with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

FAQ about the Internet

Do you have a lot of questions about the Internet? How the Internet works and how to get the most out of your searches? Do you want to really find the information you need and spend more time on that than on the searching?

While the Internet seems like it has been around for a very long time, it is still a very new thing.


What is the Internet?

The Internet is an abbreviation for the phrase “International Network” and is the physical connection of cables, satellites, wireless technology, and phone lines of computers linked together. It is considered the architecture of the communications network we call the Internet.

What is a browser?

A browser is the name of the software used to access the Internet. Part of the magic of the Internet and Web is the consistency of access to information. In the early years, you needed a specific software to read specific files on the Internet. Then, when standards in Internet data was developed, software called “browsers” translated the programming code behind a web page into something graphical that anyone could see and read. Examples of browsers are Internet Explorer, Netscape (now defunct), Opera, Safari, and Firefox. We have a series of articles to help you learn more about using your Internet browser, specifically Internet Explorer, better.

What is the Web?

The Web is an abbreviation of the term “World Wide Web” and also known as “www”. The Web is the graphical “face” of the Internet, allowing users to read and see the information stored on the Internet. The term “web” is used to define the connections that make the Internet so valuable, bits of data linked together by threads of communication lines, like a spider web. The terms for these connections are called “links”, though they are also known as targets and hyperlinks.

What is a web page?

A web page is the graphic face of the Internet on the Web and a single “page” of data, usually related to a specific topic or category. Web pages hold data for viewing, such as text, databases, links, resources, and more. Web pages are created using a programming language called “Hypertext Markup Language” or “html”. This is code that instructs the Internet browser software to translate the information into a “pretty picture”. Here is an example of some simple coding:

This is text that is <b>bold</b> and
<i>italic</i> for example and this is
<span class="green">green text</span>.

This is text that is bold and italic and this is green text.

While this piece of coding is very simple, most pages are more complex. If you would like to see the code that an Internet Browser translates (and a web designer designs), from within Internet Explorer (or your own browser), choose VIEW from the menu at the top, and SOURCE or VIEW SOURCE. A file will open in Notepad filled with a lot of coding that can be simple or overwhelming, but you will see all the hard work it takes to create a pretty page.

What do web pages and the Internet have to do with each other?

The Internet is the communications architecture that hosts the World Wide Web, the graphic face of the Internet. The Web or web pages are the pretty pictures and text you are seeing right now. They are sitting on a computer somewhere in the world and you are “pulling” the information from there through your telephone, cable, satellite, or other communications device which is translated through your Internet browser into a web page.

How does the Internet work?

The Internet works through a connection of computers called a “network”. On a web page there are links to other pages. When you click on a link, it instructs the browser to go to load the information from that Internet address into your browser for you to read. This linking process is how the Internet works, connecting pieces of data together in interlinking connections.

What is the difference between the Internet, the web, and email?

The Internet is the communications architecture behind the graphic face of the World Wide Web, and email is a “letter” sent via the Internet to someone. Just as the programming code of a web page is translated into a graphic presentation in a browser, an email is translated into binary code, transported across the Internet using the instructions found within the email address, to the recipient who has software that again translates the binary code into text so they can read the message. Think of the Internet as a great big phone company. Through its communications services, you can talk on the phone, send faxes, and play on the Internet, but it is still part of the phone company, capable of a variety of services.

Am I on the Internet when I am writing or sending email?

When you are viewing a web page, you are usually on the Internet, connected through whatever connection service you are using. When you are writing an email, if you are writing the email on a web page like MSN Hotmail or Yahoo Email, you are writing the email on a web page that will send and recieve email for you. If you are using Outlook Express, Outlook, or another email software program, you are writing the email in a word processing style program that specializes in email and you are not on the Internet. When you send or receive email through these software programs, the program connects to the Internet to send or receive the email. In the simplest of terms, think of the Internet and email as you writing the letter on your desk, and then walking to the mail box and putting the letter inside. The Internet is the mail box. From there, it will sail around the world to your recipient, through the Internet.

What is spam?

