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Freeserve Guide and Tips


I originally looked at the Dixons Freeserve internet access from the point of view of Open University Students who are now obliged to use a commercial ISP to access FirstClass and the web. It should be ideal for students needing TCP/IP access who are currently without an ISP. It is equally good for tutors who need web space not currently available through the OU. The bottom line is that it went into our BT "family and friends" list within two days and is now the default connection.

Our own use: I have registered us for Freeserve and it will be used in parallel with rather than replace the existing CompuServe and OU access. The OU TCP/IP is currently much faster than CompuServe but is only available for OU and associated activities and now only to tutors. Freeserve seems just as fast as the OU TCP/IP link for general browsing and will offer an additional 15 Mbytes of web space which will be valuable. Pauline's OU presentations and the rest of her support material have taken up a considerable amount of our existing 5 Mbytes. CompuServe is still needed to provide the Global Dimension so will continue to be our prime Email service provider. Our web site master has now moved to Freezone where we have our own domain name but the site is still mirrored on Freeserve and accessable through http://www.corinna1.freeserve.co.uk/

Student Use: Students without an existing ISP or those who are happy to change their existing configuration should be able to load the software from the CD, register online and be up and running immediately with email and web browsing fully configured. The browser will start up at the Freeserve Portal at http://www.freeserve.net where good support is immediately available. The Portal is well presented and is remarkably free of advertising etc.

Avoiding Configuration Changes: I was concerned about unknown changes to our existing and highly tuned configuration so I was reluctant to load their software from the CD and went straight to the registration stage (see below). The registration process downloads a file which can either be run to implement all the configuration changes (which I wished to manage) or can be opened in Notepad to provide the key information to configure the Dial Up Networking connection, email server addresses, newsgroup servers etc.

Email and Newsgroups: I got everything working fine using Outlook Express for Email and Newsgroups using the information from the file and the excellent support pages on the Freeserve site at http://www.freeserve.net/support. I found you can have any number of associated email addresses. Once we had registered we can not only use pcurtis@corinna1.freeserve.co.uk but we can also collect mail from peter@corinna1.freeserve.co.uk and pauline@corinna1.freeserve.co.uk without having to register them separately - ideal for families. I have also integrated it into my existing mail system in Outlook 98. I have written up full details on Using Multiple ISPs

Web Space: Freeserve provides a massive 15 Mbytes of web space which is immediately available, in our case at http://www.corinna1.freeserve.co.uk . They do not provide any software for uploading but direct one towards the standard freeware FTP programs such as WS_FTP (which I already had installed) and provide all the settings you need to get it to work on their support pages. It works fine and I uploaded a "link" page to our existing site with no problem. It was accessible immediately - I had a browser window open and could see the new content as soon as each upload was completed. Your homepage should initially be called index.html. I have now written a Novices Guide to Setting up a Web Site using only system software and freeware to get people up and running.

Downside to using a Freeserve as an ISP:

Many of the original constraints have now been removed or reduced - Freeserve have been very responsive to feedback from their users.

Freeserve Software

Freeserve provides a specially configured copy of Internet Explorer and Outlook Express. I installed the original software with Internet Explorer 4.01 from the disk onto our "development" hard drive and some of my fears about how it could reconfigure the system have been confirmed.

Freeserve version of Internet Explorer: The changes that I have found to date are minor/cosmetic in Internet Explorer. The initial page is the Freeserve site (portal) and the Browser is set up to use a cache at Freeserve to speed up access from distant sites - the Freeserve support pages explain this and how to change it if you use multiple ISPs. The title and icons are now those of Freeserve but can be changed back - see below.

Freeserve version of Outlook Express: There are major changes here would cause me some concern if it was my prime Email package. The customised version of Outlook Express has an extra pane available which seems to be an Internet link to their channels. It needs to be online to update these channels so it tries to connect at startup even if the info pane is turned off in the View menu. If I do not connect at startup or have the Work Offline option set mail and newsgroups do not work on my configuration using the standard "Connect via my phone line" option. They can be made to work by using the "Connect using Internet Explorer or Third party Dialer" option but that leaves the TCP-IP link open and the phone connected at the end of the transfers. A fix is described below. The latest CDs have Internet Explorer 5 and Outlook Express 5 and these fixes may no longer be required.

