Kearn's column: Everything old is new again

While it's a truism that there's nothing new under the sun, it's still possible to find new ways to do old things. A good example is Israeli vendor Ericom Software. In 1993, when Ericom was founded by Eran Heyman, the last thing the computer world needed was another terminal emulation program. But Heyman knew he could do it better. And he did. Five years later, sales of his PowerTerm family of products puts Ericom right up there alongside Hummingbird, WRQ and IBM in total volume of sales.

PowerTerm got there by focusing on two key issues -- one old, one new.

The new issue was user-friendliness. Heyman saw that terminal emulators hadn't changed much since the mid-'80s. For PC users, Windows 95 versions looked like Windows 3.1 versions, which looked like DOS versions. The biggest change was using a white screen rather than a blue one.

Ericom developed a Windows interface into which was placed all of the expected terminal features, rather than taking a terminal emulator and dressing it up as a Windows application. One example is keyboard remapping. It's a necessary evil to give users with PC keyboards the ability to interact with host systems expecting different key codes. The old way was to create keyboard remapping files or ship a limited number of keyboard maps with the product. PowerTerm, on the other hand, features a drag and drop interface - one window shows the standard keyboard layout the host expects while another shows the PC keyboard layout. Drag a key from the host window to the PC window, and it's remapped to any key you drop it on.

The old issue PowerTerm focused on was program size. In today's market, in which every application seems to grow bigger with each new version, PowerTerm has the smallest footprint of any of the major terminal emulation products by a wide margin -- 2Mbytes vs 20M to 30Mbytes for the competition. This allows Ericom to quickly port the product to the newest mobile computing platform, Windows CE. This makes PowerTerm a great tool for today's increasingly mobile work force. As more CE devices become available -- the CE-based cell phone, for example -- PowerTerm becomes a key weapon for the road warrior in the fight against the competition.

Dave Kearns, a former network administrator, is a freelance writer and consultant in Austin, Texas. He can be reached at wired@vquill.com.

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