Terminal emulators for UNIX and Linux
Wanna talk about a boring subject? Telnet sessions and terminal emulators are not exactly the thing of high-tech wows and breakthrough technologies. Still, when you have a bunch of people on Windows platforms that all need to access UNIX or Linux systems, Windows’ telnet system is limited and very rudimentary. Enter these terminal emulation packages, all of which provide many more features and capabilities than Microsoft’s basic telnet program.
To test the terminal emulators, we set up a network with two SCO servers (one OpenServer and one UnixWare) and two Linux servers (one RedHat and one Corel), all networked together with 100Base-T Ethernet to ten Windows platforms. The Windows machines range from Windows 95, 98 and 2000 Professional through the Windows NT 4.0 Server and Workstation. Each terminal emulation package was installed on one machine of each kind of operating system (there were two of each operating system) and used them to access all the servers. We tested file transfers, terminal emulation, support for SMB and NFS, and scripting capabilities where supported. Each package brings something to the table, although there’s not a great deal to separate them all feature wise.
First impression of Attachmate Extra: nice box, empty inside. Contents of the box: one CD-ROM and a license agreement. Second impression of Extra: very good set of tools in an empty box! We tested the Enterprise 2000 version of Extra, one of a family of products based on the same engine. The “2000” in the name is because the product is designed to run on Windows 2000 Professional and take advantage of the latest version of Windows and its new features, although backward compatibility to other Windows versions is included. The Windows 2000 platform adds some support to Enterprise 2000 that is lacking from some other terminal emulators, such as support for Microsoft Terminal Services and Citrix Metaframe.
The lack of a manual is annoying: why can’t companies spend a few bucks and produce a reasonably good-looking documentation suite for us? Sure, a lot of things work well on-line, but we still want a manual! If there’s some feature we didn’t uncover in this review, it’s because the product menus didn’t lead to it and the documentation tends to make things hard to find.
Extra Enterprise 2000 is a lot like Attachmate’s older product, Kea! (there are exclamation marks at the end of most of Attachmate’s product names, but we’ll drop them to avoid confusion). There’s the standard terminal support for SCO ANSI and a whack of DEC terminals, but no other vendor’s products (those expecting the classic Wyse 50 are out of luck).
File transfer support is for Kermit (as its SuperKermit incarnation), Xmodem, Ymodem, and Zmodem. FTP is also supported by a client. Unfortunately, when you start a file transfer session, the terminal software doesn’t seem to clue into this fact and you have to start the terminal end manually. This is a bit unusual, and requires more effort on the user than should be necessary.
Attachmate Extra Enterprise 2000 is one of the more expensive products in our roundup. While this may be worthwhile for those who need to integrate to Windows 2000 Terminal Server or Citrix Metaframe, for those working on older Windows platforms, the extra cost is hard to justify considering the lack of notable features.
Century Software TERM
Century’s TERM has been around for a long time, and has a respected reputation for quality and stability. The latest version of TERM is 6.27 and is compatible with Linux and UNIX. TERM builds quite a few features into its package, including support for NFS as both a client and server (which few other packages offer). The ability to act as an NFS server means that you can share files bidirectionally, a useful feature in many cases. In addition, both client and server FTP programs are included, allowing file transfers either way using FTP instead of NFS.
TERM supports a good range of terminal types, including some for mainframe connections like the IBM 3270 and 5250. There’s a long list of standard terminal emulations, as well, including all the usual terminal types. A very useful and solid scripting language is part of the TERM package, and it allows you to map keystrokes to a single key for triggering whenever you need. This allows you to set up single-key login and session establishment sequences that automate the process for user convenience. Keyboards can be remapped easily, too, allowing for variation between systems.
Print sharing is excellent, with both server and client packages as part of TERM. You can print on the host’s printers, or have others print on client-connected printers, as you need. One of the other notable aspects of TERM is the inclusion of one of the best manuals of all the products tested, a model of completeness and readability.
The ability to run TERM through UNIX and Linux is handy, especially with the growing popularity of Linux. While most terminal packages will easily establish telnet sessions with a Linux server, TERM goes a bit further by providing true bi-directional capabilities with Linux daemons, all while maintaining the classic UNIX compatibility.
Esker Tun Plus
Esker (who also own Persoft, manufacturer of SmarTerm) has been offering Tun Plus for a while, mostly without making a noticeable dent in the terminal software market (at least from our point of view). The Tun Plus CD-ROM is all you get (no manual or supporting documenation) includes three components. Tun EMUL is the terminal emulation package, Tun SQL is an ODBC SQL access package, and Tun NET is a set of networking tools and utilities. We’ll ignore Tun SQL for this review as most database packages that support ODBC don’t need this routine at all.
