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Free Internet Access Comparison

Free Internet Access Comparison - PCSTATS
Abstract: We've compared seven of the free Internet access services with an eye to deciding whether or not they can replace the pay services. What can you you get for free? UPDATED with new info on Freewwweb.
Filed under: Software Published:  Author: 
External Mfg. Website: N/A May 15 2000   L. Smilg  
Home > Reviews > Software > N/A

Who wins?

Excite/Lycos/Altavista

Each of these services uses the same basic ISP, Microportal, so I have lumped them together. The installation went smoothly, 10 number dialing was an option, and there were a bunch of local access numbers. They ask for your name, address, and give a short web usage survey before you can download the access software. The Terms of use required truthful information, they may place ads in outgoing email, no spamming, and no denial of others' use. The ad bar looks different for each service, but is annoying just for the loss of screen real estate. They attempt to make up for it by offering various quick navigation buttons on the bar, but I didn't find them very useful. My connection speed was 49333 bps. Web browsing speed was acceptable. Quake would not initialize with the ad bar, so forget about it with this ISP's access. Quicken could not launch the connection properly (none of the other services worked when Quicken attempted to launch them either).

Worldspy

The installation went smoothly, but they did not offer as many local numbers as most of the other services. I had to manually edit the number to get 10 number dialing. The EULA was looser than most, with very specific restrictions against illegal activities. Other conditions included no minors, must be truthful in information provided, and their ability to collect information on the sites you visit. They also reserve the right to block sites, and limit e-mail use, although there are no current limits. The survey on personal information was optional. Worldspy has no ads, which I really liked. When connecting, IE launched with their shopping page. The Worldspy store sells many different items, and uses a lot fo coupons to entice buyers. I found their prices were not very competitive. They claim to match prices with other online stores, but I did not try to take them up on that. My connection speed was mostly 49333 bps, but one time I got a 31200. Web browsing speed was good except for the 31200 connect, and I was able to disconnect and immediately reconnect to get a good speed. Without ads, I was hopeful for a good Quake experience, but all my attempts had an unplayable amount of lag. Quicken could not launch the connection properly.

Netzero

The installation went smoothly, and the Netzero POP settings were automatically added to Outlook Express, which is a convenient feature. There were a moderate amount of access numbers to choose from, and the 10 number dialing option was offered. The EULA was very extensive, including restrictions on illegal use, 3 MB mailbox and outgoing mail limit, agreement to accept their spam mail and complete occasional surveys, they can release demographic information (not attached to your name/info), they will compile information on your PC and the sites you visit, and they require parental consent for minors to sign up. They can also attach ads to your outgoing E-mail. They asked for extensive personal/demographic information, including internet shopping history and what sort of spam you preferred. The ad bar (called the Zeroport) was about as annoying as Excite's. They also added a stock ticker to the nav buttons. When connecting, IE launches with their start page, which is a standard customizable portal. My connection speed was 49333 bps. Web browsing speed was acceptable. Quake ran OK with the ad bar, but it keep trying to pop to the front, creating a flicker effect in that portion of the screen. My pings weren't that good, in the 300s or 400s and I'd get occasional long dropouts. Quicken could not launch the Netzero connection properly.

Freewwweb UPDATED

Freewwweb offers free Internet access without ads. They have a large (15.9 MB) download available which includes a browser but I could not complete the download. Some readers wrote in and told me I could use the advanced option, which requires NO download, but just requires a manual setup of a Dialup Networking profile. This was a little bit more difficult than a program install like on the other services, but it is very straightforward, and Freewwweb provides step by step instructions. Freewweb has a long EULA to read. They have restictions against various illegal acts such as attempts to breach security, wrongful intellectual property transmission, obscenity, libel, or threatening communications. They also prohibit spam, with specific charges for violators. Other prohibitions include imerpsonating someone else, violation of others' privacy and network unfriendly activity. They also set limits of use - they can disconnect after 5 hours of use and set a 100 hour limit of use in a month. If those limits are exceeded, they reserve the right to stop access until the next month or ask you to upgrade to a pay service. They have fewer access numbers than most, but I was able to find something local. Freewwweb has no ads, but they require you to set your browser home page to their portal page, which is a specialized snap.com. Freewwweb offers POP e-mail and a USENET news server, which I did not see with any other services. I got the best connection with Freewweb at 50666 bps, which is what I get with my pay service. Web throughput speeds were fast, and my Quake ping was low 300s, which was playable. Because they use standard dialup networking, Quicken was able to launch the Freewwweb connection.

Blue Light

Blue Light is associated with Yahoo, just not as strongly branded as some of the other search engines' ISP services. The installation went smoothly, and the download includes Yahoo! Messenger, which I declined to install. 10 number dialing was an option, and there were a bunch of local access numbers. They also turned off the modem speaker, which I like. The EULA had some interesting restrictions, including no porn, no autoresponders/cancel-bots, no wrongful transmission of intellectual property, and no spamming. They ask for your phone number and address as well as the extensive demographic information. The ad bar would extend to full screen width when docked to the bottom or top of the screen, which I suppose isn't much more bothersome than the half width ad bars. The ad bar disappears at 'member sites', including Yahoo. They also added a Yahoo navigator toolbar to IE, which just seemed to suck up more screen space. My connection speed was 49333 bps. Web browsing speed was acceptable. My Quake experience was better on Blue Light than any of the other free ISPs reviewed. The ad bar would try to pop to the front, and I got occasional large jumps in movement. My overall lag wasn't too bad though. Quicken could not launch the connection properly.

Conclusions (completely changed!)

Freewwweb is the clear winner. Many thanks to the readers who wrote in and alerted me of my error is giving up on them. They had the best throughput, POP server, USENET server, and used standard DUN software. Bluelight and Worldspy were runners up, but they have no advantages over Freewwweb. If you want web email, sign up with Hotmail or one of the many other free web email providers. If Freewwweb has a access number in your area, log on!

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Contents of Article: N/A
 Pg 1.  Free Internet Access Comparison
 Pg 2.  — Who wins?

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