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Get online already! (Shrewd Moves).

By now, everyone has heard about the wonders of the Internet--but there is a catch. You have to have a computer to access it! The price of a new computer is out of reach for many people. Fortunately, there are some affordable ways to get online.

Getting online free at the library

Many libraries now have computers connected to the Internet. If you're not sure how to use the computer, there is usually someone there who can help you. Some libraries even hold computer training and orientation classes, or can help you find a place in your community that does.

Other community resources

Start by calling local community centers, the Y, and any nearby schools. Most colleges have computer labs. Just about all allow free access to any student--even those taking only one class. A noncredit course at your local community college might be an affordable way to gain a semester's worth of access to the Internet.

Internet cafes and copy shops offer convenient Internet access, although somewhat expensive $10/hour is typical. To learn more shrewd moves, you need to search the Net itself!.

To get started

At a library, a friend's house, school, or cafe, connect to the Internet by "launching a Web browser." A Web browser is a program that you surf the Web with. The 2 most common are Netscape Navigator (also known as Netscape Communicator) and Internet Explorer.

Move the mouse so that the pointer arrow is on top of the browser's logo, and double-click by pressing the mouse button twice. When the program has started up, you will probably have a browser window open. To visit a Web site, type its address into the "Address" box (it might be labeled "Go") near the top of the window, then press the return key. If you're new, a good address is <>. The site offers a nice introduction to how the Web works.

Now you can start exploring.

Try sites such as <>, <www.northern>, and <>.

Type the general topic you' re looking for into the form, and these sites will search the Internet for pages that match your request.

You've got mail!

The traditional way to get an e-mail account is through an Internet Service Provider (ISP). This is fine if you have your own computer to dial up on your home phone line to connect to the Internet. But if you're connecting from different places from the library one day, from a friend's house the next--you'll be better off with a Web-based e-mail account. This is a free e-mail account that you access through a Web site instead of an e-mail program. The most popular is <>, but there are many other sites that offer similar services: <> <>, or <>.

Your own computer

You can get an impressive low-end system for around $800, and it will usually come with a warranty, a manual, tutorials, technical support, and software. If you have a problem with your new computer, there's always someone you can call.

Used computers don't come with all of these benefits, but they' re cheaper. Find someone who "knows computers" to help you, or do a lot of research before you buy. Several used-computer Web sites are: <>, <>, or <>.

There's also a middle ground between new and used. A few manufacturers--Dell, Gateway, and Apple, for instance sell "refurbished" models (older computers that they've tested and fixed, which they sell at reduced prices with many of the same extras as new computers).

Buy a "box"

If you want only Web and e-mail access, and don't care about the other things a personal computer can do (such as word processing or checkbook balancing), consider WebTV (<>). It's a VCR-like box that attaches to your TV set and your phone line, allowing you to access the Web, send e-mail, and chat through your TV. You can even add a printer. The boxes cost $100 or so, and monthly service charges are around $20.

Get connected

Although WebTV comes with a service that connects the box to the Internet, a normal computer needs an ISP to connect. You can check your yellow pages for local companies, or you can go with a nationwide service such as EarthLink (<>), or Verio (<>). Dial-up services cost $15/month or more, and usually come with free e-mail, unlimited online time, and sometimes offer space for you to put up your own Web page. Make sure that the number you use to dial in from your computer to an ISP is a local call.

Services such as America Online (AOL) act as an ISP, but also provide their own interface, which some people find easier to use. The monthly charge is usually around $20.

There are several companies that will act as an ISP for free. Use the Web to decide which free service is best for you. < free_internet/free_isp.htm> has comparison charts of free ISPs (as well as free e-mail and other services). Find out which services are compatible with your computer, which offer features you're interested in, and which are more likely to give you a busy signal when you try to dial up. Since the services are all free, you can sign up with more than one.

If you use free e-mail, take precautions There's always a chance that one day you'll try to access your Web-based e-mail and find that the company has shut down. So be sure to save important stuff somewhere safe. Print out important e-mails, save your address book on paper or on a floppy disk, and make a back-up plan for getting online, in case your free service stops working.

The end of the story?

This is a very brief overview of a vast subject. If you' re feeling confused at this point, forget everything (for now). Get to an Internet-connected computer and play around for a while. There's always time later to consider the options.

Chris Piuma is a former member of the InsideMS staff, a writer, and a Web head.
COPYRIGHT 2001 National Multiple Sclerosis Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Piuma, Chris
Publication:Inside MS
Date:Mar 22, 2001
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