PCs take to the superhighway

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The Independent Online
Using a personal computer to shop, watch films, catch up with the news and deal with banks is likely to become a reality for millions of people when Microsoft, the world's biggest computer software company, launches a new service using the ``information superhighways'' next year.

The service will be carried by telephone lines and is, according to one Microsoft spokesman, so simple that ``Even my mum could use this.''

A range of trial services, including electronic mail and ``chatting'' via the computer will be offered for the cost of a local telephone call, thanks to a deal between Microsoft and telephone companies, including BT in the UK. Microsoft announced last night that it had also hired BT to build its network in Europe and parts of Asia. A call from the computer will link people to Microsoft's information centre in Seattle, the heart of the network.

Microsoft intends to give people easier and cheaper access to global ``information superhighways'' than ever before.

The service, called Marvel, will be available to anyone using Microsoft's Windows 95 operating software. Windows 95 is due out early next year, and is an upgraded version of the company's existing software, used in 85 per cent of personal computers.

Microsoft refuses to say yet how much the full Marvel service will cost or who will provide the information and films. At first, subscribers will pay a monthly fee - as little as a few pounds - for using the service for a fixed amount of time.

The way of charging is likely to change, with people paying on the basis of goods and information they purchase, and being charged directly by whoever provides those products.

Services provided over computer networks are not new, but Microsoft says only a tiny proportion of computer owners use them because they are expensive or difficult to access. There are 150 million personal computers in the world, but most users do not have the modem needed to link them to communications networks.

Separately, BT will today announce trials in which it will send video and shopping services down the telephone line to the home.

How and why, page 33