Wait no more, WebTV has arrived

Dec. 15, 1996


If you've been waiting for technology to make Internet access as easy as hooking up a VCR, then your wait is over.

WebTV is available at audio, video and computer stores around the nation now, just in time to fill that empty spot under your Christmas tree.

For less than $400, you can connect the WebTV box to your television and surf the Net with a handy remote control. The whole idea is to make surfing the Web more TV-like; as stated in a WebTv press release, it "allows anyone sitting on their living room couch to comfortably surf the Internet."

The system consists of a set-top box that plugs into your TV; telephone line connects to the WebTV box. Both Sony and Philips have licenses to manufacture the units.

The units currently only work with the WebTV Network, which is essentially an Internet Service Provider network established especially to support WebTV service.

The WebTV service is priced at $19.95 per month for unlimited usage. However, interested shoppers should note that dial-up numbers aren't available locally, and for most buyers it will mean a long-distance telephone call.

And the WebTV unit does offer some neat consumer-oriented features. It periodically turns itself on and checks for new e-mail; a blinking light alerts you to new messages. And like a regular Web browser, you can set up a hotlist to save your favorite Web sites.

And unlike most Internet Service Provider accounts, each registered WebTV unit supports up to five e-mail accounts.

It also has a LineShare feature, which allows you to have call waiting interrupt your Web surfing and reconnect you once the call is finished.

Each unit is also equipped with a Smart Card slot (similar to an ATM slot) that will allow users to make secure purchases or banking on line with an ATM or credit card.

The software the system uses is automatically updated over the WebTV Network; there's no additional software the user has to fool with.

The WebTV browser supports most HTML extensions with the exception of frames. A recent partnership between the WebTV folks and Microsoft will bring replace the browser with a specialized version of Internet Explorer, so that shortcoming will eventually be taken care of.

WebTV has boldly decided to create some HTML extensions of its own; its Web site lists these, along with hints for webmasters who want to optimize their pages for display on WebTV.

I haven't had the chance to try out WebTV, but I have seen them advertised at national consumer electronics stores.

For more details on the service and the equipment, visit their Web site at http://www.webtv.com/

Will WebTV turn TV-addicted couch potatoes in Web-addicted "mouse potatoes?" With a retail price of $349.95, you can be sure that they'll be selling well this Christmas season.

HOLIDAY SURFING. Speaking of Christmas, there's no time like now to make certain that Santa Claus has your want list (or that of another family member). And if you can't make a personal visit to the Jolly Old Elf's lap, there's no better way to do this than via the Internet.

Last Christmas it was a novelty to have a Web site where you and your child could pen a letter to St. Nick, and in return, get a customized e-mailed Santa letter.

Like the Net itself, these sites have multiplied ten-fold in the past year.

To find one, just go to the search engine of your choice and type in "Santa e-mail" or another related term. You'll be inundated with links in return.

While I haven't visited every Santa and Christmas site, here are a few of the ones I enjoyed visiting recently.

SANTA'S LIST. This is a different take on the standard letter-to-Santa site. Santa doesn't get your gift list, it goes to the e-mail addresses of the people you want to tell exactly what you'd like for Christmas.

An easy-to-complete form is provided -- and an extensive on it is: From athletic equipment to appliances, photo equipment to tools and hardware -- so whatever it is you're wanting, you can be sure the person receiving it knows what it is.

You can send copies of your wish list to the three favorite people in your life (as long as they have an e-mail address, naturally).

Get out those wish books and point your browser to http://kumo.swcp.com/Santa/

SANTA'S HOME PAGE. For the kids, I recommend Santa's Home Page for starters.

The site is colorfully designed, with a cute embedded MIDI version of "Santa Claus is Coming To Town" that plays while the page is on your computer screen.

The site has lots to show, including lyrics to a number of popular Xmas tunes; some legends about Christmas; a section to meet the Elves and the Reindeer, and a link to send Santa that all-important e-mail letter.

Point your browser to http://www.north-pole.org/.

NORTH-POLE.NET. This site claims to be the "official" Web site for Santa Claus. It is multi-lingual, offering its text in German and French as well as English.

While it is primarily an e-mail site to send Santa letters, they do offer something unique -- vanity e-mail addresses.

For $10 per month, I can get an e-mail address that reads "jim@north-pole.net," should I want to show identify with the North Pole and Santa's home territory.

This site is attractively done and loads quickly. Point your browser to the North-Pole.net at http"//www.north-pole.net.

CHRISTMAS AROUND THE WORLD. Christmas is an international event, and there's no better proof of that than the Christmas Around the World site at http://christmas.com/xmas/christmas.html

While it is aimed at children, there's a great deal that grownups can learn about how the holiday is celebrated around the globe.

You can learn to say "Merry Christmas" in more than 30 languages, and read about how the Yule, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa holidays are celebrated and their meanings.

For a little holiday humor, you have to visit this site's hilarious spoof of the TV show "The X Files" with their own "The X-Mas Files."

The "X-Mas Files" portion of the Web site is devoted to debunking the myth that Santa Claus doesn't exist -- and they have the proof to prove it.

For example, the "X-Mas Files" data shows reindeer hoofprints on the lunar surface next to the famous photo of Neil Armstrong's footprint, and a "new" shot of the infamous "face" on Mars, that looks suspiciously like St. Nick. As explained at the site, "... our source at NASA explained that the image circulated in the mass media is an alteration by the CIA who believes this image may cause mass hysteria."

Christmas Around the World is both fun and educational and comes highly recommended by me and my four-year-old.

MORE ON KVN. Kentucky VillageNet's future is solid now that Nolin RECC's Home Satellite Corp. has acquired it, says former executive director Tony Nunn.

KVN began as a subsidiary of the Kentucky Rural Telecommunications Center, which began with a purely educational mission -- to increase the telecommunications literacy level of residents in our area. "We're not operators of a utility company," he said of KVN.

KVN's advisory board had been seeking to divest itself of KVN for some time, Nunn said. The problem was find an buyer that would continue to support the community-centered focus, which includes the computer bulletin board.

The advisory board will continue to have a role in KVN, Nunn said.

"The KRTC advisory committee will oversee KVN's operation now," Nunn said.

Now that the KRTC has been freed of the actual day-to-day operation of KVN, Nunn says the board can now return to its mission of education.
"That's the mode we need to be in," he said.

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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