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Starbucks' winning combo: Caffeine and Web

Starbucks began offering free Wi-Fi on Thursday, so now it's never been easier to connect to the Web. Or has it?

NEW YORK--Grabbing a little pick-me-up for those late-night code-writing sessions or World of Warcraft marathons might be about to get a little easier.

Greg Sandoval/CNET

The ubiquitous coffee house chain Starbucks started offering free Wi-Fi on Thursday, so I went to go check out the new service. A few people here, at the Starbucks located at the intersection of East 96th Street and Madison Avenue, were trying to log on to the Web with mixed results.

When Web access was actually up and running, pages sometimes took minutes to download. And it's not as if the network appeared overwhelmed. This is a tiny Starbucks; I count exactly one person besides me trying to access the Web. How many neighbors are finding the new free connection a boon?

Still, what do you want for free?

And free Web access is certainly on the rise and we have none other than McDonalds to thank for that. It was the golden arches that started a Web-access war with Starbucks six months months ago when the fast-food chain began offering free Internet at its restaurants across the country. Remember, it wasn't that long ago that New York coffee houses were banning laptops and people speculated whether Starbucks might do the same.

For the public, the trend is headed in the right direction. Perhaps eventually, we'll have free Internet everywhere.

One can hope.