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ProComm Plus and OCLC's Epic.

An online reference service demonstrates ProComm Plus's many features.

In the past we've looked at telecommunications programs and automation of the log-on process. A few months ago we examined ProComm. one of the most popular shareware programs, and found it to be excellent telecommunications software.

This month we'll look at the commercial successor to ProComm, Pro Comm Plus, and begin to learn how to write scripts for it. In the process, we'll use EPIC, OCLC's new online reference service, to demonstrate many concepts and features.

ProComm History

ProComm began - shareware in the mid-eighties and has become a software best-seller. It was so successful in fact, that Datastorm, the publisher, took it commercial. However, the company left ProComm version 2.4.2 in circulation as shareware, and offered its new product dubbed ProComm Plus through commercial outlets.

For users this a bonanza. They can still try the software, and if they decide to use iL have the option of purchasing the enhanced commercial version. If you try ProComm and like it - take my advice, don't bother to register it - buy the commercial version instead. The price difference between registering the shareware and ordering the commercial version from a mail-order house is negligible, and Plus is quite an improvement over 2.4.2.

Those who are familiar with an older version of ProComm will feel right at home with ProComm Plus. The same exploding windows are there, as are the sound effects. The ALT key combinations are nearly unchanged. ALT-D still brings up the dialing directory; ALT-P will open the parameter window to control line -d port settings; and ALT-L continues to toggle the printer on and off.

Cosmetic Changes

A couple of changes are worth noting. ALT-F7 no longer sends a break sequence; this is now done with ALT-B. Also, ALT-F10 won't open the help window; you must press ALT-Z instead, no doubt a concession to the function keys running across the top of the enhanced" keyboard.

Although many of the key combinations have not changed, the waY YOu move about in the windows they open has changed. For example, in the dialing directory you must now highlight the entry you wish to revise or dial. In previous versions, you could enter the number of the entry. If you had EPIC listed as the fourth choice, you "4" and pressed Enter. With plus you must first highlight the entry then press Enter.

The way you enter the data into the dialing directory has changed as well. you now receive substantialy more help creating each entry. when you choose to add another entry, YOU are PrOmPted for the name and the number, then YOu are presented with a list of possible speeds, terminal emulations, and downloading protocols. Nothing could be easier.

ASPECT Script Language one of the major enhancements in ProComm plus is its script language. For those unfamiliar with scripts, drink of them as mini-programs that take control of your computer -d modem from the time of dialing through the logging on process, and even, if you desire, to the point of automatically moving you about the online system you have entered.

proComm Plus's new script language, ASPECT, is a huge improvement over the script language found in version 2.4.2. So many commands have been added that ASPECT is in many ways a respectable programming language itself

An EPIC Example

The procomm Plus program disks contain a number of sample script files You can use or modify for your own purposes. We'll take the file written for CompuServe and rewrite it to log us on to EPIC.

First copy the file CSERVE.ASP from the original procomm disk to your hard drive. Next use your word processor or an editor such as QEDIT (described in my last column) that can read and write ASCII files and load CSERVE.ASP into it. Now you can make and save the changes required to automate your access to EPIC. Figure 1 shows the file after making the necessary modifications.

This script will dial your local CompuServe telephone number and log you on to EPIC. As soon as your EPIC password has been entered, control will be returned to you. At this point you will be able to enter EPIC commands and move about the system.

ASPECT Commands

Let's take a look at the commands this script uses. it begins with a few lines Of comments. Comments must be set off with semicolons.

After the comments, several variables are defined. These variables stand for strings, usually passwords or other information, to be Passed to the host computer. The advantage of using variables instead of directly placing the passwords and authorizations in the script is that it is usually quicker and easier to change a variable.

If, for example, you wanted to change your EPIC password, you could quickly update your script by replacing the old one with the new in the variable definition. You don't have to hunt through the entire script looking for the place where the password is entered.

After the variables list, there is a command instructing ProComm to use its VT102 terminal emulation. This is the best terminal type to use when searching EPIC. You can use the plain vanilla terminal but you will see some extraneous characters if you do.

The next seven lines are placed in the file as a kind of insurance. These will dial the number for CompuServe if you do not begin the script from the dialing directory. This is important if you use the "/f" switch when beginning ProComm. This switch begins the program and tells it to automatically log on using the script you name after the "/f." For example, if you PM PCPLUS /FEPIC, the program will load, and the EPIC script will execute immediately.

The next line instructs the program to pause for three seconds to give the host computer time to come online. When the three seconds have passed, the script resumes.

The subsequent twenty lines are a combination of waiting for certain prompts to be sent by the host and answering them with the proper responses. Much of this will be unique to each situation, so you should enter information that pertains to you.

If you are accustomed to downloading all of your searches, place the third to the last line in your script. It opens a file for the downloaded information and names it EPIC.TXT. If you reuse the name "EPIC.TXT" from a previous search, the new information will be appended to the old. To avoid accumulating a gigantic file, rename the file after finishing the search. This way each search will have its own file of downloaded information.

Another common searcher action is to toggle the printer on and off. This script turns it on after the log-on procedure is finished and leaves it on. ProComm's printer toggle is ALT-L. To turn it off, use the same key combination.

Finally, when the script has finished, the program alerts you by sounding an alarm for five seconds.

This script is but one example of the many ways you can use ASPECT. Next time we'll look at this script language in more depth and devise a menu, written with ASPECT, that will simplify your use of EPIC.
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Title Annotation:shareware program
Author:Dykhuis, Randy
Publication:Computers in Libraries
Date:Feb 1, 1991
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