David Strom


By David Strom

I've been a member of the Crosstalk user family for over a decade and so I had lots of high

hopes for the new kid on the block, version 2.2 for Windows with Crossfax. The program

started shipping from Digitial Communications Associates' (DCA, Alpharetta, Geo.) last

month and is the latest salvo of Windows "communications suites" that contain a mix of

asynchronous terminal emulation, file transfer, support for networked modem pools and fax

capabilities. However, I'm sad to say that this new baby is ugly: I experienced numerous bugs

and crashes, and I can't recommend it for the enterprise until these get fixed.

It pains me to give Crosstalk thumbs down: I've used various versions ever since the days of

CP/M many years ago when it was the only communications program around. I still use the

DOS Crosstalk XVI software when I install a new modem that is particularly difficult, mainly

because it is a dependable tool that has always worked for me when others fail. And the

number of new features on version 2.2 are really outstanding, including some neat tricks with

Internet access and fax fowarding that I'll get to in a moment.

I've been using a combination of two programs for Windows communications and fax: Trio's

(Raleigh, NC) Datafax and Hilgraeve's (Monroe, Mich.) HyperAccess. Both have enough

features and work solidly for me. For example, Trio has a nice macro that works with

Microsoft Word and HyperAccess has the ability to scan downloaded files for virus patterns

in real-time. I was interested in seeing whether this latest edition of Crosstalk/Crossfax (there

are actually two separate executables, but packaged together) would make me switch. It

didn't, mainly because of many shortcomings in the product and lots of bugs.

For example, on one window pane the close button works as you'd expect, but not if you use

the command from the control-menu box (the small box in the upper left of the title bar).

Another is that you can't change your fax modem after you've installed the software: while

lots of other fax programs have this flexibility, with Crossfax you first must uninstall

everything and start from square one. And various autoconnection scripts didn't always

autoconnect, which was frustrating when it came time to track down the problem.

But if these bugs don't bother you, Crosstalk/Crossfax has included just about everything but

the kitchen sink in terms of a communications product. There are three new features that

might be compelling to purchase the product:

-- Internet access. Say you've got an ordinary shell account to get onto the information

superhighway. You've been using a terminal emulation product for years and dutifully

downloading your files twice: once to your Internet provider's host, and then the second time

to your PC. With Crosstalk, you can do this in a single step. It automates the login, which is

no big deal since lots of comm products can do that. Then you press a button to check your

mail -- that's nice but other products could do that if you had the time to program them. DCA

did it for you. And then you press another few buttons to run the ftp protocols and move the

file down to your computer, in a single step. That's something to write home about: no need

to navigate with Unix commands or even any commands. Indeed, the first time I did an ftp

download I had to check and make sure that the file actually was on my hard disk, I thought

for sure that it was a trick.

I tried this with a test account on Portal: DCA has included several Internet providers directly

as part of the software, so you can get up and running on the Internet quickly. Included are

Alberta SuperNet, CerfNet, CicNet, Netcom, Panix, Portal and The World, and you can set up

your own information if you want to pick another provider. My own account on Global

Enterprise Services is configured for serial line Internet Protocol access, which won't work

with Crosstalk.

If you do a lot of ftp transfers and have a shell account, this feature is a big timesaver. One

small negative is the lack of solid documentation on the Internet features: there is a readme

file on the disk but not much else in the manuals.  

-- Fax fowarding. Here's another situation. Let's say you leave your office for a week long

visit with your branch office in Toledo. You are expecting a fax, and your assistant is away

on vacation. No problem. Set up Crossfax to forward your faxes to Toledo's fax machine.

And, just in case you don't trust the thing, have it print out any received faxes as well to your

own printer. To my knowledge, this ability to forward a fax is a unique feature, and when I

tried it, it worked like a champ. DCA says this is akin to call forwarding on your voice

phone, and I'd agree. 

Now, I am not the biggest fan of PC fax, mainly because of reliability. Indeed, I managed to

find lurking on my hard disk a fax from earlier this summer that I never saw. How it ended

up on my PC when I use a dedicated fax machine most of the time I'll never know. This

refugee fax is not Crossfax's fault, just an indication of thelack of quality overall with

products in this genre. 

I had lots of trouble getting Crossfax to work with my Intel fax modem. Part of the problem

was that I've installed about six different PC fax products on this particular machine. But part

of the problem rests with DCA and how poorly they have documented support for the Intel

fax modems. At one point, I couldn't get Crossfax to received any faxes: they went to the

Intel software instead. You might want to use another fax modem other than Intel's until DCA

fixes this.