Spam is the name for unwanted or unsolicited email. People who send spam are called “spammers”. The name comes from the canned food product known as spam and a skit by Monty Python about spam, promoting the fact that it is horrible, inedible, and tasteless as well as a fun word to repeat over and over again. Spam arrives in your email inbox as advertising, typically promoting some investment, get rich plan, or begging you to see naked women and to enhance your manhood or breasts. Because of the overwhelming, and unwanted, forwarding of jokes, chain letters, rumors, and hoaxes, these are also known as spam, even though the sender might be unaware they are doing anything wrong. Because email is easy to do, people forget that the same ethics that go into letter writing need to go into writing email. Think before you send, and consider the other person’s feelings, too. There are a variety of techniques available to prevent or stop spam which we discuss in our technique article on spam in our Learning Zone.

Searching the Internet is painful and hard. How do I do it better and faster?

Searching the Internet is not really as painful as you may think. The problem isn’t so much your ability to search as it is the lack of information on the Internet that you may be searching for, combined with the issue of terminology. If you use a general term, like “bird”, you will get millions of results. If you use a more specific search term, like “anhinga”, a type of bird, you will get fewer results. It’s a word game to find the correct word or phrase to find what you want. We explore more about making searching on the Internet easier in our class notes on Searching the Internet.

How can I learn the terms and jargon that come up on the Internet like download, upload, browse, search engine, and more?

Upload, download, browser, link, hypertext…there are a lot of new words associated with the Internet and computers. You can find definitions and instructions on how to use all these new words and tools at the following sites:

How do I download a file?

To download means to request a file from a site on the Internet and allow it to be placed on your computer to do what you want with it. To download a file, you can either click on the file name from within the web page or RIGHT CLICK on the link and select SAVE TARGET AS from the Right Click menu. We explain more about saving downloaded files in our class notes from our Internet Class.

How can I find my downloaded file after I’ve downloaded it?

Once you have initiated a download, you have to tell the file where to be saved so you can find it again after the download has finished. If you are using Microsoft Windows XP or more recent, the software automatically creates a folder in your Documents folder called “Received files” but I create a folder called JUNK an put everything I download there to keep it in one place. After the download, I can put the file anywhere I want, but it usually starts in one place.

What is a cookie?

A cookie is a file created by a web page and stored on your computer. The web page or web site may want to “remember” your visit, so it stores basic information like what kind of browser you are using, passwords, information about the pages you visited, and when you lasted visited the web site. When you revisit a page, the web page looks for the cookie file and then uses that information to help you on this current visit. For example, I have registered with Amazon.com to make my shopping experience easier. Every time I visit Amazon, it checks for the cookie on my computer left from the previous visit, recognized who I am and greets me with “Hello, Lorelle VanFossen, welcome back. When you were here last, you were looking at…”. It has stored my preference towards health and science fiction books, so it also gives me recommendations on new additions or best sellers in those areas. You can turn off cookies and stop them from being created, but they will not harm your computer and might just make it more “user friendly”.

What is the history of the computer?

Everywhere you look you see the signs of computers, at grocery stores, toll booths, restaurants, and even in your home. Hard to imagine that the computer we know today began its humble start as a tool for war in World War I and II. The Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) the world’s first operational, general purpose, electronic digital computer, and was developed at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering, University of Pennsylvania, through the sponsorship of the US Army. It’s goal was to “speed the calculation and improve the accuracy of the firing and bombing tables”. And of course the first people to actually use the computer and who could input data into the earliest computers fastest were women, the unheralded computer experts of our history. After World War II, ENIAC turned its attention to prediction – telling the future and estimating averages, percentages, and forecasts of weather, economics, and even politics. But it actually didn’t start there. The pre-computer technology began with Charles Babbage and his Analytical Machine which we would call a glorified calculator today. Slide rules and manual calculators were the machines of the future which became the relics of the computer age until the military needed their “edge” in the war. IBM then took over for the government in the aggressive miniaturization of computers and the rest, they say, is history.

For more specific information on the history of computers:

Can I get a virus from a web page?

Currently, you can’t get a virus from visiting a web page, but you can get other things that are just as nasty. In general, unless you download a file or agree to initiate a program from within a web site, a web site cannot give you a virus. But, some web pages can install software, usually WITH your permission, that you may think is helpful in some way, that really spies on your computer activities. Some of this “spyware” is fine and just monitors your Internet shopping activities, but most of it is intrusive and borders on a violation of privacy. Check PCMag and PCWorld and ZNet for recommendations on the best free or commercial software to check for spyware.

How can I protect myself from viruses?

