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What Is the Net? What Is the Web?
In This Chapter
* What, really, is the Internet?
* For that matter, what is a network?
* What is the Internet good for?
* Is the Internet a safe place?
* Where did the Internet come from?
What is the Internet? What is the Web? Are they the same thing? The answer (one you'll see more often in this book than you might expect) is, it depends. The Internet, the Web, and the technologies that make them work are changing faster than anyone can keep track of. This chapter begins with the basics and tells you what the Internet and the Web are and, just as important, what has changed during the past couple of years so that you can begin to have an understanding of what it's all about.
If you're new to the Internet, and especially if you don't have much computer experience, be patient with yourself. Many of the ideas here are completely new. Allow yourself some time to read and reread. It's a brand-new world with its own language, and it takes some getting used to. Many people find it helpful to read through the entire book quickly one time to get a broader perspective of what we're talking about. Others plow through a page at a time. Whatever your style, remember that it's new stuff — you're not supposed to understand it already. Even for many experienced Internet users, it's a new world.
Even if you're an experienced computer user, you may find theInternet unlike anything you've ever tackled. The Internet is not a software package and doesn't easily lend itself to the kind of step-by-step instruction we could provide for a single, fixed program. We are as step-by-step as we can be, but the Internet resembles a living organism that's mutating at an astonishing rate more than it resembles Microsoft Word or Excel, which sit quietly on your computer and mind their own business. After you get set up and get a little practice, using the Internet seems like second nature; in the beginning, however, it can be daunting.
The Internet — also known as the Net — is the world's largest computer network. "What is a network?" you may ask. Even if you already know, you may want to read the next couple of paragraphs to make sure that we're speaking the same language.
A computer network is basically a bunch of computers hooked together to communicate somehow. In concept, it's sort of like a radio or TV network that connects a bunch of radio or TV stations so that they can share the latest episode of The X-Files.
Don't take the analogy too far. TV networks send the same information to all the stations at the same time (it's called broadcast networking); in computer networks, each particular message is usually routed to a particular computer. Unlike TV networks, computer networks are invariably two-way: When computer A sends a message to computer B, B can send a reply back to A.
Some computer networks consist of a central computer and a bunch of remote stations that report to it (a central airline-reservation computer, for example, with thousands of screens and keyboards in airports and travel agencies). Others, including the Internet, are more egalitarian and permit any computer on the network to communicate with any other.
The Internet isn't really one network — it's a network of networks, all freely exchanging information. The networks range from the big and formal (such as the corporate networks at AT&T, General Electric, and Hewlett-Packard) to the small and informal (such as the one in John's back bedroom, with a couple of old PCs bought through the Want Advertiser) and everything in between. College and university networks have long been part of the Internet, and now high schools and elementary schools are joining up. In the past few years, Internet usage has been increasing at a pace equivalent to that of television in the early '50s; the Net now has an estimated 100 million computers and something like 300 million users, growing at 40 to 50 percent per year.
So What's All the Hoopla?
Everywhere you turn, you hear people talking about the Net and the Web — as though they're on a first-name basis. Radio shows give you their e-mail addresses, businesses give you their Web site (starting with "www" and ending with the ubiquitous "dot com"), and strangers ask whether you have a home page. People are "going online and getting connected." Are they really talking about this same "network of networks?" Yes, and there's more.
With networks, size counts for a great deal because the larger a network is, the more stuff it has to offer. Because the Internet is the world's largest interconnected group of computer networks, it has an amazing array of information to offer.
The Internet is a new communications technology that is affecting our lives on a scale as significant as the telephone and television. Some people believe that when it comes to disseminating information, the Internet is the most significant invention since the printing press. If you use a telephone, write letters, read a newspaper or magazine, or do business or any kind of research, the Internet can radically alter your entire world view.
When people talk about the Internet today, they're usually talking about what they can do, what they have found, and whom they have met. The Internet's capabilities are so expansive that we don't have room to give a complete list in this chapter (indeed, it would fill several books larger than this one), but here's a quick summary:
* Electronic mail (e-mail): This service is certainly the most widely used — you can exchange e-mail with millions of people all over the world. People use e-mail for anything for which they might use paper mail, faxes, special delivery of documents, or the telephone: gossip, recipes, rumors, love letters — you name it. (We hear that some people even use it for stuff related to work.) Electronic mailing lists enable you to join in group discussions with people who have similar interests and meet people over the Net. Mail servers or mailbots (programs that respond to e-mail messages automatically) let you retrieve all sorts of information. Chapters 11, 12, and 13 have all the details.
* The World Wide Web: When people talk these days about surfing the Net, they often mean checking out sites on this (buzzword alert) multimedia hyperlinked database that spans the globe. In fact, people are talking more about the Web and less about the Net. Are they the same thing? Technically, no. Practically speaking, for many people, yes. We tell you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (this year), in Chapter 6.
The Web, unlike earlier Net services, combines text, pictures, sound, and even animation and lets you move around with a click of your computer mouse. New Web sites (sets of Web pages) are growing faster than you can say "Big Mac with cheese," with new sites appearing every minute. In 1993, when we wrote the first edition of this book, the Internet had 130 Web sites. Today, it has many millions, and statistics indicate that the number is doubling every few months.
The software used to navigate the Web is known as a browser. The most popular browsers today are Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer. We tell you all about them in Chapters 6 and 7, along with some other less popular but worthy competitors.
* Chatting: People are talking to people all over the globe about everything under the sun. They enter chat rooms with several other people or one special someone. They're using the America Online chat facility, CompuServe's version of the same thing, or Internet Relay Chat (IRC), a chat facility available to almost anyone on the Internet. We tell you how in Chapter 15, along with discussing paging programs like ICQ and AOL Instant Messenger that let you send messages that "pop up" on the recipient's screen.
* Information retrieval: Many computers have files of information that are free for the taking. The files range from U.S. Supreme Court decisions and library card catalogs to the text of old books, digitized pictures (nearly all of them suitable for family audiences), and an enormous variety of software, from games to operating systems.
Special tools known as search engines, directories, and indices help you find information on the Net. Lots of people are trying to create the fastest, smartest search engine and the most complete Net index. We tell you about two of the most useful, AltaVista and Yahoo!, so that you get the picture. As mentioned in the Introduction to this book, you see a Web icon here and there; it points to resources you can retrieve from the Net, as described in Chapter 16.
