Big Dummy's Guide To The Internet Part 40

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Contrast this with the telephone, which now also provides access to large amounts of information through push b.u.t.tons, or a computer network such as Prodigy, which one navigates through simple commands and mouse clicks.

Internet system administrators have begun to realize that not all people want to learn the intricacies of Unix, and that that fact does not make them bad people. We are already seeing the development of simple interfaces that will put the Net's power to use by millions of people. You can already see their influence in the menus of gophers and the World-Wide Web, which require no complex computing skills but which open the gates to thousands of information resources. Mail programs and text editors such as pico and pine promise much of the power of older programs such as emacs at a fraction of the complexity.

Some software engineers are taking this even further, by creating graphical interfaces that will let somebody navigate the Internet just by clicking on the screen with a mouse or by calling up an easy text editor, sort of the way one can now navigate a Macintosh computer -- or a commercial online service such as Prodigy.

Then there are the Internet services themselves.

For every database now available through the Internet, there are probably three or four that are not. Government agencies are only now beginning to connect their storehouses of information to the Net. Several commercial vendors, from database services to booksellers, have made their services available through the Net.

Few people now use one of the Net's more interesting applications. A standard known as MIME lets one send audio and graphics files in a message. Imagine opening your e-mail one day to hear your granddaughter's first words, or a "photo" of your friend's new house. Eventually, this standard could allow for distribution of even small video displays over the Net.

All of this will require vast new amounts of Net power, to handle both the millions of new people who will jump onto the Net and the new applications they want. Replicating a moving image on a computer screen alone takes a phenomenal amount of computer bits, and computing power to arrange them.

All of this combines into a National Information Infrastructure able to move billions of bits of information in one second -- the kind of power needed to hook information "hoses" into every business and house.

As these "superhighways" grow, so will the "on ramps," for a high- speed road does you little good if you can't get to it. The costs of modems seem to fall as fast as those of computers. High-speed modems (9600 baud and up) are becoming increasingly affordable. At 9600 baud, you can download a satellite weather image of North America in less than two minutes, a file that, with a slower modem could take up to 20 minutes to download. Eventually, homes could be connected directly to a national digital network. Most long-distance phone traffic is already carried in digital form, through high-volume optical fibers. Phone companies are ever so slowly working to extend these fibers the "final mile" to the home. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is working to ensure these links are affordable.

Beyond the technical questions are increasingly th.o.r.n.y social, political and economic issues. Who is to have access to these services, and at what cost? If we live in an information age, are we laying the seeds for a new information under cla.s.s, unable to compete with those fortunate enough to have the money and skills needed to manipulate new communications channels? Who, in fact, decides who has access to what? As more companies realize the potential profits to be made in the new information infrastructure, what happens to such systems as Usenet, possibly the world's first successful anarchistic system, where everybody can say whatever they want?

What are the laws of the electronic frontier? When national and state boundaries lose their meaning in cybers.p.a.ce, the question might even be: WHO is the law? What if a practice that is legal in one country is "committed" in another country where it is illegal, over a computer network that crosses through a third country? Who goes after computer crackers?

What role will you play in the revolution?

Big Dummy's Guide To The Internet Part 40

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Big Dummy's Guide To The Internet Part 40 summary

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