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Get Connected to the Web

You might be revving up your engine to cruise on the so-called information superhighway, but the fast-paced drivers beware. Before you put the pedal to the metal, you'll want to consider a few things. Otherwise, you will find yourself in the biggest traffic jam of your life.

What's So Hard About Hardware?

It doesn't take a super computer to connect to the Web, but your computer needs a few features before you can bring your Web dreams to life. Many Internet users get on the World Wide Web to do research and aren't interested in viewing the fancy graphics at the Dr. Seuss WWW site or hearing a scene from the next Voyager episode at the Star Trek Web site. These users want fast connections and no frills. They're content to use the character-based World Wide Web browsers, like Lynx. For the basic user, you can get by with the hardware features listed in the following table.

Hardware for the No Frills Internet User








25 MHz

25 MHz


4 MB

5 MB

Disk Space

8 MB

8 MB







Other users want to take their Web surfing to the maximum. They want high speed and a lot of images. If that's you, you'll need a computer that meets the hardware specifications listed in the following table.

Hardware for Web Surfing that Makes Your Eyes Bug Out





Pentium 100



33/66 MHz

40 MHz


16 MB

16 MB

Disk Space

8 MB

8 MB



8-bit, 256-color


28,8000 bps/ISDN

28,800 bps/ISDN

If you've got the cash, go ahead and buy a computer with muscle, since computer technicians have their stop watches on an even faster computer every day. But don't let the competition swallow you. Just because you've bought a 160 MHz computer doesn't mean that you'll be the next jet airplane flying by Web sites. Your Internet connection, more than any other feature, makes the difference between a fast flight or a nose dive.

Internet users connect either through telephone lines or through a local area network at school or work. If you plan to use a telephone line to dial-up to the Internet from home, the next section is for you. The connection process may seem as delicate as cracking an egg, but there's a recipe for making the right choices and following the tips can help make your connection a piece of cake.

Tying Up the Lines: Telephones and Modems

To connect to the World Wide Web, you'll need a telephone line. You might be thinking, "Duh, of course I have a telephone line." Here's the catch. When you dial into the Internet, you have the phone line tied up for as long as you're connected. If you have a teenage daughter waiting for a call, you might be in trouble. Nobody can call out or call in when you're online.

One way to make your teenage daughter smile is to install a second phone line. That way, you can use one line for connecting to the Internet, and the other line for person-to-person calls.

Kai Pan is the marketing director for Clarity Connect, an Internet Services Provider in Ithaca, N.Y. He thinks that the decision to purchase a dedicated line depends on the user's needs. "A minority of users need faster access, as well as higher connection ranges," Pan said. "Of course, with that comes a higher price."

"A minority of users need faster access, as well as higher connection ranges," Pan said. "Of course, with that comes a higher price."

If you don't have the spare change, you can still make a connection to the Internet by sharing your single line with the modem.

What's a Modem Got to Do with It?

If your computer doesn't already have one, you'll need to get a modem to connect to the Internet. The modem allows your computer to use the telephone line to call another computer. Basically, this small piece of hardware is your ticket to Internet land or bust.

When purchasing a modem at a local hardware vendor or through a mail order company, look for some basic features. First, you can choose between an external and internal modem. External modems are easy to connect to your computer and sit on your desk. They are slightly more expensive, and older computers may not support the faster external modems.

Most users opt for internal modems. They cost less and tuck inside your computer. Many new computers come with a modem intact, but if your computer didn't, you'll have to open your computer case and wrestle a bit with installing the hardware.

The next consideration is speed. Viewing the heavy graphics on the World Wide Web with less than 14,400 bits per second (bps), V.32bis/V.42bis-compliant modem would be like trying to drive across the country without shifting above second gear. If you want to put some turbo behind your Web browsing, a V.34 with 28,800 bps is even better—and best yet are the new V.42bis 33,6000 bps modems.

Don't Let SLIP Slide You Out of the Internet

If you're trying to get the most for the minimum, you can connect to the Internet with slower modems. But beware of modems without V.42 error correction and V.42bis data compression. Many users connect to the Internet through PPP (Point-to-Point Protocol). Some Internet Services Providers, though, still use the older method, called Serial Line Internet Protocol (SLIP). Because SLIP doesn't include any error correction, the least bit of line noise can knock the network connection for a loop. Without a modem that smoothes the lines, connecting to the Internet would be like calling your friend and getting disconnected each time you dialed.

