Using VAX Notes

A brief introduction

by Kevin Cole © September 29, 1992

Disclaimer: The subtitle is a lie. I don't know how to be brief. However, this was whipped together more quickly than most of my documentation, so maybe you'll get lucky.

VAX Notes is a computer conferencing system designed to allow several users to share ideas and opinions. It differs from e-mail because a single copy of a message is readable by several users. This makes it faster to "send" a message, and more economical in terms of disk space. It takes more time to send each user an individual copy of an e-mail message, and each copy takes up disk space. With the Notes system, only one copy of a message exists.

To use Notes, you should be using either a VT terminal or a PC running MSKERMIT. Other communications programs do not work as well with the VAX as MSKERMIT. Believe me, I've tried several. In a pinch, you can get away with anything that emulates a VT100 or VT220, but MSKERMIT has proven to be the best so far.

Assuming you have either of the above, login as you normally would and type:


when you see the $ prompt. The screen should clear, and you should see a directory showing the SAMPLE CONFERENCE listed. This is a tutorial for using Notes and I strongly recommend using it to gain familiarity with the system.

First, you should set a few options to make life in Notes more comfortable. At the Notes> prompt, type:


This will allow your name to appear after every note you add, and also it will change your editor to be the same as the editor used by MAIL. Next, to add the GRI conference to your list of conferences, type:


Be careful to type it exactly as shown. If you've done everything correctly, you should two entries in your directory, with... oh, I'd guess about 8 topics in the GRI conference. If not, you can try again, but first, you have to delete the bad entry with the command:


(The UPDATE command recalculates the number of unseen messages and topics in a conference. You should probably type that once, each time you use Notes, unless you see the message "Updating SAMPLE_CONFERENCE" when you first login.) Type OPEN GUIDE or OPEN SAMPLE. (You can abbreviate the name as long as you don't have any other conferences that start with the name GUIDE (or SAMPLE).

Conferences are divided into topics, each topic having multiple replies. This allows conferences to be a bit more organized than e-mail.

VAX Notes, by default, automatically shows you the first unseen message, i.e. the first message that you have not already read. To read any replies to that message, type:


Logical enough, n'est pas? To find the next unseen message, its... you guessed it:


These can be abbreviated as N U and N R respectively. There are also ways to use your numeric keypad for these commands, but I won't get into that here. For now DO NOT use the numeric keypad for anything, including cursor movement. You're only likely to mess yourself up.

When you become tired of reading what everyone else has to say, and are feeling particularly opinionated, you may want to add your own two cents worth. You can either start a new topic with the command WRITE or you can reply to an existing topic with the command REPLY. As with e-mail, a Control-Z will finish the message. Ignore the split screen when you are replying. That's just Note's way of showing you what you're replying to. Use the bottom half of the screen just as you normally would for e-mail. After typing the Control-Z, you'll be asked for a title, and finally, whether or not you really wish to add it to the conference.

To see a list of all the topics so far, you can type DIR. This will only list the topics, not the replies to them. However, there are several fun variations on directory command. Try these for fun:


I think you'll find most of those self-explanitory.

Finally, to get back to the world you're familiar with, type Control-Z twice at the Notes> prompt. The first one closes the conference and brings you back to the list of conferences to which you are "subscribed". The second one ends Notes and brings you back to the $ prompt.

If you're having difficulties, it could be either something strange set up in your LOGIN.COM file, or your version of MSKERMIT. In either case, give me a call, or send e-mail and I can come over to straighten things out. Also, I've set up a conference for users to get information about the VAX. I think it's a pretty useful concept (but then, I would, wouldn't I). To add that to your list of conferences, type the following at the Notes> prompt: