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Commentary for: 20 April 1998
Last Week's edition

Netguide gets a facelift
award logo New Zealand NetGuide magazine's web site has had a facelift, in case you hadn't noticed - and it looks like the "retro" look is in this year.

The new site is wildly different to the previous one, exchanging the expanses of white space for some bold and interesting background colours.

There's not much to complain about on this site and Matt Buchanan and crew have done a good job of being different without being annoying. Except (and you knew there's almost always one of those where I'm concerned didn't you?) I think we could do without the shockwave animation on the front page. The trouble is that even the best "eye candy" like this soon becomes boring and it simply annoys anyone who visits such a site regularly. For them, the shockwave front page is just an annoying extra click in the way of getting to the real content.

The only other grip I've got is the use of "client-pull" to deliver ads to the frame at the bottom of the screen. If you don't know why this is not cool - just leave your browser sitting on the NetGuide site for a couple of minutes then press the BACK button. Instead of moving backwards to the previous page - all you get is the previous advertisement. Even if you're just cruising around the site normally, every 90 seconds your back button's going to hiccup a click or two. Not a big deal perhaps, but a little annoying when it happens.

If you're one of the few still paying for Net access by volume you may also be a little annoyed at the extra traffic involved - but again, it's a trivial amount. (Hey, I've got to have something to complain about don't I?).

I couldn't find any "news" on the site but the previous daily news section on the old site was pretty light-weight so that's not really a loss and I much prefer the availability of back-issues and some search facilities which now exist.

All in all, the site is a refreshing change and, my minor gripes aside, well designed and implemented. It looks like the local Web is getting better!

Roll-on full-time access
I regularly talk with a lot of people in the USA, in fact it's now got to the point where I'm actually living on Pacific Time - rolling out of bed about 1:00am in the morning (6:00am PDT) and hitting the hay at about 6:00pm in the evening (11:00pm PDT).

One of the things that strikes me as being really cool about the Net in the USA is the fact that an increasing number of the people I talk to now have full-time Net access in their homes.

Why would anyone want full time Net access?

Simple - they now use ICQ, email or Net Meeting as a replacement for the telephone. If you've ever tried to call someone in the USA you've probably already found that a lot of people use their answering machines as a kind of "filter" against telemarketers and unwanted interruptions. This makes it pretty hard to get through to some people and if you're paying for toll calls - telephone tag can be expensive!

When you've got a full-time Net connection it's really simple. You can either email them or drop them an ICQ message saying "I'll ring you now".

There are also the numerous "voice over IP" products which you can use to conduct spoken conversations over the Net - thus eliminating the need for a phone at all. In fact - your IP number can become a kind of cyberspace phone number.

Getting a full-time connection in the USA is neither hard nor expensive in many areas. Cable modems are growing dramatically in popularity. These devices hook up to the same cable that many Americans use to receive their subscription television programmes and provide speeds of anywhere from 128KbpS up to 1MbpS.

How much does this cost?

Well at least one guy I know is paying just US$40 per month for his full-time high speed cable-modem access (and that includes the rental of the cable modem itself).

There are other options available also. Wireless Net access is growing in availability and popularity in the States. For as little as US$60 per month you can get a 1Mb/S wireless link in some cities. Not only is it economical but it doesn't tie up your phone line and you can even use it on your portable while you're moving around the city.

So, what are the options for the "home user" here in NZ?

You can get a digital line but they're not cheap - generally out of the reach of the average individual's budget, and there's still the ISP charges to go on top.

If you're in an area where ISDN is available then you could consider that as an option - but remember the $0.04 per minute will add up to around $1,700 per month.

The cheapest option is just to get a second phone line which you can dedicate to the role of "full time" Net connection - but even then you may find the lifetime of this is limited. Telecom are unlikely to smile favourably if too many residential customers start doing this.

As far as your choice of ISP for full-time access is concerned you'd really only be able to consider volume-charged or flat rate providers. Using a service such as ClearNet or XTRA would run up a bill of around $1,800-$2,000 per month!

ISPs such as IHUG offer "unlimited access" for around $45 per month but if you're hanging on the line full-time, you're going to get kicked off every few hours and, at peak time, you may not get reconnected immediately if you try dialing back.

You'll also need to make sure that your ISP is willing to provide you with a static IP number. This simply means that unlike the normal situation where your computer is likely to have a different number every time you connect to the Net, you'll always get the same one. This makes it easier for people to find you when you're using some comms software. It also makes it easier to run your own Web server if you want to.

So... the cheapest full-time access you can get will probably cost you about $90 per month (second line / flat rate ISP) but it may not be as "full time" as you'd like and you'll still be stuck at 56K or 33K (depending on where you live and what modem you use).

I suspect that here in NZ we'll eventually have a hybrid full-time system based on the use of satellite technology. In effect, when someone calls you over the Net, the satellite broadcast will deliver the notification to your PC which will then dial your ISP to establish the back-channel connection. This "on demand" type of pseudo-full-time connection would provide the best compromise between cost and performance for most of us, offering nation-wide high speed access and 24 hour availability without even the need for another phone line.

Now, I can't wait for IHUG and SkyTV to get their satellite services running!

Full-time access - just a dream?

Spread the word, tell a friend about Aardvark
Aardvark's popularity continues to grow steadily and I thank all my readers for their regular visits. I would like to take this moment however to ask you to mention Aardvark and give the URL to a friend or a work-mate this week. There are still tens of thousands of Net users who don't know about Aardvark - maybe you'd like to help them out (But please, no usenet postings or unsolicited emails or chain letters ;-)
Throwing a spanner in the junk-mailer's works!
Watch this space
I've complained about the evils of junk email many times in this column and, despite the opinions of at least one strangely misguided telemarketing company with a Web site that may have been built by a 10 year old, most Net users agree that it's a very real problem.

Well I'm about to introduce a *FREE* service which may make life a lot easier for the average Net user and a lot harder for the junk mailers.

No, it's not "yet another junk-mail filter", it's something that works on a different principle and will hopefully deter all but the most determined direct-marketer.

Stay tuned for more information!

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The I.C.B.I.T Award
I Can't Believe It's True!

No ICBIT this week because I want to ask YOU to submit your favourite ICBIT site.

Just use the contact form to send me the URL and the reason you think it's an ICBIT.

 
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