Published: Tuesday 15 December 1998

Net goodies for free
Internet will emerge as the communications medium of the next century, say the Netgurus. Many of us are used to services like Microsofts Hotmail at http.//, which provide free e-mail and file storage facilities through a web browser. But now Dixons, the biggest electronic retailer in Britain has gone a step further. it wants to become an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and Xonnect you to the Net for free! It plans to recover its costs through Net advertising, running on-line sales offers and allowing various other interested companies sell their online services to you.

Other players in the scene
Others who have tried this formula do not have access to a vast network of shops as the people at Dixons do to Slash the cost of distributing software almost to zilch. So this is a move which could turn the economics of internet topsy-turvy and, in the longterm, threaten the livelihood of the ISPs. If Dixons' opposite number in the US, Circuit City, toyed with the idea, firms such as America On-Line might begin t- worry.

The hows and whys..
Here's how Dixons' ISP works: Dixons' stores are giving away a Personal Computer-based Cl)-ROM carrying a version of Internet Explorer 4 (1114) that will connect the user to the "Freeserve" site at hupd/www1reeservenet. This gives the user an e-mail address, five megabytes of free webspace and local-rate phone access to the Internet. The downside of the Dixons' system is that in return, users will have to answer some personal questions on age, income and interests - which will then be used to target advertisements and sales offers. Further, the Freeserve software will change any existing communications settings in any copy of IE4 that is installed the users' computers, defaulting its own settings.

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