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The Southern California OS/2 User Group

OS/2 For You - November 1993 Vol. 1, No. 2

OS/2 Communications - More Alternatives

by Gary Granat

This article supplements Rollin White's presentation on OS/2 communications at the last Southern California OS/2 User Group meeting on October 17, 1993. Rollin gave a sound overview of the procedures needed to communicate using DOS communications programs as well as with both character-mode and graphical OS/2 programs. This article discusses three additional OS/2 communications programs. I have personal experience with all three programs (ranging from about a year to between four and five years) and this is written from that personal perspective.

REXXTerm (Quercus Systems)

The first program on my list is REXXTerm from Quercus Systems. REXXTerm is a character-mode program which runs quite nicely in a Presentation Manager window. It was first published as a DOS program in 1987 (approximately) and that is the version I first used. To take complete advantage of the capabilities of the program, support was required from Personal REXX (another product from Quercus). In 1988 (again, approximately), an OS/2 port of the program was made available to OS/2 users. The OS/2 version includes a copy of the DOS version, too, and can carries a list price of $100.00. Since I received my OS/2 version of REXXTerm, I have not found a need to run the DOS version of the program.

REXXTerm, without any need for special tailoring, has all the standard features expected in a general asynchronous communication package:

  • Seven file transfer protocols -- Xmodem, Xmodem-1K, Ymodem, Ymodem-G, Zmodem, Kermit and CompuServe-B
  • ASCII file upload providing full control over the transmission of each line of a file
  • VT102 terminal emulation, with works together with almost any software or hardware protocol converter to provide IBM 3270 emulation, as well
  • Other terminal emulations -- VT52, ANSI-BBS, CompuServe, Vidtext
  • Support for buffered serial ports (16550 compatible) for fast, reliable operation at up to 57.6Kbps
  • Host mode that allows remote initiation of file transfers and execution of line-oriented system commands
  • Built-in editor for editing disk files, writing messages and creating scripts
  • Data capture buffer that is limited only by available memory (which means, effectively, unlimited in the OS/2 version); the entire capture buffer can be reviewed using the same editor interface used to edit disk files
  • Built-in file manager for listing directories and selecting files for transfer or editing
  • Multiple dialing directories for phone numbers and dialing information
  • User-definable menus for building customer interfaces to remote computers
  • Keyboard reconfiguration and macros

Perhaps the most important feature, though, is that REXXTerm uses REXX as the control structure for its communications scripts. REXXTerm provides the actual communications verbs and REXX provides the script flow control. Although Quercus publishes a full line of Personal REXX products (and Personal REXX is required for the DOS version of the program if you are going to write REXX scripts), the OS/2 version of REXXTerm works just fine with the REXX language interpreter which is integrated with all versions of OS/2 since Version 1.3 (Version 1.2 Extended Edition for those of us who remember that far back). A learn mode allows you to capture the general command sequence needed for specific communications tasks. Once saved, you can easily add the appropriate REXX control statements to build a fully functional, highly automated script which includes error trapping and reporting and other nifty functions.

I am aware of a script, written by another REXXTerm user which navigated one of the local bank's on-line banking service facilities. Several sample scripts come with REXXTerm. Additional sample scripts can be downloaded from the Quercus Systems BBS. One of the downloadable scripts provides CompuServe navigation capabilities.

This is only a quick overview of the capabilities of this communications program. Do I like it? You bet! For a number of years, REXXTerm has been my primary communications program. Until recently, it was my exclusive communications facility (I have recently begun using a couple of specialized programs for specific communications tasks). REXXTerm has the distinction of being one of the first, if not the first OS/2 communications program. If you are interested in an extremely capable general-purpose com munication program for OS/2 you could do far worse than REXXTerm.

PMFTerm (IBM Employee-Written Software)

PMFTerm is the program to use if you need to have the very best 3270 terminal emulation in your communications program. It is the OS/2 version of the IBM FTTERM communications program which has been available for the DOS environments for several years. Not withstanding its adeptness at 3270 emulation, PMFTerm is a general-purpose terminal emulator and can be used successfully to communicate with bulletin boards and non-IBM computing systems.

