CompuServe has always offered users a healthy supply of news. The trouble was getting at what was offered. Now a software package called Rosebud offers an intriguing way to take advantage of CompuServe's offerings in this department.
Rosebud is designed to act as a sort of CompuServe news agent. Tell it more or less what you want to know and it will log on automatically as often as you specify, round up the information it thinks you're after, download it and log off. It's kind of a counterpart to the various software products that permit you to access CompuServe forums offline, saving time, trouble and money.
Rosebud is interesting as an example of two phenomena you're going to see a lot more of in cyberspace in the months and years ahead. One is agents--software that goes out there and does your bidding, rounding up the cheapest airline tickets to Chicago, for instance.
The other phenomenon is the customized news service. There are already a number of these available online, on the Internet and elsewhere, but often they are pricey and aimed at business users. We'll take a look at some personalized clipping services in a future column. Meanwhile, for us proles on CompuServe who want something more than the Executive News Service, there is Rosebud.
Rosebud, which is made to work with Microsoft Windows, isn't the best program in the world--a number of things about it are a little clumsy--but it's moderately easy to use, and most of the time it works.
Now, when I sit down at my computer every morning, Rosebud has already collected the major news, the latest on the stock market, weather reports complete with maps, and even my e-mail. I've instructed mine to retrieve all these things at 7 a.m. every day, but it will get updates as often as I want.
You can even have Rosebud flag major movements in stock prices and send this--or practically any other information--to an alphanumeric pager if you buy the Rosebud add-on software. Thus, your computer can alert you to a stock market crash even while you're at lunch.
Rosebud installs easily. The program looks a little goofy at first; the somewhat crude icons and large type make it seem a tad ham-handed, as if it assumes its users aren't very bright. But upon further investigation, Rosebud begins to look not simple-minded--but merely simple--which is a plus in the world of computers.
Once you've installed Rosebud, you'll need to tell it what you want it to do and when. This is easy. You simply choose what you want and when you want it, or at what intervals you want Rosebud to go to work. For a while I had Rosebud logging on every hour or two for the latest stock prices, sports scores and so forth, and I can report that it works beautifully in the background, discreetly dialing and retrieving things while I worked on other matters.
Again, set-up is everything here. For instance, the weather section comes with several sample cities, but you'll probably want to eliminate these and set up one for Los Angeles. Doing so is a snap, although given the weather here, the exercise feels a little academic. Nevertheless, I sternly instructed Rosebud to fetch the short-term forecast, precipitation probability (ha-ha), the current weather (to eliminate the enormous strain of looking out the window), and various satellite maps. A nasty streak of Schadenfreude prompted me to set up similar reports for my hometown of New York.
I also instructed Rosebud to retrieve the Associated Press' "Latest News," a handy hourly summary of important developments. I asked it to get world and national news, the Dow Jones industrial average and quotes on various stocks I wish I owned.
I ordered Rosebud to retrieve my CompuServe mail every four hours. Note that you can set up Rosebud to forward your e-mail someplace else, a feature of most Internet services that I've always wished CompuServe would add. (If you have an Internet account, you can usually do this simply by creating a file in your home directory called .forward containing nothing more than the forwarding destination.) And Rosebud easily imports your WinCim address book (it's called addrbook.dat and is probably in c:cservesupport.)
Setting up Rosebud can take a while, depending on how compulsive you want to get. You can ask for all sorts of stuff, presented in all sorts of ways. You can refine your instructions so that Rosebud searches for some very specific terms.
When Rosebud is set up for the first time, it will call CompuServe immediately and round up what you've asked for. Note that although Rosebud can save you online time, if you tell it to log in once an hour and download every piece of information that comes through the service, you'll ending up spending a bundle anyway.
That's part of the problem with Rosebud, which is only as bright as the instructions you give it. It doesn't come with a lot of editorial judgment built-in. And you have to read through all this stuff on screen, although the format Rosebud uses isn't bad.