Finally, it's time to talk about how you get Internet access and what it looks like. You have three basic ways to connect to the Internet, each with pros and cons, costs and confusions. First comes access via a commercial online service, followed by Unix Shell accounts, and finally a WinSock-based connection. Don't worry about the terms and acronyms just yet; I explain them in the following chapters.
I don't expect you to read each of these chapters right off. The following descriptions are meant to help you figure out which sort of connection method is best for you, and thus which chapter should be first on your agenda.
At the most basic level, you can get limited Internet access via a commercial service, a local BBS, or a gateway from a LAN-based email package at work. This type of service is relatively easy to find because commercial services such as CompuServe, America Online, and Prodigy have local phone numbers in many locations. When I talk about the commercial services, I provide contact information so that you can find out whether there's a local number in your area. Some of the commercial services have added more Internet services in the past year, so you can often do more than just email with them.
More and more local bulletin boards also have Internet access now (often via the worldwide BBS network called FidoNet). Because many boards are free, that route may be the least expensive, although potentially the least reliable as well. Finding a local BBS can be a daunting task, because most communities don't have listings of them in the newspaper or anywhere else for that matter. The best place to start is at your dealer or any local computer store. These people can often point you to someone on the staff who uses bulletin boards, or they might direct you to local user groups that often operate bulletin boards.
Another way to obtain Internet access is through your job. As more and more businesses find themselves needing to connect to other locations, they are setting up gateways between the Internet and internal network mail packages such as Microsoft Mail and Lotus cc:Mail. This type of access is generally free to you, but it does require that you work for an organization that provides such a service. The only way to find out about this type of connection is to ask the person who takes care of your network. I can't really help you with this type of access, since it varies significantly based on how your network is set up and administered.
This is it, the dreaded command line of the Unix Shell account. I assume that because you use Windows, you're not all that interested in typing long strings of commands or remembering cryptic Unix abbreviations. Nonetheless, one of the most common ways you can gain Internet access is through an account on a public access machine, usually running some form of Unix.
All of the Internet providers mentioned in appendix B, "Internet Starter Kit Providers," provide SLIP or PPP access (see the discussion of chapter 11 following), but many of them may also provide Shell access, if that's all you want. Similarly, appendix C, "Providers of Commercial Internet Access," focuses primarily on SLIP and PPP providers, but many of them may also offer Unix Shell accounts.
NOTE: To receive the latest version of the list in appendix C via email, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org with the words "SEND POCIA.TXT" in the Subject line. Another list that concentrates more on Internet providers who offer only Shell accounts is the nixpub list, which you can retrieve via email by sending a message to email@example.com with "get PUB nixpub.long" in the body of the message.
Also, try calling the help desks at any local universities or colleges because some provide free limited access to their machines. If you work at a university or large computer-oriented business, of course, you probably simply have to ask the right person, so start with the help desk or the person who takes care of your computers. I should be honest -- the hard part is not finding access but finding affordable access, preferably through a local telephone call.
If you do end up with Shell access, there are a few things that can put a pretty face on the that ugly command-line. I cover these in chapter 10.
Ah, the cream of the crop. Students and staff at universities often have PCs connected to a local network, and with a WinSock TCP/IP stack can connect directly to the Internet through the campus network. Most of us aren't so lucky, and even people with full network access at work or school may want to call in from home as well. To access the Internet via modem, you use either PPP (Point to Point Protocol) or the older but more common SLIP (Serial Line Internet Protocol). Included among them is Northwest Nexus, the Bellevue, Washington-based Internet provider that we all use every day and that we use as our example provider throughout.
