Although modem users in the UK will be familiar with Hayes protocols, Hayes’ products are still relatively unknown here. Peter Tootill looks at the Smartmodem 1200 and Smartcom II, a terminal program package for Hayes’ or Hayes-compatible modems.
Hayes is a new name in the UK, but will be familiar to anyone who has come into contact with the US telecomputing scene. Hayes was one of the pioneers of the ‘intelligent’ modem – that is, one that has a built-in microprocessor and can respond to commands from a computer. The command system that Hayes devised to control its modem has been followed by other manufacturers, and now Hayes protocols are the standard for intelligent modems and software designed to be used with them.
The demand for Hayes-compatible modems has come with software such as Symphony with its built-in communications features which allow the user to dial numbers stored in its database files. Hayes is making a concerted effort to push into the UK modem market and is not only working through a distributor, but has set up a separate company run, initially, by US staff. The company’s three introductory products are: a modem (Smartmodem 1200); a terminal program (Smartcom II); and a database package called ‘Please’. In this review I’ll look at the first two.
The Smartmodem 1200 is a single-standard V22 (1200 bits/sec full duplex) type. It is a very smart-looking modem, measuring only 5.5in x 9.5in x 1.5in, and has an external power supply. The UK version of the very popular US Smartmodem 1200 has lost its 300 bits/sec capability and gained BABT approval. The front panel carries eight LED indicators for transmit and receive data, autoanswer on, terminal ready, modem ready, carrier, off hook and high speed. The last one seems to be a hangover from the US version; it indicates that the modem is working at its highest speed – which in this case is its only speed, so it is rather superfluous. The front panel is removable, giving access to a row of 10 switches which allow you to configure various modem parameters such as auto-answer, how the DTR and CD lines operate, and so on. The rear panel has a standard 25-way, RS232 connector, an on/off switch, a socket for the external power supply, and the telephone cord with a normal BT plug on the end. There is no socket to plug a telephone into, so you will need a double adaptor if you require a handset on the same line. The modem’s case is made from sturdy aluminium and plastic.
Removing a couple of screws allows the modem’s PCB to slide out. Inside, the modem is of the same high quality as the exterior.
The modem supports the basic Hayes command set – it is, of course, Hayes-compatible (not all Hayes-compatible modems are fully Hayes-compatible – just as not all IBM-compatibles are completely compatible) and should work with any Hayes software that doesn’t expect the extended command set of the Smartmodem 2400 (a V22/22bis modem soon to be launched in the UK). It doesn’t have a number store, but as most smart terminal programs have telephone directories built-in, this is not-a significant omission.
The Smartmodem 1200 supports tone and pulse dialling, detects dial tones and engaged tones, and also has a built-in speaker so that you can monitor call progress. The volume of the speaker can be changed under software control by the computer.
In use, I found that the modem worked reliably, although I experienced a small problem when calling a US system: it couldn’t pick up the carrier from the other end – I must admit it is rather faint, but my old British Telecom 4124 modem doesn’t have any difficulty.
The current recommended list price of £575 (excluding VAT) is rather on the high side. It compares reasonably well with single-sided V22 modems from other manufacturers, but when you consider that you could get more features for a similar price with a WS3000 or, for a little more, a Steebek Quattro, it does look a bit steep.
A spokesman for the company stated that the price included a two year warranty and excellent support. He also said that Hayes products in the US have a high second-hand value. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the price reduced before too long, as the modem market is in a state of flux at present with new manufacturers coming into it and prices dropping significantly. (The US Smartmodem 1200 is available in the States, from mail order companies, for around $400, and the Smartmodem 2400 for about $600.)
The documentation is clearly presented and is of a high standard. There is also a comprehensive index.
Smartcom II is a ‘smart’ terminal package designed to be used with Hayes’ intelligent modems. The UK version of the US product, Smartcom II, has all the usual smart terminal features such as up and downloading of files, including XModem protocols. Details of up to 25 systems can be stored and these can be dialled and logged-onto automatically. DEC VT52/100 terminal emulation is also provided, but unfortunately Viewdata is not.
The program is menu-driven, which makes it very straightforward to use. However, as with any system, the menus can be a bit of a burden when you get used to the way the program works, especially as frequent disk accesses are involved.
When you run the program, the main menu is displayed at the top of the screen. One of the entries is highlighted, and underneath is a brief description of what it does. There is a comprehensive built-in ‘Help’ function available by pressing the F2 help key.
The program must be configured to suit your particular system before you are ready to go. Options include the serial port the modem is attached to, a parallel or serial printer, the number of disk drives, and various modem parameters such as tone or pulse dialling, loudspeaker volume and time to wait for a carrier to be detected. You must also edit the parameter sets to suit the systems you want to call – there are 26 in all, one of which cannot be altered; many of the other 25 are already defined when you buy the program. These definitions include a number of systems such as Telecom Gold, Telecom Gold via PSS, Dialog and Nexis. If any of these suit you, all you have to do is edit the phone number and enter your account and password (which can be hidden from prying eyes) in the auto-log-on section.
