"An Overview of the Internet"

What is the Internet?

The Internet is a complex system of computers hooked together as a network. It is the world's largest computer network. It is really a network of networks, all freely exchanging information. The networks range from the big powerful, like AT&T, Digital Equipment, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard, to the small and not so powerful like those backroom networks at businesses and colleges all over the world.

History of the Internet

The Internet was originally conceived by the U.S. Military as a means of ensuring a workable communication system in the event of a strike by enemy missiles. If one central communications location was bombed out of existence, the military wanted to make sure that surviving locations could still talk to one another, and that no communication would be lost.

The original network was developed by Advanced Research Projects Agency of the U.S. Military (ARAPAnet). Eventually increasing numbers of research institutes and universities connected themselves to the network. As it grew world wide the military developed their own network that is now secure from the Internet. The National Science Foundation came on board in the 1980's and linked several supercomputers at extremely high speeds furthering the net's growth.

During the Internet's early years, commercial activity was severely limited by it's basic policy as a research and education tool. Over the past few years, the Internet has developed a well developed commercial presence, and with the growth of the World Wide Web, businesses on the Net are becoming ever so present.

How Does the Internet Work?

The Internet is a "packet-switching" computer network. When you send a message over the Internet, it is broken into tiny pieces, called "packets," which travel over many different routes between the computer that you are sending from and the computer that you are sending to. Each packet is "switched" by Internet computers along a path that will take it to its destination, but no two packets need follow the same path. The packets are all switched into a destination and reassembled by the destination computer. The "packet-switching" nature of the Internet gives it sufficient speed and flexibility to support real-time communication, such as logging in to a remote computer (Telnet) or sending messages to other people in a chat environment (IRC). Every packet is written in a particular "language," or protocol, called "TCP/IP," which stands for Transmission Control Protocol/Internetworking Protocol. This protocol is the common language of the Internet, and it supports two major programs, called FTP, or File Transfer Protocol, and Telnet. FTP lets you transfer files from one Internet computer to another, and Telnet lets you log in to a remote computer. These two basic tools have been combined in complex ways to create today's Internet Tools, such as Gopher, the World Wide Web and IRC.


Each computer on the Internet is assigned its own address. This address identifies the name and location of the computer, just as your own home address tells who you are and where you live. Internet addresses are at their most essential level four numbers, separated by the "period" or "dot" character. The numbers, called IP addresses, look like this: You would say this address out loud as "one ninety-one dot fifty-one dot two twenty-one dot three." IP addresses, being series of numbers, are hard to remember, so another addressing system has been set up, called Domain Name Server addressing. The system allows short, alphabetical "nicknames" to be assigned to IP addresses, so that people don't need to remember a whole lot of confusing numbers. An example of such an address would be "jdoe@iamerica.net". The part before the "@" is the user name. The last part is where he has his account – at the iAmerica network.

So What Can the Internet Do? – What's the Big Deal?

When we talk about the Internet we are talking about what it can do. The Internet's capabilities are so expansive that there is not enough paper to fully list all its capabilities. However here is a short list:

  • Electronic Mail
  • Newsgroups (Big Bulletin Boards)
  • Search and find information (Archie, Veronica, Jughead)
  • Information retrieval (Ftp-getting files and programs)
  • Remote login to other computers (Telnet)
  • Games and gossip and chat
  • The World Wide Web (any information you can imagine)

  • How Can I Use the Internet?

    First you have to connect your computer to the Internet. To make a long story short, you need to find an Internet service provider. The list of companies providing connections to the Internet is growing by leaps and bounds everyday. Once you have contracted with a provider, logging on to the Net is as simple as dialing up your service provider with a communication program and the modem connected to your computer. Most service providers will provide you with the application software tools to access most the treasures that the Internet provides. There are also several shareware programs available to "surf" the Net.

