ISP Ratings, Smithsonian Online and College PCs

In this week's Cybershake consumers speak out about their Internet Service Providers (ISPs), check out the online exhibits from the Smithsonian museums, and offer tips on sending off your college-bound youngster with the right computer.

Consumers Grade Their Net Access

How does your Internet Service Provider rate? Consumer Union's Consumer Reports magazine looked at eight of the most popular ISPs.

"Some of the basic services like AT&T Worldnet and EarthLink do a better job than the others," says David Heim, managing editor of Consumer Reports. For the more than 1,600 online users surveyed, "Getting you online in a hurry and having a line available when you want to go online" was the critical factor, says Heim.

Who didn't make the grade? Heim says MSN hits the very bottom of the list. "For the life of me, I don't know what attracts people to MSN unless it's rebates that they get when they buy a computer," he said.

And while there's no great love for AOL, most people use it. "They have a lot of content," says Heim. "They have some services that are unique and quite good."

Not surprisingly, Consumer Reports found that the bottom line is the bottom line. "Looking for better price for Internet access was the main reason we found people switched," says Heim.

— Larry Jacobs, ABCNEWS

The Nation's Attic Online

Smithsonian museums have acted as America's attic, collecting and archiving various bits of history and Americana. And the collection is huge — too huge to be put on display at one time anywhere except cyberspace.

The new site,, "allows visitors to make their own way through our collections," says Judy Gradwohl, Web director for the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. "You can express an interest in a topic and we'll show you the objects we have that are related."

And the collections is pretty vast. You can hear Benny Goodman play "Tiger Rag" on his clarinet. Or, if your interests fall more to technology, you can check out the ENIAC, the World War II era machine that launched the American computer industry.

Visitors can also interact with the online exhibits by giving them an online rating. Objects that average high approval ratings will get a larger "space" in the virtual museum.

— Chuck Siverstsen, ABCNEWS

Choosing a PC for College

It use to be that a personal computer was a luxury for a college student. Not any more. "Many universities are actually starting to require that students buy computers," says Janice Chen, editor in chief of Computer Shopper Magazine.

What kinds of computers should you consider sending off with your child? Chen offers a few suggestions.

Depending on the living space, she says a laptop is sometimes a better college choice than a desktop. "Not only does it take up a lot less space, but it lets you take a notebook to class with you, and it's definitely more versatile," she says.

But, she adds that desktop computers have their own advantages. Chief among them: it's tougher to steal.

Also, Chen says to consider the needs beyond just a computer.

"Most students would probably want to have a printer in their own room and printers are so cheap now," says Chen. But if you get a printer, "make sure you have the right cable," she says.

One final thought: "Make sure that everything is set up and ready to go before you leave your kid there," she says.

— Clarissa Douglas, ABCNEWS

Cybershake is produced for ABCNEWS Radio by Andrea J. Smith.