With a satellite, gain speed on the Web, but you must pay the price

Hughes' DirecPC, marketed by many resellers, is a $500 package that comes with an ISA
interface card for your PC and a 21-inch satellite dish designed for home installation.


Dish and installation costs are only the beginning. Monthly fees range up to $130 per
month for unlimited access. In addition, the per-megabyte download fees will raise users'
eyebrows.


Just as the competing 56-kilobit/sec modem brands now on the market perform that fast
only on downloads, DirecPC's speed is one-way. The situation is worse than with dual-speed
modems, because you pay for an additional local Internet link to upload your commands or
data. In effect, you need two complete Internet links.


Total yearly costs are hard to pin down, but I figure they could add up like this:
Initial price $500, full-time access $1,500 per year, access fee $120 per year, and Net
service $200 per year. Total: $2,320. That doesn't count extra download volume costs.


You've got to really want whatever you're downloading to pay that kind of money for a
home system. Hughes does offer commercial network links that could make this a good deal
for government agencies that give remote training sessions, broadcast video or download
large files to field offices.


DirecPC is less expensive than leasing a satellite transponder and probably just as
useful for most data communications, unless you have heavy two-way traffic.


It should be especially good for interactive video training. Trainees could
teleconference or send e-mail responses back as they receive the streaming video and audio
from the downlink. But DirecPC isn't suitable for full two-way videoconferencing because
of its one-way nature.


I'd planned to review the latest version of Mathematica, but after signing a contract
for a review copy, I found a password was needed to unlock the CD-ROM.


I have nothing against software password protection or hardware locks to protect a
company's products, nor do I mind returning the products. What made the Mathematica 3.0 CD
unusual was that the publisher, Wolfram Research Inc. of Champaign, Ill., didn't include a
password with the product.


After reading through a lot of documentation and getting many uninformative, automated
e-mail responses, I discovered the password could only be obtained by phoning or e-mailing
someone at the company. This violated a hard-and-fast rule I have developed from 18 years
of PC reviewing: Products must arrive complete and ready to run. I returned Mathematica
untested.


John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at powerusr@penn.com.


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