CeePrompt! Computer Connection

Have you heard the latest on the World Wide Web?

by Cathi Schuler

After a hard days work, what could be more fitting than reviewing the mail and listening to the day's headlines on the radio. Radio? Is this a flashback from the days when television existed only in the realm of science fiction?

No, it's actually a pretty typical scenario for today's PC user with Internet connectivity. E-mail is clearly the most popular use of the Internet today and checking one's e-mail daily is almost as compulsory as checking the snail mail. As long as you're online checking for e-mail, it's a good time to listen to the news, catch the inaugural speech you missed, hear the daily stock report, or chuckle to a humorous monologue.

The World Wide Web represents that portion of the Internet that supports multi-media content. This includes video, graphics and sound as well as text-based information. If you've only been looking at the text and graphics portion of the Web, there's a whole audio component that you've been missing.

RealAudio is the Internet standard for software that enables live and on-demand audio via standard modems. Audio files created and recorded for use on the Internet are encoded in the RealAudio format and require this software to play the files. RealAudio boasts "broadcast quality-audio, including stereo at 28.8 kbps modem speed and near-CD quality at ISDN speed."

My own experience doesn't quite live up to these claims, but it's definitely real sound & information broadcasting from my computer. If you've ever "heard" anything from the Internet, chances are you've already downloaded a version of this audio software.

RealAudio is one of the many "plug-ins" you must install, in addition to your web browser, to experience the multi-media content available on the World Wide Web. Once installed, you can visit the various Web sites that offer audio content and actually hear the Internet.

Audio Web sites in fact extend more choices than live radio, as you can review past events and archived sound files, such as historical speeches, or past sporting as well as live events. Certainly the World Wide Web audio network is not as extensive or current as live radio, but it's growing and many radio stations throughout the country already simulcast portions of their live broadcasts both on the air and over the Internet.

RealAudio offers two versions of its software for individual use. The RealAudio Player is free to download from the Internet and plays live and on-demand audio files over the Internet at modem speeds of 14.4 Kbps and faster. RealAudio Player Plus is the souped-up version of their free software which features a scanner to comb the Web for live news, sports and music. This version, which sells for $29.95, offers a radio-like interface with buttons to preset your favorite Web stations. A record button allows you to "tape" a broadcast and play back later offline, without an Internet connection.

With the RealAudio Plus package you also receive customized news and information over the Internet with Timecast, Progressive Networks' multimedia Web site. Once you set your preferences for computer news or sports, for example, RealAudio communicates these preferences to Timecast and you receive a tailored "daily briefing" each time you visit this site.

Timecast at http://www.timecast.com organizes the various audio sites by category, alphabetically and also by what's playing live now. AudioNet is another great site that broadcasts and organizes audio content on the Internet, especially sports venues. Super Bowl buffs heard this year's game live on AudioNet and real football whackos can hear Super Bowl 1, originally broadcast January 15, 1967 between Green Bay and Kansas City, from this site as well.

During a quick surf of Internet audio sites, I sampled the tunes of Australian band Funken Wagnells then listened to a few Hebrew classes from the Chanukah Classes of Jewish Torah. I enjoyed an Oldies station from Ohio and caught up on All Things Considered from National Public Radio. After checking the latest computer news on C/NET, I dropped in on live Malaysian talk radio, live jazz from New Orleans and the Radio Reading Service, where volunteers read national magazines and newspapers for the visually impaired 24 hours a day.

If you've only been looking at the Internet, give it a listen as well. It will add a whole new dimension to your online experience.

For additional information and system requirements contact RealAudio http://www.realaudio.com

Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.
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