* Electronic commerce: This term is just a fancy word for buying and selling stuff over the Net. It seems that everybody's doing it, and now the software is available to make the process of sending your credit card number over the Net safe and secure. You can buy anything from books to stock in microbreweries. We talk about the relevant issues later in this chapter and in Chapter 9.
* Intranets, extranets, portals, and hubs: Wouldn't ya know? Businesses have figured out that this Internet stuff is really useful. They're using e-mail and Web technologies on their own internal networks and calling them intranets. After companies figured out that Internet technology can be used inside their companies, some quickly cottoned to the idea that they could use this same stuff to work with their customers and suppliers and other companies with which they have business relationships. Because this technology goes outside their companies, they called this new permutation extranets. Then businesses figured out that they could share the same virtual site and began putting their services together in a business mall — and because the group of services had one entry point — they were named portals. And in an attempt to become the center of the universe, on the Web, anyway, still other companies are trying to re-create an online business hub with all the convenience and amenities of being in the thick of business. Chances are, whether you use these terms or not, this will be your year to experience at least one of these. We talk about intranets, extranets, portals, and hubs in Chapter 2.
* Games and gossip: A type of multi-user game called a MUD (Multi-User Dimension or Multi-User Dungeon) can easily absorb all your waking hours and an alarming number of what otherwise would be your sleeping hours. In a MUD, you can challenge other players who can be anywhere in the world. Lots of other multi-user games, like AlphaWorld are available on the Web too.
A Few Real-Life Stories
Seventh-grade students in San Diego use the Internet to exchange letters and stories with kids in Israel. Although it's partly just for fun and to make friends in a foreign country, a sober academic study reported that when kids have a real audience for their stuff, they write better. (Big surprise.)
For many purposes, the Internet is the fastest and most reliable way to move information. In September 1998, when special prosecutor Kenneth Starr suddenly delivered his report to the U.S. House of Representatives, the House quickly put the report online, allowing millions of people to read it the day it came out. (We can still debate whether it was a good idea to do that, but the Internet is what made it possible.) And Matt Drudge's Drudge Report online gossip sheet broke much of the scandal first.
During the 1991 Soviet coup, members of a tiny Internet provider called RELCOM sent out stories that would have been in newspapers, statements from Boris Yeltsin (hand-delivered by friends), and their personal observations from downtown Moscow.
Medical researchers around the world use the Internet to maintain databases of rapidly changing data. People with medical conditions use the Internet to communicate with each other in support groups and to compare experiences.
The Internet has more prosaic uses, too. Here are some from our personal experience:
When we began writing our megabook, Internet Secrets (published by IDG Books Worldwide, Inc.), we posted notices on the Net asking for contributions. We got responses from all over the world. Many of these contributors became our friends. Now we have people to visit all over the world. It could happen to you.
We get mail every day from all over the world from readers of our ... For Dummies books and are often the happy recipients of readers' first-ever e-mail messages.
The Internet is its own best source of software. Whenever we hear about a new service, it usually takes only a few minutes to find software for our computers (various computers running various versions of Windows and a Power Macintosh), download it, and start it up. Most of the software available on the Internet is free or inexpensive shareware.
The Internet has local and regional parts too. When John wanted to sell a trusty but tired minivan, a note on the Internet in a local for-sale area found a buyer within two days. Margy's husband sold his used computer within a half-hour of posting a message in the relevant Usenet newsgroup.
Why Is This Medium Different from Any Other Medium?
The Internet is unlike all the other communications media we've ever encountered. People of all ages, colors, creeds, and countries freely share ideas, stories, data, opinions, and products.
Anybody can access it
One great thing about the Internet is that it's probably the most open network in the world. Thousands of computers provide facilities that are available to anyone who has Net access. This situation is unusual — most networks are extremely restrictive in what they allow users to do and require specific arrangements and passwords for each service. Although pay services exist (and more are added every day), most Internet services are free for the taking. If you don't already have access to the Internet through your company, your school, your library, or a friend's attic, you probably have to pay for access by using one of the Internet access providers. We talk about them in Chapter 4.
It's politically, socially, and religiously correct
Another great thing about the Internet is that it is what one may call "socially unstratified." That is, one computer is no better than any other, and no person is any better than any other. Who you are on the Internet depends solely on how you present yourself through your keyboard. If what you say makes you sound like an intelligent, interesting person, that's who you are. It doesn't matter how old you are or what you look like or whether you're a student, a business executive, or a construction worker. Physical disabilities don't matter — we correspond with people who are blind or deaf. If they hadn't felt like telling us, we never would have known. People become famous in the Net community, some favorably and some unfavorably, but they get that way through their own efforts.
The Net advantage
Maybe it's obvious to you that Internet technology is changing so quickly that you have barely had time to crack the spine of The Internet For Dummies, 6th Edition, and here you are holding the seventh edition. (We said the same thing last time.) "Could it possibly be all that different?" you ask yourself.
Trust us — we've asked ourselves the same thing. The answer, by the way, is a resounding "Yes." It's that different again this year. This year, we have to say that the Internet is totally mainstream, and you're falling farther behind the curve faster if you haven't yet gotten started. Increasingly, news gets out on the Internet before it's available on other media, and the cyber-deprived are losing ground.
Here are some of the ways the Internet is being used:
* Finding people: If you've lost track of your childhood sweetheart, now's your chance to find him or her anywhere in the country. You can use one of the directory services to search the phone books of the entire United States. We tell you more about this subject in Chapter 8.
* Finding businesses, products, and services: New yellow page directory services enable you to search by the type of company you're looking for. You can indicate the area code or zip code to help specify the location. People are shopping for that hard-to-find, special gift item. A friend told us of her search for a bear pendant that led her to a company in Alaska that had just what she was looking for.
* Research: Law firms are realizing that a great deal of information they formerly paid $600 an hour to find from commercial services can be found for almost nothing when they go directly to the Net. Real estate appraisers use demographic data available on the Net, including unemployment statistics, to help assess property values. Genetics researchers and other scientists download up-to-date research results from around the world. Businesses and potential businesses research their competition over the Net.