Data compression is another helper for SLIP. Because SLIP has high latency, meaning SLIP transfers information at a turtle's pace, the compression can make the information a lighter load to transfer. You'll save time because data compression will get you connected in a jiffy.

Before you shop for a modem, check with your Internet Service Provider to see what brand and type of modem the company uses. Most modem brands work well together, but a buying a speedy 33,600 bps modem won't do you a bit of good if your service provider supports only speeds up to 14,400 bps. Think back to your teacher's lessons in class. The teacher spoke at the highest speed at which each student could listen. That way, every student understood the teacher's lesson and the teacher wasted no time. Modems do the same thing. If you have a 14,400 bps modem and your service provider has a 28,800 bps modem, the service provider modem will talk to your modem at 14,400 bps. That way, the modems make stable and solid connections.

Geek Speak: Get a Grip on Jargon

Baud Rate The measure of how fast a modem can transmit and receive the electrical "pulses" that carry data across a phone line.

Bits Per Second The measure of how fast a modem can transmit data in one second. (Abbreviated: bps)

Error Correction Checks to make sure that data received on one end matches data sent on the other. Without error correction, phone line noise can bump you offline.

Data Compression Data compression speeds the transmission of data by sending repetitive patterns in data as codes. The codes take less space and time to send, so the transmission runs quicker than with modems without data compression.

Future Trends: Beyond the Modem

The future is here for transmitting voice, video and data at a rocket-fast pace. Only here doesn't necessarily mean in your neighborhood. With an Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) connection, local digital telephone companies can transmit data at a rate from 64 kilobits per second (Kbps) up to 128 Kbps versus the 28Kbps and 33.6Kbps possible with regular modems. Imagine a race between a banana-seated bicycle and a Porsche. That's the difference.

The only problem is that many cities don't have ISDN available. Pan, at Clarity Connect, said, "ISDN is a little sporadic. It's primarily available in metropolitan regions."

It doesn't hurt to ask if you can make an ISDN connection. Clarity Connect in a small central New York city has been offering ISDN connections for a year and a half. Remember, though, that your connection must talk at the same speed as your Internet Service Provider's connection. Even if you can get ISDN, you won't get a speedier connection unless your Internet Service Provider (ISP) also has ISDN lines.

The future hasn't yet arrived for cable lines, but it won't be long before the Internet becomes fast enough for TV-like video. With the passage of the telecommunications bill in February 1996, many cable television providers got the clue that the Internet is where it's at. Right now, WebTV makes it possible for you to browse the Web through your television set, but you still connect through the phone lines. With test sites in progress, cable TV companies might change that. They are clocking Internet connection speeds at 10 Mbps speeds, and they are pushing to make their cable lines the answer to slow telephone connections.

CPU System: Do I Need Speed?

Central Processing Unit (CPU) speed is about as important to World Wide Web browsing as your tires are to the speed of your car. Sure, you couldn't drive on a flat tire, but the type of tire has little to do with the speed of your car. Similarly, the processing speed of your CPU—whether it's 25 MHz or 100 MHz on a PC—doesn't make much difference in your Web cruising speed. Your system's slowest component determines the speed of your overall system. On the Web, the slowest component is the modem or the network itself.

A lot of memory (RAM), however, can make your Web ride a little smoother. In fact, some newer versions of Web browsers require eight to 12 MB of RAM (Random Access Memory). Memory is a lot like human's short term memory. Storing a lot of information in your short term memory keeps you from having to go back and relearn what you forgot. Similarly, a computer with a large amount of memory can hold more Web pages on its local system. If you jump from one Web site to another and then decide that you want to go back to the first site, your computer still has the first site in its memory. The browser only takes a few seconds to get the site back at your fingertips.

Seeing is Believing with Graphics Hardware

Graphics on the Web have turned many novice users into artists and art critics. With the newer versions of Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer, you can barely hit a Web link without downloading an image or Java applet. So, how much graphics hardware does it take to get connected? Luckily, not a lot. When choosing a graphics card, you should look for the following:

  • Graphics processor

  • Onboard memory

  • Interface

A graphics processor, like ATI's Mach128, picks up images and does the work to display them. This takes the burden away from the main processor, which can use its energy to process the text on the Web page.

