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Powerful Internet Should Skyrocket as Firms Go On-Line

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IT is billed as the purveyor of movies galore and unlimited entertainment. But the information highway also has a serious side. Companies are finding that it is a great way to do business.

Pioneering firms have already moved onto Internet, the existing data highway.

``There's business being done on the Internet,'' says Jayne Levin, editor of the Internet Letter in Washington. ``Deals are being made.... It should make business a lot more efficient.''

Companies from the Fortune 100 to the local flower shop are finding myriad ways to use the huge electronic network.

Digital Equipment Corporation in Maynard, Mass., has hooked up one of its new computer systems to the Internet so potential buyers can try it out on-line. Eager to tap into the vast amounts of information available on Internet, Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM has gone on a crash course to connect every employee to the network. Researchers at General Electric's development center in Schenectady, N.Y., are already on-line and access thousands of scientific papers each day, says company spokeswoman Phyllis Piano. ``It has been a very good tool for those people working in information.''

Small firms go on-line

In the past few months, small companies have also begun coming on-line.

``A year ago ... I was hard-pressed to find one or two bookstores'' on the Internet, says Mary Cronin, head of Boston College libraries and author of ``Doing Business on the Internet.'' ``Now, that has increased dramatically.''

Not only are there bookstores like Computer Literacy Bookshops (Internet address: info@clbooks.com) with on-line catalogs, but Grant's Flowers and Greenhouse in Ann Arbor, Mich., (branch-info @branch.com) has an Internet picture catalog of its flowers. Computer companies such as Farallon Computing Inc. in Emeryville, Calif., (ftp.farallon.com) have begun putting free trial versions of their software on the Internet.

``If in the next three years you are not on the Internet ... you are probably a very small local businessman,'' says Mark Gibbs, consultant and author of ``Navigating the Internet.'' ``Even a small local businessman in five years' time will expect to have an e-mail address.''

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