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Chapter 7

GETTING CONNECTED


Now that you know what you want to do on the Internet, or at least where you want to go exploring, you'll wantto get connected. There isn't just one place you can go to get access; paths and roads to the Internet are many. The best one for you will depend on your circumstances, your needs, and--to some extent--your pocketbook. This chapter tells you what you need to get started, your choices for individual access, where to go for services, and the basics for connecting a business organization. Many of the details apply only to the U.S. market, but most of the general information applies to the rest of the world, as well. Demand for Internet access is increasing worldwide, but there are more connectivity choices for individuals and businesses in the United States because of the many competing provider services there.

EASY STREET

If you work for an institution or a company with full-time access through a network connection to the Internet, you have the shortest path of all. All you need to do is sit down at your office terminal or workstation and, using the instructions and Internet applications supplied by your in-house computer gurus, log on and get going. Most Internet connections have been made just like that--as connections between two networks, rather than between two computers. For example, a college's local-area network (LAN) might get access to the Internet by making a connection through a leased phone line to a regional network. Once that connection is made, in most cases, every computer on the local-area network has "full-time" access-- meaning, the Internet is available all the time, day and night. More and more businesses are getting connections, and most universities provide access. Be sure to inquire locally before starting your search.

ALL YOU NEED TO GET STARTED DIALING INTO THE INTERNET

Fortunately, these days there are more and more ways to get access to the Internet if you're an individual computer user or small business. All you need is a personal computer (Mac, PC, whatever), a modem, communications software, and a phone line. Connecting an entire business or organization's network is more complex than can be covered in detail here, but an overview of the major steps is included later in this chapter (see "Connecting Your Business or Organization"). Some sources for more information are given, as well.

Modems

If you're in the market for a modem, then read this section before whipping out your credit card. A little planning and research in the modem department on your part will make your journey to the Internet a bit easier.

Modems are, simply put, computer appliances that convert the digital signal from your computer into an analog sound wave that can be transmitted over telephone lines. A modem at the other end converts the analog signal back into a digital signal that is understood by the computer you're talking to. Exciting advances are being made in modem technology, with faster speeds and more error-free data transmission. High-speed modems can reduce errors from line noise and even do data compression. As with any computer-related purchase, you should buy the very best modem you can afford--perhaps even a bit better than you can afford. Technology changes fast, and five years from now, today's high-speed modems will be as obsolete as that dinosaur of modems, the 300bps acoustic coupler.

If you've already got a slower modem, don't despair just yet. Many individuals are still using 2400bps (or slower) modems that they've had for several years to access the Internet and other services. All of the access and information systems support them, and, for the occasional user, the difference in online and/or long-distance charges may not be too significant. (The higher your modem speed, of course, the less time it takes you to get information.) Using a 2400bps modem, you can access electronic mail, Telnet, FTP, and the terminal client gopher application. However, the bigger the message or file, the longer it will take to show on your screen or transfer to your computer. If you've got a 2400bps modem, you're pretty much limited to text-based communication, unless you have a lot of patience.

If you plan to spend a lot of time online and run applications like Mosaic, or if you need quick, error-free access, spring for a high-speed modem with error correction and data compression. Many of the new Internet applications incorporate multimedia, and require you to drive in the fast lane of the infobahn. You can use Mosaic if you're dialing into the Internet with a modem, but you must be using a modem that runs at least 9.6Kbps, preferably at 14.4Kbps (or faster). Prices for these high-speed modems keep falling; they're available today from $100-$200 (U.S.). That's pretty reasonable, and you can probably show savings immediately in connect-time charges alone. (The faster your modem, the faster you can transfer information.) See the "Full-Access Dial-up Connection" section to learn how to use Mosaic and other client applications via a dial-up link.

The ideal modem for telecommunications not only communicates at high speeds but also has error correction and data compression features. Error correction protocols help filter out line noise, which throws "garbage" characters--like "{{pdf{{{"--on your screen, and they ensure an error-free transmission. Most file transfer programs also have a mechanism to ensure accurate file transfers. Data compression, while a useful feature, may not help you much on some bulletin boards and information services that have already compressed their files because your modem can't compress them any further. Shopping for a modem gets you into a complexity of feature combinations: speed, modulation protocols, data compression, and more. Claims, particularly for speed, may not be what they appear to be. So it would be wise, especially if you are planning to spend a lot for a high-speed modem, to check some independent sources before you buy. The information box (opposite) decodes some of the seemingly cryptic modem standards.

Communications Software

The second required component is software that will enable communication. Communications software, which is installed on your personal computer, sets up the three-way conversation between your computer, the modem, and the remote computer or terminal server. Since you are dialing into the Internet, there are many types of communication packages available, enabling three different kinds of connections. These are terminal emulation, offline access, and SLIP/PPP.