Tun EMUL provides a good number of emulations, more than most packages tested, as well as IBM 3270 and 5250. All the file transfer modes (Xmodem, Ymodem and Zmodem) are supported, as well as an FTP client. There’s also support for mainframe connectivity using IBM’s IND$FILE protocol.
The Tun NET package adds support for NFS and SMB, which allows for bidirectional file transfers, printing, and FTP. Print sharing works well as LPD/LPR. The system also includes a tar version that runs under Windows, and can integrate into the Tun NET interface quite easily for automating backups. Tun NET also includes a TCP/IP stack, but it’s redundant on any Windows platform from 95 on (and the Tun stack seems a little slower than Microsoft’s stack). The pricing for Tun Plus is a little on the high side, making it difficult to see why anyone would choose this package over some of the others.
We’ve looked at Facet Corp’s FacetWin in a number of First Looks before, and use it in-house on our network for access to the UNIX server. There’s a reason we use it: FacetWin is solid, reliable, talented, and reasonably priced. File sharing, for example, is done through Network Neighborhood instead of a dedicated client, making UNIX to Windows file sharing as easy as Windows to Windows, handy for new users who haven’t a clue about UNIX systems or FTP.
FacetWin installs on both the client machines (Windows) and on the server (UNIX or Linux). The server component manages the file and session transfers better than a standard telnet server would, and adds features like bi-directional printing and file transfers to the system without using NFS. Oh, and there’s an excellent manual with FacetWin, too.
There’s all the standard terminal types available with FacetWin, all coupled with a handy ability to create a desktop icon that will log on to the UNIX or Linux server and take care of all the terminal setup for you. You can also use these features to provide an icon that links directly to a UNIX application, launched in a window transparently to the user. A feature called Windows Watch can monitor a session and correct terminal problems, as necessary. Users get cut and paste UNIX to Windows (and vice versa) capabilities that go beyond the standard telnet type, providing check boxes for many abilities. Property sheets are associated with every session launched by icon, allowing system administrators to easily configure printers and file sharing
A recent addition to FacetWin is the Internet Modem Server feature which allows UNIX or Linux modems to be shared by Windows users. This gives you a nice way to easily pool modems for Internet access. The entire procedure for a Windows user can be transparent, and the UNIX system administrator can set everything up in a few minutes. Sharing resources extends to tape backup devices on the UNIX system, which can back up PC partitions. An e-mail server can be established that allows e-mail to be moved between Windows and UNIX systems. FacetWin is a talented package that we continue to rely on for its features.
Hummingbird Exceed Web
Hummingbird’s Exceed has long been a choice for X client software under Windows because it is as solid as these products come. Exceed’s latest release is Exceed Web, which adds a whole new twist to the Exceed product line. Hummingbird has developed a new protocol called Thin X Protocol (TXP) designed to provide thin client support over slow connections, including dial-up lines.
With Exceed Web, most of the terminal emulations and X client access features are now based on Java applets, a notable change to the way we used to do things. The approach has several advantages right off: speed, size of executables, and ability to port to platforms. All the access to servers can be through a web browser now, instead of pop-up terminal windows. It takes a bit of getting used to, but the approach is novel and will appeal to users who don’t care if they are connected to a UNIX system or not. While many probably questioned the wisdom of converting to Java, there’s one effect we noted right away: the terminal emulations are fast. Responses from the server seem to zip on-screen right away.
There’s all the usual X client stuff in Exceed Web, such as finger, FTP, LPR print-through, IRC, Gopher, and so on. There’s a standard character terminal emulation window with basic terminal types (including SCO ANSI). NFS support is part of the package.
Exceed Web is one part of a new approach to access for Hummingbird. Another product, the JuMP Server, is a modular Windows NT and CORBA-based Web-to-host server that delivers X Windows and other features to clients. We did play with JuMP, but since it’s not a direct competitor in this roundup we leave it as a mention here. (But it’s worth investigating JuMP is you have an NT shop integrating to UNIX hosts!)
If you want X11R6 support on a Windows platform, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better approach than Exceed Web. We loved the old Exceed, but this changes the game completely. Well done, Hummingbird!
