It seems like everyone's talking about the Internet these days. But what is it really? How does it work? How do you access it? And most important, what can it do for you at work or at home?
Fortunately, accessing and using the Internet is fairly simple. Let this tutorial be your guide to the Internet as you connect for the first time and explore the network's vast and useful resources.
The Internet is a worldwide collection of computer networks, cooperating with each other to exchange data using a common software standard. Through telephone wires and satellite links, Internet users can share information in a variety of forms. The size, scope and design of the Internet allows users to:
An additional attribute of the Internet is that it lacks a central authorityin other words, there is no "Internet, Inc." that controls the Internet. Beyond the various governing boards that work to establish policies and standards, the Internet is bound by few rules and answers to no single organization.
In February 1996, President Clinton signed into law the Communications Decency Act, which provides criminal penalties for those who post or transmit "indecent" material via the Internet. This law, however, has been challenged in U.S. courts by those who feel it would unfairly prohibit many legitimate uses of the Internet, and was ruled unconstitutional in July 1996. The federal government, however, is preparing an appeal. For the latest status of the CDA, go to http://www.eff.org/ or http://www.fcc.gov/telecom.html.
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Many people think that the Internet is a recent innovation, when in fact the essence of it has been around for over a quarter century. The Internet began as ARPAnet, a U.S. Department of Defense project to create a nationwide computer network that would continue to function even if a large portion of it were destroyed in a nuclear war or natural disaster.
During the next two decades, the network that evolved was used primarily by academic institutions, scientists and the government for research and communications. The appeal of the Internet to these bodies was obvious, as it allowed disparate institutions to connect to each others' computing systems and databases, as well as share data via E-mail.
The nature of the Internet changed abruptly in 1992, when the U.S. government began pulling out of network management, and commercial entities offered Internet access to the general public for the first time. This change in focus marked the beginning of the Internet's astonishing expansion.
According to a survey conducted by CommerceNet and Nielsen Media Research in early 1997, nearly one out of every four Americans over the age of 16 is an Internet user. And the number of users worldwide is believed to be well into the tens of millions. Other statistics are equally startling:
The Internet explosion coincides with the advent of increasingly powerful yet reasonably priced personal computers with easy-to-use graphical operating systems. The result has been an attraction of recent computer "converts" to the network, and new possibilities for exploiting a wealth of multimedia capabilities.
For further details on the Internet's history, go to http://www.internetvalley.com/intval.html
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In addition to text documents, the Internet makes available graphics files (digitized photographs and artwork), and even files that contain digitized sound and video. Through the Internet, you can download software, participate in interactive forums where users post and respond to public messages, and even join "chats," in which you and other users type (and, in some cases, speak) messages that are received by the chat participants instantly.
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Obviously, the Internet can bring you a whole host of capabilities. But how can they be put to practical use?
Among the ways that users like yourself are taking advantage of the Internet are:
The Internet's potential is limited only by users' vision and creativity. And as the Internet grows, new and innovative uses will surely follow.
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Unlike many computer networks, the Internet consists of not one but multiple data systems that were developed independently. The most popular and important systems are:
The final component listed here is perhaps the most exciting element of the Internet today. We will learn more about the World Wide Weband how you can benefit from itin the next chapter.
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What is the Internet? || What is the Web? || How to Connect
Surfing for the First Time || Troubleshooting || Other Features
Links || Glossary || The 'Net Around the World
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