1.2 Go!
Big Dummy's Guide to the Internet

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     Once, only people who studied or worked at an institution
directly tied to the Net could connect to the world.  Today, though,
an ever-growing number of "public-access" systems provide access for
everybody.  These systems can now be found in several states, and there
are a couple of sites that can provide access across the country.
     There are two basic kinds of these host systems.  The more common
one is known as a UUCP site (UUCP being a common way to transfer
information among computers using the Unix operating system) and
offers access to international electronic mail and conferences. 
     However, recent years have seen the growth of more powerful sites
that let you tap into the full power of the Net.  These Internet sites
not only give you access to electronic mail and conferences but to
such services as databases, libraries and huge file and program
collections around the world.  They are also fast -- as soon as you
finish writing a message, it gets zapped out to its destination.
     Some sites are run by for-profit companies; others by non-profit
organizations.  Some of these public-access, or host, systems, are
free of charge.  Others charge a monthly or yearly fee for unlimited
access.  And a few charge by the hour. Systems that charge for access
will usually let you sign up online with a credit card.  Some also let
you set up a billing system.
     But cost should be only one consideration in choosing a host
system, especially if you live in an area with more than one provider. 
Most systems let you look around before you sign up.  What is the range
of each of their services?  How easy is each to use? What kind of support or
help can you get from the system administrators?
     The last two questions are particularly important because many    
systems provide no user interface at all; when you connect, you are
dumped right into the Unix operating system.  If you're already
familiar with Unix, or you want to learn how to use it, these systems
offer phenomenal power -- in addition to Net access, most also let you
tap into the power of Unix to do everything from compiling your own
programs to playing online games.
     But if you don't want to have to learn Unix, there are other
public-access systems that work through menus (just like the ones in
restaurants; you are shown a list of choices and then you make your
selection of what you want), or which provide a "user interface" that
is easier to figure out than the ever cryptic Unix.
     If you don't want or need access to the full range of Internet
services, a UUCP site makes good financial sense.  They tend to charge
less than commercial Internet providers, although their messages may
not go out as quickly.
     Some systems also have their own unique local services, which can
range from extensive conferences to large file libraries.