Tapping the Treasures of CompuServe

Many HP Palmtop Paper subscribers happily "surf" the CompuServe Information Service, getting quick answers to their Palmtop questions and downloading inexpensive or free Palmtop software.

By Mark Scardina

Even though the HP Palmtop was originally designed as a Electronic Organizer and Lotus Companion, its enduring strength has been its DOS compatibility. The HP Handheld Forum on CompuServe and its members have created a rich library of applications and utilities which with the built-in-in applications make the HP Palmtop an indispensable companion.

CompuServe is an electronic information service for over 4 million people worldwide. Not only does it provide access to weather, stocks, news, and many informational databases, but there are over 800 special interest Forums. These are special meeting areas where members of like interest can exchange messages and files on a specific subject. Forums cover such interests as pets, hobbies, politics, and computer hardware and software support. It even provides a gateway to the Internet including the World Wide Web and Newsgroups. In addition, CompuServe can act as your in-home software store with the introduction of Software-on-the-Go. More on that later. Let's take a look at the home of Palmtop users on CompuServe, the HPHand forum.

CompuServe's HP Handheld Forum

Once you have logged onto CompuServe (as described later) you can reach the HP Handheld Forum by typing GO HPHAND. This takes you to our New Member screen, if you have never visited us before. You'll be given a brief rundown of the mission of the Forum and asked to join. Joining means you have access to all areas in HPHAND, but does not obligate or commit you in any way. So go ahead and join us inside!

The HP Handheld Forum is a user run and supported forum. It is not managed or operated by HP. While there are many fine vendor run Forums, we feel that our unique combination of independence and excellent access to HP resources provides a great combination of helpful advice, frankness, and creative solutions for our members.

Once on HPHAND you'll find that like other forums, it is divided into three areas: the Message Area, the Library Area, and the Conference Area. These areas are additionally sub-divided into Sections which help you locate a specific topic. (See the sidebar for the HPHAND Sections.)


This area allows you to post questions, answers, comments, etc., under different Subject headings. Messages and their replies are organized by CompuServe in "threads," allowing any member to follow the entire exchange on one topic in sequence. While up to 10K of text can be posted in a message, the average is less than 1K. Our Forum is considered one of the more active ones with an average of 300 messages a day being posted. Fortunately, the Section arrangement coupled with the ability to download specific threads allow you to capture only those subjects that interest you.

Besides having sections devoted to supporting the different HP calculators and Palmtops, we have two additional sections that you may be interested in. The FIRESIDE section, 13, is an informal area where the only requirement is an interest in HP handhelds. It is where members can discuss almost any topic. Recent threads have included a discussion of Microsoft's attempt to purchase of Intuit, notable restaurants in cities around the world, meeting bears in the wilderness and E-TEXTS, electronic books that you can read on your Palmtop.

For the more technically inclined we have Section 15: Programming. This area allows those members interested in programming on or for the Palmtops to get advice and help, whether they work in C, BASIC, Assembly or even the Lotus 1-2-3 Macro language. One very interesting project, PAL, that is currently going on is the joint development of a C library that allows you to port or create a DOS application that has the look and feel of the built-in applications.


This area mirrors the Message Area's Section layout. It is where we keep Palmtop-related files that have been made available by HP and our members. These can be informational, such as 200LX.ANN, which is the press release on the 200LX; free utilities, such as BAT100 .ZIP, a battery information utility; shareware programs such as BUDDY.ZIP, a feature enhancement program for your HP 100/200LX; or a demo program of a commercial product such as MAGDEM.ZIP, which demonstrates the features of Magnify!, a pop-up software magnifying lens.


This area is used occasionally to hold live discussions with a specific guest that is of interest to the Forum members. Some Forums use this as a chat' area as well. It allows members to exchange messages with others in real time. Guests can range from actual HP engineers to software and hardware third party vendors.

Software-on-the-Go: Commercial packages online

While there are many useful offerings in the HPHAND libraries, there are also numerous commercial applications that have been written for or run on the HP Palmtop. Unfortunately, finding these and purchasing them are not easy tasks as they do not populate the store shelves of computer stores. Software-on-the-Go is a new concept in software distribution that allows you to purchase full applications and utilities by simply downloading them. Purchases are simply included on your monthly CompuServe bill with no concern whether the software originates in one country and you are in another.

Each product is complete and ready to run without the need to get special passwords or numbers. Each electronic package includes the application/utility, installation instructions, a User Manual in ASCII text format and in Adobe Acrobat PDF Format. The choice of the PDF Format means that you can print or view a fully formatted manual from any PC whether it runs DOS, Windows, Unix or is a Macintosh. The free Reader software to do this is available from the Internet (www .adobe.com) or from CompuServe in the HPHAND Forum. (The following Reader software files are found in HPHAND General Library 1: ACRORE.EXE for Windows; ACRORE.MAC for Macintosh; ARDOS1.EXE and ARDOS2 .EXE for DOS computers.)

Software-on-the-Go specializes in software for PDAs, Palmtops, Calculators, Electronic Organizers and Portable PCs. Support for the product offered is provided in the appropriate Forum for the platform on CompuServe. Many products also have demo versions located in these associated libraries for you to try out first.

By entering GO SOFTNGO at any prompt or by clicking the Traffic Light Icon, you are taken to the Software-on-the-Go shop door. Feel free to step in and browse the many aisles as products are arranged by category. All products have full descriptions and many have screen shots (graphic pictures) you can view if you are using CIM software. (Others may download the GIF screen shots for off-line viewing.) Don't be concerned about exploring the area. You cannot inadvertently purchase an item. Once you have made your selection you are not billed against your monthly online hours during the actual download, so shipping is free!

