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April 2, 1995

Tap in to tax help
through World Wide Web

By Timothy C. Barmann

Ever wish you could tap into the Internal Revenue Service's computers? Well, actually, you can, and it's perfectly legal.

The IRS is one of a number of government agencies that now have a "home page" on the part of the Internet known as the World Wide Web. Though you won't be able to wipe out your tax bills, you can get help filing your taxes and download many tax forms. (You can print out the forms on your own printer and mail them in.)

The IRS home page has a list of frequently asked questions and their answers. Here's one you might be thinking of yourself: "If I won't be able to finish my return by April 15, can I get an extension?" (Answer: Yes. File IRS's form 4868, which also is available electronically on the home page.)

To get to the IRS home page you must be using a World Wide Web browser, such as Mosaic or Netscape. (See below for more information about accessing the World Wide Web.) Point your browser to URL http://www.ustreas.gov/treasury/bureaus/irs/irs.html.

Be warned, however, that this site is still under construction. "You should view this as a work-in-progress," the page says.

Another source of tax forms and tax information is the Taxing Times home page, at http://www.scubed.com/tax/tax.html. This site is run by Maxell Labs "as a public service" and is not operated by the IRS. There you can find the entire U.S. tax code, which takes up a whopping 22 megabytes in disk space.

There are two ways to travel the World Wide Web. The fun, but often slow way, is through a graphical program like Mosaic or Netscape that runs on Windows-based PCs or Apple Macintosh computers. These programs, however, require that you have a fast modem (at least 9,600 baud) and have a "SLIP" account, which allows your computer to directly connect to the Internet.

IDS World Network of East Greenwich (885-6855) offers SLIP access starting at $20 a month for 20 hours. Beware of busy modem lines.

Besides IDS, the Web can now be accessed through Prodigy, the national online service (1-800-PRODIGY). In mid-January, Prodigy began offering World Wide Web access as part of their basic service package that costs about $10 a month for 5 hours. The other major online services such as Compuserve, America Online and Delphi have plans to follow Prodigy's lead.

The less fun, but often faster way to navigate the Web is to connect to an Internet provider that runs a text-based Web browser called Lynx. With Lynx, less sophisticated computers running simple telecommunications software can travel the Web, but without the pictures and sounds of graphical interface programs.

IDS offers the Lynx browser on their bulletin board, as does Ocean State Free-Net through some sites it connects to. For information about the Ocean State Free-Net, call 277-2728, Ext. 500. (A future column will discuss the Free-Net in more detail.)

Get to know your Mac

The Rhode Island Macintosh User Group will hold two workshops this month.

"Getting to Know Your Macintosh (Level 1)" will teach the very basics of using a Mac. The other class, "Introduction to Claris Works," will show how to use the integrated application program that comes with the Apple Performa Macintosh.

Both classes will meet for three two-hour sessions: April 11, 18 and 25 at 7 p.m. at East Providence High School. Cost: $30 for members and $90 for non-members. To register or join the group, call 254-1110 or 683-5151.

Timothy C. Barmann is a Journal-Bulletin staff photographer. His column will run every other Sunday on the Online page. Comments about this column or suggestions for future topics can be sent to him via e-mail at tim@cybertalk.com.