PacerTerm 4.1, by Sand Castle Systems
Posted: 10-Aug-2002

3 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Sand Castle Systems Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Bill Catambay Class: PRODUCTIVITY

PacerTerm is a terminal emulation program for the Macintosh. It allows any Mac user to access a Unix or OpenVMS system, emulating terminals ranging from VT100 to VT420 terminal devices.

Setting Up PacerTerm
PacerTerm installation installs a few extensions along with the PacerTerm application folder. After a reboot, you are ready to setup a PacerTerm session.

When setting up PacerTerm, you need to know what kind of terminal you want to emulate (VT100, VT320, VT420, etc.), and the IP or DNS of the computer you want to connect to. Under the Connection setting, you set the type of connection, which is typically PacerTelnet (there are also options for Modem tools, ADSP tool, serial tool and a few others). There are some other settings that can be changed on the Connection screen, such as changing the Host port to something different than 23 (which is the standard Telnet port).

Under the Terminal setting, you set up most of your other preferences for your emulation session. PacerTerm supports four general terminal types: Pacer320, Pacer420, TTY Tool and VT102 Tool. Depending on which Terminal Type setting you opt for, the available settings change. The best type is Pacer420 (for VT420 terminals), as it provides the most settings for tailoring your session. Any current OpenVMS system will support VT420 terminals. Once Pacer420 is selected, the settings are divided into categories listed in the left scroll pane: General, Screen, Keyboard, Character Set, Printing and Color.


General options under Terminal Settings for Pacer420


General settings allow you to select the terminal mode (VT400 7-bit, VT400 8-bit, ANSI/VT100, etc.). I selected the session to be "On Line" and "Show Status Bar" (the status bar shows indicator "lights" for on-line/local, keyboard locked, and terminal type). You can set the cursor to block or underline, and blinking or normal. You can also set the terminal "Answerback" value, but I found the input field for the answerback to be slightly buggy. After I typed in a value and closed the window, under Pacer420, the value did not display when I returned to the setting. If I typed into the field, I would discover that there is a value there. This bug did not appear to exist under the Pacer320 type settings.

The Screen settings allows you to alter the screen attributes, such as width, font size and height, and pages. It also provides options for controlling the screen scroll, and character actions (such as "show control characters" and "auto wrap"). It includes an option to set Inverse Video, and to set the Status Display (VT status line) to Visible, Invisible, or Host Writeable.

The Keyboard, Character Set, and Printing settings I did not need to change anything. For Keyboard, you can swap the Delete key with the Backspace key, turn on keyclick sound, set options for keys held down, and a few other options. The Character Set group lets you select the DEC active and default character sets. The Printing group allows you to redirect printing to a file.

The last group in the Terminal Setting pane is Color, and allows you to customize the colors and attribute settings for your session. I found this very useful, as I have specific wants for how my session should look and behave, and the color settings provided the options to support these wants.

With the Terminal and Connections settings in place, that's basically all you really need to get a session up and running. Before opening the session, be sure to save the settings by selecting Save or Save As under the File menu.

Using PacerTerm
Once I had the settings to my satisfaction, I selected Open Connection, and PacerTerm contacts the host computer and establishes a terminal session. For my tests, I connected to a OpenVMS host running on an Alpha server. I found the connection to be quite stable, and the throughput was very good. When I typed a character, it seemed to display with good response. Slower connections to the host may create a lag, but even using a 56K dial-up connection, I didn't notice much lag in my session.


Terminal session using Highwide display

Unlike most generic Telnet emulators, PacerTerm supports wide and highwide character attributes as well as 132 column width display. For the most part, the displays were accurate, but there were sporadic characters that sometimes got left on the screen that should have been cleared. The ability to scroll the window is a nice feature, allowing you to back up to previous screens to view or copy data that is no longer in the active screen. Copying data was very easy using PacerTerm simply by using the mouse.

Other Features
PacerTerm comes with many other features, some that I found useful, and some that I could not get to work. You can set up "soft keys" for your session, which is basically a toolbar of buttons. After showing the toolbar, you can easily define the buttons using "edit softkeys", and program a button to insert text, perform an edit function, or run a script. PacerTerm comes with a very basic scripting language that can be used to perform a series of commands. One way to create a script is to record actions that you may want to repeat (such as a logging on to a specific account). PacerTerm also comes with a set of predefined scripts for actions ranging from Logins to VMS directory listings. I tried editing a few scripts, and found the scripting language a bit unfriendly and not to flexible. In comparison to the scripting language of
Reflection (Windows emulation software), PacerTerm scripting is quite weak.

There is a separate Preferences dialog that you can use to alter other settings for PacerTerm. There are settings that would be used for all PacerTerm sessions (rather than preferences for a specific settings file). A couple of these options included opening sessions automatically and closing windows automatically when logging off of a session.

PacerTerm also provides a Keymappings setting that allows you to create your own key mappings. I found the default key mapping between the Mac keyboard and the VMS keys to be satisfactory, but if you needed to customize those settings, the option is available. There is also a Keys menu that provides shortcuts to VT keyboard functions, such as Hold Screen, the Keypad keys, the Editing keys, and the Function keys that run along the top of the keyboard.

Beyond the emulation functionality, PacerTerm also provides a File Transfer feature that is supposed to allow you to transfer files back and forth between your Mac and the host computer. I tried using the file transfer function, but no matter what option I chose, the file transfer never succeeded. On trying to use the PacerFT to transmit a file, the file transfer window showed it was waiting for the server to respond, and then it would time out. On trying to use the PacerFTP to transmit a file, I was provided a screen to enter my VMS logon credentials to issue the FTP command to. After entering the proper logon information, the file transfer seemed to connect okay, but during the FTP STOR command, the transfer failed with MacTCP error -23016.

Summary
As a basic VT emulator, PacerTerm is a good product. It's unfortunate that the software is no longer being enhanced, as it has a lot of potential. In fact, the last upgrade from 3.1 to 4.1 provided very few enhancements, none that would warrant purchasing the upgrade if you are already running under version 3.1.

Having used emulators on the Windows platform, PacerTerm stands pretty strong against those emulators as well, with the exception of
Reflection for Regis Graphics. Many of the features of the Windows version of Reflection are exactly what I'm looking for on the Mac; for example, preventing windows from being closed without first logging out of a session, a more robust scripting language, a working file transfer function, and a richer set of preferences for customizing sessions. On the other hand, the Mac version of Reflection was so poorly done, providing so few of the features of its Windows counterpart, it makes PacerTerm shine in comparison. For the Macintosh platform, PacerTerm is the best emulator available, providing full support for all VT attributes and a very reliable host connection.

Pros

  • Supports highwide and 132 column features
  • Supports session customization
  • Reliable and stable host connection
  • Best font representation of terminal text I've seen
  • Scrollable session windows

Cons

  • Weak scripting language
  • File transfer does not appear to work
  • No option to prevent window closures prior to session logout
  • Sporadic problems with stray characters not being cleared on the screen
  • Buggy answerback input field for Pacer420 settings


Overall Rating:

3 1/2 out of 5 Mice