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Transferring Files Between the 95LX and a PC or Mac

Transferring Files Between the 95LX and a PC or Mac

Almost everyone using a 95LX needs to backup important files or download files from another computer. File transfer is a crucial function, and this article compares different approaches.

By Tony McNamara

The HP 95LX lets you take your work wherever you go. It's great to be able to take notes, look up phone numbers, make calculations, and create or access important spreadsheets at a moments notice. It's also vital for most users to be able to easily transfer files back and forth between the 95LX and a desktop computer.

One solution is to install a PCMCIA card drive in your desktop and transfer data via memory card. Once the drive is installed, this is the simplest way to go. You use your RAM card like it's a floppy disk and transfer files back and forth between machines. There are a number of card drives available for PCs, and one that we know of for a Macintosh (see page 12, this issue).

One problem with this approach is that if you're on the road and want to transfer files to or from another PC that doesn't happen to have a card drive, you're out of luck! Also, the card drive approach is the most expensive ($300-$500 plus the cost of a card).

File Transfer Software

A less expensive solution is to use a file transfer program and serial cable. A variety of programs and connectivity packages are available, allowing you to connect to PCs or Macs. If you're on the road, you can take the software and serial cable with you and connect to almost anyone's computer. Best of all, the price is right ($55-$200, serial cable and software).

This approach has two problems associated with it. The first is the 95LX's non-standard serial port. This very basic three-wire port does not support a standard serial port's DTS and DTR signals. This handicaps performance with transfer programs like LapLink and FastLynx, which can support seven-wire serial cables.

The other difficulty associated with the serial transfer approach is getting the transfer software on to the 95LX in the first place. It's a bit of a Catch-22 -- you need file transfer software to transfer files to the 95LX, but the first file you have to transfer over is the file transfer software!

The HP Connectivity Pack uses the FILER program already installed on the 95LX. The other software can be transferred to the 95LX using the built-in COMM application and any common communications program (i.e. CrossTalk or ProComm) on the PC. Simply connect the two systems using the appropriate cable, select the same communications parameters on both sides, and initiate an X-Modem or Kermit transfer of the desired files.

There's one other minor problem associated with the 95LX's power management system. The 95LX's serial port may be shut down to save power. If you find your file transfer software is not working, you might try running the serctl /w command from the DOS prompt to turn the serial port back on. You can also use 95Buddy to turn on the serial port.

Generic and 95LX-Specific File Transfer Solutions

The packages in this review fall into two general categories: generic file-transfer software and software aimed at the HP 95LX in particular. LapLink is the best known example of the former, while the HP Connectivity Pack is the primary example of the latter.

These two categories take different approaches. The generic file transfer packages usually support more than the three-wire mode the 95LX is limited to. Greater transfer speed is available with seven wire serial and nine-wire parallel transfer (not applicable to the 95LX). The generic packages still tend to be faster than the 95LXspecific packs, even in the three-wire mode.

The advantage of the 95LX-specific programs is that they are designed to take into account the screen size of the 95LX and the data-compatibility of the built-in applications. Most 95LX-specific programs also provide a 95LX-compatible cable, which you must purchase separately for the other programs.

Finally, most but not all file transfer programs let either of the two connected computers control the transfer process (one or the other, not both at the same time). Because a larger keyboard and screen are easier to use, most people would use the desktop computer as the controller (also call the "host" or "local" computer). I tested these programs using the desktop computer as the controlling computer in all cases.

THE MACINTOSH PROGRAMS

Both programs reviewed, MacLink Plus and Data Exchange, are written specifically for file transfer between the Macintosh and the 95LX. Both come with a special 95LX-to-Mac interface cable and both allow you to use either of the Macintosh's serial port (the printer or the modem port). Neither of these programs displays any information on the 95LX screen while running, and neither allows you to control the connection from the 95LX side.

Interestingly, both were also somewhat incompatible with ACE's DoubleCard (Stacker) software: MacLink would usually connect, but would also usually abort on very long files, while Data Exchange would always connect, but would take a very long time to do the transfer. Without the DoubleCard compression software, both packages were reasonably stable.

Both programs were tested on an Apple Macintosh IIcx.

MacLinkPlus, by DataViz

The MacLink Plus documentation is very well-paced and very clear. It walks the user through the process of copying the necessary files to the 95LX using the COMM program.