TYPES OF CONNECTIONS

The following sections explain the three basic access options you have as an individual/independent user. All of these are commonly used and available from a large number of Internet providers. The best choice for you depends on your existing equipment situation and how much you're willing to spend.

Terminal Emulation

What It Is. Terminal emulation is the easiest type of dial-up Internet access to understand. Using your modem and free or commercial communications software, such as Kermit, PROCOMM, WhiteKnight, or MicroPhone, you can dial into an Internet-connected computer or communications server and basically turn your PC or Mac into a dumb terminal that will most likely emulate a VT100, a venerable terminal produced in the millions by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). (You can get communication software from a number of places. Some modems come bundled with communications software. You can also buy it from any software store. And there are a number of free implementations, like Kermit, that are widely distributed through various channels, such as user groups, bulletin board systems, and the Internet.) Once connected, everything you type is from the perspective of the remote computer into which you have dialed. When you read email or news, you are using email and news applications that reside on the remote computer. Similarly, remote logins, file transfers, and other tools, are all executed on the remote computer. Your PC or Mac provides only the display.

COMMON MODEM STANDARDS AND TYPICAL SPEEDS

The following specify some common modem standards. Many of these--the ones that begin with a "V"--are defined by the Consultative Committee for International Telegraph and Telephone (CCITT), an international organization that develops communications standards.

The third column estimates the time it would take to transfer a 100K file (the average size of many documents or image files on the Internet).

 
Modulation	Standard Speed	Approx. Time for 100K File Transfer 
V.22		1200bps		14 minutes 
V.22bis		2400bps		7 minutes 
V.32		9.6Kbps		2 minutes 
V.32bis		14.4Kbps	1 minute 
V.34		28.8Kbps	30 seconds 
Standard	Type 
V.42		Error Correction 
V.42bis		Data Compression 
MNP 4		Error Correction 
MNP 5		Data Compression
Notes:

Speeds are represented here in bits per second (bps), not in baud. Baud rates and bps are different terms, and faster modem speeds are always measured in bps.

Be aware that the other end must support the same standards in order to achieve the desired connection rate.

V.34 is also known as "V.fast," and is supposed to be available in the summer of 1994.

A popular high-speed modem these days is one that conforms to V.32bis with V.42 and V.42bis. You should expect to spend in the neighborhood of $120-$200 for a good modem.

There are many other standards. See the "Getting Connected" section in the Appendix for more information about modems.


When you use FTP or Gopher to transfer a file, be aware that you are transferring the file to the Internet- connected computer you are dialed into, not to your own computer. If you want the file to reside on your PC or Mac, then you have to execute another transfer process by downloading it using a different kind of file transfer protocol, such as Kermit, Xmodem, Ymodem, or Zmodem. This is perhaps one of the biggest stumbling blocks for new users--the confusion about where the file actually is and how to make it show up where you want. In this situation, when you're transferring files, just think of this Internet-connected computer as the "middle guy." When you transfer a file to the middle guy using FTP or Gopher, remember that you then need to tell the middle guy to transfer it to your own computer. Think of it as a "two-step transfer" dance.

For example, suppose that you're using Kermit to dial into an Internet-connected computer on the Zilker Parknet (a commercial Internet provider located in Austin, Texas). You're zipping around the planet checking out the scene, when you find an archive of online books available via anonymous FTP on host vtucs.cc.vt.edu in the Files/infores/books directory (the URL is ftp://vtucs.cc.vt.edu/Files/infores/books). After you browse the digital shelves looking for a book you can curl up with on your laptop and read, you decide on Walden by Henry David Thoreau. To get this, you have to change to the walden directory (cd walden), and then get the file (get walden).

At this point, Walden is on the Zilker Parknet computer (the middle guy), not on your own computer. You need to initiate another transfer (using Kermit, Xmodem, Ymodem, or Zmodem, for example) from Zilker Parknet to your PC or Mac.

Here's how to do this if the middle-guy computer and your computer both have Kermit. First, fire up Kermit on the middle-guy computer, in this case, the Zilker Parknet computer. If you're using a Unix system, you can type, kermit -s walden (the "-s" means send). Then, on your own computer, you need to select the "receive file" option. You can do this a number of ways--it depends on what system you're using. Refer to your communication software documentation for the exact details. (FYI, this online book archive is also available via Gopher on host gopher. vt.edu, path Eris Information Services/Eris Files/Information Resources/Books.)

"Offline" Software Access

What It Is. Offline software access brings some of the Internet functions, such as electronic mail, USENET news, and file transfer, straight to your computer, but lets you work offline. This means that you're not actively dialed-in while you're working (or playing), only when the need arises. When that happens, the software makes the connection, performs the required functions, such as transferring email back and forth, and then disconnects. Providers or services supply you with special software, called client or agent software. In addition to taking care of the communications, this software also provides email, an editor for composing messages, and perhaps news readers. This offline software is available in both the commercial and the public domains.

