The CDs we listen to store music as digital bits and bytes.
When we use a debit card to pay for the week's groceries,
funds are transferred digitally from our bank accounts to
the store's. When we send an e-mail message to someone
on the other side of the planet,
digital bits carry our missive along
sophisticated computer networks.
As we enter the 21 st century,
the trend to digitalization is accelerating. Canadians can carry out banking transactions over the Internet, paying bills and transferring funds digitally. They can load electronic cash into smart cards, and use it to feed the parking meter or pay bus fares. They can use the Internet to go shopping in online stores with huge selections and great
snapshots, and with
prices^They c; the dick of a bütton send them to loved ones a continent away. They can phone anywhere in the world over new wireless digital communications networks.
Making Pictures bv Numbers
Digital photography has to be one of the most fun things you can do on your computer. With the right software, you can
remove flaws like "red eye” from your snapshots, brighten up a dull photograph, alter the color balance, and even combine two pictures into one. Then when everything is just right, you can make a print that looks like it came from the photo lab. You can also include your picture
in a greeting card, or e-mail it to friends and family thousands of miles away.
To get pictures into your computer, you can use a digital camera. Instead of registering images chemically on photographic film, digital cameras store pictures electronically on memory cards. You transfer images from the camera to the computer using a special cable and software that come with the camera.
Basic digital cameras start at around $300. You will get much better picture quality from one of the new "mega-pixel” models. Available from companies such as Agfa,
Canon, Epson, Hewlett-Packard, Kodak and Olympus, mega-pixel digital cameras start at around $900. At print sizes as large as five by seven inches, picture quality is as good as with conventional cameras.
You can transfer printed pictures to your computer using a scanner. Capable models are available for as low as $200. If you are willing to spend more to get superb image quality, check out Hewlett-Packard’s $700 PhotoSmart scanner. In addition to scanning pictures, it scans 35mm slides and negatives, and produces professional-quality results.
If you want to experiment with digital photography, you can have a photo store convert your images to electronic form. Photo retailer Black’s will scan images to CD or diskette. For $5.49, the company will scan an entire roll of film to its Internet site. You can then download your pictures to your computer and/or e-mail them to someone else.
Once you have transferred pictures to your computer, there are all kinds of things you can do with them. With simple image editing software like Photo Deluxe from Adobe Systems, PhotoSuite from MGI Software, and Picture It! from Microsoft, you can spruce up your images: cropping
the picture to leave out distracting material, lightening a subject that is too dark or sharpening a picture that is a little blurred. These packages will also help you make greeting cards and other documents.
Canon, Epson, Hewlett-Packard and Lexmark all have excellent general-purpose color printers that will do a good job printing the photographs from your computer. But if you are really serious about computer photography, consider a printer designed primarily for photo printing. Epson’s new Stylus Photo 700 and HP’s PhotoSmart printer can produce pictures that look as vibrant and detailed as conventional photographs.
Digital Banks Are Always Open
Canadians are some of the most inveterate users of electronic banking services on the planet. Now they are eagerly adopting PC
(personal computer) and Internet banking. Canada Trust has 215,000 customers using its EasyWeb service. At Toronto Dominion Bank, 180,000 people use TD Access:PC and TD Access:Internet. Over 240,000 people use CIBC PC banking.
With PC or Internet banking, you can view balances and activities on deposit accounts; view balances and activity for credit card and some loan accounts; transfer funds between accounts; and pay utility and other bills. You can even postdate payments, in case you are going to be away when a particular bill comes due. If you buy mutual funds or securities through your bank’s retail brokerage, you can probably view your portfolio, get quotes and initiate trades.
The newest division of Bank of Montreal, mbanx, is built entirely around electronic banking. While mbanx customers can carry out transactions and get assistance at Bank of Montreal branches,
mbanx is a direct bank. It has no branches of its own. Instead, customers perform transactions over the
Internet, or by fax, phone, courier and mail or bank machines.
In some cases, banks offer discounts for banking online. At Canada Trust, flat fee accounts that emphasize self-serve transactions-including EasyWeb—are significantly cheaper than other accounts. Scotia Discount Brokerage reduces its trading fee by 20 per cent when you make the trade online.
Most banks do not charge for Internet banking, but just take the standard fees for bill payment. While Royal Bank has a monthly access fee, it provides a software program called Managing Your Money as part of the package. This lets you budget and track various household expenses.
It works much the same as popular personal finan-
cial management software such as Quicken and Microsoft Money. PC and Internet banking services can be programmed to automatically update your computer files if you are using one of these
packages to manage your finances. To do Internet banking, you
launch your Web browser software, then when you are online, enter the address for your bank’s Web banking site. You sign in by entering the number on your banking card, plus a password. You can then do practically everything you would normally do at a branch.
That includes getting information. On their Internet sites, banks have financial calculators to help you plan your retirement or figure out how large a mortgage you can afford. You can even apply for a
But there are other places to get financial information. Quicken Canada (www.quicken.ca) has information on subjects such as tax planning and mortgages, as well as quotes on securities and mutual funds. "Quicken Canada is an impartial source of financial information for Canadians,” says Peter O’Brien, vice-president of Rogers New Media, which operates the site, "and we have links to all the banks in various places on the site.”
