Computer Link-Ups Add to Usefulness but Good Program Is Essential

Richard O'Reilly designs microcomputer applications for The Times

Connecting your computer to another computer either by telephone or direct cable link greatly enhances its usefulness. But it can be a complex and confusing task if you don't get a good communications program.

Micro Link II ($99) runs on more than three dozen different kinds of computers under a variety of operating systems such as CP/M, PC-DOS, MS-DOS, CP/M-86 and Concurrent CP/M-86 and uses the same menus and commands on each.

Its best features are simple commands and readily available command reference menus, its compactness and an on-off toggle key for saving incoming data on disk.

The on-off "save" toggle lets you choose which portions of the data are to be stored, so that you can avoid saving a continuous stream. You don't even have to give the file a name until you're done, and even then Micro Link II will do it for you automatically, if you want.

The PC-DOS version of the program takes only 24K (18K in CP/M) of disk storage, and it can be copied as often as you wish. That means you can put a copy on each of your data disks, simplifying file transfers. You can even change the program configuration on each copy, making it easy to keep one disk for use with CompuServe, another for Dow Jones and a third for use with your office mainframe.

Micro Link II is distributed by Digital Marketing Corp., 2363 Boulevard Circle, Walnut Creek, Calif. 94595.

Another compact program that can be placed on multiple disks in multiple configurations is Lync ($199), which runs on more than 160 computers, including all the operating systems mentioned above plus Apple DOS and TurboDOS. In the PC-DOS version, it requires only 18K to store the main program on disk. (There is a separate 44K "help" file that you can leave off once you learn the program.)

Lync offers several unique features such as automatic adjustment of communications parameters so that your computer is, in effect, always on the same wavelength as the computer at the other end of the line.

Another unique feature is the ability to "Lync" two computers so that one can run the other, either to cause it to send or receive files or even to run other programs remotely.

Most computers using Lync also can be run remotely from another computer regardless of what kind of communications software the other computer is running.

Lync lacks some of the flexibility of Micro Link II in sending and receiving files. But it offers a powerful feature that the other lacks--the ability to totally automate a communications session.

That would allow your computer to log onto another late at night while you sleep, for instance, retrieve the data you want at lower off-hours costs and store it in your computer for use when you awake.

Lync is available from its publisher, Norton-Lambert Corp., P.O. Box 4085, Santa Barbara, Calif. 93140.

PC-Talk III is very easy to use and costs only $35, unless you know somebody who already has it, in which case the publisher encourages that person to make you a copy.

The publisher, Headlands Press Inc., P.O. Box 862, Tiburon, Calif. 94920, asks only that you send a contribution ("$35 suggested") if you find the program useful.

PC-Talk III, as the name implies, works only on the IBM PC and compatibles and is the creation of Andrew Fluegelman, editor-in-chief of PC World magazine.

The only instructions are in a 20-page file contained on the program disk, which you must print out for yourself. But if you have a little experience with communications, the program itself tells you all you need to know through its combination of menus and command list.

It's a good, simple program at any price, with just enough deluxe features to make it all the program that most users would need. For instance, it allows you to program the IBM's 10 function keys to send sign-on codes, passwords, program access instructions, etc., with a single keystroke.

It will also store 60 separate phone numbers along with the appropriate communications parameters to accompany each so that you can automatically call other computers using an autodial modem.

Smartcom II, published by Hayes Microcomputer Products Inc., 5923 Peachtree Industrial Blvd., Norcross, Ga. 30092, comes packaged with the Hayes Smartmodem 1200B board, which can be installed internally in the IBM PC and other MS-DOS computers.

It is also available separately for $149 for use with Hayes and Hayes-compatible external smart modems. (Smart modems can dial and answer the phone.) Unlike the other programs described here, Smartcom II works only with Hayes modems and cannot be used to connect two computers by cable.

Smartcom II is totally menu-driven, making it somewhat slow to operate, but allowing it to work in a semiautomatic fashion. It offers great flexibility in configuring for various kinds of telecommunications services and comes programmed for dozens of such services.

It also allows you to fully automate your communications needs, going a step farther than Lync in allowing you to specify what time you want the auto log-on routine to begin. (Lync merely allows you to set the length of delay after you turn on the program before it will execute.)

Smartcom II excels in keeping track of an on-line session because of its large memory buffers, allowing you to recall data that has already scrolled off the screen and allowing your printer to print data at a slower speed than you receive it.

Smartcom II requires 288K of disk storage, compared to 96K for PC-Talk III, and can be copied.

ASCII Pro--for IBM and compatible PC-DOS and MS-DOS computers--is a new, more powerful version of ASCII Express Pro, a communications program for Apple II series computers that is a favorite among hackers.

The new version uses many of the same commands and menus as the Apple version, so it will be an easy transition for those who have moved from Apple to IBM.

At $190, ASCII Pro is a complicated program that, like Smartcom II, requires you to learn the technical details of communications to get the most out of it. Likewise, it also allows you to automate communications sessions and have them executed at a certain time. ASCII Pro goes beyond Smartcom in being able to work with almost any modem or allowing two computers to be cabled together.

In addition, as with Lync, a computer running ASCII Pro can be run remotely, so that you can use it to set up your computer as a bulletin board that other computer owners can call. You can restrict callers by requiring passwords, too.

A unique feature of ASCII Pro is a built-in editing program with which you can edit incoming data that you have received without exiting the program. The editor lets you work on only one line of text at a time, so you won't want to use it as a substitute for a word-processing program, but it makes ASCII Pro an ideal choice for someone who wants to receive a file, make a few minor changes and send it back again.

ASCII Pro is published by United Software Industries Inc., 1880 Century Park East, Suite 311, Los Angeles 90067.

The Computer File welcomes readers' comments but regrets that the authors cannot respond individually to letters. Write to Richard O'Reilly, Computer File, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

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