Review: GEnie- by Dirk Terrell

Although significantly smaller than major on-line services Like AOL and CompuServe, GEnie has some attractions of interest to OS/2 users. GEnie, which stands for General Electric Network for Information Exchange, was created in 1981 as a way for GE to make money off of their commercial network during the idle evening hours. In the early 1980s, this kind of arrangement worked well. Unfortunately, in the 1990s, when on-line services became primary businesses, GEnie stumbled, remaining a mainly text-based system as other services moved towards more appealing graphical interfaces. Recently, though, GEnie has become more modernized, with a nice Windows interface comparable to AOL's. As of this writing, GE is seeking a buyer for GEnie. Hopefully, under a new, more aggressive management GEnie will again become a major competitor in the on-line service market.

The Interface

Unfortunately, there is no OS/2 interface to GEnie. However, a DOS-based interface called Aladdin (gif 14.5k) runs very well under OS/2 and makes using GEnie much simpler and cheaper because it allows you to download mail and bulletin board messages and read and reply to them off-line. Aladdin also has a powerful scripting language, so you can customize the programs for your own needs. Because of the text-based menuing system used in navigating GEnie, you can also write REXX programs that perform on-line functions relatively easily. For instance, I wrote a REXX program that downloaded weather information off the Internet and then uploaded it to the GEnie Weather Center.

Round Tables

The central unit for organizing information on GEnie is called a RoundTable. RoundTables are centered around some theme of interest. For example, I am a sysop in the Space and Science RoundTable. Within a RoundTable you find three major divisions: the Bulletin Board, the Library, and the RealTime Conference.

Bulletin Boards are divided into Categories, which are further divided into Topics. This kind of organization makes GEnie very appealing when you are looking for a particular piece of information. In the OS/2 RoundTable Bulletin Board, for example, a sample Category and Topics are:

Category 20: OS/2 Users--Other Applications

Another nice thing about the GEnie Bulletin Boards is that the messages are persistent. That is, unlike Usenet newsgroups, messages are held practically indefinitely and can be called up months or even years after they were posted. I especially like this feature when debating the "OS/2 is dead" crowd.

Of course, a bulletin board, however logically organized, is useless unless there are participants, and the GEnie OS/2 Bulletin Board is quite active with participation by experienced users, OS/2 consultants and developers, as well as people who have just started using OS/2. You will not find a friendlier or more helpful group of OS/2 users in all of cyberspace.

The OS/2 software library on GEnie is well-stocked, although not as well as the major OS/2 FTP sites like Hobbes. But the things that most users are looking for, like FixPaks or common utilities, are easily found and downloaded.

The OS/2 RoundTable also has a RealTime Conference (RTC) several times per week where OS/2 users can get together and "chat" in a manner similar to Internet Relay Chat. On odd occasions, there will be a "speaker" of interest to OS/2 users. For example, Timothy Sipples from IBM has participated in several very enjoyable and informative RTCs.

Internet Access

GEnie does provide some Internet access, although it is far from being complete. It is possible to telnet to other machines, but you cannot telnet from other machines to your GEnie account. Similarly, you can get files from other machines with ftp, but you cannot put files onto other machines. GEnie also provides a decent gopher client. Perhaps the most glaring weakness in the GEnie Internet package is the limitation of being able to use only a text-based WWW browser (Lynx). GEnie was late in providing its Internet access, and unfortunately what was finally delivered did not prove very compelling.

The Price

GEnie's rates, once the best around, are now among the most expensive. For $8.95 per month you get four hours of connect time. Hours beyond the first four are billed at three dollars per hour. In some areas, though, you will pay an additional two dollars per hour for a connection through Sprintnet if you do not have a local GEnie number or if you want 14.4 access (GEnie's fastest nodes are 9600 baud, another area where the service trails far behind AOL and CompuServe). During "Prime Time" hours (8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays), you will pay an additional two dollars per hour. Finally, many of GEnie's services require even further surcharges.


GEnie does have plenty of offerings for OS/2 users. If your on-line interests are broad, GEnie is an attractive, although less publicized alternative to the major on-line services. With a top-notch OS/2 area, multi-player games second to none, Internet access, and extensive business and reference material, GEnie is worthy of a test run if you are evaluating on-line services.
Dr. Dirk Terrell is an astronomer at the University of Florida specializing in interacting binary stars. His hobbies include cave diving, martial arts, painting and writing OS/2 software such as HTML Wizard.

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