Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Virtual Shopping

Nashville companies enhance online shopping

By James Hanback Jr.

OCTOBER 19, 1998:  Nashville is a wired city, no doubt about it. In a vast number of homes and offices across Davidson and surrounding counties, there sit computers with Internet connections and people willing to sign on and explore.

So now that you've experienced every club, venue, and musician in town through their respective Web sites, and now that you know the locations of all the hot spots and which restaurants to avoid, what's left?

Shopping, of course. And at least two local Internet services claim to have made that much easier to do locally than in the past few years.

On Oct. 1, a brand new Internet shopping "mall" opened its cyberspace doors at http://www.surfari-mall.com. The Internet's so-called "coolest mall" is dedicated to the average consumer, who can feel "overwhelmed, lost, and frustrated in the vast jungle we call the Web," says Surfari's president Christopher J. Mettler.

"Surfari was created to provide consumers with a user-friendly, fun, easy, and exciting site from which to launch their Internet shopping experience," Mettler states in a press release about the new site.

Mettler calls Surfari a "virtual mall" as it is not, itself, a store. Rather, it is a link to other established online stores through a list of specific categories--sort of the Yahoo! of the Internet shopping community.

For instance, if a user wants to purchase a book, Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com) and Barnes & Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com) are obvious places to look. The beauty of Surfari is that by clicking on the "Books" category you also discover you can buy them at Borders (http://www.borders.com) and CNET (http://www.cnet.com), places which may be able to give you a better deal on your title.

What Surfari attempts to give shoppers is more choice. As one might physically go to a mall and see several bookstores and music centers, now one can do the same thing on the Web. It also allows users a one-stop place for links to these stores without cluttering up their Web browser bookmarks.

"Currently, there exists a degree of uncertainty among consumers wishing to shop the Internet," Mettler explains. "Most shoppers are not clear as to which stores are actually selling merchandise online. Many potential shoppers are forced to spend hours researching retail addresses on the Web; the final result being an unwanted accumulation of bookmarks on their browsers and the loss of valuable time for the consumer.

"Surfari incorporates fresh graphics and opens the door to an inclusive, virtual mall in which consumers can browse leisurely and easily, until they find the item they are looking for," he adds. "Best of all," says Mettler, "it's absolutely free for shoppers." But Internet shoppers aren't the only ones benefitting from new technology in Nashville. The business community is about to get a boost through a new electronic commerce solution recently announced at Telalink Inc., a local Internet solutions company.

"NetMerchant," the company's newest electronic purchasing tool, was announced early last week. According to Telalink spokesman Chris Ferrell, the new product "provides the engine for a hard-goods e-commerce site.

"The program lets site developers completely control the layout, calculations, and reporting involved with securely selling merchandise online," he adds.

Michele Watkins, customer-care manager for Telalink, says that the company has already experienced positive feedback from other companies who want to sell products online.

Ferrell points out that NetMerchant is only part of Telalink's e-commerce "portfolio," which also includes Intershop 3, software that integrates online sales into day-to-day operations.

More information on NetMerchant and Telalink's other e-commerce options is available at http://support.telalink.net/web/commerce/netmerchant/index.spt.

Spreading the disease

A recent item in Music City Computer News (http://www.mindspring.com/~musiccity/MAIN.HTM) claims that there has been a dramatic rise in the rates of system and network viral infections over the past two years.

That's not the surprising part.

The article goes on to say that virus infections transmitted by e-mail attachments have tripled.

From time to time, bogus warnings about e-mail viruses, like the 1994 "Good Times" virus hoax, send shivers up the spines of the unwary e-mailers of the world, but most of the time these messages are harmless. However, e-mail attachments from strange sources should never be trusted.

The "Good Times" virus hoax, according to the Symantec AntiVirus Research Center (http://www.norton.com/avcenter), was initiated by a couple of "pranksters" on America Online. Since they first set it loose, the bogus virus warning has appeared in thousands of e-mail boxes. "Good Times" traffic gets heaviest around the holidays.

More recent hoax virus warnings include the "Hacky Birthday" virus and the "Hairy Palms" virus.

But not long ago, an individual claiming to be from Microsoft was e-mailing an alleged patch for Internet Explorer to innocent Netizens. The e-mail claimed that Microsoft, as a public service, was e-mailing the "patch" to its customers for convenience.

When downloaded and installed, however, the "patch" turned out to be a nasty computer virus.

Just goes to show that you can never totally deem "safe" any attachment you receive in your e-mail.

The best way to protect your computer against Internet viruses is to not download files from strange sources (including strange e-mails). It is also wise to invest in a virus scanner (and make sure you update the data files every so often). Many scanners come with virus protection geared toward scanning files that come in from the Net.

Some popular virus scanners with Internet functionality include McAfee Virus-Scan (http://www.mcafee.com) and Norton AntiVirus (http://www.norton.com).

Windows has bugs? Naaahhh.

Confirming widespread rumors that Microsoft's buggy Windows '98 operating system was due to receive a patch, the company recently reported that the first service pack will be available early in 1999.

While users struggled with upgrading from Windows '95, or worried about a date rollover problem recently discovered by a British Y2K research company, Microsoft, this summer, was planning the release of its multimedia package upgrade, which it initially called a "service pack." The multimedia upgrade was not a bug fix, however. It simply contained new tools for reportedly better multimedia graphics and sound.

The date rollover was not actually a year 2000 issue, but did cause problems with various date rollovers depending on what type of machine was running Windows '98 and if that machine was booted during a date change.

With hope, the Windows '98 service pack will be less buggy and a bigger success than Microsoft's recent Office '97 service release fiasco. After hyping Service Release 2 for Office, the company was forced to pull it from its Web site because the installer was crashing many systems.

All Windows '98 updates and service packs are available from the Microsoft Web site at http://www.microsoft.com/windows98.The Windows '98 Service Pack 1 is scheduled to be delivered to beta testers this month.

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