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Gateway to the oracle

The Internet takes on new dimensions when it is allied to a service called Delphi, designed for aspiring newshounds. Jack Kenny reports.

All Internet services have atmospheres. Strange for something that travels across the cables. Enter, sniff the air. Some are musty, another dark and forbidding, one is like an art gallery and another feels like a torture chamber with the screams of lost souls echoing round the sweating walls. Delphi feels like the newsroom that you see on television, many screens, many messages, people in shirt sleeves.

There are numerous advantages to being allied to a service like Delphi Internet, which is part of a large media group. Delphi Internet can call on the resources of other sections in the group. Access to the archives and the databases can produce material that will enhance most curriculum areas.

Delphi, part of the News International organisation, is linked in with The Sunday Times, The Times and Sky News. The Innovations section from The Sunday Times can be accessed, as can the features on Personal Finance and the Education section from The Times. One feature I particularly like is the link to Reuters. You have up-to-the minute news on your screen whenever you want it. Eventually it is hoped to link in with News Multimedia, the organisation that produces CD-Roms of The Times.

The Delphi service started in the USA about 10 years ago in its current incarnation and was bought by News International just about a year ago. Its chief rivals in Britain are services like CompuServe or CIX. However, it is probably true to say that none of the others can rival Delphi for up-to-the-minute news. None of these services is a pure Internet provider. They exist to sell the services they provide, such as conferencing, or access to their on- line databases.

They provide gateways to the Internet. If you want just a connection to the Internet, then you are probably better off looking at a pure Internet provider. Delphi will get you to the Internet, but in a Dos-like environment. Instead of software such as the Windows browser Mosaic, you will have to use the less spectacular but faster Lynx interface.

The whole system runs on menus. Choose one and then move to another and then move on from there and so on. The exclusive Delphi services and the more widely- available services from the Internet are integrated and it is difficult to tell where one service ends and the other begins. It is very easy to use and because it is not using graphics it is very fast. There is a gentle path through the Internet maze.

The practicalities are very good and it is very easy to join the system. Once you have, there is the opportunity to buy documentation and good on-line support is provided. There is also a software area where you can obtain the things that you need. Delphi offers support to Apple, Amiga, Atari and PC users but, in common with most other Internet providers, there is no software for Acorn machines.

The main worry for users in education will be the lack of an educational focus and the pricing structure, which seems complex in comparison with some others. Many potential school users fear building up heavy debts through phone charges. So people can opt for the Delphi five-hour special-offer plan to join. If you use more than five hours of time, you will be charged Pounds 1.80 per hour. There is also the 2020 plan which costs Pounds 20 per month and includes the first 20 hours of use.

Additional hours cost Pounds 1.80. Access from numbers outside London via the BT GNS data network carries a surcharge of Pounds 1.50 per hour. This surcharge is also incurred during the free trial period.

There are things to be found on Delphi Internet which schools could use just as well as businesses and it is a pity that current pricing will mean most schools will not be able to access the first- class information there. As a matter of urgency, the pricing policy should be reviewed or some differential rates established for education, so that a rich resource will not be completely out of reach.

If you want just a straight connection to the Internet, then this is not the one to go to. If you want to be in a system that will give you access to databases with relevant high-quality information as well as the Internet, then it is worth considering.

Delphi will certainly grow and improve with the resources of News International behind it and it will be interesting to see how it reacts to the competition in what will be a fiercely aggressive market in 1995.

Delphi Internet 071-757 7080

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