This Month: Internet Account Euphoria
Greetings from Iowa, once again and as usual! September is upon us, signaling the return of school for me and thousands of other students, and more importantly, the return of the football season! So, as I juggle my studies and my football playing (and that’s studying as in my football playbook, of course :-), I spend my free time rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs, the Iowa Hawkeyes, and surfing the Internet. That’s right, I’m in the middle of month number two of having Internet access via a dial-up Internet provider, and I’m still getting used to the differences between it and an online service such as eWorld or AOL. So, what better to do with my monthly space this month than ramble on about it?
Easy as pie, right? Well, I DO use a Macintosh, so it wasn’t TOO bad. The handbook that my access provider gave to me gave basic instructions that were fairly easy to follow, and they addressed Macintosh issues such as TCP/IP and MacTCP in a straightforward fashion in a separate appendix strictly for Mac users. It even mentioned Open Transport as an option. I had to chuckle at the handbook, though. The Mac appendix was two pages long, and the appendix on installation for Windows users was five!
I found out that configuring MacTCP and FreePPP wasn’t quite as simple as installing the America Online software and clicking on the connect button, however. It took awhile, but once I had the correct IP address, domain name server, and gateway entered, and then tackled the names for the web server, news server, and mail server/gateway (learning about things such as POP and SMTP in the process), I was ready to go by the end of the afternoon. It wasn’t exactly a painless experience, but by no means was it torture, either. Oh, and before I change subjects, I have to mention how much I love that FreePPP menu icon! Talk about easy to use — once you get past the installation of the software, connecting with FreePPP is actually easier than using the AOL method. Plus, I can turn my modem’s speaker off, so I don’t always hear that annoying whine…
First things first — Email!
Near the end of my tenure on America Online, I was hesitant to enter many new areas. I figured that if I was quitting anyway, why waste time downloading artwork for places I’ll never see again? So, other than visiting some of my favorite spots and hanging out in a chat room or two, I did little else but use AOL as an email and FTP client. Since 90% of my online correspondence occurs via email anyway, the first thing I wanted to do when I got my Internet account up and running was figure out the ins and outs of my email system.
I went with Eudora Light as my email program. It is a very able program, and I have yet to master all of its features and abilities. I’d hate to see how many features are added in Eudora Pro! Yet, even though the software is in many ways much more powerful than the mail client portions of eWorld, AOL, or any FirstClass BBS, it’s still easy and intuitive to use, and I prefer it over any of the commercial services’ methods of email. I do wish you could move mail messages around in the Finder like I could before, but I guess I can’t have my cake and eat it, too. The only other thing I wish I could change is the fact that you can’t log onto the server and look at your mail BEFORE you transfer it, like AOL allows you to do. (With Eudora, every time you get mail it’s like an AOL FlashSession.) There have been several times when I’ve signed on and downloaded an awful lot of messages that I would never have saved to disk had I been on AOL. But then again, I’m not paying any per-hour OR long distance charges anymore, so I can waste a few online minutes each month downloading junk mail if I have to.
One of the features I love best about Eudora Light is the ability to trash a message without actually trashing it. So, if I want to delete the previously mentioned junk mail from my In box, I can just trash it. However, it’s still saved in Eudora’s trash bin, in case I ever want to refer to it for some reason. If the trash starts to take up to much disk space, I can really empty the trash, and delete it from my drive. Cool! I can also now save the messages I send to other people on my drive without having to do it manually while I’m online. Another nice feature.
Let’s just say that I haven’t had any trouble adjusting to the lack of the “You have mail” announcement I was so used to getting when going online. Only one question — when you have Eudora check your mail for you, why are you greeted by a chicken when you have mail, and a snake when you don’t? Just curious about that one…
Fetch, Boy, Fetch — Good Dog!
OK, I’ve got the email down pat. Now, one of the other cool things about being online is the ability to download software, right? Fetch had been recommended to me as a goof-proof FTP client, so I downloaded that from a BBS and went to work.
There’s not a whole lot to say about Fetch, except that it does what it’s supposed to do. The pie graph and the statistics about the download time are nice — and even better because the “time remaining” reading is ACCURATE — maybe AOL could learn something from this? The included shortcuts for the Info-Mac and University of Michigan archives are also very much appreciated. My only gripe is the lack of file descriptions in FTP libraries, but that’s no fault of Fetch. That’s just how it is in the world of FTP, right?