You don't need to snatch up a graphics card with lots of memory. A graphics card with 1 MB of video memory will work like a charm because most color images on the Web have only 256 colors and 640X480 pixel resolution.

If you have your eyes set on the future, however, you might consider buying a graphics card with 2 MB of memory and support for 24-bit color. As network capacities increase, that memory will come in handy to send and receive true-color images, three-dimensional graphics and virtual reality files.

Listen Up for Audio Hardware

It's a cinch for Web users to meet audio requirements. Macintosh users already have all the sound equipment they need to handle Web audio files. PC users just need to swing by the local software vendor and buy Sound Blaster-compatible sound cards. From there, it's simple. Grab a set of speakers and headphones to hook to the sound card, and you've got the gear to tune in to the Web at full volume.

Future Trends: 3D Graphics, Animation, Java, and ActiveX

We've heard people getting "hooked on Java," but that doesn't just mean they're addicted to caffeine. Java, created by Sun Microsystems, is a programming language that has taken the World Wide Web by storm. If you see graphics moving like Mexican jumping beans at a Web site, it's usually a Java applet at the helm of the mini-animation. These Java programs make the Web more interactive, but they also require some higher-end hardware. You can turn off Java in your Web browser, but if you want to see the Web in full action, consider getting a fast CPU processor. It's hard to go wrong with a Pentium processor that is at least 100 MHz.

After Java comes ActiveX. Formerly called Object Linking and Embedding (OLE), ActiveX is a Microsoft technology to make interactive audio, video, and animation available on the Web. Rumor has it that ActiveX will make the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser interactive with a capital I. Only the daring will see how ActiveX plays the Web game. And if you dare to be on the ActiveX team, you'll want to get a fast CPU processor speed. Even the not-so-adventurous know that, like Java, ActiveX requires more system resources.

Thinking Hard about Software

The software you need to get online isn't as cuddly as the Winnie the Pooh bears and Tigger pajamas that helped you sleep as a child. But just like those bedtime friends that comforted you at night, the computer software you choose snuggles up to your hardware and helps your computer do its job. The following section will help you choose sound software for a smooth Internet connection.

Recipe for Getting Online



Internet Services Provider (ISP)

Like your telephone company that supports your phone service, an ISP gives you access to the Internet. Each time you connect to the Internet, you dial up your ISP with your modem, enter a username and password, and then you're turned on to the Internet.

TCP/IP support

TCP/IP is a computer language (called a network protocol) that enables computers to communicate with one another. All computers that connect to the Internet and World Wide Web must use TCP/IP—even your computer. Windows 95, Windows NT, and Macintosh include built-in support for TCP/IP. If you have Windows 3.x, you need to get TCP/IP software, sometimes called a protocol stack, for your computer. One such stack is Trumpet Winsock.

Connection software

After you configure your TCP/IP software, you need connection software to dial up and connect to your ISP. This software is sometimes called dialer software. Windows 95 has dialer software included in the Dial-Up Networking feature. If you use Trumpet Winsock to connect Windows 3.x to the Internet, Winsock has its own dialer.

Internet and Web software

Internet and Web software turns the nuts and bolts of the Internet connection into the lively browsing you've heard about from friends. Never fear if you're confused about which software to buy. The articles on WWW browsers and e-mail and Usenet newsgroups can help you sort through the software packages. You might also consider getting FTP, Gopher, and Telnet software. If you like a quick and easy package, Internet software suites, like Spry's Internet in a Box and Microsoft's Internet Starter Kit, make your connection a snap.

Hopping on Board with an Internet Service Provider

If you're connecting from a business or school, your key to an Internet connection may be baby steps away. Ask your systems administrator for help with setting up your connection.

For those of you connecting from home, hold on tight. You're a hop, skip, and a jump away from being able to peel out of this chapter and get hooked to the most addictive service of your life—the Web, that is.

Before you start springing to action, you have to find an Internet Service Provider (ISP). These providers charge you a few dollars a month and in return, they make a bridge for your computer to cross over and reach the Internet world.

