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What, Exactly, IS the INTERNET?

The simplest explanation of the Internet is that it's a worldwide network of computers connected by telecommunication lines. The Internet began it's life as an experiment to link together various educational and government institutions. Over the past 15 years it has expanded to incredible proportions, connecting people and places everywhere.

The World Wide Web (or WWW) is a part of the Internet which is made up of computers (also called "servers") which allow the transferring and viewing of files. These files can contain text, pictures, sounds, and video clips. Using the "hypertext" links included in these documents, you can move very quickly between one page and another or between one web site and another. The possibilities are almost endless.

Why would I want to use the Internet and the WWW?

The Web provides access to huge amounts of information. Web sites and documents are sponsored by business's, government agencies, educational institutions, and individuals. Oftentimes, the use of the web is promotional for a business or product. However, there is also an abundance of information out there: state, federal, and international documents and statistics, medical information, databases of many kinds, electronic "books", movie reviews, etc. A vast amount of technical information and support for your computer and software is also available. In addition, you can download a wide variety of software, including shareware (the author lets you try it out before you buy it), and demos of commercial software. You may be able to access the resources of your community library through it. You can send e-mail to just about anyone else who has an Internet account.

Just a couple notes of caution…

  • Unfortunately, the quality of information you see is not guaranteed. No one has reviewed it or edited it or critiqued it for accuracy, except the person, business, or agency posting it. You need to consider the source of the information and evaluate the quality and accuracy of what you're reading just as you would do when reading a newspaper article, book, or other document.
  • Never, never, never download any file from someone you don't know! This can't be emphasized strongly enough. Just as in the non-electronic world, 95% of us are decent folks. There are those, however, who find pleasure in messing around with other people and destroying their property. It's not difficult for someone with the right knowledge to put a "virus" (a malicious little piece of computer programming that will do "something" to your computer if you download it ….this can be just a benign annoyance -like typing something on your screen, to something as serious as wiping out all the information on your hard drive.) Make sure you have an anti-virus program installed on your computer and only download files from sites and people that you feel are reputable.

How do I use the Internet and the WWW?

Connecting to the Internet/WWW requires these things:

  • A computer
  • A way to connect - dial-up modem, cable modem, DSL, satellite, etc
  • An ISP … or Internet Service Provider. This is the place where you connect into the Internet Such providers abound these days, each offering different options and enticements. They include such companies as America Online, Prodigy, Ameritech, Comcast, Wide Open West, Earthlink, NetZero, and hundreds of others, both large and small. Generally speaking, the charges for these services will range from $10 - $50/month (depending on connection type) for unlimited use.
  • A "Web Browser". The software that you install on your computer to allow you to read documents in the WWW. There are many web browsers available. The most common browsers are "Microsoft's Internet Explorer" and "Netscape." Both of these browsers are available free for downloading and often come bundled with other software programs.