The best things online are free
October 12, 1999
by Tom Spring
(IDG) -- Three years ago, Internet experts said that by 2000 we'd all be shelling out virtual nickels and dimes from our electronic wallets to use Net fax services, hear music, and gab with friends over the Web.
The free PC craze must have come as a big surprise.
A gander at free services on display this week at Internet World suggests the Internet toll road model is riddled with speed bumps, and the billboard model will have to do. If banner ads will sponsor everything, we'll see more free services like the following.
E-Mail, Priced Right
Singapore-based ThatWeb wants to be your electronic postal service even though it offers no e-mail services directly. You need only enter your e-mail address and password at the site's home page to use its Web-based e-mail. You can receive and send e-mail free of charge, using your Internet service provider's mail server.
You don't need to worry about configuring access by entering esoteric server or domain names and addresses. The beauty of the service is its simplicity. ThatWeb doesn't reduce the number of clicks it takes to retrieve Web mail through competing services like Hotmail, but it avoids the configuration hassle and the need to remember a separate user name and password.
The only catch is that America Online blocks the service from working with its mail servers, as do a handful of other ISPs. ThatWeb also can't check your e-mail account at work if your company has a firewall. However, ThatWeb claims its service works with 90 percent of e-mail accounts worldwide.
Surf with Keywords
In a word, typing a long URL is frustrating. That's why Netword is pushing a free tool to easily locate sites with one word. Netword, which first launched a fee-based service 1997, now lets you register a word with it for free, and have it point to any Web site on the Net.
To use Netword, you must download its free browser utility called a Netword Agent, which works with either Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator/Communicator. Then you can start creating universal Networds. "Dilbert", for example, is used as an alias to point to Universal Media's official home page for the Dilbert cartoon character, whose Web site has a much longer URL.
Despite the obvious fun you could have with your boss's name, the premise of the service is prone to disputes. That's perhaps why the service remains popular with consumers, but not with businesses. Domain names, like the words White House in www.whitehouse.gov, have been a trademark nightmare for businesses.
Netword sells words at $30 a pop to people with more than a casual interest in creating aliases to Web sites with interminably long URLs. But unless your name is Bill Gates or Mickey Mouse, it's a great way to help people find your GeoCities or Tripod homepage.
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