by Andy Eddy
In ANALOG's March,
1987 issue, I covered a fledgling consumer telecommunications service,
started by the General Electric In formation Services Company (GEISCO),
and discussed its intentions for the consumer telecommunications
marketplace. Although it hasn't been all that long since we took that
glance at GEnie (General Electric Network for Information Exchange), a
great deal has taken place under its roof.
The GEnie system came about as an attempt by GEISCO
to utilize their existing worldwide telecommunications
network-initially dedicated to their business dealings-during its
non-peak hours and generate additional income with it. When it first
came online to consumers, its offerings were somewhat sparse. Taking a
look at it now, you'll see that they've come a long way.
Then . . .
Since their introduction in 1985 GEnie has struck at
the core of similar services with their bargain cost ($5.00 per hour at
their off-prime, evening time rate) and the wealth of services they
offer. They were also the first to offer free file uploading to their
"software libraries" (a move that started as a test, but was so
successful in boosting their public domain acquisitions that they've
made it a standard feature) and no additional surcharge for 1200-baud
Even with all these positive features in their
corner, the menus were pretty thin at the beginning of GEnie's
existence. At that point, the system was limited to a scattering of
"Roundtables" or RTs (the name GEnie uses to describe what many
services call Special Interest Groups or SIGs) for the more popular
computer brands, and basics like Electronic Mail, a Real Time
Conferencing (RTC) area, some online games and a section for
computer-related columns and news. During the period between our last
visit and now, they've done quite a bit to build up and enhance their
offerings to bring the system up to what you could consider a
full-service telecommunications network.
. . And Now
Many of these additions and alterations have taken
place to the satisfaction of Atari computer owners specifically. The
fast noticable change is in the separation of 8-bit and ST areas, which
are now two distinct sections. At any prompt, you can type "ATARI8" for
the 8-bit area or "ST" to reach the 16-bit SIG. Each SIG supports their
respective computer handily with bulletin boards for ongoing message
threads, file-filled software libraries and a conference area for
To keep the personal touch, there are also weekly
meetings scheduled - Wednesday night for the ST users and Thursday
night for 8-bitters. User attendance for these events is high with
dozens of people filtering through each get-together on a good night.
You'll find a strong cross section of Atari users, discussing new
software and hardware, passing tips and chatting with Atari Corp.
For software buyers a reassuring aspect of these
meetings is the frequent appearance of developers and manufacturers'
representatives from such companies as Intersect (makers of Interlink,
QMI, Supra and FTL (prominent as the creators of Dungeon Master and
Oids), among many others. The ability to go tete-a-tete with companies
to get the latest product information and assistance is invaluable to
Atarists. Occasional formal conferences are also scheduled for users to
ask questions of industry members. Recent conferences have had FTL's
president, Wayne Holder, and Atari's Sam Tramiel fielding queries from
This brings us to another major change you'll
discover, which is the active involvement of Atari Corp. personnel in
the operation of these areas. Neil Harris has taken over the Sysop
(System Operator) reins, a move that makes it easier for GEnie users to
get the straight scoop on Atari products and viewpoints.
To further the embracing of GEnie as their official
home, Atari offers a developers' SIG, where questions and concerns of
programmers can be tackled by the people who know best.
Another attraction is Michtron's Roundtable (type
MICHTRON from any prompt). As a strongly dedicated developer and
distributor of ST software, Michtron is showing the focus of their
support by linking with users to answer questions, pass on new product
info (in the way of press releases and demo files within their software
library) and as a follow-up on the sale of their products. Much of the
latter covers the growing GFA line of software, particularly GFA BASIC.
Many ST users are developing commercial software with GFA BASIC, and
the Michtron RT lets them make contact with others for help.
Data Pacific, makers of the Magic Sac, a Macintosh
emulation hardware/ software combination for the ST also has a section
on GEnie. Their new RT is a good source for compatible PD software, as
well as the latest news on updates and other add-ons.
