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How your ISP doesn't matter

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

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How your ISP doesn't matter

Bit Player for June 15, 1997

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1997, The Syracuse Newspapers

Does it matter which Internet service provider (ISP) you use?

No. This week I'll tell you why.

‘Scuse me. I meant to say "Yes." Next week I'll tell you why it does matter sometimes.

Why am I of two minds on this? Because so much of what happens when you get on the Internet has nothing at all to do with how you got there. And because there are a few really vital things that matter a great deal.

We'll start with the interesting stuff. Judging from the questions I get daily, I'd say many of you don't realize many of the things I'll be describing today. So let's start with one of the most common questions.

If you sign up with an ISP that uses Netscape Navigator, can you use another browser? Of course you can. All you have to do is run the other browser. (This holds true in the other direction, to, of course. If your ISP gives you Internet Explorer, you can use Netscape Navigator at any time.)

Here's a tip that I've mentioned before: Get onto the Internet before you run your browser. Then run any browser you want. In other words, run the dialup software first. After you're connected, run the browser. This keeps the browser from killing the connection when you close the browser.

What if you got a certain kind of e-mail program from your ISP? Can you use another one? Of course you can. Just run it.

(Is that really all there is to it? Yes.)

Netscape Navigator has a built-in mail program that many of you use. It works. And that's good. Internet Explorer also has a built-in mail program, if you download the full version of IE. It's much different from the one in Netscape Navigator. I think it's much, much better, but that's just my bias. You can try it out for free, and you can run it without messing up your Netscape mail. (Don't run both at once. That's the only caution.)

Let's take this and run away with it. Suppose you are visiting your friend Harry for a week in the summer. He uses as his ISP and you use for yours. Harry's in San Francisco. Isn't it a shame that you can't get your mail from your own ISP using Harry's account?

Harumph! Of course you can get your mail using Harry's ISP. All the way from San Francisco, too.

The easiest way is to get Harry to download a secondary mail program—Internet Mail (the one that comes with Internet Explorer) is ideal, because it's so easy to set up and use). Then you have Harry log on and turn the controls over to you. You run the other mail program—leave Harry's alone; he still owes you $50 and you don't want him to get upset, right?—and fill in your own parameters for the POP server and so on. Just fill out the dialogs with your own mail server, password and logon name.

Then go get your mail. Yes, I know you're not the one who's logged onto Harry's ISP. That doesn't matter. All that matters is that you have instructed a program to go get your mail. And it will, indeed, do just that. And, of course, you can reply to that mail or send new letters out just as you'd do if you were connected directly to your own ISP. (The point is that you are connected to your ISP. You're just not connected directly.)

I'll admit that I have a selfish reason for this week's column. I'm hoping it will cut down the number of e-mailed questions I get about whether Internet users can do the things I've mentioned here. But stay tuned for the second installment, because your choice of an ISP can make a big difference in a few areas.

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