Removing the Freeserve Customisation: There has been considerable discussion in the Freeserve Help newsgroup on the topics above and Freeserve have now added a very good page on Uninstalling Freeserve and using Freeserve with other Internet Service Providers which summarises the postings in the newsgroup. The changes to Internet Explorer, Outlook Express and Internet access defaults are mostly easy to understand and implement - I have tried most of them and my only comment is that it is better to rename than permanently delete files and folders. The only dangerous but important change is removing the Infomation Pane which requires changes in the registry - I have reluctantly tried it and it works but mistakes in the registry can leave you with a machine which will not even boot up. Read how to back up the Registry in the A5 manual that comes with Windows 95 (the one with the Serial Number on the front) before you start. The latest versions of Freeserve software do not seem to make so many changes in the registry.

Solving the "Connect via Phone Line" problem: The problem in Outlook Express in connecting automatially via a standard Dial Up connection does not occur for most installations but when it does the solution posted in the Help Newsgroup is to create a new DUN connection called Freeserve2 and to use that connection - the initial install from the CD has a duff registry entry and it is much safer to make a new one than edit the Registry. Creating a new DUN is described below as part of the Procedure for Registering without first loading the Freeserve software.

Procedure for Registering without first loading the Freeserve software.

Introduction: Firstly Freeserve state that you can register on any machine with IE4 and Freeserve installed and it is actually suggested by Freeserve for machines without the capability to run IE4. They also state on their web site that there is no obligation to use their software. Registration and then using the setup information therefore seems to be acceptable but if you do not have access to a Freeserve connection you are in a catch 21 situation. There is however just enough information on the CD to configure an initial connection for registering. In summary one sets up a DUN connection using their normal 0845 079 6699 number and logs in using username: freeservesignup and password: signup giving the connection required to open the secure page at https://signup.freeserve.net/ . This approach is however only suitable for those who know their way round Windows and have previously made Dial Up Network (DUN) connections - but only they will need it.

Detailed Instruction: The following instructions assume that one is adding Freeserve to a machine with at least one current working Dial Up Network (DUN) connection. If this is not the case consider loading the whole Freeserve software - you will be able to access FirstClass and the internet OK. If one wants to install and configure Windows 95 for PPP connections and Install Modems and Optimise Modem connections from scratch there are instructions on my web pages in the Howto technical articles pages. If you have any connection already, meaning the system is configured, it is very easy - I made a spare connection using the procedure below from an empty desktop to modem dialing out it 71 seconds and was connected and using the link in under two minutes! The procedures to follow is:

1. Create a new connection.

Follow the instructions in the Wizard - they may vary slightly in the original Windows 95 and Windows 98 from the OSR2 version here but the information you have to give is obvious. You can change everything latter.

Screen 1 - Call the connection Freeserve and select the modem from the list of those you have installed - it should already be configured if you are using it.

Screen 2 - Add the telephone number for Freeserve 0845 079 6699 and check the country code is UK

Screen 3 - Check the name is what you want (Freeserve) and click Finish

That wasn't difficult was it!

2. Configure the Connection

You now need to set the properties by going back to the Dial-Up Network screen as above and RIGHT CLICKING the Freeserve connection and then clicking Properties on the menu. This gives you two or three tabs depending on which version of Windows 95/98 you have.

Scripting Tab - Ignore if you have this option - No Connection script is needed for this connection.

General Tab - This is where you can change the telephone number and modem type and configure the modem specifically for this connection. Chances are that it has been already optimised but you may want to set the maximum speed to 115200 with a 28800 or better modem after the connection is working.

Server types - This is the important one You now have the Freeserve DUN which will initially be used to log into the registration service then it will become the real link when you have a username and password.

3. Registering

To register double click the Freeserve connection - you can drag a shortcut to the desktop to make life easy as you will need it once you are up and running. The most important information is: You can also use a proxy cache if you only access through Freeserve at: www-cache.freeserve.net:8080

Remember your ID and Username will be yourname.freeserve.co.uk in full for everything.

Email can be deliver from anything@yourname.freeserve.co.uk so the initial name you give before the @ does not matter - select the second part with care as you web address will look like http://www.yourname.freeserve.co.uk. I am told (but have not tried out) that with Outlook Express if you use + instead of @ you can get selective downloads from different names. Outlook 98 seems to give me everything.

Using Multiple ISPs and Changing your ISP: This is a topic in its own right and there is a new page to cover this called Using Multiple ISPs which explains how to set your default Dial Up Network (DUN) Connection for your browser and the principles of how to convert and use Email when there are a number of ISPs and connections. It also gives some guidance on newsgroups and newsgroup readers.

The views here are entirely our own and are not endorsed in any way by the Open University or Freeserve Ltd. What is written on these pages is our own experiences and is not intended to replace in any way the documentation supplied with any of the Open University or Freeserve software.

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Content revised: 5th July, 1999
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