Outside the Atari-specific focus, GEnie has
concerted their efforts toward building a well-rounded network. From
their relatively bare bones start, they've consistently added to the
menus to provide travel and shopping services, more online games and a
wider variety of Roundtables to get people with similar interests
together to discuss different computer brands and hobbies, and help
manufacturers with product support. Some of these newer groups cater to
such diverse subjects as scuba diving, photography (with a marketing
service for professionals), taxes, working at home and writing.
The power of online services is expanding greatly,
sliding away from just being a bulletin board or gathering place. Some
of the offerings now provide admittance to functions that previously
were accessible only to professionals.
One of these services. EAASY SABRE (American
Airlines' own network), opens the airlines' reservations networks to
telecomputing enthusiasts. While taking a bit of getting used to, these
menu-driven services are being employed by many frequent travelers -
particularly those who carry portable computers - enabling them to get
quick transportation information from any phone and to stay on top of
the volatile scheduling that flight traffic is governed by.
There are many other support groups and
entertainment choices available, too many to cover thoroughly here. You
can access the day's news headlines, send a paper mail letter, peruse
movie and music reviews or even check the financial world through a
gateway to the Dow Jones network. Some of these selections are
surcharged, as is the case with the Dow Jones link, but you are told of
that ahead of time: a "$" will precede any surcharged menu choice.
For recreation, online games are available. Some are
single-player games and others, like Chess, are meant for head-tohead
or group participation. One of the contests I tried, though it is still
a little buggy, is an interactive Blackjack game. Factory Programming,
programmers of some of Michtron's ST offerings, is creating software
modules for different computer brands that assist in providing a
graphics foundation to the Blackjack game.
In the ST version, you can move your mouse around to
pick what table and seat to sit at, choose how to play your cards and
how much to bet, all the while keeping up a conversation with any other
players at the same table. Users without a compatible module can play a
One of my only complaints is directed at the
surcharge for 2400 baud usage. Due to mass production and new
integrated circuitry, there are many companies now offering 2400 modems
for reasonable prices, making this technology accessible to the average
telecommunications enthusiast. GEnie tacks on $7.50 an hour to the
regular rate for this feature, which doesn't seem to make any sense on
the surface, as it's more than double the cost of 1200-baud access.
As Bill Louder, GEnie's top man, explains it: "Our
2400-baud price is the same as CompuServe's. The price is more a
function of its newness to the market: Costs of deployment are higher,
and usage is quite low when compared to 1200 baud. Given our already
low, price structure as well as the increased costs for this new
technology, the argument `twice the speed for twice the price' does not
address all of the business cost issues. We are currently in over 60
cities with two 2400 baud. I cannot state what our expansion plans are;
but I will state that we expect major expansion over the next two
Perhaps with that expansion, we can expect a
trimming of the associated rates.
There's no question that GEnie has kept on a
strongly upward pace. That is demonstrated by the fact that they've
become the second most popular consumeroriented service in the U.S.
behind CompuServe (who claims a 400,000 user base), based on their
100,000 subscriber count. Looking ahead, they estimate that they add
approximately 10,000 new users per month, which could bring them close
to CompuServe's heels before too long. Also on the horizon, Louden
figures to add more and more to GEnie's offerings: over 50 new products
are slated for introduction during 1988.
In our last visit, GEnie was offering a "test drive"
of the system via a toll-free number, and, doubtlessly, this sampling
of the menus and operation got them to the subscriber level they're at
now. Unfortunately it's no longer available, but they still offer an
online sign-up, also by way of a free call.
If you dial 1-800-638-8369 from your terminal
software (set it up with half duplex or local echo on), type HHH once
you achieve connection, then enter GENIE at the U#= prompt, you'll
enter their sign-up area. At that time, you'll see a short
advertisement of what GEnie offers, then be able to enter information
for initiating an account of your own.
The processing of the account was very quick when I
first signed up; hopefully that's still the case. The initial sign-up
costs $29.95. For that, you'll receive a copy of their new manual and
two free hours of access time.