To let your computer communicate with computers that are far away, connect your computer to a telephone line by using a modem.

Communication programs

To manage your modem, you need a disk containing a communication program.

The cheapest popular communication programs are Bitcom and Procomm. The typical modem is sold in a cardboard box that includes the Bitcom or Procomm disk at no extra charge.

Windows 3.1 includes accessories such as Clock, Calculator, Write, and Paintbrush. It also includes an accessory called Terminal, which is a communications program. Windows 95 comes with an improved communications program called HyperTerminal. I'll explain Terminal and HyperTerminal on pages 272 and 273.

To perform extra tricks, buy a fancier communication program such as Procomm Plus, Crosstalk, or Smartcom. You get Smartcom free if you buy a modem that has the "Hayes" brand on it.

Another way to get a communication program is to buy an integrated package such as Microsoft Works (for MS-DOS & Windows & Mac), Claris Works (for Windows & Mac), or PFS First Choice (for MS-DOS). Those integrated packages also produce word processing, databases, spreadsheets, and business graphs. Of all the communication programs, the easiest to understand is PFS First Choice's. PFS First Choice is published by Softkey International and costs just $39.95, but its abilities are limited.


To communicate with another computer, make sure that both computers are set to communicate in the same way:
Question Possible answers Usual answer
Which baud rate? 300, 1200, 2400, 9600, 14400, 28800, or 33600 28800
How many data bits? 7 or 8 8
What's the parity bit? 0, 1, even (E), odd (O), or none (N) none (N)
How many stop bits? 0 or 1 1
What kind of duplex? half-duplex (H) or full-duplex (F) full duplex (F)
Is XON/XOFF enabled? yes (enabled) or no (disabled) yes (enabled)

When computer experts chat with each other about which communication method to use, they usually discuss those questions in that order. For example, if the expert's computer is typical, the expert will say "My computer communicates at 28800 8 N 1 F enabled". To communicate with that computer, you must set up your computer the same way. To do that, run the communication program, which asks you those questions and waits for you to answer. The communication program also asks you whether the modem is COM1 or COM2.

Big online services

Many computers around the world are eager to chat with your computer!

Here are the most popular computer systems for Americans to communicate with:

Service State Sales dept.
America OnLine (AOL) VA 800-827-6364
MicroSoft Network (MSN) WA 800-386-5550
Prodigy NY 800-776-3449
Compuserve OH 800-848-8199

For more info about those services, call those 800 numbers (using your voice, not your computer), and chat with the sales reps.

MicroSoft Network is owned by MicroSoft. Compuserve is owned by H&R Block, but H&R Block wants to leave the on-line business and sell off Compuserve. Prodigy was started by IBM & Sears, but in May 1996 they sold Prodigy to a group of investors called International Wireless. America OnLine has always been independent.

America OnLine, Microsoft Network, and Prodigy each charge $19.95 per month. Compuserve charges just $9.95 per month but restricts you to just 5 hours per month unless you pay a surcharge of $2.95 per extra hour.

Each service typically gives new subscribers a special "free trial" offer, where you get "the first 10 hours free" or "the first 50 hours free" or "the first month free". For example, when you buy a modem, it usually comes with coupons giving you free trials on the four services, so you can sample the joys of telecommunication. After your free trial has ended, you get billed every month automatically on your credit card.

Each service contains many databases you can tap into. Some of those databases are for professionals. Others are for shopping, stocks, news, airline reservations, hobbies, games, and other forms of fun.

Each service has branch offices staffed by computers in all major American cities. If you call the branch office nearest you, you'll automatically be connected to the service's headquarters at no extra charge, so you can tap into the databases without paying for any long-distance calls.

Besides letting you tap into databases, those computers let you swap information with other computerists by using electronic mail (e-mail). For example, if you and your friend Sue both use Compuserve, Sue can send Compuserve a message addressed to you. Her message will be stored on Compuserve's gigantic computer's gigantic hard disk. The next time you use Compuserve, Compuserve will tell you that a message from her is waiting on Compuserve's disk. Compuserve will offer to "read" it to you, by sending it to your personal computer's screen.