Ways to access CompuServe

Accessing CompuServe is quite easy thanks to the multiple modes that they maintain. This allows virtually any PC or Palmtop the ability to use the service.


This mode lets you log on with a simple terminal program such as DataComm on your HP Palmtop. HP makes this easier by providing a configuration file (C:\_DAT\COMPUSRV.DCF) on the HP 100/200LX which you can load from DataComm by pressing (MENU) Connect Settings Open, selecting COMPUSRV.DCF and pressing (F10). CompuServe has different access phone numbers dedicated to the speed of your modem (you're charged accordingly). Make sure you dial the number associated with your modem speed. You can call 800-848-8990 for the numbers in your area.

Key the phone number into DataComm and dial it by pressing (F10) (Connect). DataComm will report a successful CONNECT when CompuServe answers. At this point press (CTRL)-(C) and you will be prompted for your ID and Password. (You receive these in the introductory kit that you can get by calling 800-848-8199 (ask for operator 231) or by purchasing it at your local computer store.)

Once these have been accepted you'll be given a Menu of selections.

Moving around CompuServe is as simple as either entering the menu selection or using the GO and FIND commands. To get to the HP Handheld Forum, you enter GO HPHAND. By entering HELP at any prompt you get a listing of available commands and their functions. By pressing (F5) (Capture) you can enter a filename and re-direct everything that appears on your screen to a file to be saved and read later. You can also type GO PRACTICE to access CompuServe's free practice section. You can use this section to traverse CompuServe menus, ask for help about using CompuServe, and practice until you get up to speed.

CompuServe access software

If you have a PC or Mac you can also access CompuServe with the CIM software. There is DOSCIM for DOS, WINCIM for Windows, and MACCIM for Macintoshes. These CIM programs are commercial software available from CompuServe. DOS-CIM runs on the 100/200LX. The CIM software provides Host Micro Interface (HMI), which is graphical and lets you use buttons, icons and a mouse to move around the service. Many members use both ASCII and HMI software, depending on whether they are exploring or making regular forum stops to send and receive messages.

CIS navigation software

Since the Forum areas are charged at a per hour rate, it makes sense to be able to get in and out as quickly as possible. While you can read and post messages with the REA and COM commands online, we recommend that you use one of the navigator programs to do this offline. These programs automatically log onto your desired Forums, capture the Subjects and/or complete message threads for you to read and reply to offline. They also automatically send any messages you've composed off line.

Several popular navigators are TAPCIS, ATO, and ozCIS for DOS, CSNAV and ozWIN for Windows, Golden Compass for OS/2, and Navigator for the Mac. These are all available on CompuServe online and can be found with the FIND command.

HP Palmtop owners also have the choice of acCIS, which will run on your HP Palmtop as a System-Compliant, Hotkey application. This program makes keeping up with all of the Forums and your E-mail quite easy because you can do it virtually anytime or anywhere (see acCIS review, in sidebar on page 27).

Getting the files in the libraries

Once you have joined us in HPHAND you have access to over 3,000 files in our libraries. (As are the messages, our libraries are arranged in sections. You can get a listing by entering LIB at the Forum ! prompt or clicking on the Books Icon in the CIM software. A complete listing of HPHAND files is found in .TXT and .GDB format in LIBDB.ZIP.)

To facilitate your finding a file, Keywords, are attached to each file. Keywords describe the type and characteristics of a file. Examples are HP100LX, UTILITY, GAME, DATABASE, PHONE, etc. You can find files that have an associated keyword by entering BRO KEY:<keyword> at any library prompt. By adding LIB:ALL to the end of this command you get a listing of all files in the Forum with that keyword. Desktop CIM users can click on the Magnifying Glass/Books Icon and enter the word.

Once you see a file that you want, you can download it to your PC or Palmtop. Desktop CIM users can simply click on the file and select Retrieve. If you are on your Palmtop using the built-in DataComm program, you will need to enter DOW and follow the on-screen prompts. Make sure the file transfer protocol on the Palmtop matches the one CompuServe is using. In DataComm on the HP 100/200LX, press (MENU) File Protocol and select the desired protocol.

Once you are prompted to begin the download, press (MENU) File Receive on the Palmtop and enter the name of the file.

Most files in our libraries have ZIP extensions. A ZIPed file has one or more files compressed into it. This saves space and makes downloading related files faster, easier and cheaper. Once you've downloaded such a file, you need to unZIP (decompress) it with PKUNZIP (archived in PK204G.EXE) or a similar utility.

Palmtop members have much more than the HPHAND Forum to attract them. Many users use CIS Mail as a gateway to their corporate E-mail systems. This is because they can usually call up a local CompuServe number (node) and send and receive messages wherever they are. Using CompuServe to get your business E-mail would make it possible to handle it on your morning commute, improving your productivity.

Services offered by CompuServe

CompuServe's Standard Plan Service costs $9.95 per month and gives you 5 free hours (10 for the first month) of News, Sports, Weather, E-mail, Reference Libraries, Shopping, some Financial Information, Travel & Leisure information, Entertainment & Games, Forums, and Internet access. Additional hours are then $2.95 each.

The Super Value Plan provides a total of 20 free hours for $24.95 a month with additional hours billed at $1.95 each.

Shareware Registration, SWREG, and Software-on-the-Go purchases are automatically included in your monthly bill for ease of payment.

Automating CompuServe Access with acCIS

Pricing and Contact Information for products mentioned in this article