Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 126 / FEBRUARY 1991 / PAGE 34

Tapping into online power. (computer networks) (Workplace)
by Daniel Janal

You need a modem. Fewer than 30 percent of the people who own PCs own a modem, yet no home office worker should be without one. If you've put off buying one or even looking into the matter, read on. There won't be one technical word in this article to scare you off or confuse you.

Modems are devices that hook up to your computer and your phone line, allowing you to browse through libraries, send mail, exchange ideas with other home office workers and marketeers, get support for your software and hardware, and do a whole lot of other things - if only you'd give them a chance.

Let's look at the services you can obtain from a major information service, such as CompuServe, Prodigy, Dow Jones News Service, America Online, QuantumLink, GEnie, and MCI Mail.

If you can't spare a couple of hours to drive to the local library, find a parking spot, and wait till the entire eighth grade class finishes using the reference room, you might enjoy researching with your computer and one of the information services mentioned above. Most systems let you browse through the encyclopedia, today's news, and old magazine articles.

Are you afraid to call your stock broker times a day to see how your stocks are doing? You can read stock prices as often as you wish from many online services (although quotes are delayed 15 minutes). Before you buy stocks, you can study the pricing history, company news, and financial information. Several services even let you make trades ones.

Want to get noticed fast? Send mail electronically to others who are on your system. MCI Mail is the pre-dominant system for doing this. If you're in the computer business, chances are that everyone you know - or need to know - sends and receives MCI Mail. People respond quickly to MCI Mail. You can bypass the crowds who have left phone messages buried under the mountain of pink While You Were Out slips. CompuSerce and MCI Mails can send an electronic document to your client's fax machine - even if you don't have one.

Having trouble with your hardware or software? Try getting support online from any of the nearly 100 manufacturers and publishers on CompuServe. With many manufacturers charging for phone support or requiring up-front contracts for support (the privilege of staying on hold for half an hour at long-distance rates), this online service is a bargain, even at standard online charges. You can usually get answers to your questions the same day, and you might even obtain information at 2:00 in the morning.

You can discuss common problems and get advice from peers who may be on the other side of the continent. The best forum for home office workers is CompuServe's Work at Home Forum, which features advice on such topics as how to set up a business, run it profitably, hire lawyers and accountants, market a product, and decide which software works bets in a home environment. Forum host Paul and Sarah Edwards have turned their years of experience running home offices and writing books on the subject into a cornucopia of information for the home office worker.

You can also find places to "talk" with people who are in the same profession (such as journalists, public relations practitioner, lawyers, computer consultants, entrepreneurs, pilots, and others).

Believe it or not, a lot of friendships get established online through these chat sessions. "Cupcake," who runs a forum on CompuServe dedicated to chatting, swears on a stack of microprocessors that two people met online and got married. How's that for curing home office isolation?

Many of these online services are making their services easy to use with sign-on kits, pull-down menus, and toll-free support. Of course, these services aren't free. You must pay $6.00 an hour and up to use them. However, the services can pay for themselves in saved time and access to hard-to-find information when you really need it.

Sounds pretty good? Then why haven't the great unwashed, the other 70+ percent of PC owners, gone out, bought modems, and found the information and persons of their dreams?

Because the manufacturers of modems and communications software seem to think it is oh so valley-speak cool to be part of in group that includes everyone who undestands techno-jargon like checksum, duplex, and ansi.

How's an Average Joe supposed to know about Xmodem?

Well, I'm telling you manufacturers to get in touch with consumers and forget about bits and bytes. We don't care about techno-speak. We want easy-to-use modems, software, and hardware for the techno-novices of the world.

That shouldn't be too difficult. After all, a CD player doesn't require a manual, and not many of us can explain how the sound gets from a platter to the speaker. Yet we push a button, and it all works. Why, then, can't we tap into online power without undue complexity?

Will manufacturers make this technology easier to use? Even if they don't, I hope to see you online.