The Keeper of the iBook

You Get What You Pay For

By Mark Newhouse, <>
July 17, 2000

I'm Cheap

Ok, Maybe frugal is a better word. You can't call someone who spends $3000 on a computer, cheap. But the computer has more than paid for itself already - that's frugal.

So, anyway, I'm just the Keeper of the iBook. I don't own it, but I get to use it. And the same goes for internet access. Working on a university campus means I am right on the internet backbone. And my employer has dial-up access to the internet, so I don't even have to pay for access from home. Music to my frugal ears.

And then the tunes stopped

Last week we received an email at work that NetBlazer was down. Not just down, but dead. You've probably never heard of NetBlazer. It was some older hardware that handled the dial-up capabilities for our network. So old that the company that made it is gone. So I was without home internet access.


I learned that in Free Enterprise my sophomore year in high school. There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. I was about to learn the truth of this statement with the prospect of "free" internet access.

I don't have to tell you, that being Mac based, the choices for free access are quite limited. I had heard that people had good results with, so I downloaded the software at work, took it home and installed it on my machines there.

Three Strikes, You're Out

First up, the iMac. I tried several configurations, but every time it tried to connect to the 1-800 number to find the local access numbers it gave me an error.

Next was the iBook. Same problem. And the Blue and White G3 tower fared no better. Of course tech support consisted of an email address (how much support could I expect from a free service?), which isn't much help when you can't connect to the internet.

If at first you don't succeed

Next up was AltaVista (who has contracted with to provide the free internet access). Here, at least, I was able to get online. It was relatively easy, too. The software does a neat trick by reconfiguring your TCP/IP and Remote Access control panels to work with the service, and then restores your settings when you are done. The problem is all of that reconfiguring adds several minutes to your browsing experience.

Ads, Ads, Everywhere

I've grown accustomed to (read: learned to ignore) the ads that fill the tops and sides of many of the web sites that I frequent. No such luck with the ad window that AltaVista forces on your screen. I don't know how anyone could tolerate it on a 640x480 monitor - it was intolerable at 800x600. And always on top, even in non-internet related software. And the ads it was serving seemed to take over the internet connection, making download times exceedingly slow. In fact it took just over two minutes to download the ad window after making each connection; that's two minutes I could have spent browsing. Uploading a simple HTML file to my iDisk took more than 15 minutes - it usually takes about two over phone lines.

Glad it's over

So it was slow. And the ads were obtrusive. But I was able to access the internet, and I didn't have to pay anyone for the privilege. And for that I thank AltaVista, and, and the other free internet access providers who have chosen to support the Mac. I'm sure things will get better over time.

I'm just glad the new dial-up hardware is in at work.

Mark Newhouse is the Web Designer for the public outreach arm of the National Optical Astronomy Observatories in Tucson, AZ, where he now has a deeper appreciation for the fast internet connection he enjoys.

The iBook image is courtesy Apple Computer, Inc. The iBook icon is courtesy the Iconfactory.

ibook iconMore Keeper of the iBook:

Keeper of the iBook Copyright © 2000, Mark Newhouse, all rights reserved

Keeper of the iBook, new every Monday