ERIC Identifier: ED253256
Publication Date: 1984-11-00
Author: Klausmeier, Jane
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Information Resources Syracuse NY.

Networking and Microcomputers. ERIC Digest.

Networking means establishing a link in order to exchange or share resources, ideas, information, or support. Rather than direct two-way communication (i.e., conversation between two or more people), computer networks communicate with a centralized unit known as the host computer where messages and information are stored and retrieved. The host not only stores the information and messages, but it also manages access to them.

Networks can fall into three broad categories--local area networks (LAN), microcomputer-based messaging systems (this includes computer bulletin board systems (CBBSs)), or commercial information systems. Many of the same types of activities take place within the three categories. The major differences are the types of information available and the ways in which access to the information is provided.


The best example of a local area network is the integrated office. The type of information in this kind of network is specific to the needs and requirements of the organization. Connected by cables and sometimes phone lines, the LAN makes it possible to maximize the use of expensive computer hardware and peripherals (disk drives, tape drives, and printers). A great deal of the literature concerning networking refers to the LAN (i.e., how to make different pieces of equipment "talk" to each other within the office environment).


The commercial information utilities are also networks. They include database search services (Dialog, BRS, SDC); library service networks (OCLC-Online Computer Library Center, etc.); information utilities (The Source, CompuServe); and news networks (New York Times, etc.).


A microcomputer-based networking system works much like the commercial utilities except that a microcomputer is the host. Most are privately operated and usually provide general information about a specific subject, e.g., education, Apple users, microcomputer club news. Access is through regular telephone lines. Those networks that are not local entail a long distance phone call. For this reason, many operate at night when phone rates are lower. Although most microcomputer networks are free except for the phone call, some require the user to become a member and use an identification number and password to get into the system.


In order to access a microcomputer network, you must have a terminal that allows you to set the parity and data length (more about this later). Many people use their microcomputers as terminals, which allows them to store to disk or print out the information they are retrieving. As long as the micro is capable of communicating (i.e., acting like a terminal), it can interact with a network set up on any kind of microcomputer.


The first step is to dial the network's phone number and establish communication with the host computer. There is usually a WELCOME message followed by other introductory information such as a description of the type of information available, what number caller you are, and any special announcements (e.g., changes in the system).

The main purpose of networks is to try to reach as many people as possible. Consequently, they are usually very "friendly" and provide HELP instructions (a review and explanation of the commands needed to use the network) that can be accessed while communicating with the network. Users will be asked if their computer can handle upper/lowercase and where they are from (for statistical purposes), followed by a review of the commands necessary to use the system.


More often than not, microcomputer-based messaging systems are referred to as computer bulletin board systems or CBBSs. However, many messaging systems are capable of providing more than bulletin board services.

Computerized Bulletin Boards

A computerized bulletin board is very similar to a bulletin board in a public place where anyone can pin up a notice he or she wants others to see. A computerized bulletin board is basically the same thing. The host microcomputer is essentially the physical bulletin board where information that anyone may want to distribute is stored. Most CBBSs have a scan option that allows users to see a brief description of the messages. After scanning the various messages, they can then go back and choose to see the entire form of a particular message or leave a message for others to see.

Downloading Software

Some bulletin boards also allow public domain (free to the public) software to be downloaded. By giving a few commands, users can have a program sent to their micros and stored to disk for later use. When downloading software, the computer that is receiving the software must be the same as the computer that is sending it.

Electronic Mail

Electronic mail is similar to a bulletin board except that messages are left for specific individuals. All users have identification numbers, and each message is addressed via the identification number(s) to the appropriate user or users. A microcomputer-based messaging system may also include electronic mail service, which is a more elaborate system. As users sign on and give their ID numbers, they are informed as to whether they have any mail, and, if so, how much.


Each computer system has a different way of sending and receiving data. This is called the communications protocol. Some of the following problems can occur if the protocols are different:

GIBBERISH - You phone the network and make the communication link but what you see on the screen doesn't make sense. Most likely you have the wrong data length and parity setting. Try 7 data bits, 1 start/stop bit, and even parity. If that doesn't work, try the following combinations: 7,1,odd; 7,2,even; 7,2 odd; 8,2,none; 8,1,none; 8,1,even; or 8,1,odd.

PRINTER DOES NOT ADVANCE - One line keeps typing over another. Some older terminals do not automatically advance the paper one line after each carriage return, and it is necessary to tell the terminal to do so by answering YES to LINE FEED? (Y/N).

LOSING CHARACTERS - Some printers do not have enough time to get back to the left side of the page before they are ordered to print another line. As a result, you lose characters. When you first sign on to a bulletin board, many of them will ask you how many NULLS you want. NULLS are time wasters; they simply give the printer head enough time after each line to return to the left side of the page. Your printer manual should provide you with more information concerning this.


Now you have enough information to get started. There are all kinds of microcomputer messaging systems available to learn from and play with, but many of them come and go. Here are two newsletters that provide networking news and list the available networks:

--OTHER NETWORKS P.O. Box 14066 Philadelphia, PA 19123

--PLUMB Riverside Data Inc. P.O. Box 300 Harrods Creek, KY 40027 (502) 228-3820

Telephone Software Connection is a company that sells software via a modem. To acquaint you with the system, they provide several programs that can be downloaded at no charge. Have an initialized disk ready and call (213) 516-9432. Novation, Inc., a producer of modems, provides a list of CBBSs on their network. Their number is (213) 881-6880. For more details and additional listings, see THE COMPUTER PHONE BOOK by Mike Cane (New York: New American Library, 1983).


Glossbrenner, Alfred. THE COMPLETE HANDBOOK OF PERSONAL COMPUTER COMMUNICATIONS (Everything you need to know to go online with the world). New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983.

Haas, Lou. GOING ON-LINE WITH YOUR MICRO. Blue Ridge Summit, PA: TAB Books, Inc., 1984.

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