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By Robert Moskowitz

The central portfolio of PC software includes only word processing, database management, spreadsheets, graphics, and communications. To ignore any element of this portfolio is as foolish as not using third and fourth gears in your car. Yet you'd be amazed at the number of otherwise competent computer users who have never bothered to make full use of their PCs' communications capabilities.

Essentially, computer communications is any exchange of data between two or more computers. It's often done over specially dedicated network cables, but can easily be accomplished over regular telephone lines. To make your computer communicate, you'll need special purpose software that sends and receives the information. You'll also need special hardware: either a dedicated network adapter card or a general-purpose "modem" that can converse over ordinary telephone lines.

While the technology is extraordinarily complex, most users need never bother with the details. In practice, you can simply concentrate on the processes of communications, which boil down to: messaging, file transfer, and on-line information retrieval. Let's start with the simplest of these: messaging.

Many large organizations have their own electronic messaging or "E-mail" networks. But any computer user who wants messaging capabilities can sign up with a public messaging network like MCI Mail and use ordinary telephone lines to accomplish the same thing.

Once you've outfitted your computer for communications and a messaging network is available to you, you're potentially in electronic contact with people all over the world. You can prepare your messages in advance, if you wish, or enter them directly from the keyboard to the E-mail network. To send, your computer simply contacts the E-mail network and forwards your message, tagged with the intended recipient's name and address.


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Robert Moskowitz is a consultant.
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