It's not necessary to buy a computer to begin exploring the Internet. You may be able to get started using free facilities in your community. Try:
Some communities sponsor freenets to give all their members free access to a wealth of information. To see if there is a freenet in your area, have someone with Web access go to http://www.lights.com/freenet/
To take advantage of online offerings, you need to use a computer set up with certain hardware (equipment) and software (instruction programs for the computer) as well as online access. Internet essentials include:
An Internet Service Provider (ISP) provides you with the software you need to get on the Internet. ISPs include local and regional companies, nationwide providers such as UUNet and Netcom, and telecommunications companies such as AT&T and MCI. If your family is ready to explore the Internet independently, an ISP can be a wise choice. Ask a friend with Web access to download and print for you a list of ISPs for your area using the Web address http://www.thelist.com.
Online services such as America Online and Prodigy offer members partial or full Internet access along with a number of additional resources, such as travel planning, financial management services, children's areas, and chat rooms in which several individuals participate in a group discussion about a selected topic at the same time. Although many of the resources available through online services can also be found on the Internet, online services organize them attractively and make them easy for you and your children to access with the click of a mouse. Within their own resource areas, online services can also exercise more control over what their members see and do by blocking access to certain sites and monitoring communication, particularly in children's areas.
Before you choose, you should consider:
Be aware that while you're online, the modem will be using your phone. You won't be able to make or receive any telephone calls until you disconnect from the Internet or unless you have a separate phone line for your modem.
If you're thinking about buying a computer set up to go on the Internet, keep these considerations in mind:
Talk with your family and decide how the computer will be used. Will you be using the computer mostly for typing (word processing) school assignments, sending e-mail, and browsing the Web? Do you plan to purchase additional software and games that will require a CD-ROM drive? Do you need sound and video capabilities for games and some World Wide Web sites, or can you do without these functions for a while?
Do your homework. You can get guidance about buying a computer from many sources:
Become familiar with computer features so you can decide what makes sense for your family. A computer's capabilities depend on:
The greater these capabilities, the more quickly you'll be able to move around the Internet, look at Web sites, save, and print files--the more expensive you'll find the set up.
Decide whether to invest in new or used equipment. When you buy a new computer, you'll generally receive everything you need to go online immediately. You'll probably be advised to buy the biggest hard drive, the most memory, and the fastest processor and modem that you an afford, so your computer has enough capacity to work well now and in the future. You'll spend somewhere between $1,200 and several thousand dollars.
For several hundred dollars, in contrast, you may be able to buy an older model used computer and a printer, and add a modem and communications software. This set up may be all your family needs to write letters and school reports, use e-mail, and browse the Web. Of course there will be tradeoffs in terms of speed and performance, and you may run a higher risk of equipment breakdown. Some stores specialize in refurbishing used equipment, or inspecting it and replacing worn parts. If you take this route, find out what parts are new before you buy and ask whether you can get a warranty. Also, with any used set up, make sure that any software that is included is licensed, rather than an illegal copy.
Add upgrades over time.You can buy additions you want or need later and install the upgrades yourself as you learn more about working with computers. Before you buy software, ask someone you know with Web access to check a site like Tucows http://www.tucows.com or Stroud http://cws.internet.com to learn what free and low-cost programs are available through the Internet.