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Online services have much to offer -- for a price

Dec. 24, 1995


.If you've purchased a computer magazine off the newsstand in the last year, chances are you received a free diskette with it. More often than not, the disk is software for one of the Big Three in computer on-line services: CompuServe, America Online and Prodigy.

The purpose of the disk is simple: Free, self-installing software that will sign you up for a no-cost trial membership to an on-line service.

Consider it a test drive. If you're going to plunk down your hard-earned dough every month, you certainly deserve a see what the on-line service has to offer.

The number of claimed subscribers attest to the services' popularity. According to Boardwatch magazine, AOL claims 3.8 million subscribers, versus 3.54 million and 1.72 million for CompuServe and Prodigy, respectively.

All of the Big Three offer basic services, including e-mail, forums, downloadable files, reference areas, news, Internet access and some form of live interactive chat interface. The difference is mostly in their implementation.

AOL. America Online offers a vast amount of information in a very user-friendly format.

It's main menu is broken down into broad categories, such as personal finance, news, finance, etc. Simply click on the appropriate button and find what you're searching for.

All this fun and information will set up back $9.95 per month for 10 hours of access. There's no local telephone number, so you can add long-distance charges to that.

COMPUSERVE. With 10 years of on-line experience, CompuServe has found itself recently playing catch-up to AOL.

CompuServe offers extensive on-line forums for topics ranging from aviation to zoology. Like AOL, there's a good deal of software available for downloading, plus the ever-popular chat areas.

A subscription costs $9.95 per month, which includes 5 free hours of access time. Additional hours are $2.95 per month, and the charge includes 3 hours per month of access to the Internet

A plus is a magazine they send to subscribers, full of features on various aspects of the service, and details of new and coming attractions.

PRODIGY. The first of the Big Three to offer Internet access, Prodigy offers many of the same sort Newsweek's online edition, as well as a number of specialty areas for children and on-line shopping.

That's what the advertisements say. My tries to get connected to Prodigy with one of their free disks were unsuccessful. Evidently, the offer of free time on Prodigy had expired on the disk I tried. But to their credit, they have a toll-free number to request another free by mail.

COMPARISON. If Internet access is something you value, then America Online or Prodigy have the best integration between their software and their Internet access.

However, be forewarned that Internet access isn't cheap on any of the three. Beyond the monthly hour limit, expect to pay handsomely. It adds up fast.

Otherwise, it is primarily personal choice. Try them on for size; but remember if you aren't interested to cancel your account so you aren't charged the monthly fee.

BOSNIA & THE NET. The deployment of U.S. troops to Bosnia as part of a NATO peacekeeping mission is dominating the media in print and broadcast formats. Operation Joint Endeavor has also spurred an increase in activity on the Internet and on-line services.

On the Internet, and the World-Wide Web, government agencies, branches of the military and other groups and individual have created Web sites chock full of information on Bosnia and the troop deployment.

The Department of Defense has created a dedicated Web site for Bosnia information called BosniaLINK. The site has public information on Joint Endeavor, including operation maps, fact sheets, news releases and even biographies of commanding personnel.

A downloadable map offers a look at where the deployment forces will be stationed.

BosniaLINK also offers links to Web sites created by NATO and the State Department.

Like BosniaLINK, AirForceLINK offers information on the U.S. Air Force's role in supporting Joint Endeavor.

The Navy is supporting peacekeeping efforts in Bosnia, and has established NavyLINK to detail their involvement.

The U.S. Dept of State has a web page with text of the Dayton peace agreement, official texts and transcripts of the meetings, current state dept. press releases and other information on Bosnia.

For information from the Department of Defense, try DefenseLINK. The site has all the DoD press releases, and links to other branches of the military.

Want information about the history and geography of Bosnia? Try "The Bosnian Virtual Fieldtrip," a WWW site. Evidently, a geography lesson for George Mason University students, (and a nice fact-filled tour for the rest of us), the BVF provides background on Bosnia and the conflict, and visits to key places in the region. The college is located in Fairfax, Va.

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to jbrooks@myoldkentuckyhome.com, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.

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