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How to get connected
to the Internet

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This was written for the June 1998 issue of Keynote, the Newsletter of the Institute of Food Science and Technology. It is aimed at a UK audience, but the principles are universal.


Quite a few members of the Institute are now using email for communication, and others are happily using the Internet for information. The IFST web site is packed with information , including full texts of all Position Statements, and details of forthcoming events. Some of the members have even developed their own web sites. Many other members may be thinking about taking the plunge. As time goes on more and more communication will be done electronically, both generally, and within the Institute. The SIG would like to encourage this, and has run two introductory courses already. This article is the first of what could be a regular contribution to Keynote to help any members who wish to set themselves up to use email and the Internet.

The basic requirements are a computer, a modem, a phone line, and a contract with an Internet Service Provider (ISP).

Connect using PC, modem, phone line, ISP, and Internet

Computer - Generally any computer purchased in the last three years, particularly a Pentium, should have no problems in supporting the software you need to install. Older machines such as a 486 with only 8Mb RAM do work, but you may want to upgrade the amount of RAM and your hard disk capacity. Before doing this I would recommend you look at starting afresh with one of the fantastic bargains in the computer stores at the moment. These are designed for the job, and will also come with Windows 95, so you will be able to install whatever software you need. I think increased RAM and hard disk capacity are more important than processor speed in this instance. Apple Mac can do the job just as well, but may be more expensive, and software is generally more available for PCs running Windows 95 (or 98).

Modem - This converts your digital computer information into analogue telephone signals. Choose the fastest modem that your ISP can handle. The faster you transfer data the shorter time you are using your phone! To begin with I would forget ISDN, and use a traditional modem. Those designed for the new 56kbs standard are likely to be the fastest you can get for a standard phone line in the near future. Most ISPs are upgrading to this new standard, so start there if you can. Check what your chosen ISP can support (see below). If this is not available, settle for a 33kbs, or even 28kbs (cheaper but slower). Ensure that anything you get will be upgradable, to ensure it can keep pace increasing system speeds. I like an external modem where I can watch it blinking as it transfers data to and from the Internet. Many manufactures now build them into the computer. If you buy a computer get them to add a modem for you so that you don't have to worry about compatibility.

Phone Line - This may be your biggest expense after the equipment. If you end up using it a lot you may decide on a second line in the future. Find out how to get the lowest charges. The cable companies are trying to survive in competition with BT, and they often give special deals to connect you with any ISP who uses their phones. It could replace your mother as your highest discount BT connection (Friends and Family). To save phone costs, go on-line to send or retrieve e-mails, then go off-line to read them.

Internet Service Provider (ISP) - Your ISP has a permanent connection to the Internet, and when your modem talks to their modem over the phone line, it connects you to the Internet for the duration of the phone call. The lights on your modem display show the progress of the transfer of information in both directions. Usually you can buy a few hours of Internet connection per month for £40 - £60/year), which is enough for email use and a bit of surfing. If you find you want the freedom to roam the Internet, you can have unlimited access time, and even disc space on their computer for your own web site, for £90 to £150/yr . Ask your friends if they can recommend a good ISP in your area. You can usually get a free trial. There are small local, and big national ISPs. Internet Magazine publishes a review of ISPs every month so you can see how it rates their speed and availability. Make sure any ISP has a dial-in number for your local phone area - and if you travel around with a laptop, choose an ISP which provides a special phone number which lets you access the Internet at local call rates from anywhere in the UK. Some ISPs can also supply a service which provides local call access all over the world. Support is important when you are starting up, and a local ISP can sometimes be more approachable. If you want to try any of them, they will usually provide a CD or floppy disk which will install the software and information you need to connect to the Internet.

This article was written by Roger Trobridge, and any suggestions or questions can be sent to him at gopher@internet-gopher.com

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Roger Trobridge, The Internet Gopher, gopher@internet-gopher.com
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