We tend to think of telephony integration applications more on Windows platforms than UNIX, but there are quite a few talented CTI (computer-telephony integration) packages designed for our favorite operating system. MobileSys Inc has a good example of this CTI with EtherPage, a UNIX and Windows package that allows a computer to send messages to alphanumeric pagers or any other wireless devices, including telephones and Palm-type units. EtherPage allows messages to be generated and output from a wide variety of applications automatically, instead of requiring a human to type messages into a window prior to sending. (EtherPage has been available since 1996, but the latest release of the product adds many new features and extends the support platforms dramatically. The company changed its name from Personal Productivity Tools to Mobilesys to reflect its focus on EtherPage.)
EtherPage uses a Web interface to make the software look similar under many different operating systems. The interface design also makes it relatively easy for a developer to link EtherPage into applications like a database, spreadsheet, or network management system. The easiest way to obtain the EtherPage software is from their Web page although you can buy a CD-ROM distribution. EtherPage can be downloaded in a variety of targeted platform files, including both OpenServer and UnixWare versions. A license key must be purchased to enable the server, although demonstration codes with a limited time span are available for evaluation of the EtherPage software. One machine on a network is designated as the EtherPage server and requires a free serial port. All other machines (including the server) can act as clients. There are no separate client licenses necessary. A TCP port is designated as a receiver for the EtherPage server package (the default value of 4002 should work for all systems that do not have TCP ports locked by firewall software). After extracting the files and running an installation script, then setting an environment variable, EtherPage is available to clients. The installation process takes only a few minutes, and you can mix client types (have the server on a UnixWare box, for example, and access it through clients on Windows, UNIX, and Linux machines). The last step in configuring EtherPage is to configure the modem used to dial out, and this proceeds easily. EtherPage recommends a directly connect modem but we used a network-attached RAS modem pool without any problem.
While EtherPage’s immediate audience might seem to be for those who want to keep up with stock prices, e-mail priority messages, and similar routine high-priority tasks, EtherPage offers administrators a great tool for monitoring systems. Integrating EtherPage into a network management reporting tool such as OpenView, for example, allows a message to be broadcast to an administrator as soon as network problems occur. Tying SNMP alerts or similar messages from critical devices like gateways and routers can be as simple as a little shell programming or a C API (included with the product), and provides administrators immediate notification of problems. For large networks or off-site management, this immediate notification can be extremely important.
The audience for EtherPage may seem limited, but once you’ve used the software you will find many uses for it. For example, it takes only a few minutes to program a client to broadcast regular updates on server loads, device failures, stock price changes, and forward selected e-mails to a pager or other wireless device. The alternative to using a package like EtherPage is to manually code a large CTI application, which doesn’t make sense when EtherPage works well and is affordable.
Summary: A flexible wireless messaging system that is remarkably easy to install and configure, as well as sensibly priced.