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 50 million.
What does the Internet offer?
It provides a vast 24-hour library, all in a searchable form. You can also buy goods over it, anything from shares to flowers or even bras (see Bras Direct case study page 66). It also lets you send email to anyone else in the world who has an Internet email address.
Isn't there a problem with security on the Internet?
Security is not such a problem as people would have you believe. And 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 (see SET feature page 34).
Is the Internet just a fad like CB radio, which 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 all that 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 the table bottom left to see what all the parts of it mean.
And what exactly is email?
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. You just need a computer, a modem (or an ISDN terminal adaptor or leased line), an account with an Internet service provider and Internet software.
What type of computer do I need?
A computer of almost any size and age 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'll need an IBM-compatible PC running Windows or a Macintosh. That's because the Web uses a GUI (graphical user interface) which you navigate using a mouse. To use the latest browsers you need a PC that's less than two years old. If you're 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, 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 #150.
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 ?
ISDN (integrated standard digital network) 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're connected almost instantly. However, it does require a special digital telephone line and an ISDN terminal adaptor (TA). ISDN is best suited to businesses which might want to connect a LAN of PCs to the Internet (see Pipeline 50 review page 74).
A leased line, often referred to as a T1 or kilostream line, gives you a permanent link to the Internet. Prices start at around #1,000 a month, which makes them more appropriate for medium or large companies. You're also likely to need one if you plan to run your own Web server.
Then I need an Internet service provider, 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 over 100 ISPs, so choosing the right one is difficult. Luckily, competition between them is so fierce that many are happy to offer a 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 #5 and #15 a month. Some 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 AOL and CompuServe offer discussion areas and specialised content such as 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 ISP 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 in the west of Scotland it may be limited.
And what about software?
A browser is the one piece of software that's essential to use the Internet.
The most popular by far is Netscape Navigator but Microsoft's Internet Explorer is catching up fast. Your Internet service provider will normally supply you with a browser but Explorer and Navigator can be downloaded free of charge from the Internet. The latest browsers do just about everything, including sending and receiving email and dealing with newsgroups. If you want a standalone mail program, try Eudora. For a standalone newsreader try Free Agent. Another piece of software worth considering is an offline browser such as WebWhacker. If you have a dial Internet connection it will help cut your phone bills.
http:// www .vnu Means the site Indicates it's The domain must be a World Wide name the accessed using Web address. publishers of a Web browser. Internet With modern World browsers you registered. don't have to type this in. http:// .co .uk Means the site Indicates the This means must be domain the domain accessed using belongs to a is a UK a Web browser. company. registered company. With modern Alternatives Each country browsers you include .gov, has a two-letter don't have to .org and .ac. code known type this in. as a top level domain code. US companies use .com instead
Browsers Internet Explorer 3.0
Newsreader for Usenet newsgroups Free Agent
Web authoring Internet Assistant
Offline Web browser WebWhacker
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 big three are Alta Vista; Yahoo; and Lycos. 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 Directoryor the newly launched www.uksearch.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.
For businesses or users with a little more experience, it's worth considering 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.
1. Make sure your chosen access provider can give you access with a local telephone call.
2. Check what software your ISP provides, whether it is registered and whether it works with your machine.
3. Check out technical support. If possible, call the technical support line before you sign up for an account.
4. What do you need Internet access for? If you want extra services, check your ISP can offer them first.
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