Free ride is over

The Internet no longer is free. Imagine my chagrin when I tried to check my home email using my Hotmail account while on a recent vacation and found that now there was a charge to do so. This feature used to be free for Hotmail subscribers. Now it cost $19.95 per year.

Charging for what used to be free now seems to be normal for both Internet services and to get help with computer or software problems.

When the Internet started most companies thought that the magic answer was to sell advertising that they would place on their web pages. Thus pop up ads were born. However, advertisers found it was not paying, the recession hit and ad dollars dried up.

The same thing happened to computer and software manufacturers. Customer and technical service became too expensive. Now it seldom is possible to find free computer or software help. The exceptions are a few companies like Dell that still offer free 24/7 service.

Recently this trend has been making news. The Circuits section of The New York Times ran a story "Software Buyers Find Support Has Its Price." They told how Intuit, the developer of Quicken; Symantec, the developer of Norton antivirus and even Microsoft are charging for what used to be free technical support.

The Los Angeles Times told of a once popular, free Internet radio station that now is charging $5.95 a month to survive.

Of course, some enterprising people see opportunity in this trend. The Wall Street Journal had an article, "Computer Glitches? Rent Your Own Tech." "Speak with a Geek," at offers service for Windows, Macs, Linux and peripherals for $34.95 a month or $239 per year.

I am not too disturbed by this trend. Even some traditional information sources have gone to the Internet and charge for their services. Recently I subscribed to Consumer Reports On Line ( that cost $24.00 per year. This gives me access to on line product reviews. This saves me trying to find back issues of Consumer Reports magazine, many of which I have lost. Of course, I will not renew my subscription to their magazine.

I suppose that as Internet and computer use matures, we're just going to have to get used to paying for services. So grin and bear it and keep your credit card handy.

Incidentally, if you are an AOL subscriber, you can check your email from anywhere in the world for free. And Yahoo still lets you check your home account using Yahoo Mail, though they are starting to charge for some services.

If you would like to hear more about paying for services or other computer topics, visit "Coffee and Computers" at the Tustin Area Senior Center, 200 S. 'C' Street, any Friday morning starting at 9 a.m. Bring your questions or just come in and visit.

In the mean time, keep the neurons happy, synapses snapping and enjoy computing.


Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at:

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