PAUL EVANS plugs into Micronet with a new CRASH column
RAIN, RAIN, RAIN. I’m sure you know the feeling: it’s pouring down and there’s no chance of going out. The Adventures Of A Lesser Spotted Alfgarnen Buttermoth is on the telly.
It’s at times like this you think ‘at least I’ve got my Speccy to play megadestruction on!’ — but that’s not as good as someone to chat with.
It’s at times like this I think ‘at least I’ve got my modem’.
A modem is a gadget that connects your computer to the telephone line and allows it to talk to the computer at the other end. If you have a modem you can talk to any computer, however large, if you’re using a standard method.
You can access large computers which hold thousands of pages of information, news, reviews, anything; I’m going to concentrate on just one of these massive networks, Prestel.
One of the cheapest and best-supported modems is available for the Spectrum — the VTX 5000. You can pick one up for about £35-£40.
The important software is on ROM inside the VTX, and it pages in as soon as you turn the computer on. (Beware — the VTX isn’t compatible with the black 128 or the +3, though there are ways around this problem, revealed this month.)
If you get the welcome screen, you’re ready to log on to Prestel — that is, if you’ve got a password. A subscription to Prestel and Micronet, the computing area, costs around £60 a year. It’s a lot, but worth it. And if you pay for one year, you get a free VTX!
Through Prestel you can book tickets instantly, see the latest prices within seconds of change, check timetables and so on. And it covers every subject you can think of.
Prestel (or Pretzel, as some ’netters call it) is a database containing about half a million pages of information. A Prestel page is the same as a page on Ceefax or Oracle and that’s what’s displayed on your screen. However, Prestel is a lot faster than the other networks.
The network is made up of IPs (Information Providers) who create their own pages and allow the public to look at them. IPs on Prestel range from British Airways to the stock market.
Micronet is one of the IPs on Prestel. It serves the microcomputing public — you and me — with ‘microbases’ for most home computers, a large range of telesoftware from major software houses, games with cash prizes, PBMs, a gallery for people wanting their own pages on Micronet, several helplines, news, reviews, tips, chatlines where you can have actual conversations with real people across the country, the adventures Shades and MUD, and lots more.
The Spectrum is one of the best-supported computers on Micronet. There are four main sections for the Speccy, and many small ones run on the gallery.
The Spectrum Micronet base, called Spectrum, has a massive database containing tips, news, telesoftware, a helpline, reviews of hardware, books and software, features and three weekly letters updates. The letters are the most popular thing on Micronet — anything can be answered within a week!
The Micronet Contributors run clubs on Micronet, and two Spectrum areas are run in their database. The first is Spec-tacular (not to be confused with the fanzine). It’s similar to Spectrum, but has different sections like an ‘artshow’ and routes to gallery areas.
The Spectrum User To User Group (SUTUG) is a list of Spectrum users on Micronet and their mailbox numbers, so you can send messages to them. It only covers people who’ve asked to be listed, but it’s BIG!
And Specs, which opened earlier this year, is colourful and well-designed, with many areas other sections have missed out such as ads and fanzine reviews.
In CRASH I’ll be taking a closer look at the Spectrum areas as well as Shades, the PBM game Starnet and many other aspects of Prestel and Micronet.
VIEWFAX, one of the Prestel IPs, recently closed down. But some of its pages can still be accessed, because they haven’t been erased. (For those who don’t have a modem, I’ll reveal its contents next time!)
FIREFLY has been withdrawn. It was a way of creating a mini-Prestel (known as a bulletin board or BB) on your Spectrum with a Beta disk system and a Voyager 7 modem.
Firefly was a good piece of software, but it was ridden with bugs and wasn’t being updated. This looks like the end of standard BBs on the Spectrum — only Micron is left, and you need special software to access a Micron BB.
THE recently-updated Prestel log-on/log-off screen is SO DULL!
And the new computer tones are causing trouble. You can now log onto this with a modem running at a different speed from the VTX. That’s OK, but now my modem crashes every time I log off.
If anyone has had similar trouble, please contact my mailbox...
MANY major software companies are selling their games as telesoftware on Micronet; Elite has just joined Hewson and Firebird on the network.
Most telesoftware costs less than you’d pay in the shops, and you don’t have to trudge out to buy it. Hewson is already selling Zynaps at a low price, and Elite offers Paperboy and Space Harrier for just under £7 each.
THERE ARE TRICKS to make the original black 128 work with the VTX modem.
Just fit a +2 ROM in place of the 128 ROM (the +2 works fine with the VTX). CPC supplies these ROMs for around £8.
Or you can buy the £22 Spectre Comms ROM, which goes in placeof the original VTX ROM; it contains new comms software which knocks the VTX software for six. But be warned: fitting this ROM will invalidate British Telecom’s VTX approval.