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Surfing the Net-which wave to ride?

Along with the development of the personal computer, the creation and evolution of the Internet is one of the greatest technological innovations of the past 20 years. It is a phenomenon that is constantly growing and changing. This article provides an overview of the technology for both computer creampuffs and keyboard curmudgeons.

The Internet, or "Net," is a basically a complex collection of networks. The Net is also referred to as the Web, the World Wide Web, WWW, [W.sup.3], the information superhighway, cyberspace, and a number of other slang terms. It is a large network of networks connected by fiber optic cables, satellites, phone lines, and other communication systems. The Net currently connects more than 30 million users and businesses all around the world. It links 30,000 computer networks in over 100 countries, and that number is dramatically increasing every day. The Internet is very versatile, powerful, and useful.

On the Internet, you can find a tremendous amount of information and a multitude of services that can enrich both your professional and personal life. Most people use the Internet to send and receive electronic mail (e-mail), download or upload files of information or data, search the numerous databases for information, join "chats" or electronic discussions, play games - both alone and with another user or users, and run programs on remote computers. It is also a rich marketplace for both products and services.

In Private Hands

The Internet, developed by the U.S. Department of Defense, started as a network to link scientists and academicians around the world. Today, however, the Internet is maintained by private industry - not by the government. It has evolved into an exciting, easy, and inexpensive way for people to communicate across the globe. No single person, corporation, institution, or agency owns or operates the Internet, although individuals, corporations, educational institutions, and government agencies own and operate the smaller individual networks that comprise the Internet. No one screens or regulates the data, and there are no rules about the nature of information or where it is stored. So, the quality of the data varies greatly. In recent years, groups have been formed to self-regulate the Internet in an attempt to prevent the government from doing so.

Many people use slang terms when they refer to the Web. Some terms that you might encounter, and their meanings, are listed in the accompanying "Web Slang" glossary.

"Surfing the Web" is a slang expression for browsing, or looking around the Internet. There are many ways to gain access to information on the Web. But, first, you must get on line which requires a computer and a modem hooked up to a telephone line.

Browser, or Service?

Often, your access route to the Internet will depend on your needs. You may purchase a Web browser for access to the myriad information sources of the Web, or you may subscribe to an on-line service. An easy, quick way to "get onto" the Web is to purchase a Web browser such as Netscape Navigator. Web browser software usually includes the communications and utility software you need to get on line and onto the Net. Other Web browsers include: Cyberjack, Chameleon, InternetSuite, Internet in a Box, Internet Membership Kit, NetCruiser, GNN, Pipeline, and Sprynet.

On-line services provide information and services to members for a fee. Some of these include: at-home banking, e-mail, shopping at home, news and weather, travel information and reservation services, investment services, and stock market information. Some of the major on-line services are:

America Online - provides news, weather, shopping, finance, travel information

Prodigy - provides news, weather, shopping, finance, travel, numerous family services

CompuServe - provides mostly business-oriented services

Microsoft Network - provides news, weather, shopping, finance, travel information

Delphi - provides Internet access and services

Genie - provides news and database information - mostly technical and professional in nature

Imagination - provides games and entertainment

eWorld - provides general services, mostly for Apple and Macintosh users

Dow Jones - provides finance and business information

Ways to Communicate

The various ways to communicate with others on the Internet include e-mail and bulletin boards. E-mail, or electronic mail, is similar to sending or receiving messages or memos by mail, but they are transferred over cable or phone lines between computers. Users are not required to use the same network. Many organizations provide e-mail systems for their employees. E-mail is also offered by service providers such as Prodigy.

Bulletin boards, newsgroups, and discussion groups provide a way to interact with other users who have common interests. Thousands of subjects are discussed on the Internet via bulletin boards, including politics, business, the environment, music, sports, religion, and more. There is probably a bulletin board set up for just about every topic imaginable. Bulletin boards often serve as a form of electronic club for a specific purpose. Many computer vendors set up bulletin boards to provide on-line service for their products. A number of organizations list job openings and company information on the Web, and many prospective employees list their resume on the Web.

