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Public-Access Internet Providers

When you have your communications program dial one of these host systems, one of two things will happen when you connect. You'll either see a lot of gibberish on your screen, or you'll be asked to log in. If you see gibberish, chances are you have to change your software's parameters (to 7-1-E or 8-1-N as the case may be). Hang up, make the change and then dial in again.

When you've connected, chances are you'll see something like this:

Welcome to THE WORLD
Public Access UNIX for the '90s
Login as `new' if you do not have an account


That last line is a prompt asking you to do something. Since this is your first call, type


and hit enter. Often, when you're asked to type something by a host system, you'll be told what to type in quotation marks (for example, `new' above). Don't include the quotation marks. Repeat: Don't include the quotation marks.

What you see next depends on the system, but will generally consist of information about its costs and services (you might want to turn on your communication software's logging function, to save this information). You'll likely be asked if you want to establish an account now or just look around the system.

You'll also likely be asked for your "user name." This is not your full name, but a one-word name you want to use while online. It can be any combination of letters or numbers, all in lower case. Many people use their first initial and last name (for example, "jdoe"); their first name and the first letter of their last name (for example, "johnd"); or their initials ("jxd"). Others use a nickname. You might want to think about this for a second, because this user name will become part of your electronic-mail address (see section Electronic Mail). The one exception is the various Free-Net systems, all of which assign you a user name consisting of an arbitrary sequence of letters and numbers.

You are now on the Net. Look around the system. See if there are any help files for you to read. If it's a menu-based host system, choose different options just to see what happens. Remember: You can't break anything. The more you play, the more comfortable you'll be.

What follows is a list of public-access Internet sites, which are computer systems that offer access to the Net. All offer international e-mail and Usenet (international conferences). In addition, they offer:

File-transfer protocol -- access to hundreds of file libraries (everything from computer software to historical documents to song lyrics). You'll be able to transfer these files from the Net to your own computer.

Access to databases, computerized library card catalogs, weather reports and other information services, as well as live, online games that let you compete with players from around the world.

Additional services that may be offered include:

Wide-area Information Server; a program that can search dozens of databases in one search.

A program that gives you easy access to dozens of other online databases and services by making selections on a menu. You'll also be able to use these to copy text files and some programs to your mailbox.

Internet Relay Chat, a CB simulator that lets you have live keyboard chats with people around the world.

However, even on systems that do not provide these services directly, you will be able to use a number of them through telnet (see section Telnet (Mining the Net, part I)). In the list that follows, systems that let you access services through menus are noted; otherwise assume that when you connect, you'll be dumped right into Unix (a.k.a. MS-DOS with a college degree). Several of these sites are available nationwide through national data networks such as the CompuServe Packet Network and SprintNet.

Please note that all listed charges are subject to change. Many sites require new or prospective users to log on a particular way on their first call; this list provides the name you'll use in such cases.

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