|★ APPLICATIONS ★ COMMUNICATION/TELEMATIQUE ★ Sage Communications Pack: A comms link for the PCW series ★|
|Sage Communications Pack|Computing with the Amstrad)||Applications Communication/telematique|
THE Sage Communications Pack for the PCW series is a complete kit, consisting of a modem, a serial cable, and a communications program called Chit Chat which is designed to replace Mail232, supplied free with the PCW.
All you need with the Sage Pack is a serial interface and you're up and running — no wiring diagrams, no frustrating trial and error installation procedures.
The modem is housed in a black plastic and metal case measuring 7 1/2 in by 6 1/2 in. It is 2in deep, and thus well out of the fashionable slimline category, but nevertheless looks and feels like a quality product. It also has British Telecom's blessing, so you needn't worry about being fined £1,000 for hooking up an unapproved device.
At the front of the case are a connect button, two LEDs indicating carrier detect and power/data transmission, and two further buttons for selecting V21 (300/300 bps) or V23 (1200/75 bps), the most common modem standards.
The mains power and telephone cables come out of the back where there is also a self-test button, a standard 600 series socket to take a telephone handset and a DIN socket for the serial cable. The other end of the serial cable has a female D socket which fits the RS232 port of the PCW's interface.
As modems go this one has relatively crude facilities. Everything has to be done manually, including dialling from a handset, logging-on to the remote carrier signal, and toggling between V21 and V23.
You have to push the correct baud rate buttons before a call, and to disconnect the modem after it, or waste time and money watching a blank screen when the host computer answers.
Although Chit Chat software comes configured to run with the Sage modem it can be bought separately and will work with other manual modems, as well as smarter systems, if correctly installed.
Included on the Chit Chat disc are several installation files customised for popular makes of modem, including Thorn EMI, Dacom, Master Systems and Hayes. There is also a file which should work with nearly all straight manual modems, and one for manual modems with speed translators.
If the appropriate file fails to install your particular modem correctly you can resort to an all-purpose installation file, also provided on the disc. But be warned - if you're not familiar with communciations procedures and protocols you'll probably need professional support.
Sage will be able to help, since as an authorised user you can call its hotline for free advice over a period of 90 days from the date of purchase -one reason why it pays to buy from a reputable company.
Chit Chat has been carefully configured for the PCW - not an unimportant consideration, as you'll know if you've used certain pieces of patched software originally designed for other machines. It works on the PCW precisely as intended, makes use of many of the machine's facilities and takes into account base-line limitations such as a single disc drive.
Chit Chat loads automatically into the RAM disc, is driven by the function keys and knows that it is talking to the PCW's dedicated printer.
The general approach is different from that of Amstrad's Mail232, and if you have no special requirements such as DEC terminal emulation, you'll find the Sage software preferable.
The core of the program is the phone directory (see Figure 1), which is much more than a simple database of phone numbers. Each entry is the tip of an iceberg - the summary information displayed on the screen hides a mass of previously entered data stored on disc.
By calling the directory editing screen various parameters and switches - from parity to password strings - can be set for new or existing entries (Figure II). Once an entry has been set up all its data is implemented when the connection is made.
In addition, the program can use the PCW's internal clock to carry out tasks at predetermined times, provided you have entered the current time at boot-up. A task file is just a sequence of commands with a start time, and can be used, say, to send telexes at off-peak rates, or to empty your electronic mailbox and write the messages to disc while you are away.
Interactive data capture is even easier. In terminal mode at the touch of a function key everything echoed to the screen can be saved to a disc file for later viewing.
In Viewdata mode there are special facilities for capturing either Prestel frames or those of other viewdata systems, recalling them from disc and printing them, without the need to strip them of the control codes they contain.
Everything has been designed for convenience and ease of use. The clock continuously displays current time and elapsed time during a call. There is a context-sensitive Help facility, and a disc manager which allows you to view the disc directory, and delete or rename files without leaving the program.
Most important of all, there is a built-in text editor - Figure 3.
It does not have the wide range of features found on full-blooded word processors, but it uses many of the PCW's dedicated word processing keys, and has enough flexibility to make it useful for preparing and, if necessary, printing chunks of text off-line, thus saving connect time.
You can exit to LocoScript, create a page-image Ascii file and send that instead, but there are times when a page or so can be more conveniently entered using an internal editor.
The supremely lucid documentation for all these features is entirely specific to the PCW, unlike that of many other configured programs where a couple of typed pages inserted into the manual are the only indication that you've bought the right configuration.
Chit Chat comes in three different versions - E-Mail for mail networks such as MicroLink and Telecom Gold, Viewdata for public systems like Prestel (both cost £70), and Combo which will handle the two (£100). Combo is the version provided with the complete kit, which costs £200.
These prices, do include VAT, but do not represent outstanding bargains - however, you can be sure of quality and support. Furthermore, buying Chit Chat gives you the option of taking out a free registration on MicroLink.
So at first the world can be your oyster for practically nothing, and just when you begin to wonder how you ever managed without electronic mail and remote databases, British Telecom can start to cash in.
GABRIEL JACOBS , CWTA