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The Prodigy Information Service

The Prodigy Information Service

By Dave Shier

A quick scan through any issue of The HP Palmtop Paper makes it clear that CompuServe (commonly referred to as CIS) provides a wealth of information and general support for the HP 95LX. While CIS has far more to offer the HP 95LX users than any other information service, if you are not a member, you may wish to compare the services before selecting one.

Prodigy is an on-line service available in the U.S., a joint venture of IBM and Sears. To use Prodigy (often abbreviated as P*), you must have an Apple or IBM compatible computer and a modem.

Prodigy also requires the use of a proprietary access program running in graphics mode, therefore, it is not possible to access Prodigy from your HP 95LX.

The main advantages of Prodigy over CIS is its lack of on-line access charges and its ease of use. Anybody can run Prodigy, including small children (who love the graphic interface and find it entertaining).

Prodigy has a small number of special interest bulletin boards (BBSs) similar to the CIS forum message sections. Questions and comments regarding the HP 95LX are posted on the Computer Club BBSs. The best topic to use is Hardware: Systems, although Palmtop messages are often found under the topic: Other PC Topics.

Currently, most of the messages regarding the HP 95LX seem to be from new users, or those evaluating the various palmtops. However, I hope to see some of the programmers and "power users," who frequent the HPHAND forum on CIS, posting messages and answering questions on Prodigy.

While most folks on Prodigy will tell you that CIS is far too costly, be aware that you get what you pay for. Prodigy can be a bargain, but like any bargain, it comes with limitations. Prodigy's limitations start with the slow interface (I have often heard Prodigy referred to as Plodigy). It's particularly annoying that much of the wait is due to Prodigy painting advertisements on the bottom 1/3 of the screen. But remember you are not paying for the on-line time. Prodigy also does not post public messages immediately, but instead reads them first to assure that offensive messages are not posted. This delay, of 4 to 12 hours, makes it difficult to follow a conversation. An additional limitation is the inability to post a response to any message, other than the one which started the subject (although you can always post a new message that is not a reply, or reply to any message via private mail). Finally, Prodigy does not support the uploading or downloading of files (Prodigy does now offer the Ziffnet service at an additional charge).

Prodigy starter kits are generally available at software sources, including retail software vendors and Sears stores. You can find these kits bundled as premiums with other software or hardware such as modems. The price of a start-up kit depends on the source.

The monthly cost of Prodigy is from $9.95 to $12.95, depending on how many months you pay for at one time. In addition, some services, such as on-line bill paying and stock purchases, require an additional premium.

Software installation is as simple as any software package I have seen. In most cases the user will be able to accept the default values during install.

After the initial installation, any update to the Prodigy software is sent to you automatically when you log on.

Learning Prodigy is easy. The user can simply select the sections from the menus (like CompuServe) or use commands, which are listed on the screen, to JUMP to a specific section, or to FIND a keyword. The on-line editor that comes with Prodigy is limited and Prodigy does not support uploading of messages. However, a third party add-on allows uploading and downloading of messages and contains an editor with a spell checker. I just ordered this package on-line ($19.95). When I get it, I'll check it out and let you know if I think it has any merit.

While Prodigy will never be a substitute for CompuServe, if you have to share a single on-line service with your family (up to six members per household can have sub-accounts at no additional cost), or if you need to have a fixed cost regardless of access time, Prodigy could be the answer. The more of us HP 95LX users there are on Prodigy, the better the support will be.

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