J River ICE.TCP Pro
I have a soft spot for J River’s ICE series of products. Ten years ago as I was managing a slew of Xenix and UNIX systems, ICE.TEN provided a clean way for DOS and early Windows systems to easily access the UNIX servers. The product was easy to use, required minimal user training, and worked flawlessly. I’ve used ICE.TCP since then on my production network, upgrading as needed, and it still works flawlessly. ICE.TCP Pro Version 5 is the latest release and bundles all the features of the ICE line into one product.
ICE.TCP Pro has a slew of terminal supported, including several color models and bitmapped Wyse 160s. International character sets are supported. File transfer capabilities are hidden for the most part, using a drag-and-drop window to handle the file transfers in backgrounds without operator interference. Anonymous logins can be performed automatically, too. Printing support is through LPD and LPR.
It all sounds pretty standard, right? ICE.TCP Pro does throw some flashy features at you, though. There’s automated network installation from any Windows machine, allowing default setups and user configurations without all the users getting involved (great for system administrators). There’s Web browser support with the ability to embed hyperlinks in the ICE.TCP Pro windows, as well as default telnet setups. And there’s a macro capability which allows keystrokes to be recorded and played back.
While ICE.TCP Pro may not have the glitz and feature-rich list some other products do have, we noted two things in our testing. ICE.TCP Pro worked perfectly, and it’s priced to make it an attractive option to the other packages.
JSB Multiview 2000
JSB Multiview is a well-known and respected terminal emulation package. It has been reviewed in several versions in these pages before. The 2000 edition (Version 5 to most people) adds a few new features. The 2000 version adds support for Windows 2000 Terminal Server as well as Citrix Metaframe, and a Web install facility for larger installations.
The last version of Multiview we tested added a bunch of terminal emulations and the ability to customize windows for legacy UNIX applications. In the First Look of that product, we remarked that this feature could breath new life into old applications by making a UNIX legacy application look like it was designed for Windows. These features still stand out as a strong point for Multiview.
File transfers are with Kermit and Zmodem, and a drag-and-drop FTP client is part of the package. Multiview is one of the few products with support for SMB (although NFS support is lacking). Pass-through printing is very good and the support for SMB means that a Windows printer can be shared with other UNIX users as if it was a regular UNIX device.
If you leave off the legacy application redesign capability, JSB MultiView 2000 is a solid terminal emulation package. With the legacy application toolkit, it becomes a much more valuable product, allowing leveraging of all your applications (assuming you have the energy and desire to do so).
Rumba is a complete product line now offered by NetManage (of TCP/IP stack fame from the pre-Windows 95 days). There are versions of Rumba for many purposes, including connecting to mainframes, VAX, AS/400, and so on. We tested Rumba 2000 Office Edition, which is intended to grant server access to Windows platforms. In some ways, Rumba is more than we needed because it provides support for many different platforms other than UNIX and Linux.
Rumba provides a drag-and-drop file transfer utility which employs FTP in the background, but there are no other file transfer options for UNIX or Linux transfers. If you happen to be connecting to an AS/400, VAX, or mainframe, there are batch file transfers built in. Printer pass-through is good, with a preview mode to allow you to ensure the print request will look good on paper, but there’s no way to alter it inside the preview utility. There’s also no sharing capability inherent in Rumba.
One of the strong points of Rumba is for application developers who want to create access from Windows to other target servers. The support of most APIs allows a programmer to embed all kinds of links within a Rumba-based applet to access server-based databases or other applications. Database support is very good.
Our overall impression of Rumba was that we were using a fraction of its capabilities access only UNIX and Linux. That said, the product wasn’t as clean and easy to use as the other character-based terminal emulators in this roundup. At $400 (additional costs for the Citrix supported version) it’s a little expensive, too.
Persoft’s SmarTerm has been around for a few years but has a fairly low visibility for most users. The SmarTerm family is made up of six different products, all with different target markets (and prices) in mind. Some of the family are specific to a platform, such as a Citrix-compatible version, an IBM 3270/5250 version, and an X server. SmarTerm Essential is the basic model in the series and provides character emulation for UNIX and Linux servers.
The number of supported terminals is reasonable: there’s the SCO ANSI and Wyse 50, a DEC VT420, and then IBM 3270 and 5250 as well as a set of VT emulations. SmarTerm fairs better than some packages with file transfers through a drag-and-drop FTP client, Kermit, and Xmodem, Ymodem and Zmodem implementations. Character support is not Unicode, but there is support for four language sets (English, French, German and Spanish) as well as ISO Latin.
