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Have PC, Ready To Surf?

If you found a new computer under the tree for Christmas, set it up so your family can get the most out of it.

America Online Consumer Advisor Regina Lewis gives The Saturday Early Show tips on making your new computer family-friendly.

Consider placing that new computer in an open area of the house such as the kitchen or family room, where family members can go online together.

Most new computers come preloaded with everything you need. You can get up and running on the Internet in about 10 minutes.

Access an internet service provider (or ISP) in either of two ways: double click on the icons already preloaded on your new computer or use one of those free-trial CD-ROM disks.

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Some companies only grant access to the Internet; others offer that access, plus additional content.

If you're new to the online world, the best way to go may be though a service like AOL, CompuServe, Prodigy or Microsoft Network. In addition to providing access to the Internet, they offer products and features - built into the software - and instantly accessible once you're online and delivered through "channels" such as entertainment, news, sports or weather. They also have email and other communications activities.

Most providers offer for about $20 a month unlimited access, which is almost always the best value if you have multiple people online at home. But if you think you'll be online for a limited amount of time - five to 20 hours per month - look for a pricing plan that reflects the actual time spent online.

Once you've picked a service, logging on is a snap. Christmas Day is one of the biggest subscription days of the year.

The software will walk you through a series of prompts, asking for address and payment information.

Then you'll need to pick screen names or Web addresses for yourself and your family members. It's a good idea to give these some thought as odds are you'll use them a lot over time. You'll want screen names that are easy to remember and that reflect something about you. And with millions of people online, you have to be increasingly creative.

Your password should be something simple to remember, but not too obvious like your birthday or telephone number. Be sure to write down the kids' passwords someplace safe. Children are notorious for forgetting them.

Once you are up and running, you can personalize your online experience and create your own online calendar, stock portfolio, list of favorite places or Web page.

Most people are familiar with email, but the current rage is instant messaging. Industry analysts have just reported that it is, in fact, the fastest growing category online.

Instant messaging services allow you to see if friends, families or colleagues are online and to send them short messages that instantly pop up on their screens. It's quick, it's easy and it's the rage, especially with teens. On America Online, the service literally lightup after school.

When it comes to kids, there is an issue of safety. Everybody wants to take advantage of what the Internet has to offer. But the experience should be safe for kids. AOL places parental controls right on the welcome screen, the first screen you see when you log on.

You also can purchase blocking software, like Net Nanny. The end result is very much the same; it's as if you've set up a gated community.

So to ensure a safe, productive online experience for your family, there's no substitute for parental involvement. Ask your kids, "Who are your online friends?" and "Show me your favorite sites."

If you're an America Online user, find out more information from Regina Lewis on AOL at keyword: online advisor.

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