension that lets you choose the TelePort as though it were a printer. This means that sending a fax is almost as simple as printing a document on your printer! When you have the TelePort/FAX selected in the Chooser, choose Print... from any application's File menu, and you'll get a simple dialog box that lets you type in a fax telephone number and the recipient's name (you can also manipulate a fax phone book, so you won't have to remember frequently-used fax numbers). Clicking "OK" causes your program to "print" the document to the TelePort's fax software, which then calls the receiving fax machine, and sends the fax. Mucking about with the Chooser can be a pain if you are sending a number of faxes and also printing frequently, so Global Village added a nice feature to simplify the process of switching. Merely hold down the option key when you choose Print... and you'll see the TelePort dialog box instead of the standard Print dialog box, even if you have another printer selected in the Chooser.
Faxed documents that have been sent by the TelePort look much sharper and cleaner than regular faxes, because they are never "scanned" by an imperfect optical fax machine. And, since the TelePort software takes advantage of both Adobe Type Manager and TrueType, you can use outline fonts that will look good at any size.
According to Global Village, future improvements to the TelePort/FAX software will include automatic group faxing (sending a single fax to a group of recipients at once), fax scheduling (so you can send an unattended fax late at night to save telephone charges), and improved phone-book handling.
For early purchasers who have the 4800 bps FAX version of the TelePort instead of the newer 9600 bps version, a very inexpensive upgrade is available. Users should contact Global Village for the details.
John Sculley, in his keynote speech at the last San Francisco Macworld Expo, held up a TelePort, and announced that it was the most Mac-like Macintosh peripheral he'd ever seen. Because it takes advantage of a purely Macintosh way of communicating with the computer, it's particularly innovative. MacUser agrees with Mr. Sculley; the same week, they awarded the TelePort the 1990 Editor's Choice Award for best communications product.
While the TelePort has its imperfections, I must agree that it is the most innovative communications product recently introduced for the Macintosh. It's a very functional modem; the software seems to be very stable (it runs 24 hours a day on Memory Alpha BBS!); and it's very easy to set up and operate. If you are considering buying a modem for your Macintosh (SE or later; it will not work with a Plus or earlier), you should consider the TelePort.
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