Telephone Net

Planet Internet is a new Internet service provider that offers free phone connections to its subscribers. They dial in through an 0800 number although, unlike most providers, the company does charge according to use.

After a 14-day trial, London users pay pounds 9.99 (plus VAT) per month, which includes five hours' free use. After that they pay 4p per minute. National rates will be announced in March.

Planet Internet includes a UK-biased Web directory, as well as a few jolly services of its own (including, of course, an electronic Valentine page). If you already have an Internet connection, look at http:// If you don't, ring 0500 345 5400.

If you just want a search engine with a European big end, have a look at the modestly titled GOD, for Global Online Directory. It is at

Someone to shout at

All these new companies have inevitably bred their own trade association - the Internet Service Providers Association. It has 25 members whose aims include "establishing accepted standards of service" and "fostering the industry's image". The good news for users is that it should give them someone to shout at. Have a look at

Hotel technology

One of the country's oldest hotels has become the first to link its guests into the Internet. The Ship Hotel in Brighton (est 1559) will rent guests a Pentium PC, complete with Internet access and an e-mail postbox, for pounds 25 a day. The hotel naturally has its own thoroughly modern Web page at vbrighton/hotels/oldship; or you can ring it on 01273 329001.

Cut to the core

Apple's troubles could be good news for consumers as it brings its prices down. It has cut the price of its Powerbook laptops by an average of 10 per cent, bringing the bottom-end 4/500 190 down to pounds 995, plus VAT.

Anyone buying a colour Powerbook 5300, meanwhile, will get a fax/modem worth pounds 240 for free.

Overcome the fear

A letter: "Larry Ellison's view of current personal computers as 'ridiculously expensive' and 'ridiculously complicated' is ridiculously naive.

"Expensive? Compared with what? Cars are expensive, but most people find them more convenient than, say, motorcycles - which are both less expensive and less complicated.

"How does he measure complexity? Moving parts? Numbers of components? No one is really interesed in complexity - unless it impacts a much more tangible dimension: reliability. A stripped-down PC is still likely to contain the most unreliable components: monitors and keyboards.

"And I have a slight feeling of deja vu here: you just do not see many Prestel terminals, Sinclair QLs or early (non-expandable) Apple Macs any more.

"Most people I have met who do not own a computer are dissuaded primarily by one thing: fear. We have a long way to go before anything remotely resembling a PC is going to leap that particular hurdle. But it is not going to be achieved by ripping out some hardware.

"What we need to do is develop usable systems. Put Larry Ellison on the receiving end of a technical support helpline for a week and he'll get the picture...."

William Hudson, director, Syntagm; e-mail: whudson@