Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Rules of the Road

Revving up the information superhighway.

By James Hanback

FEBRUARY 23, 1998:  Imagine preparing for the road trip of a lifetime. Sunglasses perched firmly on your nose and a case of your favorite brew stashed in the back seat of your convertible Jeep, you set out to conquer the highway.

"Get your motor running," Steppenwolf screams from the stereo, cranked to full volume. "Get out on the highway/Looking for adventure/And whatever comes our way."

Born to be wild?

Not if the highway you happen to be traveling is the information "superhighway."

A lot of Internet newbies sign on for the first time expecting to be blown away by neat graphics, high-quality sound, and lifelike video feeds, only to find themselves disappointed and pulling out their hair during the World Wide Wait. That wait is particularly frustrating if the newbie is typical of his breed and signs up with a national online service such as America Online.

Sooner or later, the newbie question always appears in newsgroups: "Who's the best Internet service provider?"

The answer comes in the form of another question: "What exactly do you need?"

It's a frustrating question because most people new to the Internet don't know exactly what they want from it. They know they want to be able to use e-mail. And they know they want to be able to visit sites on the World Wide Web. But when it comes to conducting any personal business or finding a need for speed, they just don't have a clue.

With that in mind, here are some guidelines for choosing an Internet service provider to fit your own personal needs:

  • America Online, Prodigy, and the Microsoft Network are fine for beginners who simply want to experience the Internet for the first time. America Online is by far the easiest service to use, but, once the user becomes familiar with the Internet, a serious lack of speed on AOL becomes a major issue. Don't prepare to stay with those services for the long haul.

  • For speed and reliable connections, local Internet service providers are a much better deal. Nashville is full of them. A search on the Internet spit forth a spate of names like Acelink, Telalink, BellSouth.net, EdgeNet Media, ISDN-Net, CyberNet, and CyberCast.

    Telalink, ISDN-Net, and CyberNet are more interested in providing Internet service for businesses, but the rest offer individual accounts and services.

  • Find out if you get an e-mail address with your Internet service and, if you do, find out how many addresses you're allowed on one account. For families who want to get online together, services such as Acelink provide good multiple e-mail account systems free of extra charges. Acelink allows up to five e-mail names on one account.

  • Ask your potential provider how much Internet access time you get for your money. Many providers charge a flat monthly rate for unlimited Internet access, or they offer cheaper plans for less access time. EdgeNet Media, for instance, offers one price plan that allows 240 hours of Internet access for its monthly fee. That's not unlimited access, but it's enough that it feels unlimited for most users.

  • If speed is your top priority, find out what speed modem you have and make sure your Internet service provider supports it. All providers support modems of at least 28.8K, and many are now offering support for 33.6 and 56K (the fastest) modems.

    For customers with a lot of money, many providers also offer special high-speed Internet connections like ISDN, InterMedia's Cable Modem, or other new technologies. These services are pricey right now, and only businesses can usually afford them.

  • Somewhere along the teeming stretch of Internet roadway, many users decide they want to attempt to create their own Web sites. But first you need a place to park it. Many providers offer Web server space for their customers. (Typical space limitations are five to 10 megabytes.) If you think you'll be putting your own exit ramp on the highway, find out if your provider-of-choice allows you space to do so.

  • Finally, try before you buy. The national services usually offer free trial periods, and a lot of local providers do the same. You may not even be sure the Internet is for you. If that's the case you can't go wrong with a free trial, or even a free service. Nashville's CyberCast offers completely free Internet access (paid for by advertisers), although e-mail and Web space services must come from separate sources.

In any case, the "superhighway" isn't so super in terms of speed right now, and it probably won't be for a few years to come. Technologies continue to develop--and technology-minded people continue to debate the best way to achieve speed and reliability--but until the time comes, it's a good idea to pack that virtual Jeep with air conditioning and make sure there's sunblock in the glove compartment because you're going to be stuck in traffic.


Pie in your eye

Microsoft Corp. CEO Bill Gates got an eye-full while touring Europe earlier this month.

The multimedia mogul was walking to a meeting with Belgian government officials in Brussels when he was approached by several young men, one of whom smacked the richest man in the world in the face with a cream pie.

Gates gets his

The pastry shot-putter evaded police, but a man who filmed the incident was captured, along with another who reportedly distracted Gates so the dastardly deed could be done.

Microsoft reported that no charges would be filed against the perpetrators, but the look on Gates' face as he walked away from the camera indicated he had experienced a moment of humiliation not totally unfamiliar to him.

Perhaps it was not unlike the wedgies to which the gangly computer nerd undoubtedly was victim when he was in high school.

No motive was reported for the launch of the cream pie missile, but authorities wondered if it was connected to Noel Godin, a Belgian man who makes a hobby out of tossing baked goodies at the rich and famous.

Those who wait

Anybody who bought 56K speed modems over the past year may be in for a nasty wake-up call. A 56K modem standard has finally been approved by the International Telecommunications Union, after companies such as Lucent Technologies and 3Com had already released their own designs.

According to reports on the Internet, the new standard attained preliminary approval Feb. 6, but it won't be officially approved until September. Meanwhile, for a year now, consumers have been purchasing two competing technologies--the 56K-Flex and the 56K X2 modem--that are not compatible. Online services have been struggling to decide which variety to support, if not both.

Now all that will change, and consumers who have already purchased 56K modems will either be forced to upgrade their software to make their current 56K technology compatible or to buy new hardware again.

If you're one of the unlucky souls who purchased a 56K modem last year, cross your fingers that your company will develop a free software upgrade for your model.


World Wide Web software giant Netscape Communications Corp. may be looking for a buyer, according to reports released Feb. 5.

Only two weeks after announcing that its popular Web browser, Navigator, is now free to everyone, the company appears to be struggling financially. Netscape apparently took a big loss in the fourth quarter of the year as a result of Microsoft's free Internet Explorer Web browser.

The Department of Justice is still examining lawsuits involving Microsoft's packaging of Internet Explorer with its Windows operating system, but the computer giant appears to be taking it all in stride.

When it stopped charging for Navigator, Netscape announced, "The browser wars are over!" but that claim rings hollow when the same buyers who were eyeing Apple Computer less than a year ago are now considering the purchase of Netscape. Oracle, IBM, and America Online have also apparently expressed an interest.

The browser wars may be over, but it doesn't look like Netscape has won.

James Hanback Jr. is systems administrator at the Nashville Scene. E-mail him at james@nashscene.com.

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