On your mark, get set ... go!
In a recent test, it took me an agonizing 95 seconds to boot up my personal computer from a cold start.
An additional 70 seconds was required to dial into a local provider and establish a connection to the Internet.
Still more seconds passed while I started my browser, selected a bookmark and summoned a Web page.
That's a good three minutes before I could do even the simplest chore on the Internet.
Can you imagine if other common appliances and utilities worked this way?
Think how you'd feel if:
You had to run the shower for three minutes before hot water came out.
You had to stand in the dark for three minutes after hitting the light switch before the lights came on.
You had to wait three minutes for your television to connect to a broadcast station before you could watch a show.
You had to sit in your driveway for three minutes before your car would start.
Oh, yeah, and all the while you used any of these services, your phone wouldn't work because the line was tied up.
Considering the hurdles users face in reaching cyberspace in the first place, it's little short of amazing that the Internet has become as popular as it has.
Still, the sheer hassle of connecting to the Internet is enough to deter many people from using it for routine information tasks -- like checking the weather forecast, looking up the current TV listings or getting the latest sports scores.
But one day -- and one day soon -- all that waiting will come to an end with the emergence of "always on" computing.
As the name implies, "always on" computing promises to eliminate the delays in getting to the Internet by giving consumers instant, around-the-clock access to the network.
You can experience a taste of what "always on" computing is about by simply never turning off your PC. In my test case, for example, over half the delay in reaching the Web came from simply starting up the PC.
But the true power of "always on" computing won't be felt until today's telephone modems are replaced by full-time Internet connections.
The current leaders in the race to provide such connections are cable modems, DSL telephone hookups and satellite links. All are working on ways to offer uninterrupted access to the Internet.
No one knows which of these approaches ultimately will prove to be the most successful, but it's a good bet one or more will be available in your neighborhood in the next year or two.
"Always on" computing is already commonplace in many corporate offices, where employee PCs are linked continuously to the corporate network, which in turn has a dedicated, high-speed Internet link.
As a result, the Internet and the information riches stored there are never far from these employees while they are at their desks. It's only later, when they get home, that a three-minute speed bump stands between them and what they want to know from the Internet.
But when "always on" connections become more widely available to home users, it could foster the biggest change in personal computing since the invention of the World Wide Web.
Suddenly, the Internet will be integrated into the everyday life of the average family. No longer will it be cumbersome to look up a recipe from the Internet, or store the family calendar online, or place phone calls via the Internet, or do even more online shopping.
In fact, the potential uses of the Internet by a truly wired household are probably unimaginable at this still-early stage in the network's development.
But many of those potential uses will never be realized if people are forced to wait three minutes before they can use them.
The choice for many consumers then becomes straightforward: always on, or always off.
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