One of the key aspects of SmarTerm is the Toolbox, which includes a macro language, keystroke recorder, and debugger for scripts. Users can create hot spots in their windows, as well as create buttons and new palettes. Mouse support within a character window is good and most aspects of the system can be remapped as you need. The IBM emulation features are a strong point of the package, but for SCO and Linux character emulation that’s not necessary. SmarTerm worked fine in our tests, although the entire package seemed unremarkable somehow.
Rasmussen Software AnzioWin
Despite its presence in the market for a couple of years now, Rasmussen Software’s Anzio and AnzioWin still are relatively unknown to most users. That’s a shame, because there’s a lot in the package, especially considering its price. There’s a ton of features, some of which will remain hidden for most users until they delve through the manual and encounter a mention, whereupon the old “That’s a good idea” comment is likely to happen, again and again. If there’s a sleeper in the group of products we reviewed, this is it.
Anzio is a family of products for PCs, of which two (Anzio Lite and AnzioWin) were supplied. AnzioWin is the main product, with Anzio Lite a limited-functionality release. We did most of our testing with AnzioWin, although a quick run-through with Anzio Lite shows that it may well suit many user’s needs (especially at its almost-shareware price). Installation is routine, and a nice feature is Anzio works on every Windows platform we tested from the usual Windows 95/98 through to Windows 2000 as well as Windows NT 4.0 (it will also run on OS/2). The most commonly used terminal emulation modes will be SCO ANSI and DEC VT100, but there are quite a few more available including an enhanced emulation based on VT220s with full color support and a wide combination of function keys (48 in total).
Pass-through printing is a nice touch, well implemented. The Print Wizard accepts an incoming stream and processes it for any Windows printer. Automatic reformatting for Windows printers means that characters that used to be printed off the edge of a page (or just not printed at all) can now be printed properly. Implemented as a DLL, the Print Wizard is a slick piece of code. It even allows MAPI printing to support redirection to Windows fax devices, for example. File transfer capabilities are limited to Kermit, Zmodem, and two Anzio-supplied utilities called ITX and I-system (which are simple uploads).
If there’s one unexpected feature that stood out in our testing, it’s the support for non-Roman character sets. We happened to be testing a version of Linux written in Mandarin Chinese during the tests, and Anzio displayed the characters perfectly (according to our Chinese-speaking user, anyway). There’s support for a very wide range of other characters, as well, including Cyrillic and Greek (as well as Unicode). It’s not just foreign character support on-screen that’s impressive, but the ability to remap all the prompts and menus that accompany Anzio to these character sets, too, making it an immersive experience.
If there’s a downside to Anzio it’s the manual, which is good but not great. It is a spiral bound affair lacking any graphical snap to it, more like a reference manual from twenty years ago that a slick product expected in today’s software. Still, it’s a small concession. We liked Anzio – a lot.
Starnet’s X-Win32 is a relative unknown in the X server and client business against the two powerhouses of Hummingbird and WRQ. That having been said, it’s a shame that more people don’t look at X-Win32 because there’s a lot to like at a price that competes favorably with the other X packages, especially if you don’t need some of the extra features bundled in with the others.
Let’s start with some of the features of X-Win32. Version 5.0 is the latest release (and the version we tested after downloading from the Starnet Web site). X-Win32 ran fine on all our Windows clients, including Windows 2000, and connected to the four target X servers without hassle. If there’s one thing noticeable about X-Win32 straight away, it’s the speed. The package loads and connects faster than any other X client we’ve tested. The user interface takes a few moments to learn but it’s not a major curve to surmount. Separate profiles for each user on a Windows system are a nice feature.
There’s a trade-off with X-Win32, of course. The company decided to focus on the X client side of the package and ignore features like file transfers and telnet support. The argument Starnet presents is that these capabilities are all available in other software, especially when SMB is in use, and therefore building in those capabilities to X-Win32 would slow the product down, increase its cost, and generally not be used too much. We’re not sure we go along with the analysis, but it’s an interesting approach.
At $200, X-Win32 competes with most of the character-based systems, let alone the X systems. It certainly is less expensive than the other X packages we tested. If you can live without the bells and whistles that WRQ and Hummingbird package in, then X-Win32 may be a worthy investment for your system.
Along with Hummingbird, WRQ has the X market pretty well sewn up. WRQ’s Reflection X has a well-deserved reputation for stability and quality. For this review, we received a time-limited demo disk that WRQ makes available to anyone who wants to test their software, but it comes with no documentation or support. We reverted to a full bundled package we had on hand for the tests (same release as the demo). Support for multiple protocols allow connection to UNIX (through TCP/IP), and DEC machines (through DECnet) a little easier, but both can’t be used at once.
