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Wooing the world-wide web: the honeymoon is heaven but the wedding was hell.

We are pleased to announce the marriage of Communication World and the World-Wide Web - the collection of Internet computer files which boasts great graphics and hypertext hot links. CW staff members are currently enjoying a honeymoon with the technology. But, as managing editor Kyle Heger points out, like many great marriages, this one barely survived the wedding. By sharing his story, he hopes to help other communicators avoid some pitfalls that might await them in the path to the altar.

Communication World staff members are not strangers to affairs of the heart when it comes to electronic communication. Witness our long and successful relationship with CompuServe, where we have electronically published a text version of our magazine, conducted research and exchanged messages with readers, authors and others.

So it's not surprising we would find ourselves becoming enamored of the Internet, long famous for its vast stores of information, and of the Net's hottest feature: the World-Wide Web.

From the good press it was receiving, the Web clearly offered us new opportunities. Its graphic environment and hypertext features - that let users delve into information in great depth - promised to bring us the information we need to stay up to date easily, quickly and precisely. We were also attracted to the Web by the possibility of someday publishing our own "pages" there as an additional way to serve communicators.

With this vision in mind I began my 28-day courtship.

The modem

Since you can't go courting on the Information Superhighway without the right equipment, my first step was to get a new modem.

I picked a top-of-the line model built to race at 28,800 bits per second (bps). The only problem was I couldn't get it to work. I checked the phone lines and power source and cables. I reloaded the software that came with the modem. Without success. Finally, after several tests, a friend of mine who works as a computer consultant confirmed what I had dreaded: My new modern was a lemon.

I consoled myself with the manufacturer's reputation for sterling customer service. This was before I spent two days trying without success to reach the company's customer service department by phone. Next, I sent an E-mail message to the company. Two weeks later, I received an automated response telling me the company was having problems with its E-mail system.

Finally, the retailer who had sold me the modem arranged an exchange, and I was back on track with a brand-new modem in good working order.

Little did I know my troubles had just begun.

Making the fight connections

In the arena of technology, as in the world of human relationships, you can't go anywhere without the fight connections. Yet I couldn't afford to hard-wire my Macintosh Quadra to the Internet via an expensive dedicated line. So, I turned to a kind of matchmaker, called an Internet access provider, that could make the right connections for me through a dial-up account using regular phone lines.

One such matchmaker - let's call it Company A - came highly recommended. After learning what kind of hardware I had, a representative assured me I could view Web pages using his company's software.

Ten days later, I received the software in the mail and logged onto the Net. But, after several days navigating cyberspace I still hadn't uncovered any Web sites. I found myself in the position of a suitor who breaks into his beloved's family estate only to find that she has been hidden elsewhere.

At last the company informed me that before I could get access to the Web I would need three more applications: MacTCP, InterSLIP and Netscape Navigator or another Web browser).

To my relief, I could download two of these - InterSLIP and Navigator from Company A's site to my Mac. Imagine my consternation when I went in to decompress these files and found there was nothing in them.

In exasperation, I bought "The Internet Starter Kit" which includes a disk containing InterSLIP and MacTCP.

"Two out of three ain't bad," I reassured myself. But a pesky voice in my head countered: "Maybe. But it's not enough either." Somehow I still needed to get Navigator.

Then I had an inspiration: What better way to solve my latest online problem than through my oldest and most reliable online resource? I logged onto CompuServe, and there in the Internet Resources Forum was a message telling me just where to find a copy of Navigator: back on the Net, through CompuServe's new ability to access FTP (file transfer protocol) sites.

I was part-way through my FTP search when a message flashed on my screen saying I first needed to update my version of CompuServe's software. After this hour-long download was complete, I believed I was at last on the verge of getting Navigator. But, for the next three days I was unable to access the site because it was always busy.

I E-mailed a plea to Netscape to give me information on how to get its software. When a response came three days later, it consisted of a canned list of questions and answers, in essence referring me back to the same old FTP site.

If at first you don't succeed

Eventually, I could no longer deny that company A was not providing me an "in" with the Web. So I called another matchmaker - Company B. Yes, their salesperson said, her company's software would allow me access to the Web. She even had a refinement to add: By using something called MacPPP instead of InterSLIP, I would have a better connection.

But, when I read the instructions which came with their software, I found that their version of Mac PPP will not work on many models of Macintosh, including, you guessed it, mine.

Denouement

Finally, fate took its first felicitous turn and I realized that, almost by accident, I now had the third of my three applications - there on the disk from Company B - Netscape Navigator!

Piecing together instructions from three sources (Company A, Company B and the Internet Starter Kit) was not easy. The instructions were often murky and incomplete, and sometimes contradictory.

At last, however, I was able to configure my system properly. My modem began to breath heavily, my screen flickered with excitement, and there, to my disbelief, I was gazing raptly at a logo for Netscape. I had made it to the Web.

Since then, I have enjoyed a honeymoon tour of Web pages from exotic locations the world over - getting valuable information from the U.S. federal government, nonprofit associations, individuals, magazines and software companies.

It is everything I hoped it would be, and more. And we have only just begun. Already I am investigating software that will allow us to more easily create and edit our own contributions to the Web.

Advice for Webbing wannabes

Although I look forward to a long and happy relationship with the Web, I cannot suppress a shudder of horror when I think of the ordeals I endured along the way. With the hope that I can spare others similar frustrations, I offer the following advice to Webbing wannabes.

First, you will need a modem. Because the Web is graphic intensive, it demands a high-speed modem: A 14,400 or 28,800 bps model would be ideal. You should be able to get something for under U.S. $300.

Next, if you don't already have access to the Internet, you will probably want to find a dial-up access provider. Our current provider charges U.S. $20 a month for unlimited use.

On CompuServe, you can get lists of access providers by going to the Internet New Users Forum and searching the libraries using the key word "provider." Lists can also be found in books at your local computer store. Providers might also have ads in local computer publications.

Tell providers what kind of hardware and software you have. Maybe they will give you everything you need to view Web pages. But you might find you still need to get the following:

* Navigator or another Web browser. You can now order Navigator from Netscape (Mountain View, Calif.) by calling (415) 528-2555. It costs U.S. $59 (includes software and documentation).

* MacTCP (if you're using a Macintosh) or WinSock (if you're using Windows). MacTCP comes with System 7.5. It also comes in the Macintosh version of the "Internet Starter Kit." This book comes in Macintosh and Windows versions. Mine cost about U.S. $25.

* InterSLIP or PPP software if you are on a Macintosh (find out which works best for your computer and provider). Both are included in the "Internet Starter Kit."

If everything goes the way it should, you will be ready for the Web. Unfortunately, as my experiences show, things don't always go the way they should. So, my final word of advice is: Caveat emptor.

"Buyer beware" might not be the most romantic advice, but it makes good business sense in the harsh sellers' market of the computer world, where vendors' sales pitches often end up as no more than vapor vows, and where consumers have no prenuptial contracts to protect them.

You can reach Kyle Heger at CIS 72624,2717 (CompuServe) or iabckyle @hooked. net (Internet).
COPYRIGHT 1995 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Heger, Kyle
Publication:Communication World
Article Type:Product/Service Evaluation
Date:May 1, 1995
Words:1536
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