The first choice you must make in choosing Internet service provider (ISP) software is to choose an ISP. In many instances, the ISP you select will require you to install its own proprietary ISP software — a computer program that works exclusively with that particular ISP. In those cases, choosing an ISP essentially acts as your decision about ISP software. If your ISP allows you to pick your own ISP software, however, the best one to choose will be the one that suits your individual needs, such as being able to read your email offline, being able to store emails or other files online, being able to have multiple email addresses, being able to chat online or being able to have your own website. There are many options available, and when you know which ones are important to you, you will be able to choose the ISP software that is right for you.
To access your email offline, choose ISP software with an email client that allows you to download messages onto your computer hard drive. If you'd rather maintain a large archive without using hard drive space, web-based email allows you to send and receive messages through a web browser. If you want separate email addresses for family members or for a business, choose ISP software that allows multiple email addresses for each account. If chatting in real time is important to you, make sure the ISP software package includes IM or voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) components. Other considerations include newsgroup access and hosting for personal or business web pages.
In choosing an ISP, the major considerations are availability, price and how you intend to use the service. If you live in a reasonably well-populated area, you should have a variety of choices. One inexpensive choice is digital subscriber line (DSL) service, often offered through your local telephone company. Cable modem service, offered through cable television providers, is another popular choice.
Fiber optic ISPs that transmit high-speed signals over fine glass wires are becoming increasingly available, although at premium prices. If you opt for fiber optic service, make sure the ISP is offering a connection directly to your house or apartment, rather than to an exchange box and then using regular cable for individual connections. If you live in a rural area, expensive satellite ISPs might be your only option for high-speed Internet access. Wireless, or Wi-Fi, service also might be available in rural areas, with low or no installation fees and lower monthly prices than satellite ISPs.
If your budget is extremely limited, dial-up Internet service uses a telephone line and analog modems to connect to the Internet. If you only want to send or receive email or chat via instant message (IM), or if there simply are no reasonably priced high-speed ISPs available in your area, dial-up is the way to go. For surfing the web, streaming video, gaming and other high-demand uses, dial-up is too slow. Another major drawback with dial-up Internet service is that it requires either its own dedicated telephone line or tying up a regular telephone line. Data transmission and voice conversation cannot occur simultaneously on the same telephone with dial-up service like it can with DSL service through a telephone company.
If you need or want technical support to be available at all times, make sure your ISP has a good reputation for service. The final major decision is choosing between having the same Internet Protocol (IP) address every time you access the Internet, otherwise known as static IP, or choosing a dynamic IP, which assigns a different IP address with each new session. If you are a gamer or intend to use VoIP extensively, a static IP offers a more reliable connection. On the other hand, dynamic IPs are cheaper and present some security protection from hackers and data mining operations that scan the Internet for information.