What is the Internet?
The Internet is millions of computers interconnected via a global network.
Estimates of the number of people using it are now as high as 60 million.
What does the Internet offer?
It provides a vast 24-hour library, all in a searchable form. You can buy goods over the Internet, anything from wigs to lingerie. It also lets you send email to anyone in the world who has an Internet email address.
Isn't there a problem with security on the Internet?
Security isn't nearly as big a problem as people would have you believe. In a few months' time a single security protocol, co-developed by Visa and MasterCard, will provide a universal standard for the exchange of credit card information.
Is the Internet just a fad that will eventually blow over?
Definitely not. Within a few years, nearly every home and every office in the developed world will be connected to the Internet, and access to email and the World Wide Web will be as ubiquitous as the telephone.
You mentioned World Wide Web. What's that all about then?
It's a service on the Internet which uses software called a browser to give you access to pages of information containing text, pictures and multimedia.
And what are all those letters and dots I keep seeing in advertisements?
(www.vnu.co.uk) is an example of a URL or Web address. Once you have an Internet connection and a piece of browser software installed, you just type in the URL to go straight to that site. Every computer on the Internet has an IP number, a 32-bit binary number. Because IP numbers are difficult to remember, most computers also have a domain name to represent the number. See definitions, bottom left.
And what exactly is email?
Email is a fast way of sending a message anywhere in the world which costs no more than a local phone call. All email addresses contain an @ sign, for example, ([email protected]). The part before the @ sign is the user name, the second part is the domain name.
This Internet thing sounds good. How do I get hooked up?
Getting on the Internet has never been easier or cheaper. All you need is a computer, a modem (or an ISDN terminal adaptor or leased line), an account with an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and Internet software.
What type of computer do I need?
Any computer can be connected to the Internet, provided it can plug into a modem. However, to use the graphical interface of the World Wide Web, which is what most people want to do, you will need an IBM-compatible PC running Windows or an Apple Macintosh. That's because the Web uses a Graphical User Interface (GUI), which you navigate using a mouse.
To use the latest browsers you will need a PC that is less than two years old. If you are buying new, we recommend this minimum specification - Windows 95, Pentium 100MHz processor, 256Kb cache, 16Mb RAM, graphics card with 2Mb RAM, six-speed CD-ROM drive, 16-bit sound card, speakers and 15in colour monitor.
What type of modem do I need?
A modem (short for modulator/demodulator) translates information from your PC into a form that can be sent down a telephone line. There are a lot of modems on the market so make sure you buy one which is V.34 or V.34 Plus-compatible. This means you can send data at a rapid 28,800 bits per second (28.8Kbps) or faster.
V.34 modems now start at under u150. Although cheaper, slower modems are still available, they're a false economy because a faster model will soon save you the extra cost by reducing your phone bills.
What's this ISDN, leased line stuff about?
Integrated Standard Digital Network (ISDN) is becoming an increasingly common way to access the Internet. It offers much faster access speeds from 64.4Kbps upwards, with virtually no handshaking time - in other words, you are connected almost instantly.
However, it does require a special digital telephone line and an ISDN Terminal Adaptor (TA). ISDN lines are best suited to businesses which might want to connect a LAN of PCs to the Internet.
A leased line, often referred to as a T1 or kilostream line, gives you a permanent link to the Internet. Prices start at around u1,000 a month, which makes them more appropriate for medium-sized or large-sized companies. You're also likely to need one if you plan to run your own Web server.
Then I need an ISP, right?
You use your modem or ISDN card to dial into one of the many modems owned by your Internet Service Provider. The ISP then connects you to the Internet.
There are now more than 200 ISPs, so choosing the right one is difficult. Luckily, competition between them is so fierce that many are happy to offer one month's free trial.
Magazines like Personal Computer World regularly carry free trial disks from companies such as AOL, CompuServe and Microsoft. Typically, ISPs charge between u5 and u15 a month. Some ISPs charge a flat rate for Internet access, while others charge extra if you exceed a specified number of hours online.
All ISPs provide the ability to send and receive Internet email, browse the World Wide Web and download files from Internet servers. But there are big differences between the extra services provided.
Large, centralised online services such as America Online (AOL) and CompuServe offer discussion areas and specialised content like online magazines and easily searchable file libraries. Some providers give you just one email address per account, while others will offer you as many as five.
The quality of the software and technical support provided by the ISPs also varies greatly. In general, the large "consumer" ones offer better support and more commercial software. The smaller, more basic operations often have cheaper deals.
Some ISPs are more geared up to business users who may need a fast ISDN digital connection and/or require the service provider to host or even design their Web pages.
Your Internet Service Provider can have a big effect on the performance of your Internet connection, particularly access speeds to US Web sites.
Few provide local call access to anywhere in the UK. In London there's plenty of choice, but for somewhere in, say, the west of Scotland, choice may be limited.
http:// means the site must be accessed using a Web browser.
With modern browsers you don't have to type this in www indicates that it is a World Wide Web address .vnu is the domain name of the publishers of Internet World .co indicates the domain belongs to a company. Alternatives include .gov, .org and .ac .uk means the domain is a UK registered company. Each country has a two-tier code known as a top-level domain code. Companies in the US use .com instead
browsers - Netscape Navigator 3.0 (www.netscape.com) and Internet Explorer 3.0 (www.microsoft.com) email - Eudora (www.qualcomm.com)
newsreader for Usenet newsgroups - Free Agent (www.forteinc.com/forte/)
extensions - Audio, Real Audio, (www.realaudio.com)
multimedia - Macromedia (www.macromedia.com)
Web authoring - Internet Assistant (www.microsoft.com)
all Internet software (www.download.com)
How do I find Web sites?
The Internet already contains billions of words on hundreds of thousands of subjects, so it can be difficult to find what you are interested in.
Enter the search engine. The three biggest are Alta Vista (www.altavista.com), Yahoo (www.yahoo.com) and Lycos (www.lycos.com). For a complete list of search engines on one central site try (www.search.com).
The big search engines often turn up thousands of documents, mainly with a US bias. For UK searches try the Yell Web Directory at (www.yell.co.uk) or (www.uksearch.co.uk), or Yahoo's UK site at (ww.yahoo.co.uk).
Internet Service Providers
If you don't know much about PCs and are completely new to the Internet, AOL and CompuServe are worth considering. They are both easy to use but can prove expensive for intensive users.
AOL has the advantage of giving you a short, snappy email address - ([email protected]). With CompuServe you're still stuck, for the time being, with old-fashioned numbers such as ([email protected]).
For businesses or users with a little more experience, try UUNet Pipex, an established, reliable ISP, which now covers 90 per cent of the UK.
BTNet still only has five points-of-presence, but it covers the whole of the UK with its BT Internet dialup service. You just dial 0345, which is charged everywhere at a local rate.
CompuServe (www.compuserve.com) 0800 289378
AOL (www.aol.com) 0800 376 5432
UUNet Pipex (www.pipex.com) 01223 250120 BT (www.bt.net) 01442 295828
Internet Service Provider check points
- Make sure your chosen access provider can give you access with a local telephone call
- Check what software your ISP provides, whether it is registered and whether it works with your machine
- Check out technical support. If possible, call the technical support line before you sign up for an account
- What do you need Internet access for? If you want extra services, first make sure your ISP can offer them.
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