Although you're not interactively using the Internet, you can still do a lot of useful things, such as download electronic mail and news, reading messages and postings at your leisure on your home computer rather than tying up a phone line or running up connection charges. But be aware that not all of the Internet's applications, particularly remote login, Gopher, and Mosaic, are available to you, since you can't issue commands and receive information interactively when you're not connected. Despite this limited functionality, these client connections are recommended for novice users, because they are more user- friendly than many of the public-access systems. With such access, you work with a familiar graphical application on your PC or Macintosh, not on a foreign computer account. You also don't have to worry about taking the extra step of transferring files from a middle-guy Internet computer to your home computer (as you do with dial-up terminal emulation access)--the software does all of this for you.

Full-Access Dial-up Connection

What It Is. A more advanced client connection uses client networking software and a high-speed modem to actually become a "directly connected" computer on the Internet. This type of access differs from the services above because you are skipping the terminal-emulation middle guy, so to speak, and you're interactively using the Internet, not working offline.

What makes this happen is a fast modem (the fastest you can get, at least 9.6Kbps), and software that conforms to Serial Line Internet Protocol (SLIP) or Point-to-Point-Protocol (PPP). Either of these, used in conjunction with graphical Internet client applications like Gopher and Mosaic, brings the power and flexibility of the Internet straight to your home computer over an ordinary telephone line. SLIP and PPP are different, but each performs essentially the same function--that is, they make your computer a peer computer on the Internet. A SLIP or PPP connection is a great way to connect, but it can be more expensive and a bit more difficult to configure.

When you use this type of connection, you are actually executing Internet applications on your own computer, not on an Internet-connected computer that you've dialed into. For example, if you want to transfer a file using FTP from a public-access site, you transfer that file straight to your home computer instead of working with the terminal-emulation middle guy. Similarly, you can use a client Gopher application that lets you point and click your way through Gopherspace. The Gopher menus appear as folders on some systems, which is very intuitive. Or, try exploring the WorldWideWeb using Mosaic. It's much more interesting when the Web is in color (if you've got a color monitor, of course).

How It Works. You must dial into another computer or terminal server that is running SLIP (if your computer is running SLIP) or PPP (if your computer is running PPP) to make this connection. (These remote ends are known as SLIP or PPP servers. They help you get set up at the beginning of the connection, but they are essentially "invisible" after you get going.) You'll also need a unique Internet Protocol (IP) address, because your computer must be identified on the network. Your IP address may stay the same, or it may change every time you connect. Your provider will most likely assign you an address, or the remote SLIP/PPP server will assign you a number to use when you make the connection. You may want a registered hostname as well, but as with the IP address and any other required information and parameters, your network provider will probably be able to assist you. The "Getting Connected" section in the Appendix lists some SLIP and PPP implementations, as well as some popular client applications.


Internet to the Rescue!

Tired of those busy signals when you're trying to reach technical support for your computer? One high-tech company gets much of its hardware and software technical support over the Internet. Over the past year, they've gotten bug fixes and patches for their SUN Microsystems workstations and technical support from their router vendor, Cisco Systems. Another hardware vendor uses the Internet to login to their system for problem diagnosis and resolution.

One of the company's software engineers told us about how the Internet recently saved the day (and night) for him when his boss needed a network monitoring problem fixed by Friday morning (and it was 4:59 p.m. on Thursday)! A quick search into the Internet produced a gold mine of network monitoring programs. He chose one of the simpler ones, customized it, and within an hour was done and on his way home. "Another victory for Truth, Connectedness, and the Internet Way!"

Source: Peter Ho, Unocal Corp. (Note: All opinions are Ho's and in no way reflect Unocal's positions.)

CHOOSING AN INDIVIDUAL ACCESS PROVIDER

Network access for individuals is a new and evolving market, one that is growing very quickly. So finding the services you want, the access, and the right price is not as simple as picking a long-distance phone carrier, or getting phone service through your local phone company. Internet access is offered by private companies, universities, academic/research networks, and public-private partnerships. Service packages vary a great deal and change constantly, as do rates. Your options are not limited to what is described in this chapter. Use the information here and in the "Providers" section of the Appendix as a general guide to starting your own research.

Public Dial-up Internet Access Systems

Lots of companies offer dial-in access to their large Internet-connected computer systems, giving you terminal emulation or (if available) SLIP/PPP access to the Internet. All of these services offer file transfer, remote login, Gopher, and news services, in addition to electronic mail and (depending on the system) a variety of other services, including commercial databases. Access is usually via a phone call to the system's local number, although some systems also offer access via public data networks, such as CompuServe Public Network (CPN). (Other alternative access methods are discussed below.)