* Education: Schoolteachers coordinate projects with classrooms all over the globe. College students and their families exchange e-mail to facilitate letter writing and keep down the cost of phone calls. Students do research from their home computers. The latest encyclopedias are online.
* Travel: Cities, towns, states, and countries are using the Web to put up (post) tourist and event information. Travelers find weather information, maps, transportation schedules and tickets, and museum hours online.
* Marketing and sales: Software companies are selling software and providing updates via the Net. (The folks making money from the manufacture of floppy disks are looking for new products. Aside from the large pile of AOL disks we now use as coasters, most software distribution is migrating to the Net.) Companies are selling products over the Net. Online bookstores and music stores enable people to browse online, choose titles, and pay for stuff over the Net.
* Love: People are finding romance on the Net. Singles ads and matchmaking sites vie for users. Contrary to Internet lore, the Net community is no longer just a bunch of socially challenged male nerds under 25.
* Healing: Patients and doctors keep up-to-date with the latest medical findings, share treatment experience, and give one another support around medical problems. We even know of some practitioners who exchange e-mail directly with their patients.
* Investing: People do financial research, buy stock, and invest money. Some companies are online and trade their own shares. Investors are finding new ventures, and new ventures are finding capital.
* Organizing events: Conference and trade-show organizers are finding that the best way to disseminate information, call for papers, and do registration is to do it on the Web. Information can be updated regularly, and paper and shipping costs are dramatically reduced. Registering online saves the cost of on-site registration staff and the hassle of on-site registration lines.
* Nonprofits: Churches, synagogues, and other community organizations put up pages telling about themselves and inviting new people. The online church newsletter always comes before Sunday.
We hear many new buzzwords and phrases aimed at confounding the innocent and filling the pockets of would-be consultants. We hear about "digital commerce," "electronic commerce," "digicash," "virtual checks," and "smart cards." Entire books are being written about these subjects. The one topic in this area that you need to know about is buying stuff over the Net. Chapter 9 tells you all about it. (If you plan to set up your own business and sell stuff over the Net, you need more info than we have pages in this book to cover it.)
The earth-shattering, startling new idea of how to buy things over the Net lies buried in the inner meaning of the following phrase: "Enter your credit card number." We're not saying that you shouldn't exercise caution, but our experience of buying stuff over the Net in the past years tells us that you have no great cause for alarm. What have we bought? Books, CDs, clothing, software, videotapes, encyclopedia subscriptions, and matchmaking subscriptions. Here's what you need to know.
Security in general
Some folks seem particularly wary of sending their credit card number over the Net. On the other hand, every day, people hand their actual physical cards with their handwritten signatures to gas station attendants wearing distinctive outfits in bright colors not found in nature, to servers at restaurants, and to clerks at all sorts of stores. Do you know what they do with the card before they give it back to you? Do you worry about it? We don't. We do know someone who used to run a restaurant and later ran an online store, who assures us that he had far more credit card trouble at the restaurant.
If you use a credit card, remember that the credit card companies are even more concerned than you are about the idea of any kind of credit card fraud, on or off the Net. All cards have a limit on the amount of fraudulent use for which you're liable; if you're a U.S. resident the limit is $50 or less. But remember that a debit card is not the same as a credit card and we suggest you stick with credit cards because debit cards are not protected in the same way.
The point is, if you're comfortable using a credit card for other uses, you don't have to get really scared about using it over the Net just because it's new. We do recommend mat you take sensible precautions, and we tell you all about them in Chapter 9, which talks about shopping on the Net, with or without a credit card. Meanwhile, look for the little padlock on a Web page that tells you you're running in secure mode.
If possible, use credit cards rather than checks when ordering over the Net. If you have a dispute with the vendor, you can ask your credit card company to reverse the charge or to refuse charges from that company.
Security in specific
To avoid the possibility of bad guys or gals electronically listening to the bits of your private information whirring across the Net, stripping them off, and redirecting them to purchase their dream vacations, schemes have been invented to encode info sent over the Net so that even if the villains intercept the info, it doesn't do them any good. The information gets all mixed up and hidden in such a way that only the legitimate recipient can decode it. The software that processes this information safely, hiding everything from possible perverse perusal, is known as SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), which lets you connect to a secure server. Most Web browsers (you can read more about them in Chapter 6) have SSL built right in. If you're the least bit antsy about sending your card number over the Net, stick to secure servers.
Software that takes your credit card number (or any other information) over the Net without encoding it is known as insecure. Insecure services are perfectly adequate for many transactions. We use them all the time so long as we know that the business behind the server is reliable. If you don't know the business behind the server, the fundamental reliability of the business should be of more concern than what flavor of server they use.
Some Thoughts about Safety and Privacy
The Internet is a funny place. Although it seems completely anonymous, it's not. People used to have Internet usernames that bore some resemblance to their true identity — their name or initials or some combination in conjunction with their university or corporation gave a fairly traceable route to an actual person. Today, with the phenomenon of screen names (courtesy of America Online) and multiple e-mail addresses (courtesy of many Internet providers), revealing your identity is definitely optional.
Depending on who you are and what you want to do on the Net, you may, in fact, want different names and different accounts. Here are some legitimate reasons for wanting them:
* You're a professional — a physician, for example — and you want to participate in a mailing list or newsgroup without being asked for your professional opinion.
* You want help with an area of concern that you feel is private and would not want your problem known to people close to you who might find out if your name were associated with it.
* You do business on the Net, and you socialize on the Net. You may want to keep those activities separate.
And a warning to those who might consider abusing the anonymous nature of the Net: Most Net activities can be traced. If you start to abuse the Net, you'll find you're not so anonymous.
The anonymous, faceless nature of the Internet has its downside, too.
We advise that you do not use your full name or ever provide your name, address, and phone number to someone you don't know over the Net. Never believe anyone who says that he is from "AOL tech support" or some such authority and asks you for your password. No legitimate entity will ever ask you for your password. Be especially careful about disclosing information about kids. Don't fill out profiles in chat rooms that ask for a kid's name, hometown, school, age, address, or phone number, since they are invariably used for "targeted marketing" (a.k.a. junk mail).