Reflection X is the primary X product, with other versions adding some extra features like NFS support and some TCP/IP utilities. Reflection X works just fine as an X client, and there’s some neat features added to the package. One of our favorites is a roaming user profile that lets a user’s preferences be retained for an X session regardless of which machine the user is on. There’s also inherent multiple-monitor support which we found handy with Windows versions that allow multiple monitors.
The terminal emulations are very good and diverse, and there’s graphical versions of most TCP/IP utilities available for users who don’t know how (or don’t want to) use the command line. That’s no big deal, really, but it’s a nice touch for users. Reflection X has been optimized for use over dial-up lines, too, which makes this often painfully slow experience not too bad (although still aggravating for the most part).
Defining custom X application interfaces is easy with a wizard, and a performance monitor helps get the best behavior from your connection and system. We did have a couple of lock-ups on our Windows 98 and Windows 2000 clients, although not on Windows 95 or NT. The exact cause of the lockups wasn’t determined, and they occurred at different times and activities, which means it’s not likely to be caused by the server end. We had to reboot the clients to reset the system and reload Reflection X. Like Hummingbird’s Exceed, Reflection X is not an inexpensive package, but it does bundle everything an X user could desire.
Each package accessed all the servers without problems, and there were no faults in any of the terminal emulations (we tried SCO ANSI, Wyse 50 where available, and DEC VT100 on each). There was no point in measuring performance of these packages, as there was only marginal differences with all our attempted measurements. Choosing a terminal emulation package based on performance is not a valid criteria.
So how do you choose? Two ways: purely on price, and on additional features. There are several packages that seem to be priced much higher than the rest, all without offering any significant reason to spend the extra money. For those, you can basically write them out of the equation unless you have a vested interest in the companies and their software. On pure price, it’s hard to beat Rasmussen’s Anzio Lite at $25. It will give you all the features you need for terminal emulation with no down sides.
Additional features are a funny thing: what appeals to one user will be of no interest to another. For those who want to make legacy UNIX applications look fancy, both MultiView and FacetWin provide excellent tools for making the old character based applications look a little newer. For flexibility in client-server SMB support, Century’s TERM is a good package. If you need X client abilities, Hummingbird’s Exceed Web is remarkable, edging out WRQ. For the price-conscious, Starnet’s X-Win32 is a good value but lacks some important features.
So which package gets the coveted Top of the World? An underdog in many ways, Rasmussen’s Anzio impressed us with the price, toolset, features, and overall value. If you don’t need MultiView or FacetWin’s extra features (both packages are standouts in the feature department), Anzio would be our choice .
PO Box 90026
Summary: Solid product but unremarkable. Windows 2000 support very good, but price a little high if you don’t need these features.
5284 South Commerce Dr
Salt Lake City
Summary: Linux and UNIX compatibility, bi-directional printing, NFS, and FTP, and a solid package as well.
100 E 7th Avenus
4031 West Plano Parkway
Summary: Server-based component adds bi-directional printing, file sharing, internet connection sharing and more. Windows interface is excellent, with quick-design icon property sheets to simplify user’s lives.
1 Sparks Ave
ON M2H 2W1
Summary: X clients to the max! Fastest X software we’ve ever seen, in a surprisingly nimble and small Java applet package.
125 N First Street
Summary: Very good terminal support, network installation, and drag-and-drop file transfers at a reasonable price.
1000 Enterprise Way
Summary: Workman-like terminal emulation and file transfers are just the gloss for the legacy application redesign capability. Also handy is SMB support.
Rumba 2000 Office
10725 North De Anza Blvd.
Summary: Expensive character-based terminal emulator, but very good developer toolkit for application access and great for mainframes, VAXs, and other larger systems.
465 Science Drive
P.O. Box 44953
Summary: Good terminal support, file transfers, and scripting abilities. For IBM emulations, this is an excellent package. For SCO UNIX and Linux, it doesn’t distinguish itself from the rest.
Rasmussen Software Inc
10240 SW Nimbus Ane
Summary: Surprisingly complete and flexible software, great print-through capability, and support for many character sets.
1270 Oakmead Pkwy, #301
Summary: Inexpensive X client package that is fast, but lacks file sharing and telnet capabilities.
1500 Dexter Avenue North
Summary: A complete X client/server package in one, with very good performance over dial-up lines. A few lockups soured our testing.