Check out our bi-weekly Net perspective. Our goal is to make these columns useful for our readers whether they be novice or pro, while still offering a fun to read column. Feel free to let us know what Internet resources you find useful in your personal, educational, or business life - it might just end up in one of our columns!
In recent columns we've explored different interest areas on the Internet. With this column we hope to inform you of some of the inexpensive software that is available to help you safely navigate the Internet on your PC or Macintosh.
Most of the software that you need to surf the net is free or low cost. This is considered freeware or shareware. Freeware is software that is written by computer enthusiasts and distributed at no charge by users' groups, local bulletin boards, Usenet newsgroups, or the Web. Shareware is similar in that it is software distributed without charge but author asks users to voluntarily pay to use it.
To get shareware, you will need to have a few simple skills and tools at your disposal. For example, you will need to know how to transfer/download a file and how to decompress those files one you get them to your PC. Decompression utilities are readily available at many sites on the Internet. We also strongly recommend that you get an anti-virus utility.
Two great places to get started are c|net Incorporated's shareware.com site (http://www.shareware.com) and Jumbo (http://www.jumbo.com). At these sites you can find the latest and most popular shareware. Shareware.com allows you to search by platform or keyword for a particular type of software. For example, if you are interested in finding out about mortgage programs for your PC running Windows 3.11, you can enter the keyword "mortgage" and select Windows 3.xx as your platform. Shareware.com will return a list of all the shareware which fits your profile. To download the software, it's as simple as clicking on the file you want. Your browser will automatically download the files to your PC. After you decompress the files, you're ready to use that new mortgage program.
If you don't have decompression software, don't fret. Shareware.com has an on-line "Survival Kit". For Macintosh users, point your browser to http://www.shareware.com/macsurvival.html; PC users should go to http://www.shareware.com/pcsurvival.html Included in the survival kit are links to sites which house decompression software. Just click on the shareware you want and follow the on-line directions. A list of sites which have the application you want will appear. Click on any of these sites to download the software. Don't get discouraged if you're denied access to a site; many times they are so busy with connections that they can't accept any more. No worry, just click on a different site which has the software you want.
The Jumbo site is equally useful. It also has an easy to use interface, complete with logical index and search engine. If you're looking for utilities, check out Jumbo's Utilities page (http://www.jumbo.com/util/). This site also has useful programs for PC, Macintosh, and other platforms.
One of the first shareware applications you should get is an anti-virus utility. In case you don't know, viruses are analogous with biological viruses in that they are easily spread and can mysteriously damage your computer. A virus cannot infect other computers without assistance. It is propagated by humans trading programs with their friends. The virus may do nothing but propagate silently for a while, then start doing things like writing "cute" messages on the terminal or playing strange tricks with the display. Many nasty viruses do irreversible damage like deleting all your files.
Viruses can cause serious problems, especially among IBM PC and Macintosh users (the lack of security on these machines enables viruses to spread easily, even infecting the operating system). This is an important consideration when you're surfing the net because you will be downloading files from all over the world. To get virus protection for your PC, download VirusScan for Windows or VirusScan for Windows 95 from the Shareware.com or Jumbo site. For the Macintosh, Disinfectant 3.6 provides good virus protection. It is also available at the above sites or directly from the Disinfectant FTP site: (ftp://ftp.acns.nwu.edu/pub/disinfectant/). All these programs come with instructions and helpful hints on how to keep your system free from viruses. If you've surfed the World Wide Web, you know that some of the most exciting data on the Web are audio and video formatted files. Unfortunately, if you don't have the proper helper applications for your browser you will be unable to listen to or view these files. If you click something on a Web site and get either the message "Viewer not configured" or "Unknown data type," you need to download and install a helper application.
For the PC the most common helper applications for audio files (those of type .au, .aiff, .voc or .wav) are Wham or Wplany. To view graphic images (type .jpeg) you will need a viewer such as Lview. For video files you will need MPEGPlay (for .avi files) or Quicktime for Windows (for Quicktime movies). You can download these viewers from many FTP sites including the University of Michigan (http://gopher.archive.merit.edu/.merit-online.html) or Washington University (http://wuarchive.wustl.edu) . These archives have software for PC's, Macs, Amiga's and many other machine types.
On the Macintosh the most common helpers applications that you will need to surf the Internet are SoundMachine for audio files (type .aiff, .aifc, .au, .snd, .wav). For viewing images, use JPEGView (for .jpeg files) and for watching QuickTime movies (.mov files) you should have QuickTime 2.1. Sparkle is an application which will let you view Video (.mpeg) on your Mac. You can download these viewers from many of the FTP sites we've already talked about. In addition, check out the FTP sites at Apple (ftp://ftp.apple.com) or the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (ftp://ftp.ncsa.uiuc.edu/Mac).
Now that you've successfully downloaded your utility software or helper applications you may be wondering why is this great software (almost) free? Well, if you haven't found out yet, there are some truly altruistic people out on the Internet. There is a sense of community on the Internet and a belief that something good should be shared with others. And that's why we believe that if you use a shareware program you should pay the nominal fee that the author requests. In addition, many authors will provide support or additional documentation if you pay the shareware fee.
We look forward to the email and faxes we get from you, so don't stop sending them in. Let us know what's going on in the WNY computing community. You can email us, firstname.lastname@example.org , or fax us, (716) 853-1350 and tell us what you think.