By Richard Heller
You see it all the time on TV. Those commercials telling you that you need the latest and greatest PC in order to get on the Internet. Dont you believe it. If you have an old Pentium, 486 or even a 386 computer sitting in the closet, you can still surf the web. You may not be able to do Internet gaming, but you will be able to do e-mail and visit web sites, and the speed will not be as slow as you might think.
Regardless of the computer that you plan to go online with, you should purchase an external modem. An internal Winmodem will not work; it relies on your CPU, which will not be fast enough. Be prepared to pay $75-$100 for the modem. Also, to use an external modem requires a serial port in the computer that can handle the speed of your connection; otherwise, you will have to install an interface card for another $30-$50.
A Pentium computer running Windows 95 and 32 MB of memory will allow you to get online fairly easily. Windows 95 has the software built in to allow you to connect to the Internet. For a browser, you should use Internet Explorer 3 or Netscape 3. To use e-mail, you can use Eudora, and for newsgroups try FreeAgent.
In order to use a 486, you should have at least 32 MB of memory. You should also turn off sound and video in the browser. This is a fine machine for e-mail and for chat rooms or forums. It would be a good idea to install software that turns off banner ads and pop-up windows, things that just slow down your surfing.
A 386 computer can also be used. You should be using Windows 3.1 or Windows for Workgroups. Since the web was not in everyday use back when these versions of Windows were installed on PCs, Internet Explorer was not included. Internet Explorer 3.02 will install on one of these computers and allow you to get connected.
Another option on these slower machines is to use another operating system such as Linux. Linux can be purchased fairly inexpensively, or it can be downloaded for free. It is a fast-operating system and has many Internet applications included such as MP3 players, e-mail and newsreaders. The programs can be run in text mode that means that even a low spec machine can run them with ease. There is also a graphical interface available, but it requires a more powerful computer.
The software mentioned in this article is available for download from www.eudora.com, and www.freeagent.com. There are other browser and e-mail programs available that will work with an older PC. A good source for this software is Tucows (www.tucows.com). Most of these programs are either free or require a small registration fee.
So dust off that old PC and put it to work. Its an ideal way to get your parents or kids online without costing a lot of money.
Richard Heller is an independent computer specialist who specializes in repairs, installation, upgrades, technical support, Internet sharing, data recovery and diagnostics. If you have any computer or service-related questions, please send them to The Rock River Times or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.