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NetChat v1.00- by Ryan Dill


Ever have one of those times when you needed to talk to someone, and waiting who knows how long for an e-mail response just wouldn't do? "How hard is it to pick up the phone?" you ask. True, but what if that person is on the other side of the globe? In this case, the phone is an easy way to go broke from long distance costs.

Using Internet software such as IRC or 'talk' programs seems the best solution, until you realize that you have to know the IP address of the person you want to talk to (talk) or learn a series of arcane commands (IRC) before you can get in contact. NetChat for OS/2 is designed to make this process a lot easier -- it includes its own chat software together in a package which will automatically tell the person you want to talk to what your Internet address is.

Features

First and foremost, NetChat is just that: an Internet chatting application, allowing you to communicate in real-time with someone else on the Internet. Unfortunately, since it uses its own unique chat protocols, NetChat is not compatible with other programs, such as standard cross-platform 'talk' software (OS/2's Gibbon Talk/TalkD, Linux YTalk, etc.). The result of this is that you can only talk to other OS/2 users, and then only if they have their own copy of NetChat running. If you want to talk to someone running Linux, Windows or a Mac, you're out of luck with this application.

Still, NetChat includes enough features that being limited in who you can talk to diminishes in importance. One of the most useful features is its automatic sending of IP addresses. Why is this important? Well, if you use a dialup network connection, like many of us, you'll often be getting a different modem (and therefore a different IP) every time you log on. (This is called dynamic IP addressing.) When your IP address changes, then anyone using normal talk software to get in touch with you will have to know what your new IP is -- some people (like myself) use REXX to upload this information to a permanent web page, or a .plan or .project file, so that anyone who wants to talk just has to load the web page and send a talk request to the IP listed there. This is fine, but requires a certain knowledge of REXX, and requires the person on the other end knowing where that web page or .plan/.project file is.

NetChat gets around this inconvenience by allowing you to automatically send your IP address via e-mail to the person you want to talk to, in a special e-mail message coded for NetChat. If Joe wants to use NetChat to talk to Bill, he uses the 'hailing feature' of NetChat. Basically, he tells NetChat Bill's e-mail address, and NetChat e-mails a message to Bill telling Bill what Joe's current IP address is. If Bill has NetChat running, his NetChat will automatically see the coded e-mail and download it, leaving the rest of his e-mail box intact. (NetChat makes use of a powerful little POP mail checker called MailRun, included in the package, for some of its functionality. MailRun is a good product in and of itself.) Once the 'hail' mail is downloaded, the program alerts (GIF, 3.7k) Bill that someone wants to talk to him, and asks if he'd like to reply.

If Bill says 'yes', then Bill's NetChat automatically establishes a connection with Joe's NetChat, and communication can begin (GIF, 8.3k). (Even if Bill says 'no', Joe's current IP address is still saved in a file called the hailing log, so that if Bill wants to talk to Joe sometime later, he can manually connect to Joe's NetChat via the IP saved in the log, if Joe's IP hasn't changed.)

It sounds a little complicated, but since most of this happens invisibly without the user needing to do anything, it's actually fairly simple. Once your basic settings (GIF, 6.8k) are entered, NetChat will run in the background while you do other things, like read news or browse the Web, only calling attention to itself when someone hails you or tries to connect to your computer. Note that to receive hailing messages, NetChat's Monitor Mode must be turned ON, otherwise NetChat won't bother checking your mailbox and you'll never know when you've been hailed. (To actually connect two computers, NetChat's Listen Mode must be turned on too, which is automatically done when you send or receive a hail.)

All this and file exchange too!

NetChat not only allows two users to talk to each other, but also to exchange files. Using the previous example of Joe and Bill, let's say that Joe has a cool background BMP for his Desktop that he wants to show Bill. Once they're connected, all Joe has to do is go to the 'File' menu and select 'Send File', then select his BMP from the file dialog. Once sent, Bill's copy of NetChat will alert him that a file is being sent, and Bill has the option of accepting (which will begin downloading the file) or refusing it. NetChat also includes rudimentary drag-and-drop support, so that file transfer is actually as simple as dragging the file you want to send into NetChat's bottom window. Simplicity in itself.

The program allows you to save other NetChat users to a list of users (GIF, 2.4k), so that communicating with a particular user is just a matter of double-clicking their name to hail them. Similarly, a list of your frequently used phrases ("I don't think so, Tim", etc.) can be saved. Rather than taking the time to type in a phrase you use a lot, just double-click it from the list. Add to these features others such as cut/copy/paste, word-wrap, pop-up menus and configurable fonts/colors, and NetChat shapes up to be a pretty darn cool program.

Glitches

The documentation mentions a few (mostly minor) glitches that users should be aware of:

Firstly: NetChat has occasional problems with Internet accounts which use mail servers other than the typical 'mail.myhost.com'. IBM Advantis subscribers, for example, who use servers with arcane names like 'pop03.ca.us.ibm.net', will need to do a bit more tweaking -- full details are in the documentation.

Secondly, if you are on a LAN while connected to the Internet, NetChat may have problems distinguishing your Internet address, due to glitches in IBM's TCP/IP. (NetChat may read your LAN address when it should read your Internet address). Updating your TCP/IP files to the latest versions (not necessary for Warp 4 users) should hopefully fix the problem. Again, more details are in the documentation.

Lastly, back to our friends Joe and Bill: When Joe sends a file, there is a brief period just before Bill accepts (or rejects) the file during which the file transfer can't be canceled. This is a minor glitch, and one which will be fixed in an upcoming version of NetChat.

Conclusion

NetChat is a great way for OS/2 users to keep in contact. Not only does the program have a lot of features, but the included INF file explains all of those features in full detail. I fully recommend it for anyone who wants to keep in touch -- it's simple to use, and easy to enjoy.
 * NetChat v1.00
by Gary L. Robinson
download from BMT Micro (ZIP, 155k)
Registration: US$25.00
Ryan Dill is a student in Computer Science at Acadia University in Wolfville, NS and copy editor for OS/2 e-Zine!. He is reported to be relieved that, with the advent of Warp 4, talking to your computer is no longer considered a sign of mental instability.

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