Buying goods and services over the Internet means getting online. Today that is still quite difficult, but a revolution is just around the corner.
The conventional arrangement consists of a PC (or Macintosh computer), a piece of software called a browser, a device called a modem, a telephone line and an Internet account with an Internet services provider (ISP) - the company that actually connects your PC into the network of computers worldwide that is the Internet.
For most types of electronic commerce, you don't need a powerful PC, but (and it is a big but), the power of the browsers and the advances in technology on the web mean that you might need at a fairly up-to-date machine to avoid being shut out of too many sites.
Browser are the software that allow you to look at any Website. It is the program which is a cross between a word-processor, a graphics package and a database. In addition, it can probably display moving images and relay sound.
There are really only two choices for browsers today - Microsoft's Internet Explorer or Netscape's Communicator/Navigator package. There really is not a lot to chose between them. The market is shifting toward Microsoft, but many regard Navigator as slightly easier to install and use.
The next thing you need is a modem. Many computers come with a modem built-in, but if you have to buy one go for one that operates at least 33.6K baud rate (just like miles per hour, but for modems). You can go for a 56K model, but although, theoretically, it should operate 40 per cent faster, this depends on the ISP and the quality of the phone line.
Having acquired all the hardware and software you need, the next step is the Internet connection. There are various types of ISP and many people nowadays get their online connection through companies like AOL and CompuServe, which have their own fairly extensive Web- based retail operations, as well as providing customers an outlet to the Internet itself. These companies provide a good, fast and reliable service.
There are also plenty of companies offering plain "old-fashioned" Internet access, such as Demon, Pipex and BT costing from around pounds 9-pounds 15 per month for unlimited time online. …