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First Impressions of a Brave New eWorld

After years of AppleLink’s exorbitantly high access charges, Apple has finally decided to provide a real online service. Yes, there’s a whole new world out there to explore – Apple’s eWorld.

I know what you’re thinking – with CompuServe, America Online, GEnie, Prodigy, Delphi, BIX, the Internet, and all sorts of miscellaneous bulletin boards out there, what can be all that new in this brave new world? Well, some of the information providers inhabiting the eWorld only exist on one of the other services, and Apple’s graphical interface is one of the most visually pleasing ones I’ve seen. Although eWorld isn’t without its problems, they’ll probably be easier to fix than some of our real world problems.

I ordered my free eWorld software through one of the reply cards in one of the many Mac magazines, and it arrived within two weeks. Installing the software on the two disks was simple, and required virtually no instruction if you’re familiar with the standard Mac installation process. For computer neophytes, however, the enclosed paper documentation walks you through everything step-by-step. My only complaint was what seemed to be a long installation time; this gets even longer when you first connect, and must download new and updated graphics for parts of the interface.

Since Apple based the system on AOL’s basic software, the interface may be familiar to some of you, but with a different twist. Once connected, you look down on the eWorld, and you see different buildings to click on and explore. There’s an Arts & Leisure Pavilion, with entertainment news on everything from movies to books to music; a "Living Well" center; online games and computer game reviews; and travel tips and info from Fodor’s and Tribune Media Services. The Learning Center offers Grolier’s Encyclopedia, which is pretty well done, but its other areas (including the Educator Connection and the TimeMachine timeline) were under construction during most of my exploring. The Computer Center is where I spent most of my time – more on it later. There’s also a Business & Finance Plaza; a Community Center with "auditoriums" for large presentations and forums and conferences for other online discussions; an eWorld Info Booth for helpful news, tips, and customer support; the eMail Center, an electronic post office; the Newsstand, with quick news bites from USA Today, online news from Reuters, and numerous columns from different commentators; and the Marketplace, which offers online shopping from MacZone and airplane tickets, car rentals, and hotel reservations through Eaasy Sabre.

I became interested in eWorld mainly as a way to stay abreast of Apple news, to quickly find system software updates and utility releases, and to access to ZiffNet/Mac’s proprietary software and MacWEEK’s online articles. Thus, I did my most in-depth exploring in Macintosh-related areas in the Computer Center. Since this happens to be the most complete section, from what I can tell, it seems to be a good benchmark for what eWorld will become. I also played around with the email functions to get a feel for the features offered.

As far as the Computer Center goes, you’ll never become bored! The Apple Customer Center is located here, offering information on different products and technologies under development, quick answers to common tech support questions, and Apple news and press releases. An Apple Developer section was under construction. The ZiffNet/Mac Software Center is stocked with freeware, shareware, and ZiffNet’s excellent copyrighted software (which can’t be uploaded elsewhere). Although the freeware and shareware can easily be found on other services and the Internet, the ZiffNet/Mac stuff is only available though eWorld and CompuServe – and frankly, I’d rather deal with eWorld. There’s also Straight to the Source, with product information, newsletters, and updates from companies such as Aladdin, Berkeley Systems, Cassady & Greene, CE Software, Claris, Deneba, Farallon, Global Village, Micromat, Mirror, Nisus, Now Software, and SuperMac (among others). More information providers are signing up all the time, so keep an eye out for more and more companies communicating online! Finally, there’s a gold mine of information in the last two sections, Getting the Most from Your Computer and News & Industry Info. In Getting the Most, you’ll find the BMUG Helpline (along with a huge BMUG online presence – go crazy exploring this stuff!), Hands On with ZiffNet/Mac, and multimedia stuff in Morph’s Outpost on the Digital Frontier. In the News section, you’ll find InfoWorld, MacUser, Industry News, MacWEEK, Macworld, and a reference section. I spend a bunch of time here, catching up on the latest Mac happenings through MacWEEK.

The eMail Center is fairly easy to use, and has a number of solid features. Internet mail is free, most importantly, and you can send outgoing messages (but not attachments) of up to 24K using just the plain Internet address without any of the fuss required on CompuServe or AppleLink. Incoming messages (sent to Joe User at the address <[email protected]>) break into 7K chunks, however (because the same computers handle NewtonMail, which can’t be larger than 7K, reportedly). You can move incoming mail between Opened and Unopened folders, save to your hard disk, and delete messages. Outgoing mail can be held until you mail it through the Automatic Courier (which also downloads files you’ve queued up), and you can keep copies of mail you’ve sent. There’s a basic address book function to keep track of your friends, and the Automatic Courier can be scheduled to send and get mail, and to download files, at certain times (the end of a session, at a certain time on certain days, and so on). Overall, I think the eMail Center is a fairly solid piece of work.

The eWorld is not without its problems, though. The local access numbers I could automatically find during the set-up procedure (done by the software calling an 800 number) were only 2400 bps lines – a shame when 9600 bps access carries no surcharge. This isn’t really Apple’s fault, though – blame SprintNet. Also, the second time I dialed in (around 9 PM Central time), I experienced huge system slowdowns, and was subjected to four time-outs due to "host not responding," and was logged off. After a call to eWorld Customer Service at 800/775-4556, though, everything was made well again. The support person on the other end was great. He answered my questions honestly, and even tracked down a local number that offered 9600 bps access and told me how to obtain an updated file for my Supra modem. Finally, while the amount of information available to the public introduction is impressive, there’s a lot of "construction" going on in this new world. Plan to keep exploring if you want to find everything that’s useful to you.

So how useful is eWorld? For home users without Internet access, I think eWorld is a good choice. There’s a lot of stuff here for the whole family, and the interface is fun and easy to navigate, although I recommend making note of the various shortcuts. However, I wouldn’t recommend eWorld for much Internet usage. Right now, the only Internet connectivity is through the email gateway, although Apple promises more services (presumably like FTP, WAIS, and Gopher) and TCP/IP connections, such as those AOL has been testing, in 1995. But then again, some of the information providers, like MacWEEK, ZiffNet/Mac, and Fodor’s aren’t on the Internet. The access charges for eWorld are fairly reasonable, although higher than the competition by a good bit. The monthly fee is $8.95, and includes two hours of evening and weekend time (evenings are 6 PM to 6 AM, your local time). Additional evening and weekend hours are $4.95 each. There’s a $2.95 per hour surcharge for weekday (Monday through Friday, 6 AM to 6 PM local) access. To use the service, you need the software (free with the reply cards in many computer magazines, or pre-installed on many new Macs), System 6.0.7 or later, 4 MB of RAM, a modem, and a credit card (no paying by check or direct withdrawal currently).

All in all, I think Apple has built a solid foundation in this brave new eWorld. I left AOL fairly quickly, since I have free Internet access through my school, but I’m going to stick with eWorld even through I can get Apple software through FTP. The availability of ZiffNet/Mac software and MacWEEK online make it a winner for me. I’m pretty sure that after some quick exploration, you’ll find something that’s useful to you, too.

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