Many public-access providers are expanding and adding access points in more cities, so you may want to contact them for their latest local dial-in information. Some of them also offer assistance with buying and installing modems and communications software. Pricing structures vary widely, with monthly access fees, connect charges, or a combination. The services all provide for a wide range of modem speeds.

More often than not, the type of computer into which you're dialed is running the Unix operating system. Don't fret, though, if you don't know Unix. Many providers also offer menu systems that eliminate the requirement of a "computer science Unix internals degree" and simplify things greatly. If you are forced to wade through the Unix muck, be sure to refer to Chapter 6, which includes information on some common commands, applications, and how to get help if you get stuck. To be fair, Unix isn't all that bad, and once you get the hang of the system, it can be quite fun to use. It's just not very intuitive to the novice.

See the "Providers" section in the Appendix for a list of public access dialup systems compiled by Peter Kaminski.

U.S. National and Mid-level Individual Access Providers

As mentioned in Chapter 2, there are lots of regional academic/research and national commercial Internet providers that offer individual access to their networks. The commercial providers, such as CERFnet, UUNET, ANS CO+RE, Sprint, and PSI, offer a wide range of access for individuals, from terminal emulation to full-time SLIP or PPP access. Many mid-level and state networks also offer public and commercial access. The Appendix has pointers to lists of providers.

Everything-but-the-Kitchen-Sink Providers

You've probably been shaking your head at all the background work you have to do just to find "graphical, user-friendly" interfaces, and to find an Internet provider. Well, be on the lookout for commercial products that combine full Internet access, an Internet provider, and all the parts needed to make graphical client applications like Gopher, WAIS, and Mosaic work. You, of course, supply the computer, modem, phone line, and a standard kitchen sink. One such product is slated to be available in the summer of 1994 from O'Reilly and Associates and Spry. Called Internet-In-A-Box, it even throws in a complimentary subscription to an online hypermedia newsletter, Global Network Navigator. See the Appendix for contact information.

Special Interest/Professional Groups

You may be eligible for inexpensive Internet access through a special interest or professional group. Librarians and educators, for example, have led the way in providing Internet access in member groups. Who knows? A group you belong to might be offering a low-cost Internet connection. Check around. More and more teachers are using computer networking in the classroom and for their own education and curriculum development. Several states--Texas, Florida, California, and Virginia, to name a few--offer low-cost access to K12 educators. If you are a teacher and are interested in finding out more about access to the Internet, then contact your district's computer coordinator or regional computing consortium to find out about your access options.

Community Networks

Community networks are springing up in cities all over the world. In addition to acting as online town halls, providing information about city government and local functions, they often offer email and perhaps full access to the Internet. Many of these systems are known as Freenets.

See the Appendix to find out if there's an education network or Freenet in your area.

Alternative Phone Access

The services listed above are great if you live in a big city with local dial-in access points. However, if you live in a rural area, you travel frequently, or your chosen system is an expensive long-distance call away, you should investigate other access methods. Some major options are mentioned below.

CompuServe Packet Network (CPN). CompuServe has hundreds of local-access phone numbers all over the world. You need not subscribe to CompuServe's information service to use CPN--you'll be billed for your use through your provider. If your chosen system allows access via CPN, use your modem to dial CompuServe's information service, (800) 848-4480 in the United States, to find your closest CPN access number. Hit {RETURN} to get to the HOST NAME: prompt, and enter the command phones to use their number look-up service. If you're outside the United States, call +1 614-529-1340 to obtain access information using a voicemail system.

Toll-Free Service. There are some Internet providers in the United States that offer a "toll-free" 800 number that gets you access to a communications or terminal server. This is a very flexible option that can be used for travel or remote areas. Be aware, however, that 800 numbers are not free, and the cost is passed on to you, just like a long-distance charge. Typically, the costs range from $7 to $10 per hour, so be sure to inquire about rates before jumping aboard. The last thing you need is a big surprise on your bill, because those blissful Internet hours can add up quickly. Providers offer terminal emulation, SLIP/PPP access, or both.

Major City Dial-in Service. Some commercial providers offer dial-in "ports" around the world, giving telecommuters and travelers local access in major cities. Access is usually made via the local phone system to a terminal server or communications server connected directly to the Internet. A terminal server is basically a "bouncing off" point to the Internet, a computer that accepts connections and allows you to use the Internet to remotely login to other computers. Terminal servers have modems attached to them so that users can dial in and, from there, remotely login to any computer on the Internet, or initiate a SLIP/PPP connection to become directly connected.

Who does it: UUNet's TAC Access, EUnet's Traveller (major cities in Europe), and PSI's Global Dialing Service (GDS) offer local dial access in many cities.

Backward Forward Copyright © 1994 by Tracy LaQuey and Editorial Inc.


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