Once installed, the top speed of MacLink Plus when connecting to a 95LX is rated at 19,200 baud. This is the slowest rated connect speed of the packages reviewed, although it did not turn out the slowest real performance.

MacLink Plus includes a wide variety of file translation options. The default is to transfer and translate a file in one operation, but you can also select a straight binary transfer (file is transferred with no translation taking place). The file translations convert data to and from common Macintosh spreadsheet formats. For example, MacLink Plus lets you translate between Lotus, MS-Works Spreadsheet, or Excel worksheets. The 95LX's PHONE and APPT files can be translated to Dynodex, Address Book Plus, the spreadsheet files listed above, and SYLK files (generic database format that can be imported into programs such as FoxBASE).

The file translation options convert MEMO files into files useable by most common Mac word processors. They also translate between Dynodex and the Phone Book files. The 95LX's Phone Book and Appointment files can also be translated to spreadsheet or database formats.

There were a few minor problems. First of all, when transferring files from the HP 95LX to the Macintosh, I noticed that the status bar on the Mac is inoperative and the block count doesn't tell you how many total blocks are to be sent. This means that there's no way to determine how far along the transfer is. All the 95LX screen tells you that it is connected.

Secondly, MacLink (and Data Exchange) are both incompatible with ACE's DoubleCard. There seems to be no way to access the B: drive on the 95LX with MacLink Plus. This is a big issue for users of Stacker, the compression program used on the DoubleCard. The un-Stac'd (or pre-Stac) files on the card reside on the B drive. At the time of the review, DataViz had not released a fix, but was working with ACE and promised a fix in a future release.

MacLink Plus can also be used to transfer files between a PC and MAC. However, the cable included with this version only connects a MAC to a 95LX. DataViz markets another package for PC-to-MAC transfer.

Overall, MacLink provides functionality and adequate speed, on par with the HP Connectivity Pack for the PC. File transfer tested significantly faster than Data Exchange. It works fine with standard configurations and no Stacker. MacLink is a good bet, especially for those who need to do a lot of data conversions from the 95LX's built-in applications.

Data Exchange, by Sparcom

Like MacLink Plus, Data Exchange is designed to port data between the Macintosh and the HP 95LX. It also has some file conversion capabilities. Unfortunately, it also suffered the Stacker (ACE DoubleCard) compatibility problem.

Data Exchange's documentation is the best of the group. While neither comprehensive nor visually stunning, it is so well organized that the index is superfluous. At any given point, it tells you where in the process you are, what's next, and why.

Data Exchange installs to the 95LX's C drive, regardless of where you wish to put it. If you have insufficient space on the C drive, it will put what fits there and not warn you that the installation is incomplete.

Another Data Exchange problem is that it doesn't warn you when the connection has been dropped (no error message or indication that the transfer was interrupted). If only a portion of a file has been transferred, it is saved as if everything had succeeded.

As mentioned, Data Exchange is callable from a hotkey (the main program is an EXM file). This means you can run Data Exchange while system-compliant programs such as MEMO and 1-2-3 remain open.

Data Exchange lets you easily connect to the 95LX's A and C drives directly. You can change to the B drive (or other drives), but the process is awkward.

Data Exchange does some basic file conversions, but doesn't support the variety that MacLink Plus does. It is slow to begin with, and even slower when it interacts with Stacker (see timings table). However, the Stacker-related transfers were more reliable than with Mac Link Plus. Lastly, Data Exchange is easy to use and install.

PC PROGRAMS

These programs are much more diverse than the Macintosh programs. However, none of them had the ACE DoubleCard/Stacker compatibility problems that both Macintosh programs did, and only the HP Connectivity Pack, IntelliLink, and Data Exchange for Windows was written with the HP 95LX in mind. The HP Connectivity Pack and Data Exchange come with a 95LX compatible cable. The other packages required that you purchase one separately (see the order information at the end of the article).

The HP Connectivity Pack

One of the nicest things about this package is that you don't have to copy software over to the 95LX since it's already built-in on the 95LX's ROM, taking up no additional disk space. The software you install on your PC mimics the 95LX software. To transfer files, you connect the serial cable between the 95LX and PC, start APP95 on the PC, start FILER on both the 95LX and the PC, and transfer files. The commands are almost identical. (You have to press (ALT)(F10) on the PC to access the MENU key).

