Direct Access Vs. America Online

The online world. If you are reading this, you are a part of it. Be it an online service
such as America Online, a local BBS, or a direct internet connection, we are all a
community of computer users connected by (for the most part) a telephone line.
And as the publisher of My Mac, I receive many email messages a day, and have noticed a new trend as of late. People are leaving the friendly confines of the online service for the hustle and bustle that is the internet.

Have you given up the online service for a direct internet account? If so, you are not alone. To date, I have received over forty COA’s (Change Of Address) notifications,
people who have either left America Online for good, or people who realized
they can have My Mac delivered to them cheaper than on AOL.

Cheaper seems to be the reason many have left the online service world. America
Online, and most other online services, charge $10.00 a month for five hours, and $2.95 per hour over that. (Prices vary). Well, if you only call the Online service for a hour a week, that’s a good, cheap price. If, on the other hand, you spend a hour a night online, your bill will add up very fast! One reader sent me a letter to ask if I would send him My Mac in the mail, as his America Online bill was larger than the credit limit on his Visa. Ouch! On the other hand, a direct internet account runs typically in the neighborhood of $20.00 a month for unlimited connection time. So, ten bucks for five hours on AOL, or twenty bucks for unlimited time on the internet?

I asked a few My Mac readers the reason for the switch. Adam Silver writes:

I found myself using the Internet through AOL more
than anything else. AOL’s internet stuff really sucks
and $73 per quarter is a hell of a lot less than the
$70+ per month I was paying for AOL.

And from Pete Kettelkamp:

So why did I switch? The number one issue is cost. I
live in a rural area and AOL does not have a local
access number. The long distance bill was incredible.
My IP is a local call and costs $25/month with up to
250 hrs/month usage (contrast this with AOL’s
$6/hr long distance fee on top of their other normal
charges). I enjoyed the community feeling that AOL
provided, but even this was not fully experienced
because of my inability (ie. time = money) to participate
in chat rooms. This constant “clock ticking feeling” is
truly distractive. Otherwise, the offerings and their
organization are top notch, with one shortcoming… the Web.
This, of course, I was not aware of until I had established
a PPP account and downloaded Netscape Navigator 2.0
(along with numerous plugins). Wow, cyberspace IS truly
vast! Not only that, with the aforementioned software
the excursion is relatively quick and full of sounds and
motion. With competition such as this, I can see why AOL
(and the other online services) are scrambling for a large
customer base. I believe there is a customer whose needs
are primarily email and a more limited, but highly organized,
information source. There will always be those casual users
who want a turn key operation.

In closing, AOL definitely has a place in the scheme of things
(ie. those wanting a strong community or maybe the ease of use)
… at least for now.

Price and usage. If you are using AOL mostly for internet access, you are not only wasting your money, but your time as well. AOL’s web connection is, from my own experience, twice as slow at producing a web page than direct internet access. And most Web sites are now constructed using Netscape code, which the AOL browser does not display correctly.

Roy Compendio writes:

First of all, the reason why I’m leaving AOL it’s because
a local Internet Service Provider is cheaper. Since my
family goes on the Net at least 2 hours a day, the flat rate
of 19.95 a month is definitely a bargain for us. Second,the
customer service is much better and more personal. Third,
I’m almost assured of instant connection to the Net, unlike
AOL’s access numbers which are either busy or not responding.
I don’t like trying to logon at least 4 times before I get in.
Fourth, I think I have outgrown AOL and I need to expand more.
Lastly and most importantly, I hate AOL’s WEB BROWSER! It
makes my Mac crash. And it is awfully slow. And you can’t
substitute any other web browser like Netscape, which by the
way I really love. So there you have it.

The AOL Web browser. Many people have nothing but bad things to say on this subject. While I have had the opportunity to try the Windows version of the AOL browser and found it satisfactory, the Mac version is anything but. And with the Web the big draw for most users getting on the internet, AOL has really stepped on the toes of all us Mac users.

