Broadband arrived just in time for the surge in file sharing, but we're still waiting for the true wireless Web
How do you want your internet? fast? Wireless? On a mobile phone or handheld organizer? In 2000 you could get it any way you wanted. Well, almost. Internet advances were equal parts hype, hope, and reality last year, but the Web will get cheaper, fasterand a little more unwiredin 2001.
File sharing was the story of the year, and Napster the spotlight-hogging star. As in any good drama, the hero's fate was in constant peril, and each time Napster teetered on the brink of legal disaster, attention turned to other file-swapping schemes waiting anxiously in the wings. Gnutella proved the most popular and was theoretically im possible to stop, since it didn't rely on a central server. But the network crumbled under pressure: The more people that signed on, the slower the system got. Odds are you never even heard of the other alternatives, like CuteMX, Audiogalaxy, and Spinfrenzy.com. Nevertheless, as Stewart Brand said in 1984, information wants to be free, and despite Napster's move to a fee-based service, file sharing will remain an enduring part of the digiscape.
Downloading all those Napsterized files took serious bandwidth, of course. Fortunately, high-speed access became less expensive and more widely available. Earthlink, for example, began offering 1.5Mbps DSL service for $50 per month in 50 major metropolitan markets. Cable Internet access from Road Runner cost even less for similar speeds. Customers still complained about the often annoying process of DSL installation and questioned the security of cable modem connections. But improvements in service will bring subscriptions to a critical mass: Broadband subscribers in the U.S. (DSL and cable) should jump to 9 million in 2001, up from around 6 million in 2000.
The wireless Web definitely wasn't fastheck, it wasn't really the Web, either. Sure, if you signed up for the wireless service from Sprint PCS, you could check stock quotes and sports scores from your phone, even compose e-mail (a laborious process at best). But in the postage-stamp screens of tiny mobile phones you could see the future if you squinted: In 2002, 3G (or third generation) wireless networks will start to be deployed across America, eventually offering Net connection speeds of up to 2.4Mbps. Mobile phone manufacturers like Ericcson and Nokia are already envisioning phones that offer streaming audio and even videoconferencing.
Faster speeds also mean you might never plug your laptop computer into a phone jack again. ArrayComm will begin constructing a network this year that will provide complete wireless Net access at speeds of up to 1Mbpsfor about $20 to $25 per month. Wireless and broadband in one package? Sign us up.
21. BEST CONSUMER COMPUTER NETWORK
Our two perpetual winners are now conjoined twins, thanks to CNET's acquisition of ZDNet (which will remain a separate site and is no longer Y-Life's corporate cousin). Both sites have long excelled at keeping you informed on technology: how to use it and how it affects our world. But each has its strengths. CNET offers superb news (so good, The New York Times picks up stories for its own site), an outstanding Music Center, and first-rate shopping tools and downloads. ZDNet's games coverage, small-business resources, and Digital Camera SuperCenter are all noteworthy. Continue to bookmark both.
22. BEST WEB PORTAL
No, it hasn't gotten any prettier, just better. And that's saying something, considering that Yahoo! was our pick last year, too (we share the name, but we're editorially independent). The site gets richer: A new experts channel is integrated into Yahoo! Messenger for instant answers to your questions; a photo subsite gives you 25MB of space for online albums. Yahoo! PayDirect offers a person-to-person payment system; and the ambitious FinanceVision streams Bloomberg-like video. Then there's the nifty new music center with reviews, news, message boards, and downloads. And if you manage to get bored, there's always the stellar directory.
23. BEST SEARCH ENGINE
We still love Google. And we still have no idea how it works. The Stanford brain iacs who built it talk about algorithms, but who cares? Just enter your keywords and Google magically returns dead-on results. Its growing size (more than 1 billion pages indexed) and popularity (it's the default search engine on Yahoo!) have done nothing to diminish its precision. Many pages are cached, so you can view sites that have mysteriously disappeared.
ALSO: For $1 to $4 a pop, Northern Light's Special Collection lets you access articles from scientific, business, and academic sources.
24. BEST HUMAN WEB GUIDES
Okay, it's the only site that qualifies for this category, but that's why it's a winner. Not sure which keywords to enter? Don't feel like browsing through long lists of links? About's 700-plus human guides have already done the searching for you. Each specializes in a different areabe it television, race relations, or minor league baseballand manages a subsite containing handpicked links and articles, along with how-to guides and forums. The site's recent acquisition by Primedia, publisher of 250 niche magazines, should enhance its resource base.