Linking and Downloading

A user who attempts to gain access to information on the Web will encounter one of three possible outcomes: the link may be successful, busy, or closed. When a link is successful, the user will be connected to a host that will transfer data to the computer and display the data on the screen. If too many people try to reach the same host at the same time, the host might be busy, and some users won't be able to get through. Sites that have been removed or renamed are considered to be closed or abandoned. The amount of time it takes to connect or "link" to a host depends on the volume of traffic.

The address of the host is a uniform resource locator, or URL. It is made up of many parts, all indicative of the location and type of host. A URL is composed of a protocol identifier, a server address, and a file pathname. For example:

http://www.netscape.com/home/welcome.html

http:// = protocol identifier

www.netscape = server

com = type

home = folder

welcome = filename

html = extension

To obtain files of data from a host server on the Internet to your computer, you need to use File Transfer Protocol, or FTP. FTP provides a way to link to a computer elsewhere on the Internet, view its directories, and transfer files to and from your computer. A protocol is a set of rules or a standard that has been set up to allow computers to communicate. FTP will allow computers to transfer files efficiently. You can quickly recognize an FTP site by its URL, which begins with ftp://, http://, or gopher://.

Downloading, or transferring files from the Internet to your personal computer, is very useful. There is myriad information on the Web - some free, some available for a fee. You may move this information to your computer for your own personal use. Included are games, clipart, sounds, video clips, utility software, reference information, research information, and more. There is also an on-line shopping service which allows users to purchase items or services through their personal computer - usually at a discount.

The Internet does seem a bit overwhelming the first time you attempt to go online. There is much information, and there are many sites to visit. But, once you get a feel for the way it works, you will find the ride exciting. Enjoy the surf.

WEB SLANG

ARCHIE: a tool used to locate a particular Web site - help with a search for particular information

ATM: Asynchronous Transfer Mode - a way to communicate through multimedia, including voice, data, and video, over any type of transfer media

BULLETIN BOARD: a feature that allows computer users to communicate and share information about a particular topic

EDI: Electronic Data Interchange - transfer of information from one business to another

ELECTRONIC MAIL: a means to transmit messages between other users via the computer

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions, usually shown in a list - a method of helping users on the Web

FILE TRANSFER: transfer of data from one computer to another

FLAME: an offensive message on the Web

FTP: File Transfer Protocol - a way of transferring information between computers

GOPHER: a tool for locating information on the Web - usually in menu form

GROUPWARE: software that allows multiple users to share information and work together

INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY: a worldwide system of networks that provide information and services

INTERNET: a worldwide network system of computer networks

IRC: Internet Relay Chat - multiple users conversing on the Web at the same time

NEWSGROUPS: discussion groups

ONLINE SERVICE: information and services provided to a net user for a fee (America Online, Compuserve, etc.)

SLIP: Serial Line Internet Protocol: one form of Internet connection

SPIDER: indexing software that contains a search engine, a related database, and a document-retrieval system

TCP/IP: Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol - the main form of communicating on the net

TELECOMMUTING: conducting work at home using a computer

URL: Uniform Resource Locator - the address used to locate a particular document

VERONICA: used with GOPHER to locate information on the net

VIRTUAL COMMUNITY: another term for the Internet

VOICE MAIL: a means of storing verbal messages on a computer disk

WAIS: Wide Area Information Service - a tool contained in net databases used to locate information on the web

WWW or [W.sup.3]: World Wide Web-linked system used to surf the Web

JOSEPH C. OTTO, Ed.D., is a professor of information systems in the School of Business and Economics at California State University, Los Angeles. He is a prolific author who has written five textbooks and more than 20 journal articles. His last article for Business Forum, "Multimedia - What Is It?," appeared in the Summer/Fall 1994 issue. His expertise encompasses all areas of microcomputer and software applications. He is a popular guest lecturer who gives frequent presentations about the Internet and the World Wide Web.
COPYRIGHT 1997 California State University, Los Angeles
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Otto, Joseph C.
Publication:Business Forum
Date:Jan 1, 1997
Words:1647
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