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One hitch to e-mail has been finding addresses. For phone numbers, directory assistance is a fast dial--or a few mouse clicks--away. Not so for e-mail. Now, a big step forward is provided by the latest version of Netscape Navigator 4.0 and new editions of Microsoft's Internet Mail. Both build in quick, simple "directory assistance" modules. Type in a name, and, in just a few seconds, the programs log on to the Web and search the main directories of e-mail addresses.
The system isn't perfect--many e-mail addresses don't show up in the directories, and, often, outdated addresses are included as well as current ones. But this effortless directory-assistance option gives Internet e-mail users powerful reasons to switch to either the Microsoft or Netscape e-mailer. Download the latest versions at (http://www.microsoft.com) and (http://www.netscape.com).
In the meantime, if you want a permanent e-mail address, check into Globecomm's free I Name service. Most analysts see 1997 as a year where there will be a big shakeout of weaker Internet service providers (ISPs) and online services. At the same time, many users are hopping from provider to provider in search of better deals and more reliable phone connections. I Name is a way to avoid annoying your e-mail recipients with regular change-of-address notices.
Set up an I Name account, and it follows you wherever you go. That's because it's not an e-mail server but a mail-forwarding service. When setting up an account, you tell I Name where to forward incoming e-mail--and you can change that instruction as often as you switch ISPs. The cost? Nothing: I-Name is advertiser-supported. For more information, visit (http://www.four11.com).
You can save big bucks by sending faxes over the Internet instead of via standard, point-to-point phone connections. In fact, costs can be as much as 80 percent lower than with conventional faxing. The main obstacle had been that Net faxing required logging on to a special server, but now, with Symantec's newest WinFax Pro for Windows 95 (version 7.5, under $100), you can test software that makes net faxing as easy as clicking a mouse.
This latest version of WinFax includes a 30-day trial of net faxing from networking company NetCentric. If you decide to subscribe to the service once the trial period ends, the cost is 15 cents per minute.
The disadvantage of Net faxing? In tests, it did not provide instant delivery to recipients: Faxes typically took up to 15 minutes to reach their destination. Is this a major flaw? Probably not--how long do faxes typically sit in the recipient's in-basket before review? A WinFax 7.5 demo is available, free of charge, at (http://www.symantec.com).
For those who want continuous updates of stock prices, news headlines and other info, MyYahoo has an answer: a streaming ticker-tape-style window right on the Windows desktop. Just set up your preferences for stock quotes, weather for various cities and selected sports' scores, for example, and MyYahoo provides an unobtrusive stream of information that's updated whenever you sign on to the Web. Downloads are free from (http://www.yahoo.com).
Can't decide between Netscape Navigator and Microsoft's Internet Explorer? Many heavy Web users switch back and forth between the two, but there's one problem: While Internet Explorer builds in easy conversion of Navigator "bookmarks," Netscape's browser will not use Internet Explorer's "favorites." For a solution, there's a little gem--NavEx, an easy-to-use, 110K freeware program that provides instant conversion of favorites into bookmarks. Download your copy at (http://mach5.noc.drexel.edu/navex).
Globecomm, (212) 425-3477;
NetCentric Corp., (617) 720-5200, ext. 113, (http://www.netcentric.com);
Symantec Corp., (800) 441-7234, (http://www.symantec.com).