The Text Based Internet
Part 1: The UNIX Shell

Ah, the UNIX shell, the internet's purest form. It was used to access the network/mainframe before web pages existed and terminals had brains. Now, this doorway into the internet from almost anywhere that has a networked computer.

Yes, you can access the internet in lovely, full color ascii from almost any computer in the world with a telnet client. Considering that includes Windows, UNIX and Mac machines along with many types of mainframes, this includes almost all new computers and a majority of older ones. Sure, you don't get any pictures, it doesn't automatically play sounds or download cheesy little games, but is that really what we want the internet for? Of course not. We need it to e-mail our husbands/wives from work asking them to start dinner. We need it to check the weather, the sports scores, the traffic, the news. We need it to renew our library books and download porn. There is so much to the internet, we don't need dancing babies or cheesy shockwave games all the time. Probably 90% of the time spent on the internet by your average person is getting legitimate text based information-- unless, of course, you have a job like mine.

A UNIX shell is a way into another computer, usually a computer much better than yours. It is always up (assuming a good sysadmin) and stores any e-mail you receive or any web pages you have up. It is usually (hopefully) backed up regularly, and has lots and lots of space, even though only a little bit is given to you. (My ISP gives out 100 megs to each account.) It should have loads of bandwidth and is up close and personal with the internet in ways I can not begin to tell you.

This means that you get the one thing that everyone wants- Speed. You can access your e-mail, web pages, and everything else much faster as the computer you're accessing it with is closer to the internet than you are. Not to mention, when you are avoiding all of those pesky pictures, java apps, and frames it speeds up your internet experience amazingly.

There are some other benefits to UNIX shell. As mentioned, I have 100 megs of space. That means that I can have several files that I can access from anywhere. No more of those pesky disks. When replacing the hard drive or sensing a crash/reinstall, I can up load my important stuff to my shell account and download it again later. I can store crucial files that I never want to loose, even if disaster strikes. If my house floods or burns down, I have a copy of my resume and yet-to-be-finished novel sitting up on my UNIX shell to be downloaded when I get my life back in order.

How do you get such a wonderful service? Easy, you find an ISP that will give you a shell. Okay, in this day and age, it's not that easy... It used to be that UNIX shells were pretty much standard with an ISP, not any more. Now a days, you may have to specifically request it or every pay a little extra. Don't worry, it's worth it. Plus, if you shop around, you may even find places that will just give you a dial up shell without PPP for around $10.

I know that it's a pain finding the right Internet Service provider, but trust me...

ISP 1: Hello, big-ole-phone-company-isp info desk, can I help you?

Me: I'm looking for an internet service, and I have a few questions. Do you offer a UNIX shell?

ISP 1: A what?

Me: A UNIX shell, you know, where you can telnet in from anywhere and check your e-mail and read the news.

ISP 1: I don't know what you are talking about, so I'm sure that we don't have it.

After asking a few more questions, and getting unsatisfactory answers, including, "I don't know what those newsgroup things are, but they sound like chat rooms and we don't have any," I decided that even if they did have newsgroups (which they do) and shell accounts, I did not want to deal with their support staff.

ISP 2: Joe-Blow-hacker-paranoid-ISP help desk, what can I do for you today?

Me: Hi, I was wondering if you offer UNIX shell accounts.

ISP 2: Yes, but I don't know why you'd want it.

Me: What?

ISP 2: Why would you want such a crude, out dated way to access the internet? You can do so much more with slip!

Me: But, I want to be able to access my account from anywhere.

ISP 2: So, get a hotmail account and use deja news. No one needs UNIX shells any more. We do have them, though, if you're that stuck in your ways.

Me: Okay, do you support simultaneous logins?

ISP 2: You've got to be kidding! We have a business to run.

Me: Not even for legitimate purposes?

ISP 2: There are no legitimate purposes for having multiple logins into a UNIX shell.

Have a nice day, too. *Click* I was starting to loose hope.

A friend recommended my current isp, saying that she chose it because they had the strongest privacy agreement in the city. I asked around. They have the most news groups of any ISP in the area, including some of their own. Many area hackers use it for their personal accounts because of the good bandwidth and service. The sysadmin at one time had an archive of Phrack on his ftp site. They hosted a lot of major local websites, including one that was part of The Top 5% of the web.

I decided to call. Not only did the guy say that they did offer a UNIX shell at no extra charge, but he was happy that people like me were trying to prolong the life of the wonderful text based internet. Okay, so he didn't go that far, but he did seem happy to have someone call who had thoughtful questions and seemed to know what she was talking about. Multiple shell logins? Yes! Plenty of space? Yes! All of the major UNIX apps? Yes! Including compiler? Yes!

Sorry, I'm on a tangent. But honestly, some days I wonder what keeps me in this city, and the answer is right there, and the UNIX login prompt.

So what do you do with it once you have it? There is so much...

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