Zap-O-Com v2.11- Ethan A. Hall-Beyer

ZOC: PM Communications Software for the Masses

With the release of OS/2 Warp last fall, IBM was gracious enough to include a BonusPak of tools and utilities to allow users to benefit from the inherent power of OS/2's design. While some of the software in this supplemental package is well designed, one notable exception is HyperAccess/Lite, the BonusPak telecommunications program. In this aspect, IBM perpetuated a tradition common in past operating systems: the utilities included are used as a bootstrap only long enough for you to go out and find something better, useful, and with a good set of features.

For the OS/2 platform, there are many alternatives to HyperAccess/Lite. Quite popular is ZOC, by Markus Schmidt of EmTec Innovative Software. As communications programs go, ZOC is quite mature, and the depth of what the program offers testifies to the author's commitment to his product.

What is (a) ZOC?

As the author puts it, to "ZOC" could be "a method of communicating with other people through the means of extremely sophisticated hard - and software". In fact, ZOC is simply an acronym for "Zap-O-Comm". While the name may appear frivolous to some people, don't be fooled; ZOC is a serious communications tool. It is a full-featured communications program for the OS/2 Presentation Manager, driven completely by menu, icon bar, and notebook configuration. In its latest version, 2.11, it offers much of what is found in commercial programs, and features not included in most other shareware programs. But it retains a distinct humour that comes as a pleasant refreshment to standard issue computer software.

ZOC was first made public in late 1993, as version 0.97 (beta). Even as an incomplete product, the program became an instant hit with many users. It was the first true OS/2 PM modem program, and was the choice of many people switching over from text-based, albeit capable, competitors. Since the 1.00 release, ZOC has undergone two major development stages. In versions 1.00 - 1.33, Markus improved and perfected the base features that one expects to find in viable modem software. Then, approximately a year ago, version 2.00 went public (after a beta test limited to registered users) and included major changes and additions. Since then, full support as a telnet client, and ISDN capabilities (a separate product) have been added.


Installation is a snap. Those of you who recall the potential troubles of the "installation" in versions 1.xx will be pleasantly surprised. Instead of coming as an archived directory tree, the main distribution package includes two files (and some quick documentation) INSTALL.EXE and INSTALL.FIL. The former is a full graphical installation routine that allows you to choose where individual components are installed. In addition, if you have a previous version installed, it prompts you before overwriting key files (such as your settings and phone book files). The install program creates the necessary icons, and displays some help files (which you probably want to review before proceeding).

The First Time

The first time you launch ZOC, it will display a useful help screen, with options to obtain assistance depending on your level of experience with this type of program. The help guides you through the steps you should follow in order to dial out successfully the first time. But, if you're like most people, you jump right into the program and do your best (or worst!). In ZOC, an inviting "Options" menu is where most people head - and where some people get confused. While almost every aspect of the program is user-configurable, there is some inconsistency in how to reach specific settings. Changing the serial and modem settings is straightforward, once you notice that "Serial" and "Modem" are two separate items. Also, it may take the novice user some time to find out how to change the redial delay from twenty to five seconds (hint: it's in Options->Global->Phone book). All this aside, configuration IS quite easy, and help on all options is accessible by pressing F1 at any point.

The Linchpin that Holds it all Together

Once the modem is configured (and make sure you press "Save", not "OK") it is simple to dial out. The window will immediately accept standard modem commands (for all you people who like typing in atdt directly). Or you can create a permanent entry, by selecting the first icon on the icon bar. This brings up the Phone Book dialogue, one of the nicest features of ZOC.

