QmodemPro for Windows. (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Denny Atkin
Whether you want to explore your local BBS or start surfing the Internet, you won't find a much smoother vehicle for your cyberspace journeys than QmodemPro for Windows. Mustang Software has taken a powerhouse terminal program and wrapped it in an inviting Windows covering, making for one of the best combinations since Reese's covered peanut butter with chocolate.
The original Qmodem was a classic shareware terminal program for DOS. It matured into one of the best PC communications programs available, growing powerful without getting too complex. A couple of years ago, the program was purchased by Mustang Software, publishers of the Wildcat! BBS, and enhanced and re-released as QmodemPro, a commercial terminal program. (Mustang still allows the older Qmodem 4.x versions to be freely distributed as "tryware" for its enhanced commercial offerings.)
QmodemPro for Windows is built on the foundation of its mature DOS ancestor, but it's not a DOS program with a Windows interface carelessly slapped over it; it feels like a Windows program through and through. A well-considered user interface, smooth multitasking capabilities, iconbased dialing capabilities, and drag-and-drop intergration with the Windows File Manager make this follow-on superior to its predecessor.
The program has a full set of features for the professional user who needs to log on to corporate mainframes, including Kermit transfer protocol; full emulation of terminals such as Data General, Hazeltine, Televideo, and DEC VT; and support for using networked modems. But unlike many other commercial terminal programs, QmodemPro provides a complete suite of features for BBS users as well.
Perhaps the best of these is support for RIPscrip, a graphical terminal emulation supported by many BBSs which provides mouse support for menu selections and displays 640 x 350 graphics in 16 colors. Navigating a BBS that has full RIPscrip support is a snap and is a much more visually interesting experience. Other terminal emulations, such as standard IBM ANSI, work flawlessly and provide a number of configuration options such as font and window size. A split-screen option is handy for use in live online chat sessions. My only complaint is that the font size isn't adjustable in RIPscrip, so characters are awfully small on a 1024 x 768 Windows screen.
Transfer protocols include XMODEM (standard, CRC, and 1K variants), YMODEM (standard and -G), ZMODEM, Kermit, ASCII, and CompuServe B+. Options can be adjusted for each protocol when appropriate, such as 16- or 32-bit CRCs for ZMODEM, and whether to autostart downloads with protocols that support that feature. Protocol transfers were very solid, with no errors encountered on fast V.32bis downloads while multitasking.
An example of the superb integration of QmodemPro into the Windows environment is the ability to drag and drop files from the Windows File Manager into the upload selection dialog box--file selection has never been easier than this.
One nice feature is the ability to view GIF images as they're being downloaded. The GIF viewer supports multiple Zoom levels, printing images, copying them to the system clip-board, and slide-show-style display of multiple images. A file viewer shows files in hexadecimal or ASCII formats, and there's a nice built-in text editor with search and replace, autoindent, and word-wrap.
QmodemPro has one of the best phone books I've seen in a terminal program; it's packed with features, but it's not overly complex. There are three interfaces for selecting numbers to dial; a traditional text listing of numbers, an iconbased listing that looks just like a Windows program group, and a combination view which places icons next to the text listing. There's a search function that makes finding a BBS in a long list easier. You can also group any set of entries and then perform an operation on that group. For instance, you could create a group and give it the name Local BBS numbers; then you could have the program dial each of those numbers until it connects with one. Each listing in the phone book contains entries for the phone number, device, user ID, notes, emulation, default script to run upon connection, macro key settings, protocol, time and date of last connection, and the number of times you've called. A nice touch is that, as you scroll left and right to view all of these entries, the name of the BBS doesn't scroll from column 1, so you always know which BBS entry you're viewing. If you're upgrading from a DOS terminal program, QmodemPro for Windows will convert Qmodem and QmodemPro for DOS, Procomm Plus 1.1 and 2.0 for DOS, Telix, and Boyan phone books.
You won't find yourself hurting for programmable function keys when using this program. You can program any of 44 keys on the keyboard to perform up to four different functions (normal, Shift, Ctrl, and Shift-Ctrl). There are also ten buttons at the bottom of the terminal window corresponding to the number keys at the top of the main keyboard; each button/key can have up to four programmable functions depending upon which of various combinations of the Alt, Shift, and Ctrl keys are pressed. That's a total of 216 programmable key combinations, although the 40 provided by the number keys should be plenty for most folks.
You can customize the look of the QmodemPro window, changing the pattern behind the desktop or replacing it with BMP wallpaper. You can also choose to have WAV sounds play when certain operations are complete.
It's easy to review or store your online sessions, thanks to QmodemPro's scroll-back buffer. The contents of the scrollback buffer, or just the data currently on the screen, can be sent to the system clipboard, a text file, the current capture file, or the printer. You can also copy selected text to or paste it from the system clipboard.
Send- and receive-fax capabilities are built into QmodemPro--rather unusual features for this kind of program. It can send ASCII text files and PCX or BMP graphic files as faxes, complete with a configurable cover sheet. Received faxes can be viewed onscreen or printed, and saved individually for later recall. Fax functionality is fairly limited in this release, though--there's no way to schedule faxes for later sending, and a printer driver isn't included for sending formatted faxes from application software such as Word for Windows. Mustang says it will beef up fax support with a printer driver in a future upgrade.
QmodemPro for Windows has a very complete scripting language called SLIQ. It's actually a structured version of BASIC with telecommunications commands added, so experienced BASIC programmers will find it very easy to pick up. This is a powerful language, and one of the modifiable sample scripts is a basic BBS-style host mode that you can use to let others call your computer and leave messages or transfer files. SLIQ is documented in a very complete 236-page reference manual.
The 302-page user guide for QmodemPro is superb. It makes no assumptions of any user knowledge of telecommunications, and it goes beyond the call of duty by not only walking you through your first BBS log-on, but also explaining concepts like ZIP compression. Kudos to Mustang for providing documentation that's complete, easy to read, and occasionally even witty. If you do encounter a problem not covered in the manual, Mustang provides support on its own BBS and on CompuServe, GEnie, and AOL; there's also a toll-call tech support line.
Best of all, QmodemPro for Windows is one of the most solid 1.0 releases I've ever used. In all my testing, I haven't encountered a single bug or crash. If you want to get online, QmodemPro for Windows makes it as easy as loading up and logging on.