You've heard the Internet hype. But what do ordinary businesses do with an Internet connection?

Greenville Tool & Die (GTD), a 49-year-old automotive supplier, in Greenville, Mich., uses the Internet as a source of free software andtechnical information. In 1992, John Latva, GTD's systems manager, set up an Internet connection for the company, at a cost of $50 a month plus $7 foreach hour online. Latva thought the company would use it just for electronic mail while testing new computer-aided-design (CAD) software: GTD employeeswanted to talk with the software's publisher by E-mail rather than use overnight mail.

But soon Latva and a colleague began exploring and came upon a CAD mailing list, through which 250 CAD users at companies such as Fiat and Fordexchange mail about design and software problems. It's been better than getting news from the software manufacturer, Latva says, "because it's up-to-dateinformation from other users." He also discovered a world of free software online and was able to download a program that displays CAD file drawings as ifthey were completed parts; another free program allows the sales department to run a computer slide show that previews finished dies for customers.