Protection from viruses comes from having the latest virus protection software with the latest updates installed, such as Norton Anti-Virus and McAfee VirusScan, and from not doing the things that bring bring viruses to your computers. Email attachments are the number one way a virus gets into your computer. Unless we know the sender, we usually delete all incoming attachments. If the email is blank and only has an attachment, we will usually delete it, even if we know the sender. We have yet to find anything other than video that can’t be PUT inside an email and not attached to it. If you want to send us a document, copy and paste the text into the email, don’t send it as an attachment. If you want to include pictures, embed them into the email by choosing INSERT IMAGE from the email program menu and don’t attach them. So refuse attachments and you are a bit safer. Scan all downloaded files with virus protection software before executing or opening. And if in doubt about anything, don’t do it. It isn’t worth the risk.

There are many helpful friends out there who enjoy forwarding emails they get that promote terror over the latest and most fearful virus spreading across the Internet. First, please stop forwarding these emails. They often do more harm clogging up email boxes than any virus. Second, check to see if the information in the email is correct. There are a lot of scams and hoaxes going on out there. One recent such email that shows up from time to time instructs the user to search their computer for a file and when it is found, to delete it. This file is part of Window’s operating system and is supposed to be there. People would delete it and the computer wouldn’t restart and they’d think the virus got them. From there comes hours and days of trying everything possible to get rid of the virus that doesn’t exist and totally reinstalling the operating system, all because of the lack of one critical file. Don’t do what these emails ask, and check, check, check, check!

How can I learn about the latest viruses?

Both Norton and McAfee host web pages featuring the latest viruses, but you can also check a few other sources for information on the latest viruses:

Can I save a web page?

For those of you still connected via expensive telephone connections and people who travel and can’t get easy access to the Internet for viewing web pages, you can save web pages for offline viewing – in other words, you can put them on your computer and read them later, without being connected to the Internet. We explain how to save web pages for offline viewing in our class notes of our Internet Class.

What is Web TV?

Web TV is an attempt to bring television to your television. Or your computer. Web TV is the technology that manufacturers hope will expand the television into a giant computer, where you can “order” a variety of television shows and movies and information related to what you are viewing, do email, and basically use your television like a computer. Currently, the technology is slow to get going, but it is probably the future, so stay tuned.

What is broadband or high-speed Internet?

Our first modem, the hardware in our computer that allowed us to connect to the Internet was a speedy 1200 baud rate (about 1200 bits per second), about the speed of walking down the Internet superhighway. Within two years, we had an even faster modem that gave us a racing 2400 baud rate, twice as fast, so we were skipping down the information superhighway. Today, twenty years later, we are currently connected to a cable networked modem and burning up the Internet at an average of 300 million bits per second, smoke coming of the back of our high speed vehicle. This is the difference between a telephone connection, which tops out at 56,000 bits per second (on a good day), and a high-speed or broadband Internet connection.

Connecting to the Internet comes with a lot of choices today. There is the traditional telephone line (topped at 56,000), digital telephone (100 million to 500 million), and cable, ADSL or DSL (speeds over 300 million). There are also wireless systems and satellite systems that are slowly growing in popularity to help you connect to the Internet.

How can I learn more about how the Internet and Web works?

If you are really frustrated and you need a good kick-start, here are some web pages to help you learn how the Internet works and help you find some interesting web sites you might not normally stumble upon. The more you play with this, the more fun it will be and the more you will learn.

Our Internet and World Wide Web Tips and Techniques
We share a lot of our tips, tricks, and techniques for searching the Internet, improving the use of your Internet Browser, designing and developing web pages, avoiding spam, popups, viruses, hoaxes, and other email and online evils, and more in our Learning Zone under Computers, Internet and Web Pages.
For just about any subject, About.com will have information on it with a load of links to more information about that subject.
How Stuff Works?
This web site is completely dedicated to teaching you about how anything and everything works.
Really Bored?
This web site is dedicated to relieving your boredom with web site recommendations to break any doldrums you may have.
How Stuff Works
If you have a question about how anything works, this is the place to start.
Urban Legends
There are a lot of rumors, stories, gossip, and tales to be told and Urban Legends tackles the tales and discoveries the truth behind the story.

One Comment

  • john staggs
    Posted April 17, 2008 at 12:17 | Permalink

    Thanks i think i just found a way to send my 300 page book to the publishing house, by copy/pasting,I had the book in microsoft folder all pages but it would not go as an attachment Thanks John

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