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Winfire (Free DSL) Winfire (FreeDSL)

NOTE: Winfire recently notified us that their free dial-up Internet service is now only available to subscribers who have active FreeDSL service. It is no longer available to users waiting for DSL service to be installed.

> Overview   > Details

Thumbs Up: no advertisement; required software is useful; users are in line for free DSL service

Thumbs Down: pop-up window after dialing; if you don't sign up for DSL; you may lose their dial-up service; availability limited to certain areas

Rating: Review


Winfire is better known as FreeDSL, the company that offers free DSL connections. Recently, Winfire began offering free dial-up service for its subscribers while waiting for their DSL service to be installed. We found their dial-up service to be quick and reliable, and among the best free dial-up ISP's available. We were pleased with the required software, and lack of banner ads, but disappointed that the service is only available to users interested in signing up for their DSL service.


Setup of Winfire's "Browser Assistant" is relatively easy, but you must be connected to the Internet in order for setup to work. You won't be prompted to connect, and you won't get an error message that explains the problem if you aren't connected, so connect first.

The "Browser Assistant" is actually a neat little news ticker, with some great shortcut buttons, and an easy way to search the Internet. It's about the height of the Windows taskbar, and can be docked to the top or bottom of the screen, or detached, and moved on top of your browser. Unfortunately, the software starts itself every time you start Windows, and there's no option to start it only on demand. It does put its shortcut in the "StartUp" folder, so it's easy to keep it from starting automatically if you have some moderate Windows knowledge.

Every time you connect to the Internet, a box will pop up, with a banner ad, and a "commercial" that encourages users to add a new shortcut to the browser assistant. Recent commercials have been for Rolling Stone, and The commercials are a bit annoying at times, and it takes a few extra seconds to connect while the software downloads and displays the commercial, but, given the tiny amount of screen space you need to give up during the rest of the Internet connection, the commercials are tolerable.


If Winfire offers DSL service in your area, you'll be eligible to receive free high-speed Internet service, which will connect you to the Internet at 144Kbps, or about 3 times the speed of a regular modem. There are a few catches, however. First, you'll need to buy or rent a DSL modem, which will cost either $199 up-front, or $9.95 per month. The software will also display a larger advertisement on your screen while your DSL connection is active. And, they've been hooking up customers quite slowly. Expect to wait from several months to a year or more before they connect their DSL service to your home. If you live outside a major metropolitan area, it will most likely be quite some time before they get around to serving your area, and some users will never be able to receive DSL service because of the distance from their home to the local phone company's office. We've been on the waiting list for the DSL service for about six months now, and it's unlikely we'll have it connected anytime soon, so we can't review that service yet.

Despite some of its drawbacks, Winfire offers one of the best free dial-up ISP's available. Unlike many other free ISP's, its software is not intrusive, and is helpful and interesting enough that some users would install it even without the free ISP service. The connection is speedy, unlike the sluggishness that many users experience with other free ISP's.

Winfire also rewards users for clicking on the shortcuts on the browser assistant, and even just for using the service. The rewards are given in the form of "Winfire Points", which can be redeemed for entries in a sweepstakes, and, soon, for items in the Winfire store. At the time this review was written, Winfire was giving away one Palm V handheld computer each week.

While we're very pleased with the performance of Winfire's dial-up service, there are some siginificant limitations to their service if you're looking for a free Internet connection. Winfire is mainly in the business of providing DSL service. When you sign up, you're actually requesting that they start working on getting DSL service to your home, and they'll provide you with a free dial-up connection while waiting for your service to be installed. If you don't plan to upgrade to their free DSL service, you may have to give up your free dial-up connection when they're ready to serve your home with their DSL service (at the time of this review, Winfire said that they're not terminating dial-up accounts for those who don't choose to upgrade, but they plan to do so in the future). If you do upgrade to the "free" DSL service, you'll have to purchase a DSL modem for $199, and agree to use their service for 13 months. That's a reasonable price for a DSL modem, and the one year contract is standard practice when signing up for DSL service, but that cost is far from what you'll pay for a free dial-up service.


If there's any chance that you'll be interested in getting DSL service in the future, sign up for Winfire, and start using their dial-up service. You'll save your place in line for their free DSL service, and you'll be very pleased with the free dial-up service they provide in the meantime. If you know that you're not going to spend the money for the new modem required for DSL service, and you don't want to switch dial-up ISP's later, you may want to look elsewhere for your dial-up connection.

All things considered, we highly recommend Winfire's free dial-up service, though we wish that they offered the service to those not interested in DSL, or those who don't live in an area that qualifies for DSL service.


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