Another concern to Mac users seems to be customer service. Have you tried calling AOL’s toll free number lately? My Mac contributing editor, Russ Walkowich, writes:

Like you I also had eWorld but gave it up. Their browser
was the pits, would not function at all no matter how much
memory you gave it or how many times you reinstalled it.
One of the reasons I am getting fed up with AOL is that their
version 2.6 (for the Mac) is “buggy”, they put it out to satisfy
Mac users when they released the Windows version. According
to their leadership they will have a new Mac version out this
year. WOW, I’m impressed from a company that started out
with a Mac interface and feel. They really seem to have forgotten
where they came from. Yes, they do make things easy, like
“You have mail!” instead of launching Eudora or Emailer.
Their FTP access is a joy, even compared to eWorld. Will I
stick with them? Depends on how comfortable I get with a
straight shot onto the net through another provider who isn’t
constantly trying to sell me something or upgrade my graphics
(Thank God for ArtValve!) I also believe that when you have
a membership of over 4 million, your customer service really
starts to stink, unless you have a work force of thousands.
Waiting for over 20 minutes to talk to someone, then getting a
voice mail telling you to go online with your problem is
inane when you can’t stay on line because of a problem at their

So price, speed, usability, and customer support all seem to favor a direct internet account. Most of you must be ready to drop AOL and go out and get a direct account after reading all this! But AOL does have many good points.

Russ hit on the topic of email. When you have a direct internet account, you will need a email program that will call up your provider to send and receive mail, programs such as Claris eMailer and Eudora. (Netscape 2.0 has a built in email system) None of these are as easy to use as AOL’s, and they all require you to set up a sometimes difficult connection process. With AOL, it’s as easy as can be. But is the easy email system enough to keep you from switching? If all you use AOL for is email, then it is cheaper and easier to stick with AOL for now.

Software. Are you a software fanatic? Do you want to download everything you can get your hands on? Well, the internet has a huge database of shareware, freeware, upgrades, demo’s, sounds, graphics, and much more. And it will not cost you a dime more to download whatever you wish, while on AOL, downloading software will cut into your five hours faster than a hot knife in soft butter. But finding software on the internet is no easy task! You can try hundreds of different FTP sites, and still not find what you are looking for. And if you do, many times the more popular FTP sites are too busy to log into. There are millions on people on the Net, but most FTP sites can only accommodate a few hundred request’s at any given time.

AOL’s software library is impressive. It is easy to see what the new uploads are, easy to search for a particular program, and easy to download. Sure, we have all gotten the “Host has failed to respond” message, meaning there are to many people using the system at the moment, but that is much more rare than not being able to access a FTP site.

The choice to switch is not always an easy one to make. The internet is not all that easy to understand for newer users. It is very simple to get lost, or not find what you are looking for. And while Yahoo and other search engines are helping point users in the right direction, AOL’s “keyword” search is much easier.

What do you want with an online connection? If you chat a lot, than a direct internet account will save you time and money, though AOL’s chat feature works better and is easier to follow. If you want to download software often, again the internet is cheaper, though harder to use or find what you want. If Web browsing is your thing, save your money and drop AOL. You are limited to AOL’s browser, which cannot compare with Netscape or Mosaic. And the message boards on AOL is downright embarrassing! A news group on the internet will, for the most part, provide more content.

Pornography. If you are a parent and worry that you child may stumble onto one of these sites, you need not worry. Most pornographic sites are shut down as fast as they go up, and programs like SurfWatch will keep your young ones from accessing any known sites that would be unfit for younger viewers. With AOL, you need not worry. Any file or graphic is checked first for unfit content. Of course, not even AOL can prevent another user from sending some pornographic mail or pictures directly to your email box.

The choice is yours. AOL is cheaper in price depending on your usage, easier to use, and has many more useful features. A direct internet account from a service provider offers better price for the more serious online users, more content to see, and offers many advantages in Web browsing and news groups. But remember, whatever your choice is, send me a COA if you switch! And visit our Web site at (Which looks much better with Netscape that AOL’s browser!)

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