Have you become Internet-dependent? I know I have -- I've become utterly reliant upon it for mail, news and research. Its absence makes me twitchy, like skipping a cup of coffee in the morning. Worse, its absence could make me unemployed.
Trouble is, the Internet doesn't always work when I need it. I just installed the new version of Internet Explorer, and, of course, my connection went south for half a day as a result. There are other times when the computer crashes, or I can't get at my computer and need to take a look at some important mail. Or busy signals have locked me out.
You can sit and stew, like most people do. Or you can spend a lot of money to get around some of these problems: Buy two computers to get around the crashes (I have), buy a portable and lug it everywhere (my boss does), or get a second Internet account (some of us have a half-dozen, but some of us have expense accounts, too).
And you can learn how to use the much-maligned, much-neglected shell account, a text-only version of the Internet that most service providers run in tandem with your regular set-up.
A relic of the old days, before the World Wide Web became synonymous with Internet, a shell account lets you read mail, browse the Web, transfer files and chat with others with programming that, essentially, resides on your provider's computer, not yours.
In other words, you can do pretty much all the mission-critical stuff without a fancy Web browser.
If you can start up your computer, you can probably get a shell account to work; if you can't start up your PC, you can borrow or beg anything with a modem and still connect -- provided you know how to use the shell. The only thing you'll need to hook up is a simple terminal connection (see my earlier columns on telecommunications at www.newsday.compluginc102main.htm for advice on where to find this connection and how to use it).
Understanding the shell isn't just for emergencies, either. While cumbersome and not very pretty, the shell also gives you access to the powerful UNIX operating system. On a related note, you'll need to get behind the scenes with the shell if you want to author Web pages or store files on the Internet.
So we're going to wrap up our little tutorial on Microsoft Works by showing you how to set up its communications module to get at your shell account; later on, we'll also show how to use common utilities like telnet. If you're already versed in Hyperterminal, another communications program usually included free with Windows, you could use it instead.
Before you go any further, though, you might want to give your Internet service provider a quick call to find out how the shell account is set up. If you're like most people I know, you may have even forgotten your account name and password, because both are embedded and automatically invoked in most Internet setups.
With my provider, LI Net, I have to use a different phone number than the one I dial for my regular Internet connection. I'm going to use LI Net for all of my examples here, but you should know that your provider may have arranged menus in your account set up somewhat differently than mine. And if you subscribe to America Online, you're out of luck, although you'll see there are some analogous facilities even there that you can use for more basic Internet services.
To get started, fire up Works and click on the Communications button. Up pops a window titled "Easy Connect." You'll see a blank space for a phone number, which is where you put the number of your ISP. Below that, you're asked to give the connection a name, which is permanently saved for future reference. The phone number and any changes you make in how the connection is set up (you'll probably have to scale down the type size, for example) are saved, too.
In the future, when you reach this stage in the program, the name you used to save the service under will appear on a list at the bottom of the box, and you'll just select and activate the service you wish to use. You'll be prompted to dial the connection, so proceed.
If all is well, the modem will do its usual noisy thing and you'll be connected.
Once you're connected, on the first screen that appears, you type in your user name, (in my case dolinar) and then hit the enter key. At this point, you'll be prompted again.
So you put in your password. Notice that you can't scroll back and enter a new user name; you can only interact on one line.
Works provides a terminal emulation program, not a PPP or slip connection. So, after you have entered your password correctly, you'll just type in "connect."
You now have to log in again, using the same password and account name. You'll get a menu.
Just enter the letter of the item you want, and you'll be taken to that particular program, which is, after all, running on your service provider's computer, not yours. Any time you quit the current program you'll go back to this menu.
Feel free to play for now; next week we'll look at another way to get to this same menu, plus a little more about what's on it.
Dolinar's e-mail address is email@example.com.