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  1. Technology
July 26, 1994


By CBR Staff Writer

The Beeb has spotted possibilities in the Internet and has launched herself with great gusto into the World Wide Web. The British Broadcasting Corporation’s service is called the BBC Networking Club and will provide personal computer users with Internet access as well as access to the BBC Bulletin Board. The bulletin board will provide information on BBC television and radio scheduling, and put up transcripts and fact sheets on BBC radio and television programmes as well as offering a communication forum between programme makers and viewers and listeners – although listeners to Feedback on Radio 4 will be well aware how little notice BBC producers take of anything the audience says. The networking club has had input from a plethora of sources including Unipalm Plc subsidiary Pipex Ltd, which has injected ?200,000 of capital into the project by setting up the telecommunications cabling; the BBC’s Education Department has put up roughly ?100,000 to establish a help desk and provide software support, and The Electronic Conferencing Co, which designed the software for the Macintosh and Windows. The National Council for Education & Technology, a charity-funded government organisation, plans to develop educational applications. So far so good, but the project has two major flaws; firstly, given the BBC’s Charter how is anyone ever going to know about it? Clearly advertising is verboten but the BBC reckons it can use more subtle approaches, as yet to be revealed, and word of mouth to get around this. Secondly, it will only be usable from Windows or a Mac, so if you still use only MS-DOS, you’re stuck. The BBC doesn’t see this as a problem, and is currently talking to the Department of Education to get funding to install Windows-based personal computers with its software into primary schools, and is also working on setting up public access points so the general public can have use of the BBC’s services. If you have the right hardware, a modem and a phone line, membership with a starter kit is from ?25 with a ?12 monthly fee. Unipalm is also working on Web in a Box, a bundled package that will allow users to publish on the Internet. However Unipalm has made the dubious decision to offer the package under Windows NT running on a Digital Equipment Corp Alpha AXP machine, where most publishers’ first choice would be a Unix machine; however it is friendlier, easier to use and more easy to configure on Windows NT says Richard Smith, commercial manager for Unipalm. Smith believes Unix versions require more technical expertise and would be off-putting to the non-technical audience the company is trying to attract. An entry-level system will cost ?4,855, a mid-range package ?9,930 and a higher performance package with upgradability, additional customisation and training, ?2,270. Web in a Box Server is in beta test for release later this quarter, the server is out.

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