APPLE'S seven-month-old on-line service, eWorld, will cease at the end of this month - an event that has been expected for some time. The demise of eWorld is a bit of a pity but it was probably the wrong idea at the wrong time. Five or 10 years ago an idea like eWorld would have been a success. Today, however, all the special on-line services are in difficulty because of the Internet. CompuServe, America On-line (AOL), Prodigy, and the Microsoft Network (MSN) are all having problems of some kind. The Internet is so pervasive that the specialists are being pushed out. Why pay more for things that you can get for free? Even though the Internet is moving more towards commercial services, it is still steeped in the original spirit of freedom: including things that many of us may not approve of. Organisations like CompuServe and AOL are trying to provide services that will appeal to those who may not be too happy about having so much freedom. People who do not want their children to have access to certain Web sites that are considered 'pornographic'. This is both a hot topic and a difficult one: one man's pornography is another man's art (it is usually men, although there is the occasional woman). With eWorld, Apple tried to create a community that was friendly but not oppressive. They were surprisingly successful, although it may have been because all those who were on eWorld were Macintosh enthusiasts. The on-line world is full of diversity - as is our real world, of course - and it is the task of the Internet to bring this diversity together. When I access a Web page in Wyoming, it does not matter if I do it with a Mac, a Linux machine, a UNIX box or an IBM PC. A service such as eWorld's that was aimed only at Macintosh users was almost wrong from the start. One of the reasons eWorld is coming to an end is the new management at Apple. According to reports, the new chief executive officer, Gilbert Amelio, asked if the world really needed another on-line service. Why waste time and money on something if it is not going anywhere? This certainly does sound like a new regime at Apple and it may do some good. It is equally possible that a good idea or two could get rubbished in the same way, but for the moment at least, it looks as if the chaps running the show are doing it with some understanding. The end of eWorld will mean, of course, that Apple will be throwing everything it has into their Internet and Web presence. This is certainly a far better thing for them to be doing. Apple has been criticised for not taking advantage of the head-start it had when applications like Netscape ran on the Macintosh platform first. (Today the tendency is to write for the Windows platform first). The World-Wide Web is all about design and content, two things Apple has been good at for many years. There is no reason to expect that Apple will not be able to take advantage of its traditions and history, although it will have to try and be a little less parochial. Perhaps even more interesting than Apple's net fate will be the future of the other on-line services. What will happen to CompuServe, AOL, and even more interesting, what will Microsoft do with MSN? Microsoft has been having a terrible time trying to make sense of the Internet and the Web: they do not lend themselves to the kind of control that Microsoft is used to and so is a little flustered. MSN looks about as lively as eWorld and ought probably to be put to rest in the same way. The other on-line services will have to come to terms with the expanding Internet or run the risk of becoming little eWorlds of their own.