Though relatively rare, horrible things have happened to a few people who have taken their Internet encounters into real life. Many wonderful things have happened, too. We've met some our best friends over the Net, and some people have met and gotten married — no kidding! We just want to encourage you to use common sense when you set up a meeting with a Net friend. Here are a few tips:
* Talk to the person on the phone before you agree to meet. If you don't like the sound of the person's voice or something makes you feel nervous, don't do it.
* Depending on the context, try to check the person out a little. If you've met in a newsgroup or chat room, ask someone else you know whether they know this person. (Women, ask another woman before meeting a man.)
* Meet in a well-lit public place. Take a friend or two with you.
* If you're a kid, take a parent with you. Never, ever meet someone from the Net without your parents' explicit consent.
The Net is a wonderful place, and meeting new people and making new friends is one of the big attractions. We just want to make sure that you're being careful.
Protect your privacy
Here in the United States, we've grown up with certain attitudes about freedom and privacy, many of which we take for granted. We tend to feel that who we are, where we go, and what we do is our own business as long as we don't bother anyone else. Well, it seems that a whole bunch of people are extremely interested in who we are, where we go (on the Net, at least), and, most especially, what we buy. Here are a few hints to control how much or how little info you give them.
Please pass the cookies
To enhance your online experience, the makers of Web browsers, such as Netscape and Internet Explorer, have invented a type of special message that lets a Web site recognize you when you revisit that site. They thoughtfully store this info, called a cookie, on your very own machine to make your next visit to the same site smoother.
It may be true that cookies can make your life more convenient. You have to be the judge. Every Web server can offer you cookies. You need to know that this kind of software exists so that if you're concerned about your privacy, you can take steps to protect it.
Cookie files usually have the name cookie associated with them — cookies.txt on Windows and MagicCookie on a Mac, for example. You can delete your cookie files — your browser will create a new, empty one. Modern browsers can tell you about cookies and ask you whether to accept them as servers offer them to you. When Carol checked her Macintosh, she found two cookie files — one from Netscape and one from Internet Explorer. If she hadn't been looking for them, she never would have known that they were there.
Contrary to rumor, cookie files cannot get other information from your hard disk, give you a bad haircut, or otherwise mess up your life. They collect only information that the browser tells them about.
In addition to the cookie file, Internet Explorer keeps a history file of where you've been on the Web. (Look in your Windows folder for a subfolder called History.) If anyone other than you uses the computer you use, you may want to delete its contents after your use, unless you don't care who sees it. Courts have ruled, by the way, that companies own their computers and their contents. You have no "right to privacy" at work, even though most of us find the idea creepy. Companies can eavesdrop on phone calls, read your e-mail (going and coming), and read anything on your computer, including a history file detailing where you've searched. This can be problematic if you've done a little unofficial surfing at lunchtime.
Encryption and pretty good privacy
When you send information through the Internet, it gets relayed from machine to machine, and along the way, if someone really cares, she may be able to take a look at what comes across the wire. Whether you're sending your credit card number or sending e-mail love letters, you may feel more comfortable if the absolute secure nature of the transmission were guaranteed.
You can guarantee security by using encryption. Encryption is high-tech-ese for encoding — just like with a secret decoder ring. You know — codes, spies, secret messages. Software exists that helps you package up your message and send it in a way that nobody except the intended recipient can read it. Encryption is the virtual envelope that defies prying eyes. In practice, we rarely encrypt e-mail, though we're happy to know that the option exists. One reason we don't encrypt it is that, at this point, it's too darned cumbersome. Some e-mail software comes with encryption built-in, notably Microsoft Outlook Express, so many more people will choose to use it. Also check out PGP, which stands for pretty good privacy, the most widely used encryption scheme on the Net. Because it's complicated enough to require pages of explanation, we don't have room in this book to go into the details; check out our E-Mail For Dummies, 2nd Edition and Internet Secrets, 2nd Edition where we give you blow-by-blow details. New, easier-to-use versions of PGP come out every month or two, so a PGP add-in is probably available for your favorite mail program.
|Pt. I||Welcome to the Internet||7|
|Ch. 1||What Is the Internet? What Is the Web?||9|
|Ch. 2||The Internet at Home, at Work, at School, and at Play||21|
|Ch. 3||Kids and the Net||29|
|Pt. II||Internet, Here I Come!||41|
|Ch. 4||Picking Your Internet Service||43|
|Ch. 5||Online and On Your Way||63|
|Pt. III||Web Mania||83|
|Ch. 6||Welcome to the Wild, Wonderful, Wacky Web||85|
|Ch. 7||Wrangling with the Web||99|
|Ch. 8||Needles and Haystacks: Finding Stuff on the Net||119|
|Ch. 9||More Shopping, Less Dropping||139|
|Ch. 10||My First Home Page||157|
|Pt. IV||E-Mail, Chat, and Other Ways to Hang Out Online||173|
|Ch. 11||It's in the Mail||175|
|Ch. 12||Putting Your Mail in Its Place||203|
|Ch. 13||Online Communities: Let's Get Together||221|
|Ch. 14||Typing, Talking, and Video over the Net||235|
|Ch. 15||Groupspeak: Let's Chat||249|
|Pt. V||Other Internet Essentials||263|
|Ch. 16||Swiping Files from the Net||265|
|Ch. 17||AOL: Can Twenty Million Users Really Be Wrong?||277|
|Pt. VI||The Part of Tens||291|
|Ch. 18||Ten Frequently Asked Questions||293|
|Ch. 19||Ten Types of Files and What to Do with Them||301|
|Ch. 20||Ten Fun Things You Can Do on the Net||313|
|Ch. 21||Ten Ways to Avoid Looking Like a Klutz||319|
In This Chapter
Okay, okay, so what is it already? The Web is in some ways sort of a cross between libraries, television, computer networks, and telephones -- it's all of the above and none of the above.
The Web is a bunch of "pages" of information connected to each other around the globe. Each page can be a combination of text, pictures, audio clips, video clips, animations, and other stuff. (We're vague about the other stuff because they add new types of other stuff every day.) What makes Web pages interesting is that they contain hyperlinks, usually called just links because the Net already has plenty of hype. Each link refers to another Web page, and when you click a link, your browser fetches the page the link connects to. (Hold your hat -- we talk about browsers in a couple of pages. For now, just think of your browser as the program that talks to the Web.)
