Going on line can be lots of fun. It can also be addicting. You can correspond with long-lost friends or family living in other cities - or other parts of world. Check the weather forecast, find out what legislation your representative has proposed or discuss the merits of bungee jumping.
You can do all of these things on the Internet and more, and it's becoming easier and cheaper. If you are feeling left behind, here are a few basic questions and answers to help you get up to speed.
Q: What is the Internet and why would I want to connect to it?
A: The Internet is a worldwide collection of computer networks linked together. Originally formed for U.S. military use, it's now used by the general public and businesses to transmit electronic mail, voice, video, pictures, sounds and software. The Internet has a vast array of resources, including huge collections of shareware and free software, and discussion groups on just about any imaginable topic.
The Internet's recent explosion in popularity is due largely to a program called a "Web browser," which makes the Net simple to navigate.
Q: What do I need to go on line?
A: A computer, a modem, a phone line and access software. Most modems come with a communications program, but to get full access to the Internet, you need a special program that lets your computer speak the Internet language - "TCP/IP." If you've got Windows 95, or System 7.5 or higher for the Macintosh, you already have TCP/IP software.
You also need "client" software: at least a World Wide Web browser and an e-mail program. Most Internet access companies can provide you with all the software you need.
Q: How do I connect to the Internet?
A: From home, there are two ways: through an Internet provider or a national on-line service (America Online, CompuServe, Microsoft Network, Prodigy, etc.) Internet providers let you connect to the Internet through their own high-speed link. The on-line services generally are more expensive but have content not found on the Internet. Both types charge a monthly fee that can be as high as your cable television bill. The fee usually includes a certain number of access hours.
Q: How do I choose between the long list of Internet access providers?
A: All the local companies in the chart offer the same basic service: a way to get to the Internet. Once you are connected, the provider becomes an invisible conduit and, ideally, you won't notice much difference between them. But in reality, some will provide better service than others. Many Internet providers are just getting started and some may do better than others in working out the kinks.
You will likely get better customer service from the local providers since their subscriber base is much smaller. Some will even come to your house to install access software on your machine for you (see chart).
The national on-line services and Internet providers are convenient for people who travel since most have access numbers in major cities. (Some local providers do offer local access in out-of-state cities too.)
Keep in mind that a company that's been offering Internet access for a while is probably doing something right, and you usually get what you pay for. Here are other things to look for:
A: Yes and no. You are probably referring to the Ocean State Free-Net, which is funded by the state and staffed by volunteers at the Department of State Library Services. The Free-Net doesn't bill itself as an Internet provider, but it does offer the most popular Internet resources - e-mail and access to the World Wide Web. However, the Web connection is limited: it's text-only, so you can't see pictures or hear sounds. But for the price (free, but donations welcome), you can't beat it.
Besides some Internet resources, Free-Net users can also access CLAN, the state library network, and read information posted by several local organizations. As you might expect of anything that's free, the Free-Net's modem lines are often busy. For recorded connect information, call 277-2728, ext. 500.
Q: An article about the Internet in the Journal-Bulletin said to "point your browser to http://www.someplace.com/." What does that mean?
A: The article is assuming you have a connection to the Internet and is refering you to a specific Internet address. In this example, you can tell the address is for a World Wide Web page, since it starts with "www." Web pages can contain pictures, sounds, video, headlines and text, and links to other Web pages. A browser is any program that lets you access the World Wide Web. The Web is the fastest growing and most popular part of the Internet because it makes accessing Internet resources easy. "Pointing" just means to type in an Internet address.
Q: I've got an IBM PC that's 10 years old. Can I use it to connect to the Internet?
A: Yes. With a communications program, you can connect to the Internet or most any bulletin board system. While you won't be able to see pictures or hear sounds, you can still get text-only access to the Internet. Ask your Internet provider if they offer a "shell" account.
Q: Can I get a computer virus by logging on to the Internet?
A: No. You cannot get a computer virus simply by connecting to the Internet or an on-line service. However, you can get a virus by running a program that you download from the Internet or that you are sent by e-mail. Always use a virus checker.
Q: I heard that if I'm connected to an on-line service, my call waiting will hang up the connection. How can I cancel call-waiting on my telephone?
A: Add a *70 followed by a comma before the number your computer is dialing to go on line. That will temporarily cancel call-waiting. It will be restored when you hang up.
The last Cybertalk column (12/24/95) about computer training didn't mention two other businesses that offer instruction.
Tuesday - The Paradox Users' Forum of New England, Rhode Island Chapter, will meet at 7 p.m. at the Business School of Roger Williams University, Bristol. Bruce Landis, a newsroom computer specialist at the Providence Journal-Bulletin, will show applications he has developed for the newspaper. Free. For information, call Mary Lynne Poole at 421-6149.
Tuesday and Thursday - A class called "Doing Business on the Internet" will be held by MicroLimits, a Warwick computer retailer, and Jim Rose, who runs a Wickford Internet marketing agency, from 7 to 9 p.m. at MicroLimits, 85 Airport Rd., Warwick. Cost: $25. To register, call MicroLimits at 738-0280 or jim.rose - INTERNET MARKETING at 294-6779; e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jan. 12, 16, 24 - BusinessOn, a Warwick Internet access provider, is holding weekly two-hour workshops for companies looking for answers about getting on the Internet. Cost is $10 per person or $15 per company, up to three people. Workshop fees can be applied to purchases. Seating is limited to 10. The workshops are at 1808 Elmwood Ave., Warwick. Classes on Friday and Jan. 24 begin at 1 p.m.; Jan. 16 is at 7 p.m. For reservations and more information, call 941-9795, or send e-mail to sysop@BusinessOn.com
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