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Learning The Basics

How long did it take you to learn each of the basic capabilities (ftp, gopher, archie, etc.)?

For my first experience with each type of software, it took me about five minutes to learn the concept and twenty minutes to learn the basic capabilities and features for that particular interface. When approaching the same software utility on another operating system or environment, I already knew its major function(s) and focused on comparing the way to accomplish those functions within a different interface. For example, one of the basic capabilities of ftp software is `getting' binary files from a remote computer. The way user accomplishes this with a command-line ftp interface is much different than the way a user `gets' the same file from the same remote computer using a graphical interface for ftp.

My first experience with gopher software was with the University of California at San Diego's Infopath Campus-Wide Information System (CWIS). If the basic capability of gopher is navigating Menus, I don't think I'll ever get it--I'll always get lost between the first menu and the menu I am seeking. I was quite happy to discover that gophers offer a `bookmark' feature to find an obscure item quickly and repeatedly. I already knew that most gopher clients can make telnet connections to other systems and that they can transfer and save text files. I was pleased to learn the graphical gophers are capable of transferring a variety of other file formats, first loading them into memory and viewing them on the client computer, and then optionally saving any desired item.

Archie searches on the GSLIS-LAN are a value-added version of the DOS Archie client. One capability that is still beyond my grasp is the option to search for filenames using a regular expression search. Without this knowledge, a user can do little more than make a wild stab at a filename, and hope that it turns up some results. The Macintosh Interface was much friendlier to both me as a user, and to the remote sites it connected with. It offered the capability to search multiple filename-strings at once--which is great for someone like me, doing haphazard, best-guess searches.

I'm not sure that WAIS (Wide Area Information Server) software has any `basic' capabilities. When demonstrated by an experienced user, the potential of this sort of client-server software is amazing. Information from all sources, in all formats, from all around the world, is delivered to the user's desktop. In practice, I was not so lucky. The first two Microsoft Windows clients, WAISman 3.0 and jWAIS, locked up and crashed so frequently that they have been removed from the GSLIS-LAN. The remaining Client, WAIS 2.2 for Windows, also tended to lock up before it could return results from any remote computers. WAIS via the OAC's gopher client performed reliably, but its information format was limited to textual information--there was no capability to transfer graphics, formatted documents, or any other binary files. Only the Macintosh WAIS software was installed, configured, and designed well (and lucky?) enough to live up to its promise.

A variety of electronic mail interfaces are used to keep in touch with my penpal, Ka_Wai Ho in Australia, as well as other friends. The mail interfaces vary widely in their ease of use and features. While the OAC's ben software was difficult to learn because it has no concept (every action is a gamble), other software for electronic mail is a pleasure to use and also difficult to learn all of the clever features--software like elm for UNIX and Pegasus Mail for DOS.

I've been using two Usenet News clients for two years now, and I'm still getting the hang of it. I also tried two additional newsreader interfaces for this project: Trumpet for DOS, which crashes on the GSLIS-LAN, and Trumpet for Windows, which I couldn't figure out how to install. The UNIX and MVS Newsreaders are being used to `lurk' in the comp.hci newsgroup. Perhaps I'll get the nerve to post there later in the quarter.

Once I had tried an Internet software utility on one platform, learning the others was a matter of pattern recognition--comparing features in the present interface with those I had learned from previous interfaces. How does one escape from the OAC's telnet software? How does one escape from the TNVT220 telnet software on the GSLIS LAN? How does one escape from the TN3270 telnet software in Microsoft Windows? The same task in each interface requires a different action by the user.




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sean dreilinger

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