Your Internet Consultant - The FAQs of Life Online

2.6. What about commercial online services?

Commercial online services are large computer systems that are available around the nation (and around the world.) Unlike most public access UNIX services and IP service providers, commercial online services offer a variety of services other than Internet access, such as databases of information, online games, file libraries, and the like. Commercial online services are slowly venturing onto the Internet as a means of providing an additional service to their customers. You've heard of them; CompuServe, America Online, Prodigy, Delphi, and the Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link are just a few of these services. Some of them offer great Internet access, others barely get by only offering electronic mail.

An important advantage of commercial online services is that they, unlike most public access providers, are available via packet-switching networks (covered in the section that follows Question 2.14).

Commercial services do have their disadvantages. Most notably, many commercial services offer very limited access to the Internet. As of this writing, only three major commercial services offer access to the Internet's full range of tools. The rest offer more limited access, usually only electronic mail. Most commercial services also bill by the hour, a rare occurrence with Internet providers.

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