Each online service now offers access to the Internet, which is a computer network started by the U.S. government but now privatized. You can send e-mail to anyone that has an Internet address, such as the people on other online services.

For example, by using Compuserve, you can send messages to all your computerized friends and even to strangers. Compuserve users have organized themselves into clubs, called

special interest groups (SIGs). Each SIG is devoted to a particular hobby, profession, or computer topic. If you join a SIG, you can read the messages sent by all other members of the SIG, and you can leave your own messages for them. Prodigy, AOL, and MSN have SIGs also, but Compuserve's are the oldest and offer the most sophisticated discussions.

You can also play with the CB Simulator, which imitates a CB radio and lets you chat (via typed messages) with other wild people across the country. You can give yourself a fake name ("handle"), to protect your anonymity.

Compuserve users spend most of their time playing with the electronic mail, SIGs, and CB Simulator, rather than the databases.

Here's how those online services arose....

Compuserve was invented first. Though it had good SIGs and databases, it was somewhat complex to use and was boring: it transmitted text but no graphics.

Then came AOL, which was graphical and fun. At first, it ran just on Commodore 64 computers, but later it was redone for the IBM PC and Mac. On the Commodore 64, it used a joystick; on the IBM PC and Mac, it uses a mouse. It's the easiest service to use. Its popularity is growing the most rapidly. Sometimes the service gets overloaded, so when you call you get a busy signal.

Prodigy was invented next. Like a newspaper, it's financed by advertisers: while you're using Prodigy, the top part of the screen shows the information you requested, but the bottom part of the screen invites you to see ads for many products. You can ignore those invitations! Prodigy is also the most "family-oriented" service: it offers the most goodies for kids (easy databases and educational games), and it censors announcements and messages to avoid obscenities and libel suits.

MicroSoft Network (MSN) was invented last. To use it, you must run MSN software, which Microsoft includes as part of Windows 95. Since most new computers come with Windows 95, Microsoft expected MSN to become the most popular online service, but America OnLine remains more popular than MSN.

Microsoft Network is set up to look like Windows 95. Special interest groups are set up in folders that hold chat rooms, message areas, and file libraries (which let you copy programs to your computer). MSN is easier to use than Compuserve but not as fun as America Online.

By using Compuserve, Prodigy, AOL, and MSN, you can reach information providers such as Dialog (a collection of 450 databases on many subjects, plus the full text of most U.S. newspapers), Nexis (the full text of many U.S. newspapers and magazines), News Net (the full text of 800 industry newsletters and news wires, covering over 30 industries and professions), Lexis (the resources of approximately 50 law libraries), and Dow Jones News/Retrieval (business news, stock prices, and the full text of The Wall Street Journal).

Bulletin boards

A computerized bulletin board system (BBS) resembles Compuserve but is free. It emphasizes electronic mail, SIGs, and CB Simulators.

It's run by a hobbyist from a computer in the hobbyist's own home or office. You can swap messages with the hobbyist and all other callers on the system, as if they were pen pals. Some bulletin boards are sexually explicit (heterosexual or gay). Some of my friends met wonderful people on bulletin boards - and married them!

You can choose from thousands of bulletin boards around the country. To find the bulletin boards in your neighborhood, ask your local computer store or computer club or school's computer department. These free general-purpose bulletin boards are the most popular:


All those online services (Compuserve, Prodigy, America OnLine, the Internet, and bulletin boards) contain software you can copy freely, since the software is freeware or shareware.

Copying software from the service to your own computer is called downloading. If you write your own software and want to contribute it to the service, you upload the software to the service.


You can have lots of fun using Compuserve, Prodigy, AOL, MSN, the Internet, and bulletin boards. But two barriers prevent them from being used by the average American:
1. If you want to find a particular piece of information, you'll have a hard time figuring out which database to contact and how to extract the information from it.

2. Typing messages to people is tedious and impersonal. (I'd rather chat on the phone. Most people can chat faster than they can type.)

Voice mail

Engineers have developed voice mail. It lets you record your voice onto a computer disk, so that other computerists can retrieve it. It acts as a high-tech answering machine.

