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                         REVIEW: NETWORK SOFTWARE
                            By: Jason Compton
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Mlink, Grapevine, DaFTP, CLChat, AMosaic, oh my!

Networking is, of course, boatloads of fun.  To do some of the more
enjoyable Internet-style things, you need to be somewhere that will get you
what you want.  The fastest way, of course, is to have a direct feed
through, say, a T1 line.

However, that's incredibly expensive, so many people choose to go with a
SLIP or PPP account.  Put simply, you dial into a service provider, engage
your SLIP/PPP account, start up your networking software (AmiTCP, for
instance) and you're off-You're a real "point" on the net, capable of doing
whatever you want, as long as you can run the client to do it.  Telnet,
IRC, FTP, send lots of mail, read newsgroups...go right ahead.

HOWEVER, SLIP/PPP accounts can be a trifle expensive (for instance, my
service provider charges $300/year for SLIP access)...so there exists the
option to just forego the "fun" part of running the clients on your own
machine and just getting a "shell" account.  Simply put, you dial into a
service provider and get dropped at a UNIX shell prompt, from which you can
do all of the above...but the resources are all on the remote machine, and
of course you can't get interesting graphics.

Recently, a program called TIA was developed.  Simply put, TIA, when
installed on your shell account, would emulate a SLIP connection.  All you
needed to do was run TIA, quit your terminal program, start up AmiTCP or
AS225, and off you went, merrily pretending like you had a real SLIP
account, for considerably cheaper (for example, my service provider is only
$150/year for shell access), and with minimal speed loss.  I, personally,
have not checked TIA out yet, because it's not the subject of this article.

What IS the main attraction is another development, called Mlink.  Mlink is
a slightly different spin-instead of emulating SLIP access as TIA does, to
the point of requiring that you run TCP software, Mlink gives you
intravenous networking through a shell account-WITHOUT TCP software. 
Instead, an Amiga program runs, which activates a program on the shell
account.  The two, in tandem, provide the connection and the translation,
and all you have to do from there is run your favorite networking
client...and off you go!

Mlink is swift-in design, and in raw speed.  On a generic 14.4 modem, 1600
CPS poses no problem.  The activity can be totally transparent-the Mlink
interface will shrink down to a tiny title bar if you wish.  Trouble free,
such great clients as Grapevine IRC, DaFTP, and CLChat-GUI can be run.

Setup is fairly simple, although a multiple step process.  The Amiga
archive generates Amiga and UNIX software.  The mlink.tar.gz file must be
placed on your shell account, then de-archived and compiled according to
the specific instructions in the AmigaGuide manual.  This, if anywhere, is
where your main problem may be.  Some UNIX setups will not allow the mlink
program to be compiled properly, and the author invites troubled users to
send him the transcript of the failed compilation if this happens.  I have
successfully compiled Mlink on two SunOS UNIXes, but encountered an error
on a HP-UX machine.  You won't know until you try.

Once that is done, the Amiga file can be configured with CPS rates,
characters to block over the connection, and serial driver.  I find that
BaudBandit.device does not agree well with Mlink-use artser.device or
serial.device instead.  Once the Mlink file is run, Mlink controls your
network connection-but if you need to get to a real shell prompt, all you
need to do is run the enclosed Napsaterm (telnet) to get back to where you
started.  This is the recommended method of telnet for an Mlink
connection-going back through your original shell account.

In a relatively short amount of time, I have found that network
applications run remarkably well.  They are detailed below-


Grapevine IRC by Brian Cerveny (Aminet: comm/net)

IRC is that wonderful, wacky world where you can sit around talking to
dozens, hundreds, even thousands of people about anything and everything,
24 hours a day...if you can handle the fairly frequent "netsplits" where
half of the people disappear.

Channel #amiga is an...interesting hangout for Amiga users.  Sometimes
helpful, sometimes violently antagonistic, there's usually SOMETHING going
on there.  Not to mention the roughly 1000-2000 other channels available to
those interested.

In short, a lot of people like to use IRC.  A few clients have existed for
the Amiga, and haven't been accepted incredibly well.  So, out came
Grapevine.