The HP Connectivity Pack was tested at the "Direct" option, its fastest selectable speed. At 57,600 baud, its rated transfer speed was about one-half that of the other PC programs.

One nice thing about the Connectivity Pack is that either computer can control the other. However, I suspect most users will use the desktop as the controller because of its bigger display and keyboard.

Another nice thing is that the HP Connectivity Pack provides PC versions of all the 95LX built-in software (except Lotus and COMM). The applications appear on the PC as they do on the 95LX. This unfortunately includes the limiting 40-col x 16-line display. Both FILER and MEMO would be nicer with a full-screen display.

One annoying characteristic of the Connectivity Pack software is that the program pauses a few seconds every time you switch back and forth between the remote and local views. No other tested program insisted on such a delay.

DOS CONNECT DRIVE SERVER

The HP Connectivity Pack also comes with DOS Connect, a utility that allows you to access the 95LXs drives directly from the PC. The main program file, DCS95.EXE, is not compressible and takes up another 38.9K on the 95LX. However, file transfer using this utility is much quicker than APP95.

DOS Connect requires that the CONFIG.SYS file on the desktop be modified with an appropriate LASTDRIVE command (documented in the manual on page 6-1). FastLynx comes with a similar drive server.

Overall, The HP Connectivity Pack provides a functional, easy to use method of transferring files to and from a PC. It is a bit slow, and I find the functionality of the PC versions of the builtin software to be limited.

Data Exchange for DOS and Windows

Sparcom now offers a PC version of its Data Exchange file transfer software. Unfortunately, we didn't receive a copy in time to test it. According to Sparcom the PC version can be run from DOS or Windows. (For more see page 8, this issue.)

FastLynx, by Rupp

FastLynx is a dedicated file-transfer program. It and LapLink generally trade the position of fastest comm program with each new release. On the 95LX, the two came in at identical speeds. I believe this is because new transfer speed improvements are now mostly related to file compression. The new releases of LapLink and FastLynx feature faster speeds on 386/486 systems because they compress data before sending it, like a V.32bis modem. These faster transfer speeds don't happen on the 95LX, because it has a slower CPU speed and can't keep up.

All speeds I reported in the chart (page 19) were honest 95LX speeds. Both FastLynx and LapLink Pro would show faster speeds between faster computers, and between computers that could support cables with more wires.

FastLynx uses function keys for most of its operations. The alpha-numeric keys are used to jump to files in the display panel. FastLynx is intuitive in Split-Screen mode and has two other extremely powerful modes of operation called Command and Form.

FastLynx also sports a pair of utility programs analogous to the HP Connectivity Pack's DC95/DCS95, but slightly faster, especially when a disk cache is installed.

FastLynx can be Dieted (compressed using DIET (ON DISK ICON)) after it has been fully configured. It does not allow the configuration to be saved after Dieting, but does retain the last saved configuration.

FastLynx is extremely fast, very easy to use, and packed with power. The only disadvantage is that unless you are using PCMCIA cards, it may take too much storage space.

The Norton Commander 3.0

The Norton Commander is a PC file manager that has a file transfer feature, which displays a split screen for local and remote drives. The file transfer feature, though a bit slow, is flawlessly integrated into the popular file manager. All of the file management and transfer capabilities, plus simple text editing and attribute setting, is provided by the NCMAIN .EXE program.

For flat-out speed, Commander is behind FastLynx and LapLink. However, it beats them in breadth of features.

IntelliLink/XLT

IntelliLink/XLT is an "Add-in Product for the HP Connectivity Pack," adding translation support for additional file types beyond those supported by the Connectivity Pack. For example, it can convert APPT, PHONE, and TODO lists to Calendar Creator Plus, dBase, Paradox, Sidekick, and WordPerfect Office. It also provides data reconciliation (automatically eliminating duplicates and keeping the most current record). However, it does NOT replace the connectivity portion of the Connectivity Pack, and won't increase the file transfer speeds.

IntelliLink/XLT requires that the HP Connectivity Pack be installed in the same directory as itself.

IntelliLink/Windows

IntelliLink/Windows runs under Windows, doesn't require the Connectivity Pack (but does need the cable), and provides the translation utilities of IntelliLink/XLT. (As we went to the printer, we received a new version that is supposed to be considerably faster.)

