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In the two years since our last comparison of Windows communications packages, these products have grown up. They are no longer constrained by their MS-DOS roots, offering the multiple processing and viewing capabilities of the Windows environment and greatly improved overall performance.
This time around we evaluate seven packages: Digital Communications Associates (DCA) Inc.'s Crosstalk for Windows 2.1.0, FutureSoft Engineering Inc.'s DynaComm 3.11, Hilgraeve Inc.'s HyperAccess for Windows 1.02, DataStorm Technologies Inc.'s ProComm Plus for Windows 1.02, Mustang Software Inc.'s QmodemPro for Windows 1.0, Relay Technology Inc.'s Relay/PC Gold for Windows 6.0, and Delrina Technology Inc.'s WinComm Pro 1.0 (which uses the HyperAccess engine and an interface compatible with Delrina's WinFax Pro).
These products have been fine-tuned to better address the needs of corporate-computing professionals. In most cases, you can access data on your IBM mainframe or exchange information with your colleagues over the Internet using a single communications package. You can send electronic mail or access your company's Unix minicomputer. Depending on your system setup and the package you choose, you might even be able to accomplish all of these tasks simultaneously. Most of these packages even allow you to cut and paste between these different sessions and tile or cascade the session windows to give you a better view and integration of the stream of data.
The current harvest of Windows communications packages is also capable of working with virtually any modem, whether it's connected directly to a workstation or available to you via a network communications server (or modem pool).
Of course, we haven't reached complete communications nirvana yet. Some vendors have done a better job than others of keeping up with changes in communications technology and the market, and some have been more consistent in clearly and correctly documenting the changes they have made.
CHANGES IN ATTITUDE. As the market for communications software matures and the sophistication of users increases, users have higher expectations for the products they buy. We measured the current demands of our readers in an InfoWorld survey and used the information to select the products for this comparison and determine the tasks each product should be capable of accomplishing. (We scored previous communications software comparisons according to the features they possessed, not by the capability of applying those features to particular tasks.)
Another significant change to our testing platform has been the addition of formalized network and host-computer testing. We tested each product's capability to perform properly with a network communications server, a Unix terminal session, and an IBM 3270 terminal session. Likewise, we tested for the capability to communicate via multiple sessions simultaneously. Some of the products even allow cutting and pasting of data between remote hosts. (For more information on our testing procedures, see How We Tested, page 88.)
We didn't change everything, however. We still have rigorous standards for technical support. In addition, as applications become more complex, the need for complete, well-written, accurate documentation with clear illustrations becomes more important. Sadly, manuals for some of these products lack critical material or gloss over important information.
Wayne Rash Jr. is a freelance writer in Clifton, Va. He is the author of three books on data communications and writes a column for Communications Week. He can be reached on MCI Mail at 137-7239. Special thanks to InfoWorld Review Board member Caroline Halliday, who acted as technical reader on this comparison. We also thank California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo, American Management Systems Inc., in Fairfax, Va., and Digital Express Group Inc., in Greenbelt, Md., for providing remote access to their mainframe computers for our connectivity testing.
Related Article: Executive summary
Choosing the right communications package for corporate use depends on specifically what you need it to accomplish. Your decision should take into consideration the types of connections you will make, the types of services you wish to connect to, and the type of data you will transmit most frequently. If you plan to use a modem pool, for example, you should know what sort of communications your network supports and make sure that the package you consider works well in that environment.
The products that scored highest in this comparison were capable of operating in the types of computing environments that exist in large corporations. This included a requirement for access to IBM mainframes, Unix …