NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article
The Internet Explosion!
It's everywhere-and it's terrific

by Steve Bass, Pasadena IBM Users Group, June 2001
(click to email author)

Wherever you look in-the newspaper, radio, even The New Yorker for goodness sakes-you'll find someone pitching a new dot.com. For the most part, these sites contain useful, if not spectacularly valuable content. And it's just the tip of the iceberg. Because as we break through into 2000, you'll see thousands of new and exciting sites.

Not more than a year ago, industry pundits (nope, not me) suggested we'd watch television and movies on the Internet. And we wouldn't have to buy software in the future. Everything you needed would be on the Internet, available either for rent, on a per-use basis, or free if you'd look at some advertising.

I was the first on my block to disagree.

I remember arguing with a guy pitching a Web site that lets you share your schedule with others. I explained to him how much more comfortable it was having my contact database here on my PC, safe and sound. Why in the world I said would anyone in his right mind stick vital data-name, addresses, phone numbers -- on the Internet? (The guy went on his way, ignored my advice, and probably sold his site for millions.)

I still get that feeling of well-being loading my contact manager from my hard drive. But I've also become enamored with a handful of sites. Some have cool applications that let me collaborate with others. Others give me massive amounts of free data storage. Some help me while a few offer entertainment.

Entertain Me!
Movies: MovieHead is loaded with free movies. With Microsoft's viewer or RealPlayer, you can view a movie while pretending to be hard at work. (I have the black and white classic Bride of the Gorilla playing while I write this column. It's a hoot! http://www.moviehead.com/cinema/horror/bride_of_the_gorilla.html)

TV: iCraveTV is an outfit that broadcasts Canadian TV, much to the dismay of the networks. ABC, CBS, NBC, and others are readily available, along with plenty of commercials. Try it, if for no other reason than you can do it.

You'll need RealPlayer. When the site asks you for an area code, use 905. Then lie and say you're in Canada and accept their agreement. Depending on your bandwidth, the picture and sound can be exceptionally good.

Let's Collaborate!
AnyList: If you want to create and share next years holiday wish list so friends and relatives far and wide know exactly what you want, try AnyList. Among other tricks, AnyList lets you collect and collaborate information using surveys, by keeping track of dates and events (say, a project or scores for a sporting event), or by creating a shared journal to keep track of special events. http://www.anylist.com.

Give Me Some Help!
Keen and Expert City: Even the most hardened, technology-fearing Luddites will be amazed with these two sites.

My favorite is Expert City because of its interactivity. Log onto the site, ask the question, and one of a dozen experts will bid on your job. (You can still try it for free.)

What's the most intriguing is their ability to remotely access my computer and show me, step-by-step, how to resolve a computing problem. Better, I can grab their BuddyHelp applet (http://www.buddyhelp.com) and help someone else using the same type of software.

Keen provides advice on hundreds of subjects by old-fashioned means-the phone. Find a subject and click the button. In seconds, your phone rings and you're talking to the "expert." The cost? It ranges from free to 25- cents a minutes. The expertise? Hey, I don't know but I'm sure dazzled by the technology, folks {{smile}} (http://www.keen.com and http://www.expertcity.com)

While the Keen and Expert sites are fun, I also have a few favorite help sites, none of which are interactive. But they supply free, solid support:

32bit.com forums

NoWonder SupportBoard

Support City (This is a terrific site! It tells you where to get help, provides manufacturers' site help policy, and links to third party support. http://www.supportcity.com/

Experts Exchange

Storage? We've Got Some
i-drive: Last year I looked at Freedrive, a web site that lets me share files with others. Two problems: A kludgy interface and limited space. But I recently found i-drive, a substantially better site that does tons more than freedrive.

I use i-drive in two ways. If I have a large file to share with others (like that Alien Song MPEG you saw at a recent PIBMUG meeting), I send it to i-drive. You head for my i-drive and pick up the file at your leisure. Why not use e-mail? Because most ISPs limit the size of an e-mail attachment to 2- or 3MBs.

I-drive has other terrific advantages over similar sites. It interacts with my PC: Uploading files is a snap because a small java applet pops on screen with a directory of my hard drive. Click a button and the file's on the way to the i-drive secure server.

The other way I use i-drive is to synchronize my hard disks files onto their server. A small application-i-driveSynch-sends entire directories to i-drive at regularly scheduled intervals. Right, a free backup program for critical files.

I use it when I'm working on a PC World column or the PIBMUG newsletter. Files are saved quickly and efficiently offline.

Another i-drive big deal is storage-if you play your cards right, you can have 70MBs.

Start by going to http://www.mp3.com and head for any music category. Find something appealing (there's lots and most of them have free samples) and click on a specific title. (If you're struggling, try this one: http://artists.mp3s.com/artists/63/liona_boyd.html.

Then look for the link that says Save to i-drive and click it. Once on the i-drive site, register and the music will automatically be sent to your account. By first visiting the MP3 site, i-drive boosts your storage size. I-drive's InfiniteDrive tab can hook you to another music site- Epitonic.com. Do a sideload (essentially a transfer from Epitonic to your i-drive site) and you get a 30MB reward.

One concern I have is security. The site has two privacy statements. They say (look in Corporate and then About Us) that my data is encrypted using 128-bit SSL before it's sent from my web browser and their servers. Files are stored on i-drive database servers that aren't reachable directly from the Internet. Data is stored on systems that are fully redundant with fully mirrored drives, and locked in a datacenter that's protected 24 hours a day by security personnel, surveillance cameras, and biometric door locks. Sounds good.

At the same time, they also say, although information that you submit may be password-protected, i-drive does not guarantee the security of any information transmitted to or from this web site. You agree to assume the security risk for any information you provide using the Services.

Can a hacker (worse, an unhappy tech support or engineer from i-drive) get access to my personal and private data? I don't think so but I just can't be sure.

So for now, everything I upload that I consider important gets encrypted. (Here's a quick and dirty way to do it: Zip the file using PKZIP and password protect the Zipped file.)

Steve Bass is a Contributing Editor with PC World Magazine, frequently writes for Forbes ASAP, and is the president of the Pasadena IBM Users Group. He often writes with his tongue in his cheek. Write to him at: stevebass@earthlink.net

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