IntelliLink/Window is set up to install to the C drive only, and overwrites the current APNAME.LST (the file that contains SystemManager EXM file information). A savvy user may be able to install it to another drive. In any event, be sure and back up your current APNAME.LST file before installation.

Also, IntelliLink/Windows requires the SHARE program that comes with MS-DOS be loaded, even on systems with DOS 5.0 that otherwise would not require SHARE.

Unfortunately, most transmission or program errors terminate IntelliLink operation with a very brief warning, or no warning at all! The constant restarting of the program gets frustrating fast. I also had difficulty canceling file transfers. The Windows cancel button doesn't seem to work. The only way I found to cancel a file transfer that is already in progress is to shut down IntelliLink on the 95LX side.

Transferring and translating 95LX data files (.TXT, .PBK, etc.) to the PC is automatic -- once you've configured IntelliLink. From IntelliLink's Window's screen, point at your default data files and tell IntelliLink how you want them to be translated. From then on, every time you want to import or export a file, you can just check off the applications you want transferred and click "Import" or "Export."

This process works like a charm, except in several instances that require repetitive operations.

IntelliLink, once properly configured, clearly provides the easiest and most comprehensive method for moving HP 95LX data in and out of normal PC applications. The slow speed becomes a non-issue when dealing with the relatively tiny files that will be created by the built-in applications, and the ease-of-use (once configured) is paramount for busy executives.

LapLink by Traveling Software

As we went to press we received word that Traveling Software had just released LapLink V and will no longer be selling III and Pro. We haven't tested V, but have included reviews of the other two versions because they are still in wide circulation. Traveling Software wrote both versions of LapLink, as well as the DC95 portion of the HP Connectivity Pack. However, LapLink is much faster than the Connectivity Pack. Both LapLinks have a features and speed similar to FastLynx. LapLink Pro supports a mouse, which neither LapLink III nor FastLynx do.

LapLink III

LapLink III uses a Lotus-like menu at the bottom of the screen for all commands. You can either highlight the command and press (ENTER), or type the first letter of the command and press (ENTER).

LapLink III and LapLink Pro have a "batch" option which lets you create, save, and repeat transfer processes. It is similar to the Forms feature of FastLynx.

Like FastLynx, you have to configure LapLink before Dieting it (compressed using DIET (ON DISK ICON)). Unlike FastLynx, if you save the configuration after Dieting, the program file will be corrupted and will crash the system on future loads.

LapLink III is as quick as FastLynx and LapLink Pro, but not as easy to use as these or as the Norton Commander. It does have the advantage of being the smallest of these faster programs.

LapLink Pro

LapLink Pro is the latest version of LapLink, replacing LapLink III. As is common with newer version of a software product, it's much larger than the older version.

Packed into that additional size (225K) is a very nice user interface, great mouse and modem support, on-the-fly compression capabilities, and better integrated drive trees. However, these additional features don't mean that much on a limited system like the 95LX.

LapLink Pro is the fastest program of the group, by a tiny margin. This feature-rich program may be great for systems with copious data storage, but already compressed at 225K, it's a bit large for the 95LX.

ZIP, by Eric Myer

ZIP.COM (ON DISK ICON) was also reviewed on page 16 of the Mar/Apr 92 issue and on The HP Palmtop Paper ON DISK. ZIP is designed to be tiny and fast. It succeeds at both of these, but is not as easy to use as some of the other programs. ZIP is primarily a command-line driven program, although it does provide a menu-mode of sorts. It does not provide split-screens, or even a full-screen interface. The Command-line mode allows you to run a series of commands from a batch file.

ZIP's Server mode, combined with its Send and Fetch commands, allows the user to control the program from one side or the other. However, it does not provide point-and-shoot capability - the user must input the file names (and the directory name, if necessary) for file operations.

Because ZIP lacks file listing and point-and-shoot capability, it's not in the same league as the other programs. However, for those very short of disk space or money, it does provide the same basic function for a lot less.

Recommendations

I think FastLynx has the best combination of speed, power, and size. If you need a Windows product, you'll have to consider IntelliLink and Data Exchange for Windows. If you need something smaller, you can't beat the size of the Connectivity Pack, but you do give up speed. With ZIP, you get back the speed but give up ease-of-use.

File Comparison Summaries

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