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THE DOS CONNECTION: Shareware Comm Program

COMMO: SMALL YET POWERFUL SHAREWARE ALTERNATIVE TO COMM

By Mark Scardina

This month we will first take a look at a most important function of the HP 95LX: Communications. I find its pocket size allows me to take it anywhere. Therefore, the ability to communicate with my home, office, and information services is an essential feature.

HP obviously agreed and included a communications program with the built-in applications. COMM is a good basic program that allows access to many information services and includes the Xmodem and Kermit protocols for file transfers. There is a limitation to COMM, however, in that the scripting language is very primitive. This is significant to daily users of bulletin board services. They like to be able to do most of their reading and responding to mail off-line when the clock isn't ticking. COMM is not designed to handle this and is more suited for real-time access. A further limitation is that the scripting language has a time limit of 30 seconds between commands. Also, a script cannot be continued if it has stopped. This situation led to my search for an alternative communications program that could deliver these capabilities, without the limitations associated with COMM.

Since there are, as of the time of writing this article, no 95LX-specific communications programs, I had to turn to the existing world of DOS applications. Two aspects of the 95LX further limited this evaluation: it's physical size, and a defect in the 95LX's serial. Most of the commercial communications programs are too large in both system memory requirements and file size. Also, many programs use a technique called "interrupt driven transmission" to allow for high speed communications. Due to a defect in the implementation of the HP 95LX serial port, this type of program will lockup the 95LX.

Of the commercial programs, ProComm and CrossTalk are able to run. However, these are large programs and require a 512K or larger RAM card to even be considered. There is, however, a shareware program that not only is small but has been modified to run successfully on the 95LX.

COMMO

COMMO * is an assembly language, full-featured communications program, written by Fred Brucker. The complete program contains five files, the main program, COMMO.COM; the macro file, COMMO.MAC; the dialing directory, COMMO.FON; the setup file, COMMO.SET; and the help file, COMMO.HLP. These files when compressed or DIETed take up less than 50K of file space! (See Fall 1991, page 17 for more on the DIET file compression program.) Several additional small files are included in the 95LX version that gives COMMO the ability to be started from the built-in applications.

COMMO has several features that make it well suited to the 95LX. All the support files are simple ASCII text files and can be easily customized not only to the 40 x 16 screen, but to the user's individual requirements. The program has a rich scripting/macro language that allows for total on-line automation and efficiency. Included in the program are Xmodem CRC and Xmodem -- 1K file transfer protocols. The author has also adapted several of the program's features to work within the limited display of the 95LX. Though the terminal screen is still 80 x 25, the prompts are displayed from the upper left corner for easy viewing.

COMMO's use of assembly language allows it to be both small and extremely fast. It's COMM's macro language, however, that really allows users to save time and money while on-line. There is available on CompuServe a COMMO script named CISMESS.ZIP *. It allows the downloading and uploading of CompuServe messages from forums and E-mail in a completely automatic fashion similar to ATO or TAPCIS. Additional scripts are available for other bulletin boards such as Wildcat and PC Board.

One feature of the macro language will bring applause from COMM users. If the macro finds an error or misses a prompt while running, you can "corrector skip" the step. The macro will then continue. I know of no other communications programs that allows real time debugging of their macros.

HP 95LX VERSION OF COMMO

Since COMMO is shareware, it is available on many BBSs as well as on CompuServe. For 95LX users there has been a special version made available in the HPSYS Forum, Library 14. This version includes the support files already set up and formatted for the 95LX. It also can be used on your desktop. The program setup is very simple because COMMO simply reads the COMMO.SET file on startup. This file is a simple text file that can be edited by MEMO or COMMO's own editor. If you obtain the 95LX-specific version, you simply copy the five files to your 95LX, rename them without the "95," and edit the paths if necessary in COMMO.SET. You are then ready to go on-line. The included document file is extensive and worth printing out. I did some time learning COMMO, but after a few hours with the instructions, I found I was ready to even write my own scripts.

Since there is a specific HP 95LX version, setup is very easy. The 95LX does not support the full range of modem functions and the COMMO.SET file is pre-configured to account for this. In fact the only setup that I had to do was to specify the drive that my COMMO directory was on. The macro file, COMMO.MAC, has logon scripts for CompuServe and generic BBS's. The dialing directory, COMMO.FON, comes preset with a number of entries. The built-in text editor makes the modification of these files a snap.

The full power of COMMO cannot be fully utilized without its ability to `pop-up' whenever you need it. The ability to use it without closing all of the built-in applications and shelling to DOS is a high priority on any 95LX user's list. Included with the 95LX version is a package of files that I wrote to achieve this end. When installed, pressing <CTRL><COMM> starts COMMO as long as Lotus 1-2-3 is not open.

CONCLUSIONS ON COMMO

Using COMMO is a real joy because the author has made many intelligent choices on the implementation of its features. It is obvious that it is the result of many years of effort and refinement. After using it for several months, I still am amazed that so many features can be packed in so little code. One such feature that I have found especially attractive is the SCROLLBACK BUFFER. For those of us who forget to start a capture file until it's too late -- this feature is a godsend. While COMMO is active, the terminal screen input is stored in memory. Up to 64K (user-defined) can be stored, irrespective of capture files. While on-line, or after hanging up, pressing <ALT>-k allows you to view, edit, and save parts of this buffer.

There are many communication packages on the market, and it is very hard to buy a single disk program anymore. Many computer people consider VDE and QEDIT to be the highest form of word processing programming art. They do in less than 50K what many are unable to do in 500K. To a communications list, one must surely add COMMO. At a shareware registration fee of $35 dollars, COMMO ranks as a must-have for any user who needs to communicate with his 95LX.

COMMO is available on CompuServe. Select GO HPSYS, LIB 14. The files are COMMO.ZIP and COMMO9.ZIP. If you are interested in a CompuServe message management program similar to TAPCIS for the 95LX, download CISMES.ZIP while you are at it. COMMO is also available on disk directly from the author at a cost of $40 for a registered copy. Specify 3.5" or 5.25" disks and send a check or money order to: Fred Brucker, P.O. Box 9103, Santa Rosa, CA 95405, U.S.A. Fred will send the disks. Alternative: COMMO is on The HP Palmtop Paper On Disk. If you like it, then send Fred his $35 registration fee.

iPhone Life magazine


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