25. BEST TECH SUPPORT
The tech-savvy volunteers at Protonic don't just serve up good, on-point helpthey do it for free. Maybe they're magnanimous. Maybe they just like to show off. Whatever. As long as they get our printer working again, we're happy. And so far, we've been happy a lot. Next time you have technical difficulties or even a question about HTML, try the site's Ask a Question service. More than 7,000 users already have. Their "satisfaction level"according to feedback ratingsruns at greater than 95 percent. Hasta la vista, toll-free tech support lines.
26. BEST FREE E-MAIL
Mail Choosing the best free e-mail has always come down to picking between Yahoo! and MSN Hotmail. Both are excellent services that let you send, receive, and manage your mail from any browser. But once again, Yahoo! has the edge. For one thing, it allows bigger in-boxes: 6MB to Hotmail's puny 2MB. We like the new virus-scanning capability (Hotmail has that, too), but we're particularly fond of the View Attachment feature, which lets you see the text of a file without actually downloading it.
ALSO: If you can live with the smallish in-box, MSN Hotmail has an excellent interface and nice integration with MSN Messenger.
27. BEST INSTANT MESSAGING
AOL Instant Messenger
Long the most elegant and user-friendly of instant messaging clients, AOL Instant Messenger is also the most popular, with more than 64 million users. You can use it without joining AOL's pay service, though subscribers do get one nice bonus: instant alerts when mail comes into their AOL accounts (all users can set up alerts for POP3 mail). The latest version, 4.1, lets you send images right in the chat window; and, as in past versions, you can send filesand even speak, if you happen to have a microphone hooked up. Privacy features are top-notch.
28. BEST SOFTWARE DOWNLOADS
Like other software sites, Download.com delivers the goodsnamely, nearly 30,000 shareware, freeware, and trial programs. But what make it stand out are its superb organization and integration with parent site CNET. Software descriptions are full of good details: When will a trial version expire? Is an uninstaller included? Links take you to related resources on CNET, so after you download that MP3 player, you can learn how to find tunes or rip your own CDs.
29. BEST CHAT
If you spent those years of high school Spanish reading TV Guide in the back of the room, fear not: MultiCity provides instant translation in six languages, right in the chat window. You can also join chats in 20 different languages, in case you do speak Icelandic or Czech. Another cool tool lets you have a live, private chat with instant translation (a window opens right in the message).
ALSO: Speaking of cool, Cybertown's chat takes place in stunning 3-D worlds. You can get a virtual job, save your CityCash, and build your own 3-D home for private chats.
30. BEST FREE WEB PAGES
No other page-building hub comes close. Homestead's big draw is its excellent SiteBuilder software, which lets you drag and drop elements exactly where you want them on your page. Without knowing a lick of HTML you can add message boards, chatrooms, mailing lists, dissolving text, and dozens of other extras to your site. You can even include a shopping cart and hawk merchandise through Homestead's Sell Your Products program. We're sold.
31. BEST INTERNET TELEPHONY
Internet telephony is still a work in progress. Voice quality can suffer if the Net is congested or if you're using a 56Kbps connection. But no site makes the technology as simple to use as Dialpad. There's no software to download (though you will need a microphone); just sign up, enter a number, and talk. Calls are free, no matter how long you speak or where in the U.S. you call. You can save numbers to your phone book and jazz up the interface with skins.
32. BEST HANDHELD SOFTWARE
Palm Gear H.Q.
If you have a Palm or Visor organizer and haven't visited this site, you're missing out on a wealth of add-ons (much of it freeware and shareware). Palm Gear H.Q. not only has it allmore than 100 different types of dictionaries alonebut also offers user reviews, screenshots, and handy FAQs. Specialized uses are particularly well covered, with applications for astron omers, pilots, and musicians as well as more than 300 programs available in the medical category (nice if you need an obstetrical calculator).
ALSO: If you're a Pocket PC fan, download some goodies at Handango (Palm apps are available, too).
33. BEST PLACE TO PROCESS AND STORE PHOTOS
Send your film to Shutterfly and the site will process it and scan the photos into your own online album, which you can share with others. You pay only for the prints you want (so if you shot a roll of your thumb, you can cut your losses and try again). Digital-photo bugs can upload their pics to the site, share, and order re prints. Shutterfly's tools, which let you crop, add borders, and enhance colors, give it the edge over the competition.
ALSO: It may lack Shutterfly's extras, but you can't beat the price at Snapfish. Processing and a full set of prints costs $1.69.
34. BEST WALLPAPER
Ryan Bliss has created some of the most inventive, spectacular desktop art you're likely to see. At his site Digital Blasphemy, you can check outand download35 free samples, including stunners like "Red Sky at Night" and "Gotham 1999." Or pay for a subscription ($12 for 90 days; $25 for a year) and get access to his entire portfolio of more than 400 works. We've downloaded plenty.
This story originally appeared in Yahoo Internet Life.