Each page your browser gets for you can have more links that take you to yet other places. Pages can be linked to other pages anywhere in the world so that after you're on the Web, you can end up looking at pages from Singapore to Calgary, from Sydney to Buenos Aires, all faster than you can say "Jack's your uncle," usually. How fast you get from one page to another depends on a number of different things we talk about later on; in theory, however, and approaching reality in many parts of the world, you're only seconds away from any site, anywhere in the world.
Where did the Web come from?
The World Wide Web was invented in 1989 at the European Particle Physics Lab in Geneva, Switzerland, an unlikely spot for a revolution in computing. The inventor was a British researcher named Tim Berners-Lee, who is now the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3), the organization that sets standards and loosely oversees the development of the Web. Tim is terrifically smart and hard-working and is the nicest guy you would ever want to meet. (Margy met him through Sunday school -- is that wholesome or what?)
Tim invented HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol), the way that Web browsers communicate with Web servers; HTML (HyperText Markup Language), the language in which Web pages are written; and URLs (Uniform Resource Locators), the codes used to identify Web pages and most other information on the Net. He envisioned the Web as a way for everyone to both publish and read information on the Net, and early Web browsers had editors that would let you create Web pages almost as easily as you could read them.
For more information about the development of the Web and the work of the World Wide Web Consortium, take a look at its Web site (at
This system of interlinked documents is known as hypertext. Figure 5-1 shows a Web page: Each underlined phrase is a link to another Web page. Hypertext is the buzzword that makes the Web go. It's one of those simple ideas that turns out to have a much bigger effect than you would think.
Hypertext: A reminiscence
The term and concept of hypertext were invented around 1969 by Ted Nelson, a famous computer visionary who has been thinking about the relationship between computers and literature for at least 25 years now -- starting back when most people would have considered it stupid to think that such a relationship could exist. Twenty years ago, he claimed that people would have computers in their pockets with leatherette cases and racing stripes. (I haven't seen any racing stripes yet, but otherwise he was dead on.)
Back in 1970 Ted told me that we all would have little computers with inexpensive screens on our desks with superwhizzo graphical hypertext systems. "Naah," I said. "For hypertext, you want a mainframe with gobs of memory and a high-resolution screen." We were both right, of course, because what we have on our desks in 1995 are little computers that are faster than 1970s mainframes and that have more memory and better screens.
Various hypertext projects have come and gone over the years, including one at Brown University (of which Ted was a part) and one at the Stanford Research Institute (which was arguably the most influential project in computing history because it invented screen windows and mice).
Ted's own hypertext system, Project Xanadu, has been in the works for about 15 years, under a variety of financing and management setups, with many of the same people slogging along and making it work. The project addresses many issues that other systems don't. In particular, Ted figured out how to pay authors for their work in a hypertext system, even when one document has pieces linked from others and the ensuing document consists almost entirely of a compendium of pieces of other documents. For a decade I have been hearing every year that Xanadu, and now a smaller Xanadu Light, which takes advantage of a great deal of existing software, will hit the streets the next year. This year I hope that they're right.
Now that the World Wide Web has brought a limited version of hypertext to the masses, Ted is now hoping to build a Xanadu-like system on the Web. Stay tuned for developments!
If you can get a handle on the fundamental structure of the Web, you can use it better and think about all the other ways it can be used. Hypertext is a way of connecting information in ways that make it easy to find -- in theory. In traditional libraries (both the kinds with books and the kinds in computers), information is organized in a relatively arbitrary way, such as alphabetical order or the Dewey decimal system. These orders reflect nothing about the relationships among different pieces of information. In the world of hypertext, information is organized in relationship to other information. The relationships between different pieces of information are, in fact, often much more valuable than the pieces themselves.
Hypertext also enables the same set of information to be arranged in multiple ways at the same time. In a conventional library, a book can be on only one shelf at a time; a book about mental health, for example, is shelved under medicine or psychology, and it can't be in both places at one time. Hypertext is not so limited, and it's no problem to have links to the same document from both medical topics and psychological topics.
Suppose that you're interested in what influenced a particular historical person. You can begin by looking at the basic biographical information: where and when she was born, the names of her parents, her religion, and other basic stuff like that. Then you can expand on each fact by learning what else was happening at that time in her part of the world, what was happening in other parts of the world, and what influence her religion may have had on her. You draw a picture by pulling together all these aspects and understanding their connections -- a picture that's hard to draw from just lists of names and dates.
A hypertext system creates between pieces of information the connections that enable you to find related information easily. As you draw connections between the pieces of information, you can begin to envision the Web created by the links between the pieces. What's so remarkable about the Web is that it connects pieces of information from all around the planet, on different machines and in different databases, all pretty much seamlessly (a feat you would be hard pressed to match with a card catalog). You might think of it as an extremely large but friendly alien centipede made of information.
The other important thing about the Web is that the information in it is searchable. For example, in about ten seconds you can get a list of all the Web pages that contain the words domestic poultry or your name or the name of a book you want to find out about. You can follow links to see each page on the list, to see which pages contain the information you want.
Hypertext is all well and good -- trust us. You need to know about one more basic concept before hitting the Web. Every Web page has an address, a code by which it can be found and the name that gets attached to it so that browsers can find it. Great figures in the world of software engineering named this name URL, or Uniform Resource Locator. Every Web page has a URL. Those strings of characters that begin with
www. are URLs. Some people pronounce each letter ("U-R-L,"), and some think that it's a word ("URL") -- it's your choice. Now you know enough to go browsing.
Duke of URL
Part of the plan of the World Wide Web is to link together all the information in the known universe, starting with all the stuff on the Internet and heading up from there. (This may be a slight exaggeration, but we don't think so.)
One of the keys to global domination is to give everything (at least everything that could be a Web resource) a name, and in particular a consistent name so that no matter what kind of thing a hypertext link refers to, a Web browser can find it and know what to do with it.