Going online is simply a matter of selecting T for ‘Begin communication’, followed by ‘O’ for Originate and the letter for the system you wish to call. The software then tells the modem to dial the number. When it is connected it will automatically log you on – marvellous if, like me, you are a bit ham-fisted, or can never remember the PSS code for the system you want to call. I have to admit that, before I started using them, I used to think that auto-dial modems were gilding the lily, but now I am converted. The cursor keys can also be used to step through the menus; the current option is highlighted, and can be selected by pressing ‘Return’.
The auto-log-on feature is just one of 26 macros that can be stored for each of the 25 definable systems. The macro features are very powerful. Up to 48 characters can be transmitted and you can choose the prompt character, the time to wait before assuming the prompt has got lost on the way, and whether or not a carriage return is required after the data. A number of lines of data can be used for each macro.
Once connected to a remote system, all the usual features are available. Prepared messages can be uploaded continuously or line by line. XModem (or Hayes’ own) error checking protocols are available for file transfer. The printer can be toggled on and off by pressing a function key, so can spooling of data to disk. The status line at the bottom tells you how much disk space is left, the state of the printer buffer, the name of the system that you are connected to, and whether the Caps & Num Lock keys are active – a nice touch if, unlike the Philips PC I was using, you don’t have LEDs on the keys.
Another very useful feature is the ability to scroll back through information which has disappeared off the top of the screen. The manual says that the amount of incoming data that can be viewed in this way depends on the amount of memory in your computer. I had 256k and on one test counted over 60 screens full, without filling the data buffer. This is a feature that should be much more widely available on all computer systems, not just on a terminal program like this. Why should data be lost just because it has scrolled off the top of the screen?
As well as macros, you can set up ‘Batch’ files. Each can store up to 500 keystrokes, and if this isn’t enough, they can be chained together. A batch can be set to run at a predetermined time, which is potentially a very powerful feature. You could set up a batch to call a system, log-on, read all your mail into a disk file and log-off again, completely unattended. Unfortunately, batches seem to be a late addition to Smartcom II, and they haven’t received the same care and attention to detail as the rest of the program. The way they are created is by actually going online and recording your keystrokes as you read your mail, for example, so any typing mistakes you make are recorded in the batch. Unlike the parameter sets for systems, batches can’t be edited or copied. Also, there is little provision for dealing with errors induced by line noise. This means that, unless you are sure of a good line, it isn’t advisable to rely on them working unattended. However, they are a very efficient way of reducing connect time when calling systems normally.
Smartcom II also supports remote access using the auto-answer facility of the modem. You can use it from a remote system (also running Smartcom) as if you were sitting at the keyboard of the host machine. A password can be set to prevent unauthorised access, which enables file transfer, viewing of disk directories, and viewing and erasing files. Smartcom II is designed to work with Hayes’, or Hayes-compatible modems. The problem here is that Hayes currently only sells a V22 (1200 bits/sec full duplex) modem in the UK. The software – in its autodial mode – only supports 600, 1200 and 2400 bits/sec. It can be used with 1200/75 systems, with a V23 modem that buffers the 75 bits/sec line to 1200 bits/sec. It needs to be Hayes-compatible, of course, and I had mixed results here. Smartcom recognised a Miracle Technology WS3000, but for some reason the modem wouldn’t respond to the auto-dial commands. A Steebeck Quattro wasn’t even recognised; I just got ‘Smartmodem not responding on COM1’. On paper, the Quattro seems to be virtually 100 per cent compatible with the Hayes Smartmodem 2400 (not yet available over here). I didn’t have time to pursue these problems in detail, and it may be that they could be overcome. However, it is obvious that you should try before you buy, if you want to make full use of a ‘compatible’ modem.
In fact, Smartcom II can be also used with non-Hayes’ and ‘dumb’ modems by choosing the ‘direct connect’ port option. This still enables you to use all the features of the program, apart from auto-dial. It is also possible to use a non-Hayes’, auto-dial modem by setting up one of the macros to issue the dial command. You could even set up a batch file to take you through the log-on process, which would avoid the need for Hayes compatibility.
Nothing is perfect, but Smartcom II has very few things missing. The most obvious omissions are Viewdata and full 300 bits/sec support. Viewdata is one area where Hayes does seem to have misjudged the UK market and it is likely to be added in a future release. 300 bits/sec support for Hayes-compatibles is another matter: I doubt that it will appear unless Hayes introduces a 300-baud modem of its own. There is also no provision for translation tables (to filter or amend the data streams) but control codes can be filtered out. The only thing that ‘niggled’ me was the fact that, although the modem detects the absence of the dial tone when trying to dial, the software doesn’t recognise this feature.
Smartcom II is a very nice package, carefully designed and implemented. The documentation is, for the most part, excellent, with a comprehensive index. Hayes maintains a help line which puts you straight through to people who know enough about the company’s products to be able to answer most questions easily; Hayes in the US has a good reputation for support. Smartcom II runs on the IBM PC and compatibles. Apparently they do have to be pretty compatible – it worked fine on the Philips P3100.
The recommended retail price is £140 (excl VAT) which is reasonably competitive (but I’ve seen it advertised in the US for $70! I don’t know how different the British version is to that one). It comes with vouchers for Telecom Gold, Nexis, Dialog and Knowledge Index.
First published in Personal Computer World magazine, May 1986