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Sunday 1st December 1996

Assessment of PIPEX DIAL: It is now exactly a week since loading PIPEX so it is time to provide a preliminary assessment of how good it is.

Installation: The installation went very smoothly from the CD ROM provided. I allowed it to modify my Autoexec.bat file as requested but left the modification to Config.sys to do myself. It would be helpful to the naive user if the instructions in the CD ROM case had given advance warning of the changes it would need to make to the system.

Registration: Again very quick and easy with the default modem used - I think I has to set the port and that was all. I was not asked for a card as the software automatically expires after 28 days. You then seem to have to pay a connection fee regardless of the fact you are up and running!

Configuration: All looked very simple even if you needed to set up the modem type and commands - I left the default modem but set all the rates as high as possible. It asked to download software updates which I allowed. They took little time and left a message in the outbox to send to Pipex that the updates had been carried out.

Registration of Alias: This is done on the Pipex web site as are most of the communications with Pipex. The site is well laid out and the alias registration was easy. It took a day to be activated.

DialSpace: This is free 1 Mbyte of web page. Again registration was easy but there was no warning that it again took a while to be accessible. I may have been too fast as I got there only 1 hour after the initial load and it would not allow me to registration! I mailed the help link and got a quick standard "holding" reply but no proper response. It was possible to register the next day and again it took till a specified time the following day to become live. The Pipex site had a lot of useful information and FAQs which would be very good for a first time user. It also suggested using a Freeware FTP program to upload and had a link to download it. I downloaded from the main site so I could get a full install and I am impressed with WS_FTP.

Loading the home page: I used WS_FTP and it went very smoothly - I did one trial of the first few pages and then checked. This then showed that, as they warned, the PIPEX Dialspace server is case sensitive so I had to rename all my pages to be lower case names and edit most of the links to match. Tedious but only took just over an hour because I loaded batches of files and did a string search in WebEdit. The uploading was then done in one batch. The other feature was that the homepage has to be called index.htm on PIPEX whilst it is homepage.htm on CompuServe. I have two identical pages loaded which works fine.

Email: The internal Email uses Netscape and is adequate for a new user. I wanted to use my existing system of Windows Messaging (what used to be called Exchange). I loaded the Internet Mail transport mechanism in place of the CompuServe Mail for Microsoft Exchange and it all worked fine as soon as I had configured it. I also set up the independent Microsoft Internet Mail which again was fine and handles attachments in binary and text automatically in the MIME mode. This also configured ready for Internet Explorers mail although it has the option of using Windows Messaging or Internet Mail in Internet Explorer.

Dial Up Networking: The PIPEX web site gives full instructions on this - the best instructions that I have seen. I took the shortcuts I had used previously but found for the first time that I had to set the DNS specifically and I also used the other recommendations for the connection from the PIPEX page and it worked immediately. The script for the script file was available on the page for editing in and again the scripting worked first time. Total time to get a link active on the desktop was about an hour with some time wasted through not following their instructions initially to set the DNS addresses.

Interactions with CompuServe: Both coexist at the basic level and there is no need to play around with Winsock.dll. It is not possible to have both transport mechanisms loaded in Messaging/Exchange without problems and anomalies on the return address etc. The way round is to set up two profiles using the same Personal Address Book and Personal Folders. One can set Messaging to ask which profile when you start up.

Other Interactions: I had a lockup when I ran a legacy DOS program for interchange of data with my HP95 palmtop. This was cured when I changed back the autoexec.bat and config.sys files. This means that the PIPEX supplied software will no longer run.

Other anomalies: I can not access any of the index pages for DialSpace using the Netscape Navigator 2.02 supplied with PIPEX and their 16 bit software without a GPF in Navigator. I have tried the suggestion on their pages of setting a FILES=100 in Config.sys without any change. The pages are fine from IE3 and Netscape Navigator 3 via the 32 bit DUN PIPEX connection or any other ISP via DUN.

Time to set up system: I have not kept a complete log but I guess that the times to get to the same functionality as I have with CompuServe including creating an extra DUN, changing my default service in Internet Explorer 3, adding a service to Messaging, setting up Internet mail, Registering an Alias, Registering a web site, changing all my web pages and uploading my site has been under 5 hours spread over the week. To that I should possibly add another hour to download and get to grips with WS_FTP. There was sufficient information for any user of Windows 95 to get to that point in the PIPEX pages. There is a very impressive level and clarity of support information available. If I had been happy with a 16 bit system using Netscape Navigator 2.02 I would have been live in an hour.

Speed and access: I have been able to get a connection quickly although there was one period when Email did not seem to work for a short period. Internet access speed has been high and download rates impressive. I saw rates of 7Kbytes/sec over a 600Kbyte download of an .htm file. This implies 2:1 data compression and a theoretical max speed link. Downloads of binaries have risen to 2.4Kbytes/sec in a normal weekday evening. I have not done comparative tests but my impression is that it is up with or better than Demon, I-Way and the OU links and much better than CompuServe at peak times. The only one which may be ahead at peak times is MSN based on watching a friends system. Off peak there was little to chose in my earlier comprehensive tests which showed CompuServe a short neck ahead and I have not done the tests yet to provide evidence that PIPEX can displace CompuServe.

Support: Having written this assessment it seemed time to ring PIPEX and see how well good their support was and if they had answers to the three problems above - Autoexec.bat/config.sys incompatibilities with HP APP95 legacy DOS software, access to their own Dialspace index pages using the Netscape Navigator they provided and use with CompuServe in Microsoft Exchange. The number provided passed me to a different support number which was not active on a Sunday but stated that the telephone support was only for those who had not got up and running to the extent of using Email. This whole text was therefore Emailed to them for comment.

Friday 6th December 1996

Pipex support response: The response was very rapid and a number of helpful suggestions were sent within a couple of hours and a follow up after a couple of days to my further tests. They are going to shorten the index lengths on DialSpace and in longer term use NetScape 3. We have not solved the APP95 conflict but it does not seem to be with any other DOS programmes I have tried. They agreed that my solution of multiple profiles was the best way round on Exchange if I want to keep Compuserve and Pipex in use simultaneously - this still enable one to share Folders and address books although the way CompuServe works you have a different entry for each service so it may well be best to separate them. The support has been a big improvement over what I got with CompuServe.

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Copyright © Peter Curtis
Content revised: 6thth December, 1996