In a communications program, the phone book is what brings it around full circle - how well does the software make use of its configuration? In ZOC, quite well. Every entry in each of the four phonebooks is as configurable as ZOC is itself. ZOC allows you to save a given configuration to a specific file, and that file can be specified within a phone book entry. However, if you choose to use the default setup, there are still many things that can be changed. Each entry may have a unique download directory, scrollback log file, emulation (ANSI) and transfer protocol. There are two levels of scripting: a simple "AutoLogon" (which can be 'learned' automatically) or, if needed, you can use ZOC's full REXX support to automate such tasks as bundling and downloading news. Finally, coupled with a tailored phone costing configuration, ZOC keeps track of total online time and costs.

Is it a Perfect World?

ZOC is great in many aspects. Some things just make you sit back and think "neat!" - such as the option that lets you put a phone book entry directly on the main menu, for immediate access. There are a wide range of customisation tricks that make the program a pleasure to use. Three configuration screens, "F-Macros", "AutoMacros" and "AutoReply" allow for quick typing shortcuts. Any ZOC user who's ever typed in "bug" and seen "bug (oh no!)" mysteriously appear instead will know what I mean (it is an AutoMacro). These options allow you to define quick access to your name, phone number, or other information you type in frequently. Another functionally intuitive feature is the "Snippets" window, which is unfortunately hard to find the first time. This enhancement monitors the text that comes through, and captures useful bits of information like internet, compuserve and fidonet addresses, and displays them in a handy window. I'd like to see this feature enhanced to allow user configuration, however.

The actual presentation of the window is very flexible as well. The icon bar is completely configurable (but some of the icons could be more intuitive) and a second button bar is present to allow custom functions (REXX scripts - a reasonably complete REXX host mode is included) to be immediately accessible from the main screen. The main window can be set to any dimension, or allows a "best fit" option which chooses a font which best fits the screen size the user selects. Of course, it offers a split-screen chat window and customized colours as well.

It isn't a Perfect World

Despite ZOC's great features, there are certain things that could use improvement. One gripe many users have is that the main window can only use the System VIO typeface, which isn't the prettiest. Also, if you happen to have a Cirrus Logic or ET4000 based video card, you may get ugly lines appearing between text (the author claims this is an issue with OS/2, not ZOC). Further, it does not support the RIP graphics protocol, which is important for some people. Overall, these are small issues, but they do count. As mentioned previously, the configuration layout could use some refinement. Also, the program takes too much time to load, even on my well-endowed 486 (about 10 seconds) - and you can't do anything else while it is loading. Things like these I would like to see changed (and ZOC's nasty habit of immediately re-pasting any text I cut from the main window back into that window).

What deters most people, however, is the price. While the unregistered version of ZOC contains all the features that the registered version includes, it is nagware. The program will inform you, after each download, that you have the option of registering, for the rather high price of $70 (version 2.xx) or $90 (all future versions). Add $5 shipping, $20 for the optional disk and printed manual, and $35 if you're a lucky ISDN user, and the total is rather intimidating. At $95 for a full registration + shipping, many people may seriously consider cheaper shareware alternatives, or a full commercial product.

Is it Worth it?

Many registered users will agree that ZOC is indeed worth the registration price. The author has shown continued commitment, and has improved his product consistently. The recent addition of full telnet client support (now available to unregistered users as well) and ISDN development indicate ZOC is not about to be abandonned. There is now even a mailing list dedicated to discussion and support of ZOC, and a significant number of dedicated users willing to offer assistance. If you're looking to obtain a full-fledged commercial communications program for OS/2, you should definitely consider trying ZOC. For those of us used to paying $30-$50 for a shareware program, ZOC is overpriced. But in either case, it is worth your time to try it. You won't be disappointed; this program sets the standard to which other communications programs are compared.
 * Zap-O-Com v2.11 (595k)
Author(s): Markus Schmidt
Registration: US$70
Ethan A. Hall-Beyer is a second year Math/Computer Science student at the University of Waterloo, currently on work term at IBM Canada.

Send a letter to the editor.

Contents | Previous Article | Next Article

This page is maintained by Falcon Networking. We welcome your suggestions.

Copyright © 1995 - Falcon Networking