Look at this typical URL, the one for the Web page shown in Figure 5-1:
The first thing in a URL, the word before the colon, is the scheme, which describes the way a browser can get to the resource. Although ten schemes are defined, the most common by far is
The details of the rest of the URL depend on the scheme, but most schemes use a consistent syntax. Following the colon are two slashes (always forward slashes, never reverse slashes) and the name of the host computer on which the resource lives; in this case,
Web URLs allow a few other optional parts. They can include a port number, which says, roughly speaking, which of several programs running on that host should handle the request. The port number goes after a colon after the host name, like this:
Because the standard
Although not all pages can have search parts, for those that do, it tells the host, uh, what to search for. (You rarely type a search part yourself -- they're often constructed for you from fill-in fields on Web pages.)
Three other useful URL schemes are
That is, it's an e-mail address. When you choose a
A URL that starts with
The part after the two slashes is the name of the FTP server (
On a DOS computer, this line indicates a Web page stored in the file C:\WWW\INDEX.HTM. The colon turns into a vertical bar (because colons in URLs mean something else), and the reverse slashes turn into forward slashes. File URLs are useful mostly for looking at GIF and JPG graphics files and for looking at a Web page you just wrote and stuck in a file on your disk.
Now that you know all about the Web, you undoubtedly want to check it out for yourself. To do this, you need a browser, the software that goes and gets Web pages and displays them on your screen. Fortunately, if you have Internet access, you probably already have one. One probably came from your Internet service provider (ISP) and you installed it when you installed the rest of your Internet software. If you don't have a browser at all or want to get a copy of Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer (most likely because you have one but want to try the other), see the section "Getting and Installing Netscape or Internet Explorer," later in this chapter.
Now that the Web gets more press than the rest of the Internet put together, everyone and her uncle wants to write a Web browser. We discuss three of the most popular: Netscape, the world's most popular graphical browser; Internet Explorer, the Microsoft answer to Netscape; and Lynx, the text-only browser for the UNIX shell account crowd.
If you have another window-oriented browser, such as any of the many versions of Mosaic, nearly everything we say about Netscape and Internet Explorer also applies. (It's no coincidence because Netscape was written by many of the same people who originally wrote Mosaic, and Internet Explorer is based on Mosaic too.)
If you use America Online or CompuServe, read Chapters 14 and 15 to find out how to get and install Netscape and Internet Explorer with these services. Then come back and read this chapter.
Are you sick of hearing about the war between Netscape, the "killer application" for the Internet, and Internet Explorer, the Microsoft attempt to kill off Netscape? This chapter shows you how to use both. We don't take sides here because they both work okay and they're similar enough that any reason to dislike one of them probably applies to the other.
If you already have a PPP or SLIP account or if you use an online service (such as CompuServe or America Online), you can use cool modern Web browsers, such as Netscape and Internet Explorer.
If you have a UNIX shell account, close your eyes and forget about all the pretty pictures. Many other programs, fortunately, do roughly the same thing as Netscape, including one called Lynx, which works just fine over a text-only dial-up connection. Go to the section "Life with Lynx," later in this chapter, or go get yourself a PPP or SLIP account.
When you start Netscape, you see a screen similar to the one that was shown in Figure 5-1. The Internet Explorer window looks like Figure 5-2. Which page your browser displays depends on how it's set up; many providers arrange to have it display their home page.
At the top of the window are a bunch of buttons and the (Netscape) Location or (Internet Explorer) Address line, which contains the Uniform Resource Locator, or URL, for the current page. (Netscape sometimes labels this box Netsite for reasons we can't fathom. Microsoft sometimes calls it a Shortcut.) Remember that URLs are an important part of Web lore because they're the secret codes that name all the pages on the Web. For details, see the sidebar "Duke of URL," earlier in this chapter.
The primary skill you need (if we can describe something as basic as a single mouse-click as a skill) is to learn how to move from page to page on the Web.
It's easy: You just click any link that looks interesting. Underlined blue text and blue-bordered pictures are links. (Links may be a color other than blue, depending on the look the Web page designer is going for, but they're always underlined unless the page is the victim of a truly awful designer.) You can tell when you're pointing to a link because the mouse pointer changes to a little hand. If you're not sure whether something is a link, click it anyway because, if it's not, it won't hurt anything. (Clicking outside a link selects the text you click, as in most other programs.)
Web browsers remember the last few pages you visited, so if you click a link and decide that you're not so crazy about the new page, you can easily go back to the preceding one. To go back, click the Back button (its icon is an arrow pointing to the left) or press Alt-<--.
Some picture links are image maps, such as the big picture in Figure 5-3. With a regular link, it doesn't matter where you click; in an image map, it does. The image map here is typical and has a bunch of obvious places you click for various types of information. (All the 1990 census data except private individual info is online on the Net, by the way, at
http://www.census.gov.) Some image maps are actual maps -- a map of the United States at the Census Bureau, for example, that shows you information about the state you click.
As you move the mouse cursor around a Web page, whenever you're pointing at a link, the place you linked to appears in small type at the bottom of the screen. Netscape shows the URL of the page, and Internet Explorer shows the name of the computer the Web page is stored on and the name of the file containing the Web page. If the link is an image map, Netscape shows the link followed by a question mark and two numbers that are the X and Y positions of where you are on the map. The numbers don't matter to you (it's up to the Web server to make sense of them); if you see a pair of numbers counting up and down when you move the mouse, however, you know that you're on an image map.
These days everyone and his dog has a home page. A home page is the main Web page for a person or organization. (For some samples, check out
http://users.aimnet.com/~carver/cindy.html or you can try
http://www.rtd.com/~scs/dog/dog.html. Companies are advertising their home pages, and people are sending e-mail talking about cool sites. When you see a URL you want to check out, here's what you do:
The URL is something like
If you receive URLs in electronic mail, Usenet news, or anywhere else on your Windows PC or Macintosh, you can use the standard cut-and-paste techniques and avoid retyping:
Newer versions of Eudora highlight any URLs in e-mail messages. All you have to do is double-click the highlighted link to open the Web page.