Unfortunately, a voice-mail message consumes lots of disk space; but as disks continue to get cheaper, the price problem has been vanishing.

Windows Terminal

When you buy Windows 3.1 or 3.11, you get some accessories at no extra charge. In the Windows 3.1 & 3.11 chapter, I explained how to use four of those accessories: Clock, Calculator, Write, and Paintbrush. Here's how to use the other popular accessory, Terminal, which is a communications program. I'll explain the version that comes with Windows 3.1. The Windows 3.11 version is similar.

(If you're using Windows 95 instead, skip ahead to the next section, called "Windows HyperTerminal".)

Turn on the computer without any floppy in drive A. Start Windows 3.1 or 3.11 (by typing "win" after the C prompt). The computer will say "Program Manager".

Double-click the Accessories icon. Double-click the Terminal icon.

(If nobody has used Terminal on your computer before, the computer will ask which COM port your modem uses. Click the answer. If you're not sure, try COM2.)

You'll see the Terminal window. Maximize it by clicking . While you're using Terminal, the top of the screen shows this menu bar:

File Edit Settings Phone Transfers Help
Settings menu
Click the word Settings. You'll see this Settings menu:
Phone Number...
Terminal Emulation...
Terminal Preferences...
Function Keys...
Text Transfers...
Binary Transfers...
Modem Commands...
Printer Echo
Timer Mode
Show Function Keys

From that Settings menu, choose Phone Number.

Type the phone number of the computer you want to chat with. For example, if you want to chat with Microsoft's bulletin board system, type this:

(Since the computer ignores the hyphens, you can type just 12066379009 instead.)

If you're making a long-distance call, remember to type the 1 at the beginning of the phone number.

If you're sitting in an office whose phone system requires you to dial 9 to get an outside line, put 9 and a comma at the beginning of the phone number, like this:

The comma makes the computer wait 2 seconds for an outside line before dialing the rest of the phone number.

At the end of the phone number, press the ENTER key.

Choose Communications from the Settings menu. You'll see the Communications window. Here's how to use it....
In the Connector box, click COM2 if your modem is using COM2. (Most modems use COM2. If your modem uses COM1 instead, click COM1.)

In the Baud Rate box, you'll see this list of baud rates: 110, 300, 600, 1200, 2400, 4800, 9600, 19200. Click the baud rate you want to communicate at. For example, if you have a 2400-baud modem and you want to communicate to a computer that has a 2400-baud modem, click 2400. (If your computer's modem has a different speed than the other computer's modem, click the lower baud rate. If you have a 14400-baud modem, too bad: since 14400-baud isn't on the list of choices, choose 9600-baud instead. If your modem is 28800-baud or 33600-baud, choose 19200-baud instead.)

When you finish using the Communications window, press the ENTER key.

Congratulations! Now you've fed the proper settings to your computer! You're ready to dial the other computer! Here's how....

Phone menu
From the Phone menu, choose Dial. Your computer's modem will dial the phone number you requested.

On the screen, you'll see ATDT and the phone number being dialed. For example, if you said to dial "9,1-206-637-9009", you'll see:

When your modem finishes dialing the number, you'll see what happens. If the computer you're communicating to doesn't answer the phone, and the phone just rings & rings, your modem will give up after 30 seconds and say "NO CARRIER".

If the computer you're communicating to is busy chatting with somebody else, the phone number you're dialing will give a busy signal, and your screen will say "BUSY".

If the computer you're communicating to is in a good mood and does answer the phone successfully, your screen will say "CONNECT". Then go ahead and chat with that computer! That computer will ask you questions; remember to press the ENTER key at the end of each answer. When you finish chatting with that computer, say "bye" or "goodbye" or "logoff" or "logout" or whatever other word that computer requires. That's called logging out; it makes the other computer hang up its phone. Your screen will say "NO CARRIER". Then you must hang up your phone too, by choosing Hangup from the Phone menu. Your screen will say "ATH" and "OK".