Crossfax has the ability to read in phonebooks from Intel's (Hillsboro, Ore.) and Delrina's

(Toronto) fax products. However, this is almost unusable unless your phonebook is small,

since you have to parse each individual entry. Other products, such as Trio's (Raleigh)

Datafax, can read the entire phonebook directly and in a single step.

-- Networking features. Hayes' (Marietta, Geo.) Smartcom was long my favorite when it came

to use a modem pool to dial out of my network: it supports a long variety of acronyms of

networked communications protocols. Many Windows comm products just drive a locally

attached modem and don't allow for any network modem connection whatsoever, such as

HyperAccess or Travelling Software's (Bothell, Wash.) Comm Works. Crosstalk in version

2.2 has added support for three important network protocols. (Smartcom has these three and

offers others as well.) The three are interrupt 14 redirection (still used by some older modem

pools when all else fails), Novell Asynchronous Services Interface (NASI, which is obviously

just for NetWare networks), and telnet/TCP/IP. 

This latter one is significant and offers the ability to run both through ordinary comm ports

and the Internet as well.That's helpful, especially for those shops that have TCP/IP in

abundance and don't want to run two separate comm products. You'll need version 1.1 of

Winsock software, or a TCP stack from one of the major vendors (Sun; FTP; Novell,

NetManage; Walker, Richer,Quinn; or Wollongong) to make this work. Smartcom only

supports the first two TCP stacks.

So these three features are nice, but how does Crosstalk stack up to the competition overall?

When I am out shopping for a new Windows comm program, there are two things that are

important to me: automation features and ease of configuration.

-- Automation features. By now, just about every comm program on the planet has some sort

of scripting and automation routine. You know, the ability to automatically enter your user

name and password, and a few commands to get you started in your session when you


Crosstalk for years has had a virtually unusable (at least by me) scripting language called

CASL, for Crosstalk Applications Scripting Language. Well, it still is rather thick going but

DCA has provided lots of examples in the form of working button bars and other graphical

niceties that are part of the features that ship with the product. You can examine what they

did to create all this graphical wonder quickly and easily, and if you have the patience and

time, make changes yourself.

There are automation routines for the major services such as procedures for login and

checking one's MCI Mail, one that I tested successfully. There are lots more: Lexis,

AT&TMail, Compuserve, Delphi, DowJones, and so forth. My only beef? Unlike Hilgraeve's

HyperAccess, these services are only revealed when you do a File/Open command --

HyperAccess puts each service in an icon on the desktop.

--Setup and configuration. My test is to see how little information I need to enter to get up

and running with a new communications service. The Windows product that I like the best is

HyperAccess: it is fast on the file transfer and takes less than a dozen keystrokes to enter the

information for a new service. Crosstalk takes a bit longer to setup. 

I am allergic to those comm products that like to muck with my various .INI files and add

drivers to my \WINDOWS\SYSTEM directory. Smartcom and CommWorks, for example, do

this, while HyperAccess doesn't. Crosstalk does both dirty deeds, which is unfortunate when it

comes time to uninstall the product and try to undo these changes, or when you are trying to

track down a problem with your internal support staff.

Because Crosstalk and Crossfax are two separate products (DCA has significantly improved

upon technology it purchased from Alien Computing for the fax side of things) there are two

separate installation routines, which is a bit agravating. The fax side of the house correctly

autodetected my modem, for example, but I still had to manually enter things when it came

time to setup Crosstalk. Oh well, that is what I mean about those little bugs. 

Taken together, Crosstalk and Crossfax are a communications powerhouse that have lots more

features than most of the competition. However, the number of bugs and small things make

this an unreliable program and I'd wait until version 3 before getting more involved. In the

meantime, I'll still use my trusty old DOS version of Crosstalk that doesn't crash and after a

decade still runs like a champ. And, for a Windows comm program, I'll stick with my

combination of Trio's Datafax and Hilgraeve's HyperAccess until the Crosstalk/Crossfax pair

get to know each other better.

Data box:

Crosstalk for Windows version 2.2 with Crossfax

Price: $195

shipping since August

Ready for the Enterprise: NO, still too buggy to trust

UP: Features such as Internet automation and fax forwarding are unique

DOWN: Many bugs and annoying loose ends makes for unreliable connections.

DOWN: Setting up a new service and converting fax phonebooks are cumbersome

Test bed:

Dell 486/D50 running Windows with Intel SatisFAXtion internal fax modem.

Digitial Communications Associates

1000 Alderman Drive

Alpharetta, Geo. 30202

800- 348 3221


404-442-4095 (fax)

Internet: 76702.1216@compuserve.com

Click here to return to the previous page

David Strom David Strom Port Washington, NY 11050 USA US TEL: 1 (516) 944-3407