The Coastal Post - August, 1996

Getting On The Net Economically


Everyone knows you do not need a Mercedes Benz to drive on the freeway. You don't need an expensive computer to get on the Information Highway either. For less than $300.00, I recently connected a friend's old Mackintosh LC II to the Internet. With a slightly slower modem we could

have done it for $180.00! You can do something similar.

First of all, the Internet is so trendy and over hyped, I can understand any halfway normal person wanting to barf at the suggestion of getting wired to it. I won't argue the point, but only suggest that there might be a tiny part of it which might interest you.

So far, four friends that I have helped get connected get enormous use out of small parts of the Net. One friend who could never get to the library discovered to his delight, he can get what he wants—and more—when he drags himself home from work at night. E-mail seems to work for everyone I know, but for some it works wonders.

What follows is about how to convert and connect older Macintosh computers, because I know a little about Macs. With perhaps just a little more work, the same things can be done with IBM type computers without spending lots of money.

Any Mac after LC II with System 7 will easily work as long as it has at least 8 megabytes of RAM and RAM these days is extremely cheap. I purchased two, 4 megabyte 30 pin SIMMS from Techworks (1-800-688-7466 X 513), a Texas firm which sells memory for Macs and IBMS. It is a reputable established firm which warranties its products, will accept returns and provides excellent technical support in case of problems. Shipping cost is minimal and delivery is overnight.

When last I checked, 4 meg SIMMS were $59.00 each. Two brought us up to 10 megs from 4, which made the old machine zippy. There are other combinations but I would say that 10 or 12 is optimal.

Once you know how to slip the SIMMS into the sockets it takes about 3 minutes, but if you are terrified of touching anything electronic let alone the innards of a computer, you have two options.

You can pay an authorized Mac dealer like Computerware on C Street in San Rafael (457-1952) to install the chips usually $35.00 . If your Mac is still under warranty, spring for the $35.00. You can get your modem there, but shop around for the RAM.

Or, you can join a User Group, and have competent volunteers install the RAM. Then you derive membership benefits for a year. There are thousands of Mac User Groups throughout the country.

I belong to the biggest and maybe the oldest—BMUG (Berkeley Mackintosh Users Group, 2055 Center St, Berkeley CA, 510-549-2684) which provides excellent hardware clinics, including RAM installation and a helpline from it's main office in downtown Berkeley.

You get semiannual newsletters (really books), CD-ROMs with freeware, games, software updates, access to "Planet BMUG", the organization's online Bulletin Board Service and best of all, you can attend weekly meetings with super nerds at the UC campus or SF or San Jose. There are special interest groups (SIGS) ranging from basic computer operations to esoteric programming and scripting.

Macs of Marin (892-8183) has stimulating meetings and SIGs, although I don't believe they provide a clinic for sick Macs or install RAM. Check them out though!

Once you have upped your RAM, on an older Mac like the LC II you can hook up the latest, fastest modem. We got a Global Village Teleport Platinum 28.8 bps from MacWarehouse (1-800-255-6227) for $199.95 (you have to send in for a $30.00 rebate). A 14.4 bps modem, slightly slower but very adequate costs $49.95. Shipping was $10.00 ( but no sales tax). There are loads of these mail order houses for Macs because they are easier to work with than IBMs.

Global Village ships the 28.8 with an OCR program ( for converting Faxes into smaller text files) or with Internet software, including Netscape Navigator 2, which saves you another $40.00 or so.

That's it. All you need is a service provider. Global Village includes Netcom software, which I don't know anything about, but since Global Village has excellent software, I suspect that anyone they are associated Íwith is "cool" as Bill Gates and teenagers are fond of saying.

For a Service Provider, I use Linex (455-1655) which is small, simple and reliable. I get essentially unlimited access and technical support when I need it , which is fortunately, seldom. In the last year and a half, their server has never been down.

No matter who you choose, getting set up can be a pain, but once it's done everything is automatic.

I pay $24 a month. I understand that Pac Bell will be offering support for Macintosh in mid August for from $15 to $20 maximum which seems like a good deal. I am not going to change from Linex, because I like them, and besides I don't want to change my e-mail address "[email protected]".

You can find a detailed list of Internet Service Providers in Computer Currents which is distributed free throughout the Bay Area. The important thing is to get a free number and have unlimited local dialing. If your access number is a toll call, the small charges add up quickly.

So, hunt in the basement or your closets for that old Mac—not that Apple II, that won't work—if you can find a Mac II that is even better! Some older Macs might seem dead, but sometimes just replacing an inexpensive little battery can bring them back to life. It's worth looking into.

It is possible to connect really old Macs to the Internet, but I don't think it is worth the hassle.

Middle aged Macs work extremely well with a fast modem as long as you have enough RAM. Look into it, and you may find some piece of the Net, made for you-and the extra memory will make everything else you do with our computer easier.

If you should later decide to buy a new computer you will have a great modem which should last about as long as the new and good and the cool lasts these days!