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!
We get lots of questions from family, friends, and readers about the Internet, where to
find useful free or almost free software, and whether it's safe to download this software.
We thought it might be a good idea to address these questions
and let you know about some of the inexpensive software that is available to help you safely navigate the Internet on your personal computer.
To begin with, most of the software that you need to surf the net should be provided for you by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) when you open your account. Very often though, the software they provide is not sufficient for what you want to do or needs to be upgraded to a newer version. There are many places on the Internet where you can find low cost software to help you better utilize the net. This software 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 the author asks users to voluntarily pay a small fee to use it or to get the documentation or a more robust version.
To get this software, you 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 work with those files one you get them to your computer. Shareware is usually stored in a"compressed" format to make it smaller so it downloads quicker to your machine and to bundle more than one file so you don't need to do multiple downloads and worry about whether you got all the necessary files. Decompression utilities are readily available at many sites on the Internet. We also strongly recommend that you get an anti-virus utility and install it before downloading other software or saving files sent to you via email.
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 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 McAfee's VirusScan for Windows or VirusScan for Windows 95 from Shareware.com, shareware.com, or Jumbo, jumbo.com. For the Macintosh, Disinfectant provides good virus protection. It is also available at the above sites or directly from the Disinfectant FTP site, ftp.acns.nwu.edu/pub/disinfectant/. All these programs come with instructions and helpful hints on how to keep your system free from viruses.
For more information about computer viruses and anti-virus protection check out the comp.virus Usenet Newsgroup, www.cis.ohio-state.edu/hypertext/faq/usenet/computer-virus/faq/faq.html or subscribe to the virus-l mailing list by sending email to email@example.com with the one line message: sub virus-l your-first-name your-last-name. Remember to put your real name in that command line. Probably the most common question we get about viruses is whether you can get a virus by reading your email. The general answer is "no, not by reading your email but...". You can get a virus from a file sent to you as an attachment to an email message if you save that file and then execute it without first checking it with your anti-virus protection software. Computer viruses are real and can cause major problems if you're not careful. However, there are also a lot of myths out there on the net about viruses. A good source of information about these myths is the Yahoo! Urban Legends web page, yahoo.com/Society_and_Culture/Mythology_and_Folklore/Urban_Legends/Computer_Viruses/ where you can read the "Truth about E-Mail Viruses".
We mentioned Shareware.com and Jumbo, Inc. above. We feel are two of the best web sites to get started in your search for shareware software. Shareware.com allows you to search by platform or keyword for a particular type of software. For example, if you were looking for virus protection software for your Windows 95 machine you could enter the keyword "virus" and select MS-Windows95 as the platform and click on the "Search" button. In less than one half second Shareware.com would return a list of the first 25 programs they have available that matches your search string. To download the software, it's as easy as clicking on the file you want. Your browser will automatically download the file to your computer. Since these programs are usually stored in the "zip" format you should first download software to "unzip" them. Do a search for the program "powerzip" and download it. After you run the powerzip.exe file (by double clicking on it in Windows Explorer to install it you can download and other "zipped" software. After you decompress (unzip) the files, you're ready to use that new anti-virus software. Over at Jumbo, we went to their "Mac Necessities" page, jumbo.com/pages/mac/, and found a long list of files every Mac owner could use.
We'd like to hear from you if you have any questions about any of our columns or if you'd like to suggest a topic for a future column. You can email us, firstname.lastname@example.org , or fax us, (716) 853-1350 and let us know what's happening on the Internet in WNY or any computing related activities you're involved with.