By Steve Spears, The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News

Apr. 1--INTERNET PHONE is almost like being there The Internet Phone program from Vocal Tec is something to see - and hear. A confession: Before I saw it firsthand during an Internet seminar last weekend, I was more than a little skeptical.

The software, which has gotten more than its fair share of media attention of late, allows computer users with Internet access to make long distance phone calls through the computer.

The calls are free, but they only can be placed to others running the same software.

Oh, and did I mention that, using the current version of the software, only one person can speak at a time? (A new version expected soon will solve this speaker-phone syndrome, sources say.) But the thing really works.

The dozen or so of us who gathered for the ``Live! On the Internet'' seminar by John Rutledge seemed almost shocked when a caller named Mark from Cape Town, South Africa, came through the computer's speakers as clear as if he were in the next room.

Mark wished us a good morning, though we knew from a quick glance at the program's data box that the South African was in a time zone seven hours ahead of us.

The free conversation, with someone located halfway across the world, had the eerie feel of speaking to an astronaut orbiting the planet.

Another caller, this time named ``GL'' from Malaysia, didn't have quite the grasp of the program.

``Hello?...Hello?...Hello?'' was the most GL could muster, obviously forgetting that we couldn't answer until he shut up.

The Internet Phone demonstration was the starring attraction at this first Internet seminar by Rutledge, a computer instructor at FCCJ, who also introduced participants to the various services and tools of the global computer network.

For those unfamiliar with the Net, the seminar seemed to a good chance to fire away with questions in an uninhibiting environment.

Included was some handy written material outlining the Internet. Free copies of InternetWorks, a new World Wide Web browser program, were distributed along with coveted copies of Internet Phone.

Rutledge will continue to offer the Saturday course as demand dictates. For more information, call him at 725-5612 or e-mail rutledge gate.net on the Internet. END!A3?JK-SPEARS-COL

AP-NY-03-31-95 2024EST

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