Mail, file exchange, and news for science departments

Don Gilbert gilbertd at cricket.bio.indiana.edu
Wed Feb 13 19:31:35 EST 1991

More about How Unix Works, that may be of interest to biology and 
other science department computing.  Your comments are welcome and 
will help inform other readers here with similar interests.

-- Transparent network file exchange between personal and 
departmental/research (Unix) computers is possible with CAP and NFS 

Any scientist can "own" his data, using methods of his/her personal 
computer, and more easily move it between personal computers and 
research computers.

RU-CAP (Columbia Appletalk Protocol, Rutgers University edition) is 
a suite of programs for linking Macintosh and Unix computers with 
Macintosh-style file handling methods.  The scientist can use 
familiar Mac tools for editing data files, and then drag a file to 
a Unix disk for further processing by Unix tools.  Result files can 
be dragged back to Mac disks, worked over and stored on floppies 
that the individual can keep direct tabs on.  The Aufs program of 
CAP lets each person with an account on that Unix computer have 
their disk space look like a personal AppleShare disk.  CAP 
includes software for linking Postscript printers to a Mac network 
thru the Unix computer.

NFS (Network File System) is similar, and can work with IBM-PCs as 
well as Macs, though I haven't tried it yet.

-- Well-connected, easy-to-use mail among personal computers 
through a departmental Post Office (Unix) computer is possible.  

A Post Office computer can provide the unified mail handling, 
within a department, between departments at an institution, and to 
the world thru Internet and Bitnet.  Individuals can choose from a 
variety of personal mail software, and send mail to any location 
without having to learn many confusing procedures.

Unix has excellent network software built-in or readily and freely 
available. Eudora is a recommended personal mailer for Macintosh.  
Eudora lets Mac users mail Mac documents (by encoding/decoding 
them).  An alternate means of document sharing withing a department 
is to use CAP and accounts for each person set so personal folders 
are drop boxes that others can drag documents to.  Mews is another 
Mac mail interface that combines mail and network news.

-- Network news.  A Unix box can be easily configured as a news 
server for a department that otherwise does not have news access, 
but has an Internet connection.  Mac and PC news reader software is 

My preliminary impressions, which I haven't yet tested in my 
department, are that a decent Unix workstation (as inexpensive as 
$4-5K) with a large disk (under $2K for 300-600 MB SCSI disk) will 
provide an academic department that has networked personal 
computers with many services that can not be matched by Macintosh 
or PC file servers.  All of the above software either comes 
standard with Unix or is freely available from/to academic users. A 
knowledgeable, or learnable (I've learned most of this in the last 
month), Unix system manager is important.  Also important is the 
existence of good network links to the personal computers.  
Ethernet is recommended over Appletalk.

Although I've been learning this software on an A/UX Macintosh, it 
will work on most other Unix computers, probably with less hassle 
(Suns seem to be most completely supported) and certainly faster.  
However mail, network news and file serving do not take a lot of 
CPU power, thus for those on a budget, around $5-8K will purchase 
the basic hardware. A good server with lots of CPU for other tasks 
and fast disk access will run around $20-30K (e.g., a Sun 
SparcServer/Station 2). This assumes your institution has ethernet 
and tcp/ip network connections installed.

There are also various commercial programs that handle Unix/Mac 
file sharing, mail and news.  What I've heard of these suggests 
that they may in some cases be nicer to use.  Since I have a 
software budget of about $0, I haven't investigated these yet.

Software Cited:

-- Eudora.  A POP mailer for Macintosh, by Steve Dorner. Anonymous 
ftp to ux1.cso.uiuc.edu, cd mac/eudora.
-- Mews.   A Hypercard POP mailer and NNTP Network newsreader for 
Mac.  Anonymous ftp to sumex-aim.stanford.edu, cd info-mac, or 
wuarchive.wustl.edu (info-mac mirror).
-- Popper.   Implements the Post Office server on a Unix computer, 
by Edward Moy and Austin Shelton (U.C. Berkeley) with 
contributions.   Anonymous ftp to lilac.berkeley.edu
-- RU-CAP.  Implements Appleshare and Chooser laserwriters on Unix 
for Appletalk. Various authors from Columbia U, Rutgers U and 
elsewhere. Anonymous ftp to rutgers.edu, cd source.
-- rn for Unix. by Larry Wall with contributions.  A network news 
reader / server for Unix.  Anon. ftp to wuarchive.wustl.edu, cd 
-- NNTP. Implements network news transport for Unix. by Phil 
Lapsley, Stan Barber, Erik E. Fair, Brian Kantor and others.  See 
-- CNews for Unix.  Implements network news server.  See rn.

                                    -- Don
Don Gilbert                                     gilbert at bio.indiana.edu
biocomputing office, biology dept., indiana univ., bloomington, in 47405

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