While using a shell IRC client is fairly sterile, and the high-level
commands can be a bit esoteric, Grapevine is, if you'll pardon the pun,
vintage Amiga.  The screen and window handling is very system compliant,
everything (aside from your actual message, of course) is GUI (and not
using MUI, at that)...in short, it's actually fun to use, even if you're
not talking about anything particularly interesting.  The icons are
first-rate.

Grapevine runs under Mlink FAIRLY flawlessly.  Occasional problems are
known to occur with DCC transfers (DCC is the protocol that allows file
transfers between users on IRC), but I have yet to encounter one.

Grapevine's major drawbacks are the lack of support for all of the
"funkier" channel modes and operations, as well as /ignore mode (which can
come in handy quite often.) Also, while the scrollback is impeccably
displayed...it cannot be clipped or saved.

Future versions are slated to include an ARexx interface, support for
/notify, disk logging, and more.  Eventually, you'll have to register.

If you enjoy online chatting, nothing beats IRC...so you may as well do it
with style.


DaFTP by Dan Murrell Jr.  (ftp.warped.com)

One apparent problem with Mlink is that ncftp doesn't function
properly...so enter DaFTP.  GUI (and, again, non-Magic User Interface)
based, DaFTP gives quick, easy access to the net's File Transfer Protocol
in style and in speedy fashion.

Interestingly enough, I have yet to get the AmiTCP version of DaFTP to run
properly on Mlink.  No matter, as the AS225 version functions just as
well.


CLChat by Oliver Wagner  (Aminet: comm/tcp)

IRC is great, but sometimes the aforementioned netsplits can get out of
hand.  After all, channel #amiga averages about 30-40 users, but a good
2000 may be on the IRC as a whole at any given time.  So, there's another
way.

CLChat, originally developed as a BBS chat system, is the frontend for
ARCNet, a new and growing chat network.  Much, MUCH more compact than IRC,
and dedicated to the Amiga, right now it counts less than a dozen servers,
but that number is expected to increase.

CLChat supports the most "common" features of IRC, including multiple
channels, kick/ban, file transfer...in short, a nice package.  The GUI
client requires the muimaster.library, which provides a clean, if a bit
nondescript, one-window interface.

The client is lacking in support for clipboard saving (just like Grapevine)
and there is currently no way to moderate a channel for something like
conferencing (which we here at Amiga Report rather enjoy doing).  So, for
casual use, it's terrific, as the integrity and speed of the system is
high.  But it's not quite a "mature" system yet.

(A CLChat client for Windows is included in the package...but I haven't
seen it yet.)


AMosaic by the AMosaic team (Aminet: comm/net)

Ah, well, no discussion of networking is complete without mentioning
AMosaic.  It may not be as full featured as, say, Netscape, but as the
saying goes, "they're working on it."

After all, it's really our only way to browse the web at present...and
luckily enough, it works pretty well with Mlink.  Transparent as all of the
other applications, the AmiTCP version flies along merrily to the URL of
your choice (say, http://www.cs.cmu.edu:8001/~mjw/Amiga/News/AR/index.html
for starters)

Supporting most of the useful stuff, with the notable exception of FORMs
(ways to actually type text to be processed by the Web site), AMosaic works
pretty well, in general, but bugs do show up and are, again, being worked
on by its creators.

If you've never checked out the Web, or have only used Lynx, AMosaic is a
must-see...even if you find Mosaic's sound and graphics to be rather
wasteful, an occasional peek never hurts.


Conclusions

In general, Mlink is a solid, useful product.  With a shareware fee of $25,
you'll easily make back what you would have otherwise spent on an upgraded
SLIP connection within a few months, in all likelihood.  Of course, it's
not quite like the real thing...but it's pretty close.

Mlink 1.1
Ezra Story
ezy@panix.com
(aminet: comm/net)

Recommended Aminet Sites:

ftp.cdrom.com (US)
ftp.doc.ic.ac.uk (UK)
ftp.uni-paderborn.de (Germany)