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HOW TO USE: Getting Help for Your HP Palmtop on CompuServe

HOW TO USE: Getting Help for Your HP Palmtop on CompuServe

The HP Forums on CompuServe offer technical assistance with a twist. This article is an update on the information you can find in the forums, how to join CompuServe, how to find the HP Forums, and basic strategies for getting the most for your money.

By Ted Dickens

About the Author: [Ted Dickens writes PC software for Niche Designs Corporation. He joined the CompuServe forums in 1984 and became the HP "Sysop (System Operator) in 1987. Ted's CompuServe ID # is [76701,272].]

What is CompuServe?

The CompuServe Information Service (CIS) is a public-access computer system that provides more than 1400 different information services. No matter what your personal or professional interests may be -- there is something on CIS that you will find valuable.

In the personal computing area, CIS forums cover the full range of hardware, software, and even paperware (magazines). Besides the forums for HP, you'll find IBM, Apple, Microsoft, Lotus, Borland, Novell... All told, there are more than 200 computer companies active on CompuServe.

The forums are great places to get questions answered, keep up with the latest from HP and other vendors, get software updates, and tap into the wealth of public domain and shareware software. And unlike HP's support channels, the HP Forums are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you have used an electronic bulletin board system (BBS), most of the forum concepts will be familiar. Each forum has three main areas:

  • Message boards, where you can read and write messages;
  • Libraries, where you can find files;
  • Conference rooms, where you can "meet" on-line with other users.

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Communicate Back and Forth on Message Boards

Instead of one big message board, each forum is divided into sections; each section is devoted to a single topic. The sidebar that follows lists the sections in the HP Forums.

If you have a question about the Palmtop, post it in the appropriate 95LX section of the HP Handhelds Forum (GO HPHAND). No matter how arcane the question, the next time you log on, you'll probably find at least one answer.

You also can benefit by simply reading the messages posted by others. It is a great way to learn about the 95LX because not only do you get answers to your questions -- you'll get answers to questions that hadn't yet occurred to you. We all learn from our own mistakes; the HP forums can help you learn from the mistakes of others!

There are now five sections of interest to 95LX users:

  • 95LX New Users -- This is the place to start, whether you have just purchased a 95LX or are thinking about it.
  • 95LX DataComm -- Get information on how to connect your 95LX to another system -- whether your using the serial cable, modem, pager, cellular phone, packet radio, infrared interface, etc.
  • 95LX Programmers -- Enter the world of SYSMGR and learn from those who have written many of the applications you see advertised and discussed in The HP Palmtop Paper.
  • 3rd party products -- Companies like ACE Technologies and DataViz offer technical support here to help make the forum a more complete source of 95LX support.
  • 95LX Users -- All the rest of the 95LX-related topics are discussed here. It's a busy place!

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Browse Through Libraries

Each section has a corresponding library where you can find application notes, product announcements, software upgrades, answers to frequently asked questions, public domain and shareware utilities, captured "threads" on interesting topics, and more. All told, about 90MB worth of information.

Each file is accompanied by a one line title, a paragraph or two of description, and a list of key words to help you decide which files are of interest to you.

The 400+ files for the 95LX include info on the 95LX hardware, an updated list of available software packages, games, and interesting graphic images that can be used as "top card" displays. The files in the 95LX New Users library should be in every 95LX owners bag of tricks. A short description of each file can be found on each issue's HP Palmtop Paper ON DISK <ON DISK ICON>.

"Talk" to Special Guests in Conference Rooms

Conferences offer you a chance to "talk" to special guests. Folks from the HP lab, support, and marketing groups have been guests. So have the leaders from PCMCIA -- the group responsible for the RAM card standard used in the 95LX. Conference transcripts are kept and can be downloaded from the forum libraries.

Strategies To Keep Cost Down

CIS is not free, but some simple strategies can keep your costs within reason. When you consider the quality of information, I think you'll find that CompuServe offers the most value of any of the national networks.

CompuServe has two rate plans. The standard plan charges a flat rate of $7.95/month and gives unlimited access to a range of services like electronic mail, travel information, reference sources, etc. The alternate plan is $2/month plus connect charges. No matter which plan you choose, access is charged on an hourly rate:

$6.30/hour up to 300 baud

$12.80/hour up to 2400 baud

$22.80/hour up to 9600 baud.

While that may sound steep, use the strategies that follow and your cost is less than a penny per message.

First, decide how you are going to use CIS. Do you just want answers to your questions, or do you want to keep up with what's going on in the field? If the former, you only need to log on when you have a question. For the latter, you will need to log on at least once a week. (Messages "scroll off" after a week.)

Second, choose your baud rate carefully. If you log on interactively, consider 300 baud. That's roughly 300 words per minute which most of us can read comfortably. Use faster rates only if you are going to be downloading files or using an automated access program. In fact, while you are learning to use CIS, 300-baud is ideal. The $15 usage credit in the introductory membership will pay for two hours of access at 300 baud -- enough to learn your way around.

Third, be selective. In each forum you can select sections of interest. CIS will then only show you messages from those sections. Further, you can "scan headers" and only read "threads" that sound interesting.

Finally, use an automated access program. These programs are written just to access CIS and while they have different user interfaces, they share an underlying philosophy: Do it off-line. The programs log on, pick up the messages you want, then log off. You read and reply to the messages off-line, then the program logs back on and uploads the messages you have written. This can cut your CIS bill by 90%.

The automated programs were covered in more depth on pages 26-30 of the March/April 92 issue and pages 14-16 of the May/June 92 issue of The HP Palmtop Paper. Three of these programs, TAPCIS, ATO, and MESSAGE are shareware or freeware and are found on The HP Palmtop Paper ON DISK <ON DISK ICON>.

Summary

Whether you need an answer to a specific question or want to stay abreast of the latest information, the HP Forums on CompuServe offer something to every 95LX user. Joining is easy, and in no time at all you'll be a CIS veteran. While CIS is not free, use some simple strategies and get the most for your money.

Besides being a great source of information, the forums are fun. There are some real (non-ASCII) characters. While discussing why some 95LX's make faint clicking noises when running on batteries, we had some imaginative explanations -- including "little green men who get in through the door on the card slot."

Try it out!

Accessing the HP Handhelds Forum

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