The Search For a Browser, and Getting Caught in the Web
The next logical step was to get on the World Wide Web. My access provider had given me a meager bundle of software to get me started, and it included Mosaic 2.0. Well, might as well give it a try, right? I had a hunch that I’d want a different browser soon, though, and I was right.
Since Mosaic takes me straight to the NCSA home page, I said “what the hey” and decided to download the Mosaic 3.0 beta first. After the download, I installed the software and tried to start it up. The key word there is “tried.” I never could connect using the darn thing, and my patience wasn’t all that great, so I trashed it. I also decided at that time to forget about trying any more beta’s of Web browsers.
Next, time to jump on the bandwagon and check out Netscape Navigator. To tell you the truth, I was surprised that Netscape makes their browser free to download, and then asks people to pay fifty bucks for it. But, let’s see, I’m a high school student. My sister is a high school student. My brother is a middle school student. My father is a high school algebra teacher who doubles as a computer coordinator when needed, and my mother is a teacher’s aide. I think I qualify as an educational user. So, with a guilt-free conscience, I start surfing with Netscape 2.02. Like I said, no 3.0 beta for me! Besides, if that thing is really as much of a RAM hog as people say, then my little 8 Meg machine could hardly handle it anyway!
I have had no trouble with Netscape 2.02. A few type 1 errors, but nothing major. Using it is easy, it really doesn’t take too much memory, and I haven’t run into too many sites that require more functionality than version 2.02 provides. I’m not using many plug-ins yet — in fact, the RealAudio plug-in is the only one I currently have installed. I’ve been debating whether or not to try the Shockwave plug-in. I did have a QuickTime plug-in installed, but the other day I tried to use it and found out I need a later version of Navigator, so it went out the window (or, at least out of the folder).
I’ve read all the hype about Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, so I visited the Web site of the Dark Side of the Force and downloaded my own copy of MIE 2.0. I honestly don’t notice much difference between the two browsers. Neither one crashes very regularly, the RAM requirements are more or less the same, both are free for me to use… I’d call it a toss up. But, I figure if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, so I’m sticking with Netscape right now. Besides, I like the buttons in the toolbar in Netscape better.
Now that I’ve got myself a browser, I can actually get down to actually using it to visit Web pages. Whoa! The Web is really an exceptional creation of technology (maybe not always practical or useful, but it’s fun technology, which is the best kind). I love it, and I’m not even seeing it in all of its glory. I’m not seeing the embedded movies, the Java enhancements, the three-dimensional virtual reality pictures, or the luxury of a higher band-width connection. I’m just seeing the Web with Netscape 2.02, with next to nothing for plug-ins, with a 14.4 Kbps connection. And I am duly impressed! I’ve visited the sites of my favorite e-zines, print magazines, music artists, television stations, sports teams, friends, candy bars (OK, this is getting a little out of hand…), and many other various subjects. I have a suite of search engines bookmarked, and every day I visit someplace new. This is one guy who is standing, looking at the Web like a kid in a candy store with his allowance money in his pocket. Maybe this first impression will wear off, but right now I can’t get enough of it.
My only complaint… I need a new modem.
So Much to Do, So Little Time
I’m just getting started in the world of newsgroups and gopher sites, so I’m not going to say much about them right now. I have yet to try out the IRC, so I’m not in a position to say anything about that! But, even without some of these features of the ‘net, I can’t believe everything there is to do!
The nice thing is that with my new account, I’m given 100 hours and a local number as part of the basic monthly fee. So, I don’t have to feel rushed when I’m on the Web, impatiently tapping my fingers for the page to finish loading. Not like I did when I had to wait for AOL artwork, anyway. Back then, I could almost hear the nickels and dimes tinkling away as I helplessly waited. Now, if I’m found drumming my fingers on my desk waiting for Netscape, I’m simply impatient and annoyed at my 14.4 connection. There’s not the urgent, time-is-money feeling anymore.
So, I can take extra time online each day to do more exploring; to try new things or new sites. In fact, the only thing that might stop me from spending time online? Letting my freshman-aged sister get a hold of the telephone!