With the amount of hype that those of use in the computer industry face every day, it's surprising we don't all wear hip waders. And it's twice as deep for those of us who find our names on "press contact" lists.
Scott Raynovich is the Internetworking Section Editor at LAN Times. Not long ago, he and I spent an hour with Roger Greene, (email@example.com) the president of IpSwitch, Inc. (http://www.ipswitch.com/), watching Roger demonstrate IpSwitch's Internet applications suite. It was my fault that Scott was roped into that meeting and I apologized to him afterward, because, throughout the demo, Roger repeatedly subjected us to that industry mantra: "best of breed applications." According to him, IpSwitch was "raising the bar" and "setting a new standard of excellence" with their forthcoming Internet applications suite.
The problem is that what Scott and I saw didn't live up to those claims. True, IpSwitch's new mail app (http://www.ipswitch.com/store/apps/imail/) looks pretty cool and has excellent alias-handling and address-book management design. On the other hand, their Usenet front end couldn't handle substring searching in messages and didn't support cross-posting to more than one group or responding to a Usenet posting via email, rather than by followup post. And their phone dialer just plain sucked (that's the technical term, by the way.) It was as limited, ugly and non-configurable as Spry's dialer (http://dub-www-svc-1.compuserve.com:80/prod_services/consumer/consumer.html) and that's saying something.
Best of breed? I don't think so.
The fact is no single vendor offers anything close to a best of breed suite. Want the best DEC VT emulation for Microsoft Windows on the market? No more calls, please, because we've had a clear winner for quite some time: Walker, Richer, Quinn's Reflection 2 (http://www.wrq.com/ for more information). But, if you con't need drag-and-drop key remapping and a completely customizable VT environment, but just simple, bare-bones VT-100 emulation for an occasional Telnet session, Trumpet Software's TrumpTel Telnet client (ftp://ftp.cica.indiana.edu/pub/pc/win3/winsock/trmptel.zip) works just fine, thank you--and it's free for the taking.
Trumpet, by the way, does have a best-of-breed application in the well-known Trumpet Winsock version 2.1E (ftp://ftp.cica.indiana.edu/pub/pc/win3/winsock/twsk21e.zip) which offers dial-up support for both Serial Line Internet Protocol (SLIP) and Point-to-Point Protocol (PPP), as well as a shim to allow it to be used with ODI or NDIS drivers. It's a 30-day limited demo, but it comes with an excellent online help file and is a snap to configure--and registration is only $25. And it crashes much less frequently than does Netmanage's freebie Chameleon Sampler (ftp://ftp.netmanage.com/pub/demos/sampler/websamp1.exe) or, for that matter, the Netmanage Internet Chameleon dialer.
As for poor IpSwitch, they've got an uphill fight on their hands to compete with the current best of breed shareware mail app, Eudora Light (ftp://ftp.cica.indiana.edu/pub/pc/win3/winsock/eudor143.exe for the Windows 3.x version, http://www.umich.edu/~archive/mac/util/comm/eudoralight1.53.sit.hqx for the Macintosh version and http://www.umich.edu/~archive/mac/util/unix/eudoraunixreader.shar for the Unix shell version.) And Qualcomm, Inc.'s (http://www.qualcomm.com/) commercial version, Eudora Pro, adds technical support, spellchecking and rules-based filtering to the already-potent shareware versions for Windows and the Mac, for a suggested list price of $89.
There's even worse news for IpSwitch in the recently-released Free Agent Usenet newsreader. I used to recommend WinVN (ftp://ftp.cica.indiana.edu/pub/pc/win3/winsock/winvn926.zip) as the shareware newsreader of choice. The privately-held Forte (http://www.forteinc.com/forte/) of Carlsbad, California has made a convert of me. Unlike IpSwitch's offering, Forte's, Free Agent version 1.0 (ftp.forteinc.com/pub/forte/free_agent/fagent10.zip) does offer reply-via-mail, substring searches and a whole lot of other powerful features including context-sensitive use of the right mouse button. It's free for evaluation purposes and, coming later this month, the commercial version, Agent, will add integrated email, kill and watch lists (an absolute necessity for any serious Usenet participant) and smart handling of cross-posted messages by marking them as read in all groups once you've looked at them in any. All this for $40 ($29, if ordered by October 31st.)
If you're going to talk about the Internet and best of breed applications in the same breath, when you get around to discussing World Wide Web browsers, you have to mention Netscape's (http://home.netscape.com/) Netscape Navigator. Available for Unix, (ftp://ftp.netscape.com/netscape/unix/ and get the appropriate flavor for, respectively, your DEC Alpha, Hewlett-Packard HP/UX workstation, Silicon Graphics IrIX box, SunOS or Solaris machine or BSD- or Linux-based computer) the Mac (ftp://ftp.netscape.com/netscape/mac/netscape-1.1N.hqx) and for Microsoft Windows 3.x (ftp://ftp3.netscape.com/netscape/windows/n16e12n.exe) and Windows95 or NT (ftp://ftp3.netscape.com/netscape/windows/n32e12n.exe). This is still the most capable browser going, although Quarterdeck's (http://www.qdeck.com/) Quarterdeck Mosaic gives it a run for its money. Quarterdeck Mosaic has an innovative new user interface (which I found extremely confusing to learn) based on a tabbed notebook metaphor, but, much more importantly, it strives mightily to support the Netscape-specific extensions (such as centering, tables and the much-abused blink tag) to the current HTML spec. Although the results are uneven, Quarterdeck deserves credit for realizing that the market wants what the Netscape HTML extensions offer.
As for the recent release of version 1.2 of Netscape Navigator, it has vastly improved the management of bookmarks, finally permitting users to organize their bookmarks in nested folders. Also nice is the fact that these folderized bookmark files will work in earlier versions of Netscape Navigator, as is the ability to enter a URL without having to specify a service name (i.e.--to connect to Novell's Web server, you can now just enter www.novell.com, without needing to preface it with http://). Of course, this only works for URLs whose intial string identifies the service desired (server names beginning with "www" or "ftp" or "gopher" and so on.) Still, it's a step in the right direction. Curiously, though, Netscape Navigator seems to have dropped support for the horizontal rule tag in the 1.2 release. I thought the missing rules might just be an artifact of the 6 beta software releases of version 1.2, but, no, the release version doesn't show 'em either.
Which only goes to show that nobody--not even the best of breed--is perfect.
(Copyright© 1995 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)