ISPs come in two basic flavors: national providers and local providers. The national providers include companies such as AT&T, MCI, America Online, and CompuServe. Local ISPs range from local telephone companies to local Internet businesses.

Local Public Libraries Offer More than Dusty Old Volumes

Public libraries have gotten savvy in recent years, and many libraries offer free Internet service for their users. The Saint Joseph County Public Library in South Bend, Indiana was the first public library in the U.S. to have a World Wide Web server. Joyce Hug, an information specialist for the library, said that the library has been offering Internet access to the public since May 1994. "It's something all libraries are trying to do, if they want to stay viable," Hug said. "They realize it's what people want."

Hug also mentions that beginners love using the library connections to the Internet, especially since the South Bend library offers basic Internet classes. "The ones that come in are the ones that aren't ready to dial up from home. The Internet isn't a big part of their life yet," Hug said.

But the Internet is getting bigger. Hug explains that their Internet users have increased tenfold in the past year. "We have had to institute time limits. They must sign in, and we limit them to one hour if people are waiting," Hug said.

If you're not sure how much you plan to use the Internet, call your local public library and see if you can give it a whirl for free. It's likely that you'll get a taste and want to wrap up and take home an Internet doggy bag for keeps.

Seek and You Shall Find: What to Look for in an Internet Service Provider

Choosing an Internet Service Provider isn't like signing a lifetime contract, but you should be aware of the so-called fine print. For example, what do you want to do on the Internet?

  • Do you want to do business online, using e-mail, transferring files and using Web resources?

  • Do you want to get your children to jump on the Internet train and ride with the online sources into the 21st century?

  • Or do you just want to have fun and jump links like a cyberjunkie?

Even after deciding how you want to use the Internet, matching your needs to the Internet Service Provider's features can be like threading a needle. ISPs can be as alike as apples and bananas, but you'll want to make a list and check off the following features about an Internet Service Provider before making your ISP decision.

Software and Documentation

Many travelers would rather drive around a new town for hours before asking for directions to their destination, and many new Internet users would rather fumble through their connection before asking their ISP for help. Remember that you're paying for ISP help, and getting connected doesn't have to be like untangling a knot. Ask your ISP for user manuals and software that make a great map for getting you online fast.

Technical Support

At some point your e-mail message won't send, your World Wide Web browser will crash, or your modem won't dial. That's when you'll need to call for help, and if you choose the right ISP, they'll be waiting by the phone. Pan, at Clarity Connect in Ithaca, N.Y., said that the number one feature users ask for is technical support. "That's by far the most critical issue because there are a lot of people who are novices to the technology," Pan said.

In fact, some local ISPs, like Clarity Connect and Michiana FreeNet in South Bend, Indiana, will go to a users home if they have trouble with a capital T. If your ISP can't make the trip to your home, make sure that you have a phone number and e-mail address where you can reach technical support services. Some national ISPs, such as America Online, offer extensive online technical support for their subscribers.

24-hour, 7-Day a Week Customer Service

Many users do not turn on their computers to "surf" until late in the evening when the kids fall asleep or on weekends (instead of mowing the lawn). Internet connection problems don't always happen between nine and five. Make sure your ISP has someone on staff you can call at odd hours.


Ever try to cook your first meal without a recipe? Many ISPs realize that users need a boost to get the most out of their Internet connection. Some ISPs, such as Clarity Connect, offer weekend seminars, online information, and frequently asked question (FAQs) lists to help ease the Internet navigation for a new user. You can waste a lot of time if you don't know where and how to look for out-of-sight Web resources.


Internet Services Providers charge anywhere from $5 to $30 per month for an Internet connection. Check with your ISP to see whether they offer a flat rate, or whether they have additional charges if you connect more than a certain number of hours per month. If you plan to e-mail and surf until your eyes bug out, choose an ISP with a flat rate service.


If you've ever tried ordering tickets by phone to see your favorite band, you know that busy signals can be painful. Likewise, getting a busy signal when you dial into your ISP is enough to make any online user want to pull the plug on the Internet.

John Schmitt, an America Online (AOL) subscriber, said that when AOL went to a flat rate of $19.95 on December 2, 1996, his phone signals got buzzed. "Before the pricing fiasco, it wasn't really a problem to get connected," Schmitt said. Now, though, Schmitt has a hard time getting his modem to connect to AOL. "They've got to do something to accommodate the new traffic," Schmitt said.

