NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, August 2007
Internet Services – E-mail and the Web
By Hilton Kaufman,
a member of the Chicago Computer Society, Illinois

hmkaufman@earthlink.net (click to email author)

(This is the fourth article in a series of articles explaining the Internet. Previous articles provided a general overview of the Internet, explained how the system is hooked together, and provided some idea as to how the messages are routed to the right place.)

Obtained from APCUG with the author's permission for publication by APCUG member groups.

The Internet is a network of networks used to transmit messages, which might be web pages. Somehow things arrive at where they are supposed to go. It is the services that go over these networks that make the Internet useful. The two best known services today are e-mail and the World Wide Web.

Different Internet connections work in different ways. If your computer can get to the Internet, it will most likely have a piece of software known as a browser. The browser helps make the connection to the Web and translate a bunch of code into what looks like a web page. It is possible to work without a browser, if you know a bunch of Unix commands and do not want anything fancy.

The best known browser is Internet Explorer. It comes with most PCs today. Macs from Apple come with a browser called Safari. A PC might also come with a browser called Netscape. A computer that I bought a few months ago has both Internet Explorer and Netscape There are other browsers that you can purchase or download, such as Opera, that are reputed to work better. I find that Internet Explorer works fine for me.

The http:// of a web address might not have to be typed into the browser and tells the Internet that you want something on the World Wide Web. Letters, such as htm at the end of address indicates that the site follows a standard type of coding. Most browsers will assume you want the Web unless you enter something different and automatically insert this coding. It is not necessary to type in some of the stuff at the very end of the address. Usually browsers are not used to get to other Internet services.

The World Wide Web is a way to find and send pages of information. People, businesses, schools, government agencies and others establish their presence and put up sites with whatever they want. Some are reliable and some are pure junk or worse. Many ISPs will allow subscribers to put up personal web pages, that are usually pretty identifiable as personal pages.

Colleges, universities, and government agencies will usually maintain websites as part of their mission. These tend to be pretty reliable sources of information. Stores and other business are usually advertising what they sell and are good in their way. There are also spoof pages that may look like the real thing or go to places such as porno sites. Much of the information on the Web is advertisement supported. The World Wide Web is a wild place with some good stuff and some horrible things.

There is so much out on the Web that special services known as search engines are used to find information. At one time, there were a number of these engines, each with its own quirks. A few years ago, one called Ask Jeeves was considered pretty good. Now most people use either Google or Yahoo. Microsoft is also pushing one that they have, but it has not yet grown as popular as the others. You type in a word or two and some hits appear. If you are lucky, the first hit gives you what you want. On the other hand, you may get thousands of hits, with none looking very likely.

In addition to the browser, some software also usually resides on a computer to allow for special features of Web sites. These are things such as Flash, QuickTime, and Adobe Reader. They might allow for movements on the page, video clips, stable or locked pages of text and graphics, and similar things.

E-mail is a message system that holds items on a central server until requested. If you want, this server could be in your house, but is usually at an ISP or similar location. A computer being used as a server must remain on constantly. Anything sent to you, is held on this server until you request it. You send messages in the other direction by using someone’s e-mail address. Those message will go to the server for that person.

If someone is online, a message might reach the intended party in seconds. If the person is not online, it can sit on the server indefinitely. A message and response can take under a minute if both parties are available.

One can use a mail reader, or client in Tech-speak, to receive, read, respond to, and send e-mail messages. Usually, a mail reader will accept all messages on the server. Another way to get the messages is go to a special web site and select the ones that are wanted. If you get 30 messages, 20 of them might a type of junk known as spam. You can open the 10 that you want and delete the 20 that you do not without them ever being on your machine. With the web site method, messages can be retrieved from the server from any computer, even in a foreign country.

The most common e-mail reader is probably Outlook Express from Microsoft. It comes with the operating system on a PC or a download of Internet Explorer. I even used it when I had a Mac a couple years ago. There are others that are fancier and do some things that Outlook Express does not do. ?

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 has been provided to APCUG by the author solely for publication by APCUG member groups. All other uses require the permission of the author (see e-mail address above).

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