    Electronic Mail

    When you send a a normal letter, the postman picks it up, brings it to the post office, sorts it and sends it to another post office where it is sorted again and if your lucky it gets to where its going in three or four days. With E-Mail, it arrives at its destination in just a few seconds. There are several electronic mail programs that allow you to compose mail. E-Mail programs allow you to compose and send and retrieve electronic mail off the Net. Some will even allow you to compose off-line and upload to the net once you are logged on to the Net. A popular E-Mail program used is Eudora. There are different "mail" programs for various operating systems and networks, but they all essentially allow you to do the same thing–that is send and receive messages from one computer to another.


    What are newsgroups? They are like a big worldwide BBS. Newsgroups are grouped by subject. "News" consist of articles created by ordinary people or users and posted to a particular "newsgroup". They are different than E-Mail which usually goes only to a particular person. Articles posted to a newsgroup can be read by anyone who reads the newsgroup. Articles look a lot like E-Mail and sometimes software that reads E-Mail can also read newsgroups.

    News you find in newsgroups will be news you won't find on the TV or radio or any conventional news source. Where do these newsgroups come from? They come from users who post the articles. Newsgroups are managed by large organizations. The major news is Usenet news. Every Usenet site ships a copy of all articles it receives to its neighbors several times a day (until all articles get all around the world). More than 50,000 articles appear everyday at a typical well-connected news site.

    How do you make any sense of all these articles. Articles are assigned to "newsgroups" which are topic headings. More than 10,000 groups exist – so you have plenty of choices. Most newsreaders have search and find features to help you locate those groups you may be interested in. You can "subscribe" to as many as you like (or as many as you can read in any given session. Newsgroups have multi-part names – several names separated by a period (comp.util.something). There are several standard groups: "comp" means something to do with computers, "sci" means something to do with sciences, "rec" means something to do with recreation, "soc" means something to do with social, "misc" means be just about anything.

    How to Read Newsgroups

    Log on to your Internet service provider and start your newsreader program. WinVin is one of the best. There is also FreeAgent, a shareware program. Netscape's newest version also has a newsreader as well as a mail program. Whatever newsreader you use, it will have to be configured before it can be used. I will want the name of your NNTP server (the computer at your provider where the news is stored) and also the name of your SMTP server (the computer that handles outgoing mail), your E-mail address and your time zone.

    The first time you use your newsreader, it will read all the newsgroups (which may take a while – but only the first time you do it). Search and subscribe to your favorite newsgroups. When you see one you like click "subscribe". Double click one of the newsgroups you want to read and the newsreader will download a list of "headers". "Headers" are titles and authors of the articles in the group that you want to read. After the list of headers are downloaded you can browse the articles until you see one you like. Double click the article and it will download to your screen – congratulations – you have just read your first news article!

    Often times someone post an article and people respond and repost, etc. If you find a particular subject of interest, just follow the "thread." A "thread" just means that a series of articles are about the same particular subject as the original article posted. Your newsreader can be configured to show a particular article as a "thread" so it can be followed.

    If you really get involved in reading newsgroups it would be beneficial to get a newsreader that allows you to go online and download those groups you want to read and then read them offline. This feature will save on your connect charges by your service provider.

    A word of advice – read newsgroups for several weeks before attempting to post an article. You will learn the proper etiquette and will not get flamed for doing something improper!

    The World Wide Web

    If you've read anything about the Internet over the past year, you've heard about the World Wide Web. Actually, you might have heard about Netscape instead. Netscape is an software program that displays Web documents, called "web pages" and lets you click around the Internet one stop at a time, calling up treasures on computers from San Francisco to Denmark to Africa, and back.

    Actually, the World Wide Web is an ongoing concept designed to link documents through technologies known collectively as hypermedia. The Web project was initiated by the European Organization for Particle Research (CERN) and taken up by just about everybody who has access to an appropriately configured server (a computer that "serves up web pages"). Third graders have published Web pages, as have research institutes, universities, teddy bear vendors, operating system giants, magazines, newspapers, and just plain surfers who want to share what they know. Even the White House has gotten into the act, with a page that lets you tell Clinton and Gore exactly what you think (well, within reason).