Finding a provider with SLIP or PPP access is becoming increasingly easy. Read through the discussion about how to pick an Internet provider in appendix A, "Getting Connected," and then browse through Internet providers who offer special deals to Internet Starter Kit for Windows readers, as listed in appendix B, "Internet Starter Kit Providers." The disk included with this book contains NetManage's WinSock protocol TCP/IP stack that supports both SLIP and PPP, and more importantly, includes customized configurations for all of the providers listed in appendix B. If none of the Internet providers in appendix B are a local call away, flip through Celestin Company's POCIA list in appendix C, "Providers of Commercial Internet Access." It lists a large number of providers around the world, sorted by area code and country, and provides email and telephone contact information. To receive the latest version via email, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org with the words "SEND POCIA.TXT" in the Subject line.
Chapter 11 covers the installation and configuration of several implementations of WinSock, PPP, and SLIP in great detail, more so than any other source that I know of currently.
This chapter explores some of the currently available commercial applications suites. Companies have traditionally bundled WinSock applications with their WinSock TCP/IP stack to distinguish themselves from other WinSock vendors. This bundling is even more common now because the WinSock stack market is drying up thanks to Microsoft's WinSock offering. The good news is that the application suites look and feel as though they came from the same manufacturer (which they did), so learning them should be quite easy. Plus, you tend to pay less for a group of products than you'd pay in total for a set of individual products (ˆ la Microsoft Office, Novell's Perfect Office, and Lotus's SmartSuite).
The combination of SLIP or PPP and WinSock lets you run great Windows programs that enable you to do everything on the Internet with a graphical interface. You can use freeware and shareware programs such as Eudora for email, WS_FTP for FTP, NCSA Telnet for Telnet, News XPress or WinVN for reading news, and a slew of other wonderful applications such as WSGopher, Finger 3.1, WinWAIS, WinWeb, Netscape, and NCSA Mosaic. Although these applications are either freeware or shareware, they're often as good or better than the commercial WinSock applications, and I strongly recommend you check them out when putting together your Internet toolkit.
This chapter covers as many of the WinSock-based programs as I could find on the nets. And by the time you read this, many more will have appeared, so keep an eye out.
New to this edition of Internet Starter Kit for Windows is chapter 14, in which I walk you through the basic tasks that you perform in the most common of the WinSock-based programs. If, for example, after reading the description of Eudora in chapter 13, you're still a bit confused about how to send email, check out the instructions in chapter 14. I don't show you how to do much, just enough to get started using each of the most popular programs. After following the instructions in chapter 14, you should be able to go on to perform other tasks that interest you.
At this point, you need to think carefully about what you really want to do on the Internet, because that decision will help you figure out what sort of access is right for you.
I received a call the other day from a man in Tokyo who had been referred to me by a friend. He wanted to bring Internet access to Cambodia (that's right, the country). He said that he knew a little about how to use Unix, so I immediately started telling him about WinSock, SLIP, and PPP. After we talked for a while, though, it became clear that he only wanted Shell access, and that he wasn't interested in all the graphical flourishes that are provided with Windows. So, with a heavy heart, I recommended that he simply get a Unix machine and a terminal server and use what he knew. Luckily, the equipment I recommended has the capability to do SLIP and PPP, so I hope that at some point he'll wean himself away from the familiar, if ugly, Unix command-line environment to a slick graphical user interface.
Similarly, you must think carefully about what you want. If you want only email, and speed of delivery doesn't matter, a commercial service or a local BBS with an Internet feed may make the most sense. Also consider the costs involved. If you want full Internet access with FTP and Telnet and you can get a Unix Shell account for, say, a $96 per year flat rate, that may be a better deal than a SLIP or PPP account that provides a nice graphical interface but charges by the hour. I understand the concept of not having any money, so please, do only what you can afford, no matter how cool the more expensive options may seem. Credit card debt is an ugly thing.
Chapter 9, "Commercial Services"
Chapter 10, "Shell Access"
Chapter 11, "WinSock, PPP, and SLIP"
Chapter 12, "Commercial WinSock Applications"
Chapter 13, "Free and Almost-Free WinSock Applications"
Chapter 14, "Step-by-Step Internet"