You can leave the
http:// off the front of URLs when you type them in the Location or Address box. If you use Netscape, you can leave the
www off the front and the
com off the back -- that is, rather than type
http://www.idgbooks.com, you can just type
You learn more about how to find things on the Web in Chapter 7; for now, here's a good way to get started: Go to the Yahoo! page. (Yes, the name of the Web page includes an exclamation point -- they're very excitable.) That is, type this URL in the Location or Address box and then press Enter:
You go to the Yahoo! page (there it is again), a directory of millions of Web pages by topic. Just nose around, and you will find something interesting.
For updates to the very book you are holding, go to this URL:
Follow the links to the page about our books, and then select the pages for readers of The Internet For Dummies, 4th Edition. If we have any late-breaking news about the Internet or updates and corrections to this book, you can find them there. If you find mistakes in this book, by the way, please send e-mail to us at
Sometimes a Web page gets garbled on the way in or you interrupt it (by clicking the Stop button on the toolbar). You can tell your browser to get the information on the page again: In Netscape, click the Reload button or press Ctrl+R; in Internet Explorer, click the Refresh button or press F5.
Netscape and Internet Explorer are not in a hurry
When Netscape announced Version 3.0, it publicized tests which showed that it was 200 percent faster than its rival program, Internet Explorer. Microsoft retaliated with studies and statistics of its own. This is not unlike a battle to claim the title of the world's slimmest hippopotamus -- they're both big and slow.
The programs have two separate slowness problems. One is that fancy multimedia screens require a great deal of data, which means that they take a long time to transfer over any except the fastest networks. The other is that both programs are, to use a technical computer term, pigs. (They're not as piggish as some other Net browsers, though.) The standard rule of thumb says that you need a 486/33MHz computer with 8 megabytes of RAM to get reasonable performance, and we can report from experience that if you run either program on a computer of that size, they still spend an awful lot of time swapping pieces of program back and forth from the disk. If you have a Pentium and 32 megabytes of RAM, they're reasonably but not breathtakingly fast.
You can do a few things to speed up Netscape and Internet Explorer, which we address in Chapter 6. (This is a ploy to keep you reading.)
Sooner or later even the most dedicated Web surfer has to stop to eat or attend to other bodily needs. You leave Netscape or Internet Explorer in the same way as you leave any other Mac or Windows program: by choosing File-->Exit (File-->Close for Windows Internet Explorer, we were surprised to notice) or pressing Alt+F4.
With luck, Netscape or Internet Explorer is already installed on your computer. The two programs are so similar that if you have one of them, we suggest that you stick with it (for now, anyway). Without luck, you don't have either program, but they are, fortunately, not difficult to get and install.
Netscape Navigator (the real name of the program everyone calls Netscape) comes in several varieties: Windows 3.1 (the 16-bit version), Windows 95 (the 32-bit version), Mac, and versions for a bunch of UNIX workstations. Netscape also comes as part of a suite of programs called Netscape Communicator (we talk about the other programs in Chapters 8 and 11). Netscape 4.0 includes a Web page editor too, in case you want to create your own Web pages. (See Chapter 22 to find information about creating Web pages.)
Although Internet Explorer was originally available for only Windows 95, Microsoft now has versions for Windows 3.1 and the Mac.
Even if you already have a copy of Netscape or Internet Explorer, new versions come out every 20 minutes or so, and it's worth knowing how to upgrade because occasionally the new versions fix some bugs so that they're better than the old ones. The steps are relatively simple:
Because computers are involved, each of these steps is, naturally, a little more difficult than necessary.
Your Internet provider may have given you a copy of Netscape or Internet Explorer on a disk. The AT&T WorldNetSM Service software, for example, includes a licensed version of Netscape or Internet Explorer, as do the sign-up packages for IBM Advantis, EarthLink, and many other Internet providers.
Because Internet Explorer comes as part of Windows 95, Windows 95 users already have it, but it may be an elderly version. Microsoft gives away Internet Explorer. (One can complain about many aspects of Explorer, but not the price.)
You can also download both Netscape and Internet Explorer from the Net. If you have access to any Web browser, try one of these Web sites:
Use your Web browser to go to the page, and then follow the instructions for finding and downloading the program. You may also want to consult Chapter 12 for more information about downloading files from the Internet.
If you don't have Web access yet but you do have access to an FTP program (described in Chapter 12), you can use it to download the Netscape or Internet Explorer program:
ftp.netscape.com(if it's busy, try
ftp2.netscape.com, up to about
ftp15.) Move to the
navigatordirectory and then to the directory for the version you want (which is
3.01as we write this book but is probably at least
4.0by the time you read it). Then choose the directory for the type of computer you have (
windows). Finally, choose the file to download. Currently, the filenames are n16e301.exe for Windows 3.1 and n32e301.exe for Windows 95 -- the 301 in the filename will change for future versions. If you want the version with extra features, or plug-ins, choose n16e301p.exe or n32e301p.exe.
ftp.microsoft.com. Move to the
msdownloaddirectory. Then choose
ie2for Version 2.0 for Windows,
ie3for Version 3.0 for Windows, or
iemacfor the Mac version -- these directory names may change as Microsoft releases new versions. Finally, choose the filename to download. The filenames are currently ntie30.exe for Version 3.0 for Windows, IE21_68K.exe for Version 2.1 for 68K Macs, and IE21_PPC.exe for Version 2.1 for PowerPC Macs.
Another option is to stroll into a software store and buy Netscape -- you get a license, a manual, and the phone number for tech support, which you don't get when you download Netscape or buy the CD-ROM version of this book.
After you have the program, you have to unpack it and install it. If you get Netscape or Internet Explorer on floppy disks or CD-ROM, follow the instructions that come with it. If you have the Netscape or Internet Explorer distribution file or your hard disk, follow these instructions (assuming that you use Windows 3.1 or Windows 95). Macintosh users, check the tips at the end of this section -- installing on the Mac is even simpler.
To avoid excess user comprehension, the thing that Microsoft called a directory in MS-DOS and Windows 3.1 is now called a folder in Windows 95. We use the official newspeak term; if you're a Win 3.1 user, however, pretend that we said "directory" wherever you read "folder."
Create a folder called something like \Inst.
This folder is just for installing the program -- it's not where Netscape or Internet Explorer will live permanently. From the Windows 3.1 File Manager, choose File-->Create Directory. From Windows 95 My Computer or Explorer, choose File-->New-->Folder.
