For the many researchers who are comfortable with and knowledgeable about computers, shopping for communications software can be a pleasurable and educational experience. Yet for those who know little about computers, the task could be painful, if not expensive. These scientists would do well to first understand the whole process of how computers communicate.

Scientific computing used to be largely confined to mainframe devices, with all necessary data, operations, and report generation per- formed by a single machine. But with the explosion of personal computer technology that has taken place during the last 10 years, communication between computers has become important, if not a necessity, to many scientists' work. Researchers now can discuss data and concepts via national and international computer networks. A scientist with a personal computer can send the latest draft of a research paper to a colleague in the next room--or the next state. Reams of data...

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