Originally, the Internet was developed for university and government use, primarily to facilitate the transfer of text-based documents. That all changed in 1992, when the National Science Foundation took the first step in opening the Internet to private commercial development. The commercial sector expanded past simple e-mail and file transfers into multimedia applications that allowed Internet users to play music and view video clips on the Web.
Today, the Internet has advanced even further. It's now used for a variety of communications--everything from making long-distance phone calls and sending faxes to broadcasting live TV and radio programs. While some tools may seem frivolous at first glance, many have surprising relevance in today's business environment.
One main benefit to using the Internet for long-distance phone calls and other communications is cost, says Nathan J. Muller, author of The Totally Wired Web Toolkit: How to Use the Internet and World Wide Web as a Phone, Fax, Pager, Radio and More (McGraw-Hill). With traditional phones and fax machines, per-minute charges and high volumes lead to skyrocketing costs. But for some Internet telecommunications, the only charge is your monthly Internet access fee. "Now you can reach out globally, send information anywhere and not have to mentally tally the costs," Muller says.
Privacy is another advantage. Sensitive information sent through a standard fax machine is out in the open for all to see. Some Internet faxing services, on the other hand, send faxes straight to users' desktops, so they're only viewed by the intended recipients. Internet technologies can also bring your voice, fax and e-mail communications onto the desktop for easier access and improved collaboration among distant employees.