Call waiting
If you ordered "call waiting" from your local phone company, turn off the call-waiting feature before using your modem (to prevent you and your modem from getting interrupted by an incoming call that goes "beep"). Here's how to turn off the call-waiting feature:
From the Settings menu, choose Modem commands. In the Dial Prefix box, change "ATDT" to "ATDT*70". Then press ENTER. That turns off the call-waiting feature temporarily, until your modem finishes chatting with the other computer.

Touch-tone versus pulse
Terminal assumes you have the most modern kind of phone: a touch-tone phone! That's the kind of phone on which each button makes a unique sound, and each sound has a different pitch.

If you have an older phone instead, it uses pulse instead of touch-tone. The typical pulse phone has a rotary dial; to dial a number, you rotate the dial, which makes a series of clicks.

If you have one of those old, pulse phones, you must warn the computer. Here's how. From the Settings menu, choose Modem Commands. In the Dial Prefix box, change "ATDT" to "ATDP".

To let the other computer send you graphics (such as a box surrounding some text), do this: from the Settings menu, choose Terminal Preferences. Then on the keyboard, press F then T (so that in the Terminal Font box, "Terminal" is highlighted instead of "Fixedsys"). Then press ENTER.

Save settings
Here's how to make your computer memorize the phone number, baud rate, and other settings you chose from the Settings menu.

From the File menu, choose Save. Invent a name for your settings; the name can be up to 8 characters long. For example, the name can be GOODSET or PHONEJIM or any other short name you wish to invent. Type the name you've invented. At the end of the name, press the ENTER key.

The computer will copy your settings onto the hard disk. For example, if you chose the name GOODSET, the computer will create a file called GOODSET.TRM in your WINDOWS folder and copy all your settings to that file.

When you finish using Terminal, choose Exit from the File menu. If you haven't saved your most recent settings, the computer will ask, "Do you want to save?" If you don't want to save them, click the "No" button.

Then the Terminal window will disappear. You'll see the Accessories window of Program Manager again.

In the future, when you use Terminal again, here's how to use the settings you copied onto the hard disk.

From Terminal's File menu, choose Open. Then type the name of your settings (such as GOODSET) and press ENTER.

Windows HyperTerminal

Windows 95 comes with an accessory called HyperTerminal. It resembles Terminal but is fancier.

To start using it, turn on the computer without any floppy in drive A, then click the Start button, so you see the Start menu. From that menu, choose Programs (by moving the mouse there), so you see the Programs menu. From the Programs menu, choose Accessories, so you see the Accessories menu. From the Accessories menu, choose HyperTerminal, so you see the HyperTerminal window.

Make sure the HyperTerminal window consumes the whole screen. (If it doesn't consume the whole screen yet, maximize the window by clicking the resize button, which is next to the X button.)

In that window, you'll see an icon for CompuServe, an icon for AT&T Mail, an icon for MCI Mail, and icons for any other services that you or your friends have already been using.

If no icon yet
To communicate with a service (such as a bulletin board) that doesn't have an icon yet, create a new icon! Here's how.... Double-click the Hypertrm icon. Type a name for the icon you want to create. For example, if you want to communicate with the Boston Computer Society and therefore want to create a Boston Computer Society icon, type "Boston Computer Society" (and press ENTER).

The computer assumes that the service you want to communicate with is in the same country as you (which is probably the United States). If the service is in a different country from you, do this:
Click in the Country Code box. You'll see part of an alphabetized list of countries; to scroll through the rest of the list, press the up-arrow or down-arrow keys. Press those keys until the service's country is in the Country-code box; then press ENTER.

The computer assumes that the service's phone number has the same area code as you. If the service's area code is different, double-click in the Area Code box, then type the service's area code (such as 617).

Click in the Phone Number box and type the service's phone number (such as 466-8740). At the end of that typing, press ENTER twice.

Then you'll communicate with the service. When you finish communicating, close the service's window (by clicking its X box and then pressing ENTER).

If the icon was already created
To communicate with a service (or bulletin board) that already has an icon, double-click its icon, then press ENTER. Then you'll communicate with the service. When you finish communicating, close the service's window (by clicking its X box and then pressing ENTER).

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