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Online San Diego

From the January 3, 1997 ComputorEdge (Issue 1501)

By Jim Trageser

Regular ComputorEdge readers will recognize the new name on the column as an old name; Brad Fikes is moving on and his predecessor has become his successor.

When I last held this chair, the Web was still practically new; the local BBS yet reigned supreme. But the past year has seen an incredible growth in the Internet – from existing primarily as text-based e-mail and USENET groups (and text-based search engines such as Gopher, Archie and Veronica) to the graphically oriented World Wide Web, Internet Relay Chat and other real-time interactive uses. With the Java programming language, animated graphics are now the rule on Web pages, as are split screens and other advances beyond simple HTML.

In 1985, the local BBS had just supplanted large, mostly university computer systems as the primary source of Internet access (although much of that access was e-mail-only). In the time since, America Online has supplanted both the university computer systems and the BBS community as the largest provider of Internet access – probably combined. And certainly the commercial services as an industry, companies such as AOL, CompuServe and Prodigy (not to mention smaller services like GEnie or Delphi) now comprise the largest ramp to the Internet.

With the new generation of powerful personal computers now on the market, the Power PC Macs and Pentium-based Windows boxes, the state of the art has risen dramatically in terms of the slickness of computer user interfaces. A few years ago, Remote Imaging Protocol, or RIP graphics, were all the rage, having just replaced the earlier ANSI standard. Both are now mostly forgotten, as the VGA-quality visual capabilities of HTML and its affiliated graphical file formats (JPG and GIF) made the boxy, CGA graphics of the old BBSs obsolete.

As part of the new graphical orientation of the Internet, the Web site has now displaced the local BBS. With a single phone call – to their Internet service provider – callers can visit thousands of sites, rather than having to make thousands of phone calls to visit the same number of BBSs. And with the rise of new Web-based search units like Lycos and Yahoo!, computer users no longer need keep long lists of BBS phone numbers; instead, a simple search will turn up dozens, hundreds or more Web sites with the files or conversations relating to a particular topic. Click on the hypertext link, and you're there.

The BBSs are fighting back, though. New integrated software packages now allow a single person to be both sysop and webmaster, running both a dial-up BBS and Web site without reinventing the wheel. High-end packages even allow a local BBS to serve as a PPP provider, offering users a reason to keep coming back.

While all this is going on, free e-mail services such as Juno are cutting into the commercial providers. Folks who only subscribed to AOL or CompuServe for e-mail can now skip that $10/month payment by signing up with Juno, which is advertiser-driven. When you dial up to get your e-mail, Juno flashes advertisements on your monitor while downloading and uploading your mail.

And of course, on the hardware side, TV access for the Internet is the latest rage – you get the Web in a box you hook up to your TV. Cox Cable is already offering full Internet hookups via cable TV in East County, and plans to expand it to other subscribers in the immediate future.

What's on the horizon? Heck, five years ago nobody was predicting the World Wide Web. I don't think the look and feel of the Internet will be confined to the World Wide Web. Once the cable companies start offering Internet access, the home user will have the ability to transfer data at incredible speeds once only available on closed networks, if there.

We'll be exploring all of these topics in the weeks and months to come. If you've a favorite local website or dial-up BBS, a tip on a hot San Diego-based USENET conversation, or news of a new online-oriented product, drop me e-mail or to Jim Trageser at the San Diego Computer Society BBS (571-0112).