You've heard the internet hype. But what do ordinary businesses do with an Internet connection? Ask Greenville Tool & Die (GTD), a 49-year-old automotive supplier. For the 138-employee company, the Internet is a source of free software and technical information.

In October 1992 John Latva, GTD's systems manager, set up an Internet connection with a service provider near the Greenville, Mich., company. Latva planned to use the Internet simply for electronic mail while testing new computer-aided-design (CAD) software. His goal was to trade upgrades with the software publisher by E-mail rather than overnight mail.

GTD pays $50 a month for its PPP account (see below for definition), plus $7 for each hour on-line. To control expenses, the company limits employees' Internet access. GTD has programmed its modem to connect to the Internet several times daily, sending and receiving packages of accumulated E-mail each time. A few engineers and designers have the E-mail capability, while Latva and another technical manager are the only two employees with unrestricted access to the Internet.

Latva and his colleague soon began exploring. They subscribed to a CAD mailing list, through which 250 CAD users at such companies as Fiat and Ford exchange E-mail about design and software problems. That's better than news from the software manufacturer, Latva says, "because it's up-to-date information from other users."

From technical magazines and the CAD user group, Latva discovered a world of free software on-line. He downloaded a program that displays CAD file drawings as if they were completed parts. Another free program allows the sales department to run a computer slide show that previews finished dies for customers. Now Latva is scouring the Internet for "shareware" to improve security on an electronic bulletin board he designed for customers. -- Phaedra Hise

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Internet Accounts Defined

UNIX Shell: With this common type of account, your computer hooks up to the service provider's computer, which is the Internet connection point, or "node." Any data you store (such as E-mail) sit on the provider's computer, often for a fee. You can't run the Internet interfaces Mosaic or Netscape, but some providers offer alternatives.

SLIP or PPP: These two account types make your computer an actual Internet node. Other users can visit your computer and download posted files, and you can run Mosaic or Netscape.

Pseudo SLIP: Software programs like TIA, the Internet Adapter (available from SoftAware, 310-305-0275), make your computer look like a SLIP account to Mosaic or Netscape. But visitors can't download data -- which you may prefer for security reasons. -- Phaedra Hise