PMFTerm provides these terminal emulations:

  • FTTERM color emulation
  • DEC VT100 emulation
  • ANSI (sometimes called ANSI/BBS) emulation
  • Line-mode TTY support

PMFTerm supports multiple font sizes, automatic logon keying (Autokeys), screen print capabilities and the expected cut and paste functions. Two file transfer protocols are supported -- XMODEM, for non-IBM-mainframe file transfers, and IND$FILE, for file transfers between your OS/2 workstation and an IBM mainframe. File transfers are initiated by pull down menus or by two command-line interface programs (PSEND to send files, and PRECEIVE to receive them).

My experience with PMFTerm is limited to communication with the IBM host environment where I work. The 3270 terminal emulation is absolutely flawless. The program can be set up to handle colors, or to emulate a non-color terminal (green and black). I haven't tried the program in its general-purpose role (I use REXXTerm for that), but I wouldn't voluntarily give up PMFTerm, especially at the price -- free.

PMFTerm is employee-written software and is available on CompuServe, the IBM OS/2 BBS and from other sources. Employee-written software is distributed for use by individuals and businesses on an "as-is" basis, without either warranty or support. In the case of PMFTerm this is no liability, since the program is rock-solid. Documentation is minimal, however, and this can be a drawback if you aren't particularly familiar with communication program concepts. At the price, however, it is hard to go wrong. Consider it as an alternative to the SoftTerm program which is included as a productivity applet with OS/2.

Golden CommPass (Creative Systems Programming)

Golden CommPass is a CompuServe Information Services (CIS) navigator program. If you aren't a CompuServe user, you won't be interested in this program. If you are, however, it is the only CIS navigator which is both OS/2-native and OS/2-exploitative. At the moment, the program is specifically geared to the needs of CIS users. Creative Systems Programming, the publisher, envisions the possibility of eventual development to handle the needs of other subscription informations services and (possibly) bullet in boards.

For those not familiar with the structure of CompuServe Information Services, a brief overview will help clarify what a CIS navigator program is:

  • CIS consists of an E-Mail service, a "marketplace" service, a "CB" chat section, numerous extra-cost services (such as ZiffNet, which provides on-line access to the various Ziff-Davis publications) and several hundred special interest forums. The mail and forua are my primary focus on CIS. Your mileage may vary.
  • Each forum consists of from one to 17 focus sections; each section may also have an associated library where programs and other objects are stored and available for download. Users join forua of interest. They then post questions, comments, etc. to the appropriate section(s) and comment or reply to other postings in the section. They may also download items from libraries and/or upload items to be posted in libraries.
  • CIS connect time is fairly expensive (the exact cost depends on the connect speed used). It is possible to read, post and respond to messages in mail and the various forua while connected to CIS. This, in fact, was the original way that CIS was used. However, using CIS is this way can lead to extremely high connect time charges.
  • A CIS navigator program allows you to collect mail and message headers, select message headers of interest off-line, download messages for review off-line, and create mail and message postings, comments and replies off-line to be uploaded at the next connect session.

The notion of CIS navigator programs is not new. Several DOS navigators are currently available, including one from CIS, itself (a serviceable, if somewhat slow and limited program).

Golden CommPass takes the notion of the navigator and applies a unique OS/2 spin to it. Basically the program consists of two primary executables -- the message engine and the communications engine.

  • The message engine is the primary user interface and is executed from one of the message engine pull-down menus.
  • The communications engine accesses CIS and interacts with it according to post, read, upload and download the items and selections made during the user's off-line activities.
  • As soon as the communications engine finishes with a particular section, the message section spawns a thread to organize the information. The same thread is used to review the information, prepare responses and new items.
  • As soon as the thread has finished organizing the information, the user can begin reviewing it, even while the communications engine continues with other tasks.

It is one of the most impressive demonstrations of multi-tasking and multi-threading I have seen in my years of using OS/2.

Golden CommPass is available directly from Creative Systems Programming for $99.00. It is also available from Indelible Blue, Inc. for $79.00 and can be found in some retail outlets, as well.

The Southern California OS/2 User Group
P.O. Box 26904
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Copyright 1993 the Southern California OS/2 User Group. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

SCOUG is a trademark of the Southern California OS/2 User Group.
OS/2, Workplace Shell, and IBM are registered trademarks of International Business Machines Corporation.
All other trademarks remain the property of their respective owners.