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First-time buyer's guide to Internet access
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology 
Simple gray rule

First-time buyer's guide to Internet access 

Bit Player for Nov. 23, 1997

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1997, The Syracuse Newspapers

Buying a new PC? If you're new to personal computers, you're probably a babe in the online woods, too. Microsoft knows this, as does America Online. They're the owners of two major commercial online services, and they've made it very easy for newcomers to sign up.

But you have alternatives. You don't have to join the Microsoft Network or America Online to be connected to the Internet or to the World Wide Web.

In fact, using a commercial online service to connect to the Internet has many drawbacks. Here are the three biggest problems:

    1. You usually can't use your own choice of e-mail software.
    2. You probably won't be able to enjoy all the functions of the World Wide Web, because the commercial service's connection to the Web limits what you can do.
    3. You'll be slowed down in all your Internet activity, because commercial services funnel their users through a series of very busy connections before letting them out onto the Internet.

The main alternative to a commercial online service is an Internet Service Provider, or ISP. There are local, regional and national ISPs. (A guide to local ISPs originally published in the Syracuse newspapers may help you find one.)

An Internet Service Provider provides a gateway to the Internet over your phone line. Your PC dials the ISP and a few seconds later your computer enters the Internet. You are then able to do anything you want. You can send and receive e-mail, browse the Web, download files and talk with other Internet users over an Internet "phone" (your PC needs a microphone). You can also watch short movie clips and even listen to live radio broadcasts or delayed reports from such organizations as National Public Radio.

Based on the questions Internet newcomers ask me, I'm convinced that most new users are confused about the software they need to get onto the Internet. Most are also perplexed about the role of their ISP in supplying software.

Here are the facts:

If your PC runs Windows 95 (and nearly every new PC does), you do not need any special software from an ISP to get onto the Internet. I'll explain this again a different way: Don't let your ISP convince you to install special software. Windows 95 comes with its own connecting program (called "dialup" software), its own e-mail software (Windows Messaging, which may also be called "Exchange" on your PC) and its own Web browser (Microsoft Internet Explorer).

Take note: You don't need anything else to connect to the Internet. You can diddle with the software later if you want—you can add extra programs and you can ditch the built-in Windows e-mail and Web browser software—but you do not need to get software from your ISP to start using the Internet.

(Your ISP can give you all the information you need to set up the Windows 95 dialup software over the phone. Take that information, double click the "My Computer" icon, double click the "Dial-Up Networking" icon, single click the "Make New Connection" icon, then follow the prompts on the screen.)

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