The Netscape filename probably begins with N16 or N32. The Internet Explorer filename usually begins with MSIE, although we just downloaded one named DLMIN30.exe, so you never can tell. Just drag the distribution file to your new folder in File Manager, My Computer, or Windows Explorer.
A bunch of files will burst forth from the distribution file, reminiscent of the movie Alien. (It's called, in the lingo, a self-extracting archive.) Although you can run the program in a couple of ways, the simplest is just to double-click the filename in File Manager, My Computer, or Windows Explorer.
Some versions of the Internet Explorer go right ahead and begin installing the program -- if you see a window with instructions about how to install Internet Explorer, skip to Step 5.
Otherwise, you now have several dozen files in your \Inst folder, including a file called Setup.exe.
The program begins installing Netscape or Internet Explorer.
Although the installation program asks a bunch of questions, the default answers for all of them are usually okay. If the Internet Explorer installation program asks whether you want to select optional components, choose Yes, and select the additional programs you want to install. (They may include Internet Mail and Internet News, the Microsoft e-mail and Usenet newsgroup programs, respectively; see Chapters 8 and 11 to find out how to use them.)
When the Internet Explorer installation is done, you may have to restart your computer; if so, you see a message offering to restart it now. Click Yes unless you're in the middle of other work -- then finish your work and restart your computer.
The first thing your new browser will want to do is display a Web page, so you had better be connected to the Internet.
Click the attractive new icon -- the Netscape icon is labeled Netscape Navigator, which is the real name of the program, and the Internet Explorer icon goes by the intriguingly vague name The Internet.
The first time you run Netscape, you see a bunch of legal boilerplate stuff describing the license conditions for the program. If you can stand the conditions (many people can), click to indicate your acceptance. The program then starts up. It may want to connect to the Netscape Web page so that you can register your copy of Netscape -- follow its instructions.
The first time you run Internet Explorer, it may run the Internet Connection Wizard, which offers to help you get connected to the Internet. If so, follow the instructions on-screen. If you already have an Internet connection that works, you have a chance to tell it so.
You don't need the installation files anymore, and they take up a great deal of disk space.
Attention Mac users: The installation tips for a Mac are almost exactly the same. If you download your browser from the Net and you're lucky, it should arrive as an executable program in your download folder. Click it and follow its directions in order to install it. It may arrive as a StuffIt file that self-extracts if you have StuffIt installed.
If you're upgrading from an older version of Netscape to a newer one, you can install the new version to replace the old one. When the installation program asks whether to replace Netscape.ini, choose No to keep your existing Netscape settings.
If you have installed the excellent shareware WinZip program, you can use it to automate the entire Netscape or Internet Explorer installation process. As soon as you have downloaded the distribution file, open it in WinZip. (Even though it ends with EXE, it's really a ZIP file.) Then click Install. WinZip creates a temporary folder, extracts the files, and runs Setup. Later, when you return to WinZip, it gets rid of the junk. (See Chapter 12 for more information about WinZip.)
Netscape and Internet Explorer require PPP or SLIP connections. What if you're stuck with a UNIX shell account? Those of you living a mouse-free existence can still do some serious Web surfing using Lynx.
Because Lynx is a text-only browser, it can't do some things, such as show pictures, play audio and video clips, or display news-ticker-style moving messages at the bottom of your screen (a real advantage, in this last case). Within those limitations, though, it's a good program.
Because Lynx is text-only, in fact, it's much faster than the graphics-based browsers, which leaves you at least one thing to feel good about.
All UNIX shell providers should have Lynx available because it's free. To start it, you type lynx at the UNIX shell prompt. It starts up and displays a home page on the screen, as shown in Figure 5-4, which shows the same Web page as in Figure 5-1.
Because most text screens can't do underlining, the links are shown in reverse video. Bracketed text or the word
[IMAGE] appears where a picture would be displayed. One link on the screen is current and is highlighted in a different color. (On our screen, it's yellow rather than white text, which doesn't show up on a black-and-white page. Use your imagination, or go get a yellow highlighting pen.) Lynx thoughtfully puts some help information on the bottom two lines, which makes it much easier to use.
Nearly all Lynx commands are single keystrokes. Pressing the up arrow and down arrow keys moves you from link to link on the current page. If the page is more than one screenful, the page scrolls as necessary. To move to the next screen of the current page, press the spacebar or press + and to move forward and backward a screen at a time.
You press up arrow and down arrow to move from link to link, even when the links are next to each other on a line. For example, you might have a few lines on the screen like this:
[Moe] [Larry] [Curly] [Socrates]
If the highlight is on Larry, you press the up arrow key to go to Moe and press the down arrow key to go to Curly. The left arrow and right arrow keys mean something else, as you will see in a second.
After you have highlighted a link you like, press the right arrow key or Enter to follow that link (Pressing the right arrow key is the Lynx equivalent of clicking a link.) After Lynx fetches the new page, you can press the arrow keys to move around the new page. Pressing the left arrow key takes you back to the preceding page. You can press the left arrow key several times to go back several pages.
Lynx just can't do some things, most notably image maps. Although it tells you that there's an image, because you can't see the image and you can't use a mouse, there's no way to click it. Fortunately, any sensible Web page that has an image map offers some other way to get to the places the image map would otherwise take you. The page has either a set of text links under the image or, in some cases, a link that says something like "Click here for a text-only version of this page." Lynx gives you a nice, clean, image-free page from which to work.
To go to a specific URL, press g for go-to and then type the URL on the line that Lynx provides, followed by pressing Enter.
When you're finished with Lynx, press q to exit. Lynx asks whether you're sure that you want to quit; press y.
Of course not. Lynx is bristling with features, just like any other modern computer program. Just about every possible keystroke means something to Lynx (we discuss some of them in Chapter 6). The arrow keys and g and q are all you really need to get going.
If you don't even have access to Lynx on your system, a few systems offer public access to it. If you have access to Telnet (Chapter 22 gives you information about Telnet and other UNIX commands), these systems let you Lynx around:
lynx.cc.ukans.edu(Kansas, log in as lynx)
sailor.lib.md.us(Maryland, log in as guest)
Although they're not as good as running Lynx on your own provider's system (they're slower, and some options don't work), they're better than nothing.