NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, March 2007
The Internet, What Is It?
Written by Hilton Kaufman,
a member of the Chicago Computer Society, Illinois

hmkaufman@earthlink.net (click to email author)

(This is the first of a short series of articles explaining what the Internet is.)

The Internet is one of those things that is a bit tricky to define and explain. It is a network of computer networks that provides various services, such as e-mail and the World Wide Web, with a hierarchy of naming conventions to consider. No one can tell exactly how many computers are part of the Internet at any moment as individuals are constantly signing on and off.

There is also the historical aberration that the intended structure of the Internet is not how it works today. It was supposed to be a bunch of independent connections and multiple possible routings so that if one part went down, say the area in lower Manhattan about five years ago, messages could go through on another route. Now everything goes across country on a backbone consisting of maybe five or six parallel main trunk lines.

It also was once for government and educational use only. Many government functions now use newer networks with connections totally separate from what we know as The Internet. They may or may not permit connection to the Internet for routine matters, but severely limit who can get into the secure internal networks. Schools seem to find that the Internet works fine for them. Much of the Internet involves commercial entities today.

While the Internet was originally designed for use within the United States of America, it is quite international in scope. How it works in various countries may or may not be subject to various controls. However someone with the right equipment might be able to tap into a satellite that carries Internet signals. Yet a very great portion of Internet traffic is in or at least involves the United States

It is the services on the Internet that make it interesting to the ordinary user. Historically it was used for short messages and moving files from one location to another. The messages might be nothing more than a notice that a file was ready to be transferred or that it had been successfully received. It grew into something in which anyone could bring useful files to their local computers and send complex messages with files often attached.

The technology for providing and receiving many services has changed and made more complex, yet more user friendly. Internet capable technology is often used in local networks called Intranets, which may or may not be connect to the overall Internet. Different individuals work with the Internet in ways that may be unique to them. The ordinary person does not know or care how it works, just that he or she can use it for the desired services, such as sending e-mail messages.

The Internet can be something mysterious and quite technical. It can also be something that appears easy to use. This may depend on what one wants and what is loaded on a particular computer. Very often a company that one uses to connect and receive services tries to make things look as simple as possible to the end user.

(Future articles in this series will explain how the Internet is hooked together, the addressing system that sends things to the right place, and some of the services available over the Internet.)

Hilton Kaufman serves as the technical support person for the procedures writing unit of an Illinois state agency, where higher level technical support personnel are concerned with the details of Internet connections and services. As such, he uses the software provided to him to create forms, convert documents into PDFs, advise members of his unit as to how to use the available software, and similar tasks. For his home computer, he can go all out and get a powerful machine that allows him to do things like playing games and surf the web without getting in trouble. He has prepared a number of articles aimed at novice users on the basics of standard computer programs.

This article may be published only by APCUG member user groups. All other uses are prohibited. When used, APCUG must be acknowledged as the source and the author credited. The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization of which this group is a member, brings this article to you.

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