Four ways to take the pain away

Thanks to technical hurdles, many people have found their initial encounter with the Internet to be about as pleasant as a car crash. Four recent offerings could make using the Internet a whole lot easier.

Living Library, from RM's Internet for Learning, is a new concept and one that will take getting used to. It is a content service, in other words you can buy into it even if you connect to the Internet via CampusWorld, Demon or Pipex. So why buy into it? Isn't that just more expense? Yes, it is, but it is designed to answer the constant cry: "We can't find anything and then when we do the reading age is all wrong for the group we are working with."

The content comes from existing providers such as World Book (the whole of the 26-volume work is on-line), some of Bill Gates' Corbis art database, the Daily Mirror and the Independent's five-year archives. The search engine that is used is impressive: it enables you to specify the age range you want, the type of material and the subject area. In addition, there are the Pathways links from RM's main site. If you are looking for something on the First World War, for example, the search will find sites on the wider Internet as well as searching in its own unique content. This could be a boon for those who are irritated by the sheer amount of irrelevant information that can be turned up. The cost of the service will be around Pounds 120 per year.

Another content service is HomeCampus from BT ( HomeCampus). For those who subscribe before the end of March, it is available at Pounds 7.50 (half price) for three months. The subscription after that will be Pounds 4.99 per month. Like the RM Living Library site, it will be available to anyone who has a subscription to any Internet service. At the moment, the content leans towards the secondary sector, but the content for all age groups is expected to grow in the future. You can subscribe to this service on-line.

At Pounds 1,999, RM's Internet Window Box is expensive, but the thinking behind it is that it will arrive all set up with an RM Internet for Learning account and an internal modem; all the pain - and it can be life-threatening - will have been taken away. In addition, it will have many of the software tools that teachers will need to use the Internet successfully, and it will be easy to use. Because RM supplies hardware and software, the company is able to ensure that everything works in harmony.

An inexpensive Internet PC (Pentium 166) is produced by MJN. At Pounds 1,099, it comes with 32 megabytes of memory and a fast (33.6K) internal modem. The software is Lotus Smart Suite, and the browser that is installed is Microsoft's Internet Explorer. The machine is not set up with an account with one of the regular education Internet service providers, but that is relatively easy to organise.

* SUPPLIERS BT Tel 0345 678578 MJN Tel 01282 770044 RM Tel 01235 826868

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