As any hip teen will tell you, pagers are way cool, especially the expensive alphanumeric models that display terse text messages. Since most alpha paging services offer a simple mechanism for modem-equipped computers to tap into their paging systems and send messages automatically, the programmers at Personal Productivity Tools saw an opportunity to allow Unix users to join in today's pager madness.
Unix computers are home to a growing number of mission-critical applications, so automatic paging from Unix means more than trendy fun. Combined with batch-processing software, Personal Productivity Tools' EtherPage 1.9 and a clever set of pager messages can dispense with the need for on-site computer operators baby-sitting critical jobs. Or, EtherPage can update sysadmins instantly as events transpire.
I tested EtherPage 1.9 in the Advanced Systems Test Center for a month to weigh its effectiveness against its $2,195 price tag. As its price suggests, EtherPage 1.9 is not an impulse buy. Nor is its fit and finish so polished that we would recommend it for mass consumption. However, EtherPage 1.9 fills a need, and for some managers outfitting sysadmins with pagers and linking them into high-profile servers or jobs is a godsend -- price be damned.
EtherPage arrived on a pair of floppies (you can ftp the software from the vendor, too). I installed it on a SPARCstation 2 clone running Solaris 2.4. (EtherPage is also available for Solaris 1, and an HP-UX version should be available by the time you read this.) It requires a small amount of RAM and consumes 15 megabytes of disk space.
If you still have an undercomposed 300-baud modem buried somewhere, now is the time to dig it up. Since alphanumeric pagers handle such brief messages, 300 baud is considered pretty sprightly in the paging world. (EtherPage operates with faster modems, too.) Modems are ornery, so if you're not an expert on their care and feeding you'll need consultation and frequent referrals to Personal Productivity Tools' docs.
The other painful configuration feat involves setting up the pager databases. Remember, each pager can be connected to any one of several dozen messaging services (each with their own login scripts), and different pagers boast different message capacities (including simple numerics). Unfortunately, EtherPage 1.9 does not offer a friendly front end to its database files, requiring system administrators to edit the text files by hand. We expect more for two grand.
EtherPage is a client/server application sporting both command line and GUI interfaces. (Macintosh and Windows clients are in the works.) Fortunately, the program centralizes database files on the server.
Once configured, EtherPage can be accessed three ways to reach an unlimited number of pagers. Using the command line, EtherPage can be called from shell scripts or other Unix programs. Whether on the command line or in the GUI, all the program or user needs to specify is the recipient's name and the message. A shell script can page someone when a server, disk drive, or job fails, or when a batch job completes (or bombs) its run.
The Open Look GUI is friendlier, letting the user pick a recipient from a list and enter the message into a one-line text widget. Unfortunately, EtherPage 1.9 does not dynamically resize the text box to match the capacity of the recipient's pager. As a default, the software truncates the message without warning.
For one-shot numeric pages where you know the recipient's number, a third method allows users to enter the pager's number and a message. The page is sent immediately, bypassing EtherPage's log. While quick, this method is not as reliable as the other two because it offers no feedback if the transmission fails, and it makes no effort to repeat the call.
We wish EtherPage 1.9 offered the ability to e-mail messages to pagers. Officials at Personal Productivity Tools say this is possible using third-party software. Again, for the price, we think this should be standard fare.
My attempts to overload EtherPage failed. The software has the option to batch messages to each service provider, which saves 15 to 20 seconds in connect time per message. For busy sites, batching can be a big time saver.
The documentation is replete with examples, sample files in the software, on-line help, and its own man pages. Clear, understandable explanations (including a tutorial in modem configurations) make this product easy to install.
We were concerned about being able to limit the pages sent (for example, where users bombard the system administrator with messages.) By the time you read this, the company promises it will offer a new version of EtherPage that will remedy that situation. Pattern matching will check constraints such as time, day, and the user/host that sent the message. Also the next release will include an alias file allowing an entire group of users to be paged. This will allow paging to be routed to different administrators automatically depending on the day or time.
Personal Productivity Tools, 43000 Christy St., Fremont, CA 94538, 510-440-3050, 510-770-0728 fax, email@example.com.
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Last updated: 1 May 1995.