    Web pages are pages containing text and graphics written in HTML. Web pages will contain "links" to other pages on the same computer or a computer on the other side of the world. A hyperlink is shown on a web page by a different color text or graphic. One can click on the text or graphics and you will "jump" to another site. Through this process you are able to "surf" the web looking for information. Attached to this handout is a list of some interesting addresses of places you might like to visit.

    How Does the World Wide Web Work?

    To use the Web, you need a browser. What does the browser do? Very simply, it displays Web documents. All Web pages are written in a simple formatting language called Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), and the browser interprets the codes and displays them as formatted pages. Since HTML rules document creation, all browsers display the pages more or less identically. So a page created in Hungary, Japan, Israel, or Brazil is easily displayed by a browser on a PC in Pittsburgh, a Mac in Marseille, or a Sun in Silicon Valley. The Web is truly worldwide.

    To navigate, you need to know two things about the Web. First, pages contain hyperlink codes that point to another document. These hyperlinks can be on the same computer or on one halfway around the world. The links usually appear as underlined words or phrases, and look very much like the Hypertext links in the Windows help system. To get the that linked document, you don't need unwieldy software. All you need is your mouse. Just move the pointer to the link and click on it to call up the associated page.

    Second is multimedia. Compared to most of the Internet, which is highly functional but significantly unappealing, Web pages can contain graphics, sound, and even video in addition to formatted text. Many pages now sport graphics, and have push-button-style interfaces to make things even easier. Sound and video files may take a while to retrieve depending on your computer equipment, but as Internet connections get faster and computers faster these problems will gradually diminish.

    The largest growth of Web sites over the past year has been in the commercial sector. Businesses both large and small are flocking to the Web, using it for marketing, sales, and product support. Security technologies are being developed to make it safe to order by credit card, and you can already fill in order forms and send for that specialty item. Computer Companies use the Web to make software patches and technical documents available to customers. All over the Web you can find shopping malls opening, with specialty shops offering niche market items for sale. Elsewhere, companies offer tons of information – everything from press releases to full-color catalogs.

    The Web is exciting. It's also demanding. But don't let that stop you from exploring the Web or the Internet and all its resources. The Web is the easiest of all Internet tools. REMEMBER, just POINT and CLICK!!

    Add-ons or Plug-ins to Web Browsers:

    PowWow, found at http://www.tribal.com – a real time chat program that's cool!

    Real Time Audio, found at www.realaudio.com – adds real audio support to the Web.

    Internet Phone, found at www.cnet.com – for real voice communication over the Internet.

    Terms Used in Reference to the World Wide Web:

    Page – A site or document.

    URL – Address to a particular site or Web page.

    Yahoo – Site used to look up information or other Web sites.

    Search Engine – A site like Yahoo, Web Crawler, Infoseek, Alta Vista, Lycos.

    IRC Server – means Internet Relay Chat, which allows users to talk over the Net.

    Hypertext – Text on a page that takes you to another site when "clicked".

    DNS – Domain Name Server.

    HTML – Language to program Web Pages. Also JAVA, Hot JAVA, CGI POP (Post Office Protocol).

    .HTL or .HTML – Extension used to recognize Web pages.

    Common Extensions Used in URLs (Uniform Resource Locators):

    .com – Commercially owned site.

    .org – Non-Profit/Research organization.

    .edu – Educational institution.

    .gov – Governmental agencies.

    .mil – Military sites.

    .net – Internet service providers.

    Technical Terms For Speed

    14.4 – 14,400 bps (bits per second) 8 bit equal typed character.

    28.8 – 28,000 bps.

    33.6 – 33,600 bps.

    56k – 56,000 bps.

    (ISDN) T1 – 1.45 Mbps = 1,450,000 bps (real fast line).

    T3 – 45 Mbps = 45,000,000 bps (really fast-heart of Net – University to University).

    Frac T – Speeds that are fractions of full T1 – 128, 256, 512.