In fact, Yahoo!, America Online, WorldNet and Netscape are all elements
of the on-line world, but comparing them in such a manner is like comparing
roast beef to Tuesday, or tennis to toothpaste. Contributing to this confusion
is the Web itself, which has grown so friendly and easy to navigate that
people often aren't quite sure what they're using or how they got there.
A good understanding of on-line life requires that all components are
clearly distinguished from each other and not just jumbled together like
apples and oranges.
America Online, Prodigy, CompuServe and Microsoft Network are all examples
of commercial services. When you subscribe to any of these services, you
move into a fully furnished mansion with seemingly unlimited rooms and
activities. Your every need is anticipated and the management takes care
of all details. You do nothing. Just move in and pay your $19.95 monthly
Each room in these sprawling commercial estates represent the various
content areas such as leisure, sports, business, reference, e-mail and
more. Access to the Internet and World Wide Web is just one of the many
options that commercial providers offer their users who can view the Web
through one of the "rooms" in America Online, for example. The word "through",
however, is the keyword that distinguishes a commercial service provider
from an Internet Service Provider. A connection to America Online or similar
commercial provider is not a direct Internet connection.
If you'd like to construct your own customized Internet home, rather
than subscribe to a fully equipped turnkey operation you must build from
the ground up, starting with a direct Internet connection. AT&T WorldNet,
NetCom, and, locally, InReach Internet are among the thousands of Internet
Service Providers that offer you a direct connection to the Internet for
a monthly fee. These are merely connections or sockets, however, and only
bring power to an empty lot.
Once powered with an Internet connection, you must frame your custom
home by installing browser software. Netscape, Microsoft Explorer, NCSA
Mosaic and Quarterdeck Mosaic are all examples of applications that enable
you to see or "browse" the contents of the Internet and World Wide Web.
Browsers are not on-line services, but merely instructions that allow your
PC to communicate directly with the Internet. These basic applications
are often supplied by your ISP when you first sign up for direct access.
While you must pay a fee for Internet access, the rest of the house can
usually be built for free.
Now that your house is powered with Internet access and framed, its
time to build the rooms and select your individualized furnishings or favorite
Web sites. Yahoo! (http://www.yahoo. com),
CNet's Search.com (http://www.search.com/),
Internet Sleuth (http://www.isleuth.com/)
are among the millions of websites that you can designate as bookmarks
or favorite places when customizing your own Internet access.
The possibilities are virtually unlimited.
A great many of today's Web sites, like Yahoo!, organize Internet content
by category on their opening pages, a la commercial services style, so
users often believe erroneously that a Yahoo!-type site is akin to America
Online. Yahoo! is only a Web site, whereas AOL is a commercial on-line
service. Apples and oranges.
To make matters more confusing, you can access Yahoo! and similar sites
through America Online without a direct Internet connection because AOL
offers Web access as one of its services.
So, do you build your own custom connection, or buy into a turnkey commercial
service? It's strictly a matter of choice.
A commercial on-line service is certainly easy, especially for beginners.
The downsides, however, include slow service and intermittent access problems.
If you find yourself using a commercial service only for the Internet access,
then it's time to subscribe to an Internet Service Provider and customize
your own online preferences rather than subscribing to some preset configuration.
Regardless of your choice, keep a clear distinction between commercial
providers, Internet Service Providers, browser software and Web sites.
They all work in harmony, but is unique and contributes differently
to the on-line universe.
For a complete listing of Internet Services providers, consult The List,
published by IWorld.http://thelist.iworld.com/