And they are. America Online spokesperson, Steve Sigmund, said that they plan to add more modems to keep their 7 million users connected. "We've taken a lot of steps to upgrade the system," Sigmund said.

It's just in time for Schmitt, but before you select an ISP, make sure that they can support your calls into the Internet.

World Wide Web Home Pages

If you're looking to get a little fame through your own Web page, ask your ISP for help. Some ISPs offer training in HTML code (the language of the World Wide Web) and let customers put their home ages on the Web for free. Other ISPs charge users a small fee to store the personal Web pages on the ISP server.

Special Services

In order to compete in the Internet market, many ISPs offer great extras for subscribers. Currently, AOL offers 50 free hours of Internet connect time. For $19.95 per month, AOL also has chat rooms and instant message capabilities. The provider compiles online information, such as stock quotes, news, and sports information. You can even find a date at Love@AOL. As a user for nearly a year, John Schmitt thinks the AOL graphics put the information in a neat package. "If I were putting beginners on, AOL would be the place I'd send them," Schmitt said.

Trendy as they may seem, these add-ins are becoming common among ISPs because users can't get enough of them. Local ISPs often give a free World Wide Web browser, such as Netscape Navigator, to their subscribers. Pan, at Clarity Connect, said, "Providing Netscape makes the process a lot easier for the novice."

"Providing Netscape makes the process a lot easier for the novice."

Check with your ISP choices to see what freebies you can get. Remember, the customer always comes first!

Finding ISPs

Since Internet Services Providers don't just drop from the sky, some places where you are bound to find an ISP include the following:

      Computer Magazines You don't have to be a geek to buy a computer magazine these days. If you do purchase a computer magazine, you're bound to find Internet Services Providers hiding in the advertisements.

      Friends The first neighbor online knows the perks and quirks of ISPs like no other. Call this neighbor and get the low-down on Internet providers, and ask other friends about their favorite ISP. Take notes and tally the results before you decide on the best ISP for you.

      Yellow Pages It's hard to believe, but just a few years ago, the Internet was barely a glimmer in the public's eye. Now, Internet has a boldface listing in the local Yellow Pages. If you have an inkling for a local ISP, look in the Yellow Pages. Chances are they're in there.

      Local Telephone Company National telephone companies like AT&T, MCI, and Sprint aren't the only ones offering Internet service. Many local phone services offer connections at cheap rates. Call and find out what sort of deal you can make with them.

      They might find you You don't have to look far to find some Internet Services Providers. If you have purchased a computer recently, America Online will certainly find you. They usually send one or two diskettes per month to new computer users. If you see a good offer, take it. Some diskettes give you up to 50 free hours of Internet access.

National Internet Providers

America Online

Vienna, Va.

(800) 827-6364


Elmsord, N.Y.

(800) 456-8267

AT&T Worldnet

Bridgewater, N.J.

(800) 967-5363

BBN Planet

Cambridge, MA

(800) 472-4565

CerfNet, Inc.

San Deigo, CA

(800) 876-4103


Columbus, OH

(800) 524-3388

Global Enterprise Services, Inc.

Princeton, N.J.

(609) 897-7300

IBM Internet Connection

Armonk, N.Y.

(800) 888-4103

MCI Telecommunication, Inc.

Washington, D.C.

(800) 550-0927

Netcom On-Line Communications Services, Inc.

San Jose, CA

(800) 353-6600

PSINet, Inc.

Herndon, VA

(800) 827-7482


Kansas City, KA

(800) 225-5408

Spry/CompuServe Internet

Bellevue, WA

(800) 777-9638

UUNET Technologies, Inc.

Fairfax, VA

(800) 488-6384

The Give and Take of Getting Connected

Subscribing to an ISP isn't as easy as pulling the postcard from your dream magazine, checking the "Bill Me Later" box and waiting for the first issue to arrive at your doorstep. But the following sections might help you sort out the items you'll give to and get from an ISP. Some ISPs ask for more and give less, while other ISPs ask for less and give more. If you think you are missing an ingredient, be sure to ask your ISP.

