Cover Story: Special Report
YOU'RE RUNNING OUT OF EXCUSES FOR NOT GETTING ON THE NET
A year ago, most of the people who were on the Net had to settle for a rickety telephone connection that reduced their personal computers to little more than "dumb" terminals. You could log into someone else's computer, send E-mail, read text files--and not much more.
An explosion of new software has changed all that, putting the vibrant graphics and point-and-click file transfer of a full-fledged Internet connection within reach of anyone with a modem and a mouse.
SURFING IN SYRUP. By far the easiest route to the Internet experience is through Prodigy, the first of the Big Three commercial online services to offer Internet access that includes the ability to prowl the World Wide Web. With a click of your mouse, you can jump from the regular Prodigy service to the Web. Time spent on the Web is priced as part of Prodigy's basic service. One drawback to Prodigy is that it is limited to 14,400 bit-per-second (bps) service and 9,600 bps in many areas of the country. This can make Net surfing seem more like Net slogging, especially if you visit graphics-heavy sites on the Web. Like other online services, Prodigy is planning to offer 28,800 bit-per-second service, as well as Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) access at up to 128,000 bps, but these upgrades are months off, at least.
Prodigy Services Co.'s lead among the online providers won't last long. America Online Inc.--which carries an electronic version of BUSINESS WEEK--is currently testing a Web browser that it expects to offer to subscribers later this spring. CompuServe Inc., which has been the laggard, jumped into the Web with the Mar. 14 acquisition of Spry Inc., maker of Internet in a Box access software. Subscribers will be able to reach the Web through CompuServe's private network, but initially at least, they will have to make a separate telephone call instead of just clicking on an icon in CompuServe's regular service.
If you want Internet access without all the trappings of a commercial online service, you can get more hours for less money. The software for Netcom Inc.'s NetCruiser is about as easy to install as that for any online service, and while some functions are a bit clunky, it provides a full range of Internet access. Twenty hours a month online will cost $19.95 on Netcom, vs. $54.20 on CompuServe.
With either Netcom or the Big Three online services, you have to use their software. If you want to choose your Net tools from the plethora of commercial, shareware, and freeware programs available, such as Netscape, you need what's called a dial-up SLIP or PPP connection that turns your PC into a temporary part of the Internet itself. Easy-to-set-up software and service packages are offered nationally by providers such as Performance Systems International Inc. and UUNET, and by a host of local and regional providers. These companies will provide you with the software you need to get started, such as Internet in a Box or NetManage Inc.'s Internet Chameleon, along with technical support.
As the computer business regroups around the Net, Internet access is becoming a standard feature. IBM's OS/2 Warp operating system offers a built-in connection through IBM's Advantis network, while Microsoft Corp.'s forthcoming Windows 95 will provide a service through the new Microsoft Network. And just about any modem-equipped PC that can run Windows or any Macintosh offers all the horsepower you need for Net browsing. It has never been easier.
To The Internet
SERVICE PROVIDER COST OFFERINGS
PRODIGY $9.95 per month, Dial-up online service
SERVICES CO. $2.95 per hour features full Internet
800 776-3349 over 5 access, including
a Web browser
NETCOM ON-LINE $25 setup, Custom software
COMMUNICATIONS $19.95 per provides access to
SERVICES month, $2 per major Net features,
408 983-5950 hour over 40 including browser
INTERRAMP PER- $9 setup, $9 Full dial-up
FORMANCE SYSTEMS per month, $1.50 connection to
INTERNATIONAL per hour over 5 the Internet
DATA: COMPANIESBy Stephen H. Wildstrom in Washington