E-mail is set to become an everyday part of our lives in much the same way as the telephone is today. Being able to send post anywhere in the world within the space of a few seconds is a very useful facility. Being able to receive the reply just a few hours later is even more appealing. E-mail has already revolutionised the way many people do business and communicate with distant friends and relatives.
How you actually send e-mail depends on your service provider. Typically, a BBS's main menu will feature a mail option or, if you have shell access to the Internet, you will be left to type in at the prompt the name of the mail program that best suits your taste. If your provider offers Elm or Pine, I recommend you use one of these, as they are quite user-friendly and easy to operate. Both programs allow you to file incoming and outgoing post in folders, which is a convenient way of keeping track of your correspondence.
Whatever your mail facility, don't forget the eleventh commandment: thou shalt not type in messages on-line (for BT shalt visit retribution upon thee). Prepare your messages in advance using a word-processor, preferably one which directly produces plain ASCII files. Using LocoScript 2/3 as an example, press [f1] and choose the option Make ASCII file. Select Simple text file from the submenu which follows and then wait for the ASCII file to be created. Now load CP/M, start up your comms software and log onto your service provider. Select the Send mail option and enter the mail software's text editor. It's now simply a matter of shooting your ASCII file down the pipe, which is essentially the long distance equivalent of using LocoScript's Insert text option. In QTERM, type [PASTE] P file-name and marvel as QTERM transmits the file faster than the world's fastest touch-typist ever could. You should be able to see the text being formatted as it is received by the host computer.
Using this simple method, it is possible to send very large files within just a couple of minutes and thus save a good deal of money on your phone-bills. If e-mail is the only application you use, it should be possible to keep your daily log-in time down to under five minutes. By preparing your messages off-line, you also benefit from not having to write in haste and being able to spell-check in advance.
The reverse of this tip applies equally: don't read messages on-line, either. If you can, download them using Xmodem or Ymodem using [PASTE] RX file-name in QTERM. You only need to supply a file-name when using the Xmodem protocol, since Ymodem sends the file's name as part of the transfer. If you can't find a way of getting the remote computer to initiate a transfer in this way, you'll have to use [PASTE] C file-name to open a catch-file and then display the messages one at a time on screen. Resist the temptation to read them as you go; just get to the end of them as quickly as possible and then press [PASTE] Z to close the file. Now log out of your provider, exit QTERM with [PASTE] Q and use CP/M's built-in TYPE command to display your log file.
You can now discard any unimportant messages and insert the remaining ones into your favourite word-processor, ready for your replies.
If you use a FidoNet BBS, you have the option of using a shareware program called CRR to process your mail. CRR is an off-line mail reader (OLR), which automates the up- and downloading of mail messages, hopefully saving you time and money. CRR can be used with QBBS, RemoteAccess and SuperBBS FidoNet boards and will also work with QWK mail packers. If these terms mean nothing to you, you can blissfully ignore them, as they are otherwise irrelevant.
Whenever you download files or open a catch file, you should make sure you receive onto a very fast disc drive, as data can otherwise go astray while the disc is being accessed. This effectively means using the M-drive unless you have a hard disc.
To round off this month's introduction to e-mail, here are a couple of tips for sending mail from the Internet to people on other networks.
If you're on the Internet, but want to send mail to a friend on another network (such as CompuServe or FidoNet), you may be wondering whether it's possible. The answer is Yes, thanks to what are known as mail gateways. To send a message to someone on CompuServe, take their user-number, replace the comma with a dot and add @compuserve.com. So, the user-number 1234,5678 becomes firstname.lastname@example.org.
FidoNet addresses are slightly trickier, in that they have the form zone:net/node:point (what these words mean is irrelevant in this context). To send e-mail to a FidoNet address, you use the form firstname.lastname@pPoint.fNode.nNet.zZone.fidonet.org. For example, to send mail to Joe Bloggs, whose address is 1:2/3:4, you would address it to email@example.com. Some Fido addresses contain no point, in which case you simply omit this when forming the Internet address.
Similar solutions exist for sending mail to other networks, but in practice, they are rarely if ever needed. In any case, the users of most networks can be reached with the formula firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next month, we'll continue our exploration of e-mail and look at some of its lesser known extracurricular activities.