The Give: What Users Give the ISP

      Your Name and Address They've got to send the bills somewhere.

      Login Name or Username This is a unique name you choose that lets you login to the ISP. Some people get creative with usernames like "Ricedream," but usually, login names are part of your name. Pat Buckman, for instance, may be pbuckman.

      Password A password is your personal key through the doors of an ISP. When you log into your ISP, you enter a login name and password. If either your password or login name does not match the ISP's list of users, you won't be able to connect to your ISP. To be on the safe side, keep your password a secret from other users.

      Credit Card Number If you choose to be billed by credit card, you'll enter the number online. Some ISPs offer an alternative for people who don't have a credit card, or who don't want to give the number online. Ask your ISP for other payment options.

      Local Access Number Most ISPs let you choose a dial-up number to use for your modem to dial into the ISP. The number is usually different from the ISP customer service number.

Don't be Duped—Choose a Local Number

Some Internet Services Providers give you a long list of phone numbers to choose as your dial-up number. Think smart when making a choice because some numbers on the list may be long distance phone numbers. That means that every time you dial into your ISP, you're charged long distance charges by your phone company in addition to the ISP charges you accumulate each month.

Don't sweat it too much, though. Just look for the one or two local numbers on the list, and choose one of those. If there's only one local number and your ISP asks for a second choice, choose the first number again (as your second choice).

The Take: What you Take from the ISP

      Internet e-mail address You use e-mail addresses to send and receive e-mail once you're connected to the Internet. Usually, the e-mail address is your username and domain name of the ISP. It has three parts: the username; the at symbol (@); and the domain name. Pat Buckman's e-mail would be The trick to using and sharing your e-mail address is to use it exactly as you get it. If you make any changes to the address, you might get back a message marked Return to Sender.

      Domain name A domain name is the name assigned to your ISP, such as or

      Host name This is your computer's name on the Internet. Although you might want to assign this yourself, your ISP must do this because it is only effective when you're connected to the ISP. Usually, the host name is simply your username.

      IP address Your IP (Internet Protocol) address is like a street address, but with numbers only. IP addresses are four-part numbers separated by periods, and they must be entered exactly as your ISP gives it to you ( Sometimes, you will not be given an IP address to enter on your computer because your ISP will assign an IP address to you each time you log into the Internet. These type of IP addresses are called dynamic IP addresses. Ask your ISP if you need an IP address to get connected with the provider.

      DNS Server Like the IP address, the DNS server is a four-part number separated by periods that is assigned to your ISP.

      News and e-mail server names These are the names of the ISP's usenet news and e-mail servers. E-mail server names may be News server names may be Like e-mail addresses, these need to be typed exactly as the ISP gives them to you. Otherwise, you won't be able to read your e-mail or subscribe to usenet newsgroups.

TCP/IP: May the Force be with You

TCP/IP isn't exactly a new Star Wars character, but TCP/IP does save the Internet world from a lot of chaos. This computer language enables computers to talk with one another (called network protocol). If you didn't have TCP/IP, it would be like trying to drive a car on a road with no rules—no stop signs, no speed limits, no proper side on which to drive. Sound dangerous? It can be if your computer doesn't understand another computer. That's why you have to get this TCP/IP configured—and soon.

Getting TCP/IP

After you subscribe to an ISP and have all the software, hardware, and information, you need to configure your system to be able to access the Internet. Configuring the TCP/IP isn't always a snap, but your ISP might send you software that can do the job in a flash.

If not, gather together your Windows 95 Setup disks or CD-ROM and manual. You'll have to gallop through the Internet Setup Wizard steps that get you ready to giddyup and go onto the Internet.

If you use another system, such as Windows 3.x, you will have to purchase TCP/IP software from a vendor. On a Macintosh, you can use the built-in Mac TCP software and configure the TCP/IP stack in the Control Panels of the System folder.


After you have the protocol secure, you'll have to make sure that your dialer works with your modem. In some cases, Windows 95 automatically creates a dial-up networking icon during the Internet Setup Wizard steps. If not, continue with the steps in your manual that set your dialer spinning onto the Internet.

If you're using Windows 3.x, the TCP/IP package the you purchased—such as Trumpet Winsock—should include dialer software. Use the software instructions to configure the dialer, or ask your ISP for help.




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