REVIEWS

E-mail, E-mail Everywhere

Two new packages offer a host of mail connectivity options, from simple dial-up to UUCP

by Seth Ross

Built on a raft of UNIX tools, NEXTSTEP is a natural platform for dial-up communications. Unfortunately, the promise often falls short when users and administrators face the challenges of setting up UUCP (Unix-to-Unix-Copy) connections to other systems or retrieving e-mail from a remote site. Two new products, Connect It! from Black Market Technologies, and Transfer from Pinnacle Research, help you to set up and maintain hassle-free communication links.

UUCP made easy
When we first described the vagaries of setting up a UUCP connection to get Internet mail ("Linking Into the Internet," Fall 1991), we bemoaned the lack of NEXTSTEP configuration tools for managing the process. Two years later, Black Market Technologies has delivered one solution.

Many NeXT sites use the UUCP facility to handle their dial-up e-mail connections. Once configured, UUCP reliably dials out to other UNIX systems to send and pick up e-mail. But configuration is a bugaboo. The UUCP configuration files included with NEXTSTEP look like they were written by graduate students back when bell bottoms and platform shoes were still popular. Even experienced system administrators can spend hours setting up UUCP connections: hacking on the text files L.sys, L-devices, and the dreaded sendmail.cf; checking and changing file permissions; and wading through modem settings.

Connect It! can dramatically reduce the time needed to configure UUCP, remote dial-in services, and modems. It's a no-brainer: Enter your mail domain name, modem type, and speed in the Local Host Configuration panel. Save. Enter the name, number, login, and password of the system to which you want to connect in the Remote Host Configuration panel. Save. Connect It! handles the rest, from modifying the L.sys file to initializing the modem.

There are some important provisos: Connect It! works best with virgin systems. When we tried to configure a NeXT cube that already had several up-and-running UUCP connections, we found that Connect It! mauled our pre-existing L.sys entries and sendmail.cf file. Once we deleted the broken remote-host entries and set them up again using the software, the system worked fine.

The version (1.0.1) of Connect It! we tested had a few bugs and some interface problems. The Preferences submenu item was inexplicably grayed out. The Utilities panel is poorly implemented: Instead of providing feedback on the status of running connections, it waits until the session is through before displaying the relevant log files. The app needs a dial directory, or an easy way to initiate UUCP sessions. In addition, it should provide tools to work on the chat scripts necessary to initiate a connection to a remote system.

Connect It! has the category of UUCP front ends all to itself. Despite its limitations, it is valuable for anyone who wants to painlessly and quickly set up UUCP-based e-mail connections and a must for those who manage e-mail gateways. By reducing the time needed to set up UUCP connections from hours to minutes, Connect It! quickly pays for itself.

Pick and choose
While UUCP is the standard way to transfer e-mail between systems, a simpler solution is sometimes necessary: What if you're away on travel with a laptop or working on a stand-alone home machine? You could set up a UUCP connection, but this takes time and resources on both ends.

Transfer allows remote users to retrieve NeXTmail from a mail server without using UUCP. We evaluated a late beta version of Transfer and found it surprisingly handy. It uses your modem to dial into the mail server and request information about mail messages you've received. You view the header listings of your messages (date, sender, size, and subject) in the New Mail panel, which looks similar to the one in the NeXTmail application. Select the messages you want and Transfer will send them to your local NeXT mailbox. This method of e-mail retrieval is efficient: You can pick and choose which messages get transmitted locally, saving on valuable phone time.

Transfer transparently handles outgoing mail as well. You can set up Transfer to intercept outgoing messages composed in NeXTmail and forward them via modem. This is as easy as pressing the Deliver button in NeXTmail. The app has separate modules for issuing commands and transferring files, but these were not complete at the time of this review.

For streamlined access to remote mail, Transfer is the only commercially available option. This promising app should prove valuable for users who need a simple path to e-mail from afar.

Seth Ross is a NeXTWORLD contributing editor and an author, with Daniel Miles Kehoe, of Taking the NeXT Step The Buyer's Guide to NEXTSTEP Computing.


Connect It! 1.0.1

4 Cubes

This UUCP front end greatly simplifies the task of setting up UUCP and e-mail connections. Despite its inability to handle pre-existing connections, Connect It! makes a valuable addition to the NEXT-STEP system administrator's toolbox.

$145

Black Market Technologies, 200 Warren St. #2, Brooklyn, NY 11201.

718/522-5090; 718/852-4249 fax; connect-it@ bmt.gun.com.


Transfer (beta)

3 Cubes

This e-mail and file-transfer utility makes it easy to keep up with your office e-mail from home or on the road.

$249

Pinnacle Research, 4725 E. Sunrise Dr. #435, Tucson, AZ 85718.

602/529-1135; 602/529-0117 fax.