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Getting news on your PC is a snap with the PointCast Network

Feb. 25, 1996


If you're a fan of the cable TV show "C|Net Central,'' then you may have seen a recent telecast that included details of the newest addition to my computer's hard drive -- the PointCast Network.

The PointCast Network brings you personalized news content to your home or business computer via the Internet. It is similar to the subscription news-retrieval services that create a customized news page on your computer screen; its differences make it a unique product.

The interface is fully customizable Ï you can configure PCN to gather not just national and world news, but horoscopes, state lottery numbers, sports, entertainment, weather maps and forecasts, business and industrial news, and NYSE, AMEX, NASDAQ and Dow Jones Industrials charts.

You can pick and choose in most categories. For example, I chose National League Baseball and NCAA basketball as two of my major sports news categories.

PCN's news sources include Reuters, PR Newswire and SportsTicker.

PCN "broadcasts'' its information over the Internet. If you have a dedicated Internet connection, you can schedule updates periodically through the day. Or if you are using a dial-up Internet service provider, you can configure PCN to perform updates on demand, or on a fixed schedule.

The update process is simple: At the set time or by the click of the "Update'' button, the software contacts its home site and retrieves the latest news for your selected categories.

This update is performed in the background, allowing you to use other applications while the update is in progress.

While it's a dandy news interface and retrieval interface, PCN offers two other noteworthy features: SmartScreen screensaver and a built-in World-Wide Web browser.

SmartScreen is a screensaver that integrates the latest headlines from stories retrieved by PCN. Should you want to read the text of a story that's previewed on the screensaver, simply point and click on the headline to jump to the text.

What's the cost for PointCast Network? Its free. It's supported by advertisers, who's ads are displayed in various places on the PCN interface and screensaver.

PCN's advertisements are more akin to TV commercials than newspaper display ads. They're animated displays that are also clickable links for the built-in Web browser. Click on the ad and the browser takes you to the advertiser's home page.

The browser isn't comparable to Netscape Navigator 2.0, but it did work correctly most times I tried it (Remember that PCN is still in beta, or still being tested, so some bugs can be expected).

However, PCN will soon be available as a plug-in application for Netscape Navigator 2.0. This will provide seamless integration of the PointCast Network into the country's most popular Web browser.

HIGH SPEED MODEMS? Modem speeds for regular telephone lines have just about maxed out, and the latest boost for Internet surfing speeds on the horizon appears to be high-speed cable modems.

The technology is still being tested around the country, but it essentially allows a computer user to hook a computer to a modem that interfaces with cable TV coaxial cable.

The advantage is cable's ability to transfer much more information at one time. Cable modems allegedly will run at speeds more than 100 times faster than phone modems.

The catch? Making that super-fast connection a two-way street. Most of the country's cable systems are send-only, making interaction nearly impossible.

One cable modem company has created a solution to this problem. General Instrument's Surfboard receives data from the Internet via cable, and sends information from the computer back over telephone lines.

Internet-over-cable systems are still in the experimental stage, so only time will tell if they will eventually become the standard method for Internet access.

FORT KNOX ON THE WEB. Last week's column contained a list of many Hardin County residents' home pages on the Web. So this week, here are some of the Web sites related to Fort Knox.

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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