Buying Online: Making the right connection

Buying goods and services over the Internet means getting online. Today that is still quite difficult, but a revolution is just around the corner.

The conventional arrangement consists of a PC (or Macintosh computer), a piece of software called a browser, a device called a modem, a telephone line and an Internet account with an Internet services provider (ISP) - the company that actually connects your PC into the network of computers worldwide that is the Internet.

For most types of electronic commerce, you don't need a powerful PC, but (and it is a big but), the power of the browsers and the advances in technology on the web mean that you might need at a fairly up-to-date machine to avoid being shut out of too many sites.

Browser are the software that allow you to look at any Website. It is the program which is a cross between a word-processor, a graphics package and a database. In addition, it can probably display moving images and relay sound.

There are really only two choices for browsers today - Microsoft's Internet Explorer or Netscape's Communicator/Navigator package. There really is not a lot to chose between them. The market is shifting toward Microsoft, but many regard Navigator as slightly easier to install and use.

The next thing you need is a modem. Many computers come with a modem built-in, but if you have to buy one go for one that operates at least 33.6K baud rate (just like miles per hour, but for modems). You can go for a 56K model, but although, theoretically, it should operate 40 per cent faster, this depends on the ISP and the quality of the phone line.

Having acquired all the hardware and software you need, the next step is the Internet connection. There are various types of ISP and many people nowadays get their online connection through companies like AOL and CompuServe, which have their own fairly extensive Web-based retail operations, as well as providing customers an outlet to the Internet itself. These companies provide a good, fast and reliable service.

There are also plenty of companies offering plain "old-fashioned" Internet access, such as Demon, Pipex and BT costing from around pounds 9-pounds 15 per month for unlimited time online.

One interesting option is Dixons' new service called Freeserve - a totally free ISP service. The only downside is that you pay pounds 1 per minute for calls to technical support. With the launch of Freeserve in the next week or two, there are almost bound to be problems. But you will have to have a lot of technical problems before you end up spending more on technical support than you will on a normal ISP bill.

A word of warning, however. Dixons, like nearly all the other ISPs, use local rate numbers to connect using your modem. Do remember that Internet calls can be very, very long. It is easy to stay online for 30 minutes, an hour or longer while you are searching the information superhighway. It is usually worth making your ISP access number one of your Friends and Family numbers, if your telephone company like BT allows you to. You will be surprised how much money you will spend on these calls. Some cable companies allow free local calls to ISPs at certain times of day.

Already there are changes taking place in the world of Internet connection. Digital TV could well be the way we do most of our online shopping. And faster connections into your home could mean whole new services.

Digital cable TV will eventually include an ultra high-speed two-way link - probably 500 times faster than today's modems within a couple of years. This sort of speed allows high quality video to pass in both directions.

For terrestrial and satellite homes, the way we connect out to the Internet will still be via the telephone line. Here faster technologies are coming in, but it is probably not a good idea to be first on the block to try out new things. BT has just started promoting something it is calling BT Highway. This is a repackaged version of a service called ISDN.

While fast, ISDN has a terrible reputation for connection problems and it is still very expensive. Like all new technologies it is probably better to let others suffer the pain to get things right first.

Steve Homer

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Reprographics Operator

    £12500 - £13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest independent Reprogr...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Design Apprentice

    £6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a well established websit...

    Tradewind Recruitment: French & German Teacher

    £120 - £145 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: French & German Teacher X2 Materni...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer / Systems Administrator

    £25000 - £32500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in SW London, this compan...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee