Though the interface provided by Fronttalk is very similar to Picospan, it's internal operation is totally different. Instead of accessing the conference files directly, Fronttalk functions as a web browser. To fetch the contents of an item, Fronttalk makes an HTTP request to a Backtalk server, then parses and formats the returned data to display it just the way Picospan would.
So there are two components to Fronttalk - a Perl client program which is the command line interpreter run by the user, and a set of Backtalk scripts that Backtalk executes to respond to requests from a Fronttalk client. The Perl program can be installed on most any Unix system and can be used to read and post to any Backtalk system that has the Fronttalk script set installed (assuming that you have an account on that system).
In the special case where Fronttalk and Backtalk are running on the same server and Backtalk is configured to use Unix logins, it is possible to configure Fronttalk and Backtalk to execute Backtalk directly instead of going through httpd to execute it. This gives better performance, and avoids the need to login to the system you have already logged into.
Fronttalk is also a fairly nice platform for people who want to modify a Picospan-like command-line interface. Because much of the functionality is in a non-privileged Perl program, non-privileged users can make copies and customize it fairly easily.
Fronttalk has comprehensive help pages included in the distribution (12460 words in version 0.3.1). One page summarizes the differences between Picospan and Fronttalk.
It is substantially slower than Yapp or Picospan would be. This is partly because of the client-server architecture and partly because it is written in Perl. However, although the code is suboptimal, it is plenty fast enough on any reasonable server.
On the client side you need Perl, and libwww-perl (http://www.cpan.org). libwww-perl is also known as LWP.
Since Fronttalk does not (yet?) implement an internal text entry system, you need to use an external editor to enter your posts. You could just use "vi" or "pico" or some such standard editor, but I recommend using gate. This lets you enter text in a less obtrusive environment (without clearing your screen, etc) and still fire up a full editor whenever you want. Gate is approximately equivalent to the "red" program that used to be used with Picospan on the Well.
E-Mail Jan Wolter