Your Internet Consultant - The FAQs of Life Online

2.4. What is IP access?

Dial-up Internet protocol (IP) links such as serial line Internet protocol (SLIP) and point-to-point protocol (PPP) make your computer a direct part of the Internet while you're online. You can run networking applications for electronic mail, FTP, Gopher, Telnet, and other tools locally from your own computer. Unlike command-line access, with IP links you can connect to multiple sites simultaneously. For instance, you can have an FTP session in one window, Telnet in another, and Gopher in yet another. With the right software, you can even set up your system so that electronic mail comes directly to your computer.

IP access is simply more elegant than command-line access. On most computer systems, you can navigate Internet services (such as Gopher and FTP sites) by pointing and clicking with a mouse. Tools such as Mosaic will bring color graphics and sound to your online world. Using them, you can see the Internet the way it was meant to be seen: as if you're cruising cyberspace in a classic Mustang. Stop off at an online museum and check out photos of the latest exhibits. Make a pit stop in an electronic coffee-house and see pictures of your comrades. Then use live, two-way, video conferencing to get some work done.

Figure 2.1 shows a screen shot of Mosaic, an "Internet browser" application, in action. Mosaic integrates text, graphics, and sound to turn the Internet into a multimedia experience. Cool, huh?


Figure 2.1. Mosaic in action.

In the case of the fictional (but highly desirable) llama race tracking program, using an IP link, you can connect directly to the anonymous FTP site and transfer the program right to your own computer, which eliminates the intermediate stopover at a service provider. Remember that to access the Internet via IP, you do need a service provider, but the host is invisible to you while you go about your business.

Dial-up IP links are usually more expensive than command-line accounts. Also, although you can use a slow (2400 bps) modem for account access, a slow modem just won't do for IP access; you should use a 9600 bps or faster modem. Why? All that whizbang technology--the graphics, moving pictures and sounds--use an immense amount of bandwidth. It takes a long time to transfer that information to your computer, so a fast connection--or a patient soul--is necessary.

Note: Bandwidth is a bit of jargon stolen from broadcasting techies. In radio, bandwidth refers to the amount of "space" on the airwaves that a given message uses. Faster transmissions with more information require greater bandwidth. When we talk of modems and the Internet, the term is used similarly. A large graphics file or sound takes much more bandwidth than a simple ASCII text message.

Because the software for a dial-up IP link resides on your own computer, you will need to find and install it yourself. You'll need to deal with configuring many pieces of software on your computer, complex steps that command-line users need not worry about. The software you'll need is really several programs: one each for e-mail, FTP, Telnet, Gopher, and so on. In my experience, IP access requires patient tweaking before it works perfectly. If you're new to the Internet, you may want to squash your learning curve by starting with simple command-line access and then moving on to IP access after you know your way around the network.

Note: It took me, a hardened professional and long-time hacker, a good three or four hours to get my IP access working. I hope it is faster (and less frustrating) for you.

If you are using IP access, you will have to choose between SLIP or PPP access. What you'll use depends on which software is available for your computer and what your service provider offers. Ask your provider whether they support SLIP or PPP and how you can access them using your computer system.

Note: If you have the choice, choose PPP over SLIP. PPP is better implemented and a little faster than SLIP. (Why? I read somewhere that SLIP was literally designed on a napkin and implemented in one late-night programming session; PPP was better thought out and not rushed through development.) SLIP also has more security problems, a reason that many sites prefer PPP.

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