There Is Cash in Those Chips
Debit cards are tremendously popular with Canadians. However, they are not very useful for small purchases. To fill this void, Canadian banks are experimenting with electronic cash, where value is stored digitally on a "smart card.” When you want to make a purchase, you hand the card to a retailer, who transfers the value to his card. Because there is no need for bank authorization, and because there is no need to make change, transaction time is very short-two or three seconds.
In Guelph, Ont., Canadian banks are conducting a trial of an e-cash system called Mondex. The 12,000 Mondex cardholders in Guelph can transfer funds from their bank accounts to their Mondex cards at CIBC and Royal Bank ABMs and from specially equipped pay phones. There are even special telephones that let users perform Mondex transactions from home.
Mondex is accepted by over 600 merchants in the Guelph area, and can be used on the city’s parking meters and buses. With Mondex, one individual can transfer funds to another individual’s card, so that you can use Mondex to pay the pizza delivery person or babysitter. Mondex Canada plans to extend the trial to Sherbrooke, Que.
Scotiabank is conducting a trial in Barrie, Ont., of a different system called "Visa Cash.” Visa Cash is accepted at over 500 Barrie merchants, on the city’s buses, and in the cafeteria and vending machines of Georgian College. The 22,000 cardholders can be customers of any bank. They transfer funds to their Visa Cash cards using 100 special loading machines located in stores and banks.
Marlene Boyaner, vice-president, Smart Cards for CIBC, says Mondex’s chip-to-chip technology gives it some advantages over other cash-card systems. It supports secure person-to-person transactions (directly, or over telephones or the Internet).
Visa Cash users don’t have to register the cards or bank accounts, counters Bob Lounsbury, senior vice-president card products and marketing at Scotiabank. They just pick up the cash card, and use their current debit cards to transfer funds to the cash card. "Our card is simpler,” he maintains.
Shopping at the Digital Mall
If technology forecasters are correct, we are going to be making a lot fewer trips to the store in a few years. International Data Corp. of Framingham, Mass., predicts that the worldwide value of commerce carried on over the Internet will grow to $237 billion U.S. in 2001 from $12.5 billion last year. The most rapid growth will be in business-to-business transactions, as more and more companies use the Internet to control inventories of materials. But the value of consumer transactions will grow rapidly as
well, to almost $60 billion in 2001, from $5 billion last year.
From a consumer point of view, there is a simple explanation for this growth: convenience and selection. Larry Stevenson, president and CEO of the Chapters bookstore chain, says the Internet bookstore his company is creating in conjunction with The Globe and Mail will be able to offer several times more titles than can be displayed in Chapters’ huge retail locations.
From a business point of view, the explanation is just as simple. Not only does an Internet store have far broader reach than a retail store, it is far cheaper for businesses to offer goods online than to display them in a retail location.
Internet commerce works best where the product is a known quantity. While it is hard to tell from a Web site whether you will like an article of clothing, if you are looking for a specific CD or book, online shopping is a good bet. In fact, two of the most recognized names in Web commerce sell books (amazon.com) and records (Music Boulevard). Not only do they offer a huge selection, they have reviews to help you find records and books you will like.
In fact, even if you do not actually buy a product online, the Internet can be a wonderful research tool. If you are in the market for a car, you can visit automotive manufacturers’ Web sites to check out options, prices and leasing arrangements. That way, you will have a lot more information when it comes time to take some test drives.
Safe Online Shopping
When you want to buy a product over the Internet, you have to use a major credit card. Many Internet merchants will let you give credit-card information over the phone, but is it safe to send this information over the Internet?
Most online stores use secure sites. When you make a transaction, a feature in your browser software called "Secure Socket Layer” (SSL) scrambles credit-card and other information, so that it cannot be used by anyone other than the merchant.
Lynn Anderson, enterprise marketing manager for Hewlett-Packard (Canada) Ltd., says 56-bit SSL (one of the more secure forms) can be broken in 15 days on a $1-million computer. HP has developed a
very secure 128-bit SSL encryption system for online commerce called "VerSecure.” She estimates it will take up to 30 years to break that system. It uses digital signatures to tie transactions to a unique individual.
David Carter, marketing manager, Internet platforms at Microsoft Canada Co., says criminals are not likely to try to bust SSL. "It’s easier to get credit-card information by rifling through the garbage at a gas station,” he says. "I’ve never heard of credit-card fraud on the Net. Your credit-card information is much more exposed in real life than on the Net.”
Several companies, including Microsoft, are working on an Internet transaction scheme called "SET” (Secure Electronic Transactions) in which credit-card information remains encrypted all the way from the purchaser to the merchant’s bank, so that not even the merchant can view it. There have been delays in bringing SET to market, but Carter says it will be deployed in the next 18 months.
Steve Gesner, vice-president interactive services at the Toronto Dominion Bank, advises Internet shoppers to exercise a bit of caution, but otherwise not to worry. "One of the things that customers are unaware of is that in the case of unauthorized use of your credit card, your liability is limited to $50. My advice is to deal only with reputable suppliers you know. It’s like going to New York City. If you go into bad parts of town, you’ll get hurt. Use common sense as you would with traditional credit-card use, and make sure you use at least 40-bit SSL security to protect your credit-card number.” ■
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