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The Independent Culture
"HELLO, all you cyberheads," my computer drawled. "Do you recognise my voice? It's Madonna." And it was, talking about her latest album through the miniature loudspeaker on my PC - for 50.33 seconds precisely, according to my machine.

Yes, high-quality sound, as well as text and images, is available on the Internet - as long as you have the right equipment. The first thing you need is a software package known as a "Web browser". The best-known are Mosaic and NetScape, available free from your on-line service (phone for advice on how to retrieve it). Find it, and you will gain access to the World Wide Web (WWW).

The World Wide Web is, in effect, a network of specialist databases within the Internet. It holds thousands of documents and graphics, as well as film and sound clips. Two features distinguish it from most of the Internet: first, high-quality visual images are available on it - better than on television; secondly, it has a feature called "hypertext", which allows you to navigate more easily around the labyrinthine network.

If you click on any word highlighted in blue - or a picture or graphic with a blue frame - the screen will immediately change. You will find yourself looking at more detailed information about the subject highlighted, or you will be presented with an index of all other references to it. This means you can wander for ages on a serendipitous tour.

If you want to "travel" at more than a frustratingly plodding rate, you will need a fast modem (preferably 14,400 bits per second). If you want to listen to Madonna, or any other noises, you will also need a "sound card". This is a plug-in upgrade costing around £100, which usually comes with a much better-quality speaker than the one built into your computer.

Once you start browsing on the Web, you will find an indexing system. You should be able to find exactly what you want by entering a key word - such as "opera" or "caving". If something takes your fancy, you can print it out. Here are some examples:

4 The Museum of Modern Art in New York, which allows you to look at some of its pictures on your screen. The quality is good; but there is many a slip, and often a long wait for the image to feed itself across the Atlantic from a computer in the United States.

4 A critique of all the recordings of all the Mahler symphonies. (I believe there are facsimiles of original scores on the Internet somewhere, but I could not find them.)

4 A cricket section, which starts off with a picture of Imran Khan, and gives access by hypertext to all sorts of statistics. It is clearly aimed at seducing Americans; the section is headed, "Cricket: the coolest game alive".

4 The Definitive Review of Dublin's Watering Holes: not definitive, but not bad.

4 The Hungarian budget, in Hungarian. Introduced by a screen welcoming you to the Office of the Hungarian Prime Minister.

4 The opera-schedule server. Type in the city, the opera or the artist and find out what operas are happening where.

4 That Madonna item. You can listen to clips of songs - but they can take half an hour to "download". With the right software, such as a Quicktime program, you can also see clips of Madonna's music videos. This is dull, but it does take you to the edge of computer technology. It uses the system that, in a few years, will be pouring films and TV (so-called video-on- demand) into our living rooms.

David Bowen