I tried out Britannica Online on my home computer, and the time lags in getting to it and then extracting information from it made the experience pretty unappealing. But then I'm using obsolescent, if fairly common, equipment: a Packard Bell 486SX 25MHz machine with eight MB of RAM and a fast 28.8 KB modem. I use Mosaic for a Web browser. Here's a rundown on what I had to do when I wanted to ask Britannica Online a question, and the total time elapsed after each step:
I click the icon on my program manager; my computer dials and connects: 30 seconds. I click the World Wide Web icon, and my provider's home page appears: 1:56. I ask to go to http:/www.eb.com; BOL's home page appears: 2:50. I request and get the BOL search box: 3:50.
Note that at this point it has taken me almost four minutes just to get to where I can ask my question. I recently repeated this sequence ten times and found it took from two minutes and 40 seconds to almost four and a half minutes to get to the search box; the average was three minutes and 25 seconds--and I didn't include the three times when I was cut off before I ever reached BOL and had to start all over again.
But my neighbor, a computer engineer with a hot new setup (a Pentium 90 with 16 MB of RAM and a 14.4 modem, using Netscape), was able to get from his program manager to the BOL search box in about a minute and 15 seconds--a whole lot less irritating. And an editor at the Reader, which has a direct (i.e., modemless) connection to the Internet--as do many university and institutional users--went from program manager to BOL's home page in just 14 seconds, barely longer than it took to click the mouse buttons and type the address.
Back at my home computer, I asked BOL to find "Chicago," then I clicked on the first article listed, scrolled to the bottom, and went to the Chicago Mosaic home page. The whole process took about two minutes. But when I tried this on a Power Macintosh it took only about 30 seconds.
Where's the bottleneck in my home system? Hard to say, according to some Internet cognoscenti. I assume that when I get a faster, more powerful computer or a better Internet provider or a better Web browser, I may well find BOL a joy to use. But I can't imagine paying for it until something has better lubricated my links to the Internet.