Business in Vancouver: News that works for you

    iStar/Mindlink makes up its mind about its local BBS interface, and the news is good

    by Alan Zisman (c) 1996 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #347 June 18, 1996   High Tech Office  column

    I can't swear it's entirely due to the power of the press, but mere days after wondering in print whether the bulletin board service (BBS) interface of Vancouver Internet service provider iStar/Mindlink had a future (and noting that nobody in their office was prepared to comment on the question), I see that Mindlink customers have received e-mail about it from the company's Nicole Okun. Okun says the company has decided against integrating Mindlink with the rest of iStar, and that the Mindlink BBS will remain in service.

    While text-based BBSs seem like a blast from the past (say, 1993 or so), they remain important for users of older, slower hardware, so the decision is good news for a number of folks. Linear text like that can be easily converted to speech--an important feature for visually impaired computer users, who can use it to access the Internet.

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    Rent-a-brain... If your small to medium-sized business or nonprofit has been interested in accessing the 'Net, but hasn't been sure how to do it, you may want to get in touch with a group of SFU students who are putting their summer break to good use. Calling themselves Student Connection, they're offering individualized Internet instruction, at your site, charging an affordable $100 for three days, which includes Internet access. Student Connection is a cross-Canada initiative of Industry Canada, with co-sponsorship from Microsoft Canada and the Canadian Association of Colleges and Universities, and hopes to employ 2,000 students across the country over the next three years. The SFU group is the only project in the Lower Mainland. To get connected, contact Eric Glanville at 291-5914 or

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    Navigating or Exploring?... Netscape Navigator has become nearly synonymous with browsing the Web, holding somewhere between 60 and 80 per cent of the market. (Can you call it a market if most people get the product for free?) At the same time, it's become increasingly fashionable to bash software-giant Microsoft. Despite both trends, Microsoft's free Internet Explorer Web-browser software is worth a look. Initially only available in Windows 95 flavours, it's now out in varieties for Macintosh and Windows 3.1, and the Win 3.1 version can include an Internet dialer that's slick and easy to set up.

    (Little-known fact: the Trumpet dialer, included in the software package given out by virtually every Internet Service Provider, isn't free--it's shareware from Australia, with a $25 registration charge.) While millions are using Netscape Navigator (and Trumpet) without bothering to pay the required registration fee, Microsoft's Internet Explorer is legitimately free. Current versions don't support fad-of-the-month Java (which has been promising to revolutionize the Internet by providing downloadable, interactive programs), but then again, neither do the Mac or Win 3.1 versions of Navigator. And at least for now, I haven't found any Java programs that were more than gimmicks. I've been testing both the Win 95 and Win 3.1 versions of Internet Explorer, and they seem to crash less often than Navigator.

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    No dummies here... I often get asked to recommend books for beginners; despite TV, movies and multimedia, it would seem we're not yet post-literate. Popular series aimed at computer novices with titles using words like "Dummies" and "Idiots" depress me--they tend to be well-focused and well-written and sell millions of copies, but seem a sad commentary on our collective self-concept faced with technology.

    Osborne-McGraw-Hill has, over the past six months, brought out the first volumes of its series aimed at techno-novices. The for Busy Users books are aimed at the same market: each focuses on a specific group of beginners and has, in my opinion, just the right amount of information. The use of full-colour, cartoony design and slightly ironic text appeals to my warped sensibilities. Separate volumes include Microsoft Office products Word, Excel, Access, and Powerpoint, as well as the Internet, Windows 95, and a new, more general PCs for Busy Users. So far, all volumes, even the potentially more general Internet and PC books, have focused on Windows 95 users, although a promised Macintosh introduction may have to take a somewhat different tack. About $30 each.

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    Good form... Like every business, yours no doubt uses forms, and Victoria's UWI Unisoft has released its UWI Masque software for working with forms on the Internet or an internal networked Intranet. It includes versions of common forms like time sheets and expense reports which can be filled out and filed over the 'Net to be processed centrally. Check their form-viewer and library of sample forms at or phone (604) 479-8334.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan