Introduction to the World Wide Web

The Internet, also known as the “Net”, is a network which allows users to freely exchange information over a system of computers hooked up together, utilizing the world’s phone line network to transmit data.

The World Wide Web, a global reference to the “Net,” is a uniquely organized system of “hypertext” files; an environment where information is presented in a format enabling the user to seek information on a variety of topics. “Web Sites” are groups of web pages linked together using “hypertext links” (mouse sensitive text or images that when clicked on will display a new page of information), that are using displayed in a different color and/or underlined. Web sites can be linked together, creating the “web.” A web page stored in Canada can be just as easily linked to another web site in Japan as it can be linked to another site in Canada. This feature is what makes the WWW so easy to navigate. This format of hypermedia can include text, graphics, sound and video and other specialties.

How do I access the WWW?

To access the WWW you need to have a specific kind of software known as a “Web Browser.” If you hear e term Web client, this is not a reference to you. Web client is another term for browser because it “gets” information from the server.

A browser has two functions.

  • To point to pages and to interpret HTML (hypertext markup language).
  • To point or link from page to page.

Every page has a distinct address (known as a URL – Universal Resource Locator), which the browser interprets using a protocol called HTTP (Hypertext transfer protocol). When a link is activated, a call is made over the Internet to the host computer (could be on the other side of the world!) requesting the specific page. The host computer than delivers that page, and whatever contents are included (images, sound clips, etc.), to your computer. Each page is written in a language called HTML, which the browser interprets and is able to display its structure, overall content (text, graphics, sound, video, etc.) and links to other pages.

The popular browsers are Netscape, Internet Explorer, and Lynx. To use these browsers you will need a direct or dial-up PPP Internet connection to a server. If you are using a commercial provider like CompuServe, America On-line (AOL), or Prodigy these systems will provide their own browser.What are my browser options?

Netscape: (Latest version: 4.7) Netscape is the most widely used browser on the WWW made available by Netscape Communications Corporation. The Netscape browser is designed for use on Windows, Macintosh and most Unix platforms, and is free to download. To download the latest version of Netscape go to http://home.netscape.com/comprod/mirror/client_download.html.

Internet Explorer: Internet Explorer was released with the introduction of Microsoft’s Windows ’95 and is currently in the running for first place with Netscape. Version 5.0 is currently available. To download the latest version, go to http://www.microsoft.com

What are Plugins and Helper Applications?

Plugins and Helper Applications are separate programs that a browser uses to allow more advanced features be available in a web page. Plugins become extensions of the browser itself, allowing the special feature it was made for to appear right in the web page. Helper Applications are ‘stand alone’ (meaning they run independently of the browser) programs that the browser uses (usually by opening a separate window) to present the advanced feature to the user. Plugins are becoming more and more popular, as they allow ‘seamless’ integration of the feature in the page.

Some examples of Plugins are:

  • Real Audio: allows the users to hear audio clips, either prerecorded or live in real time (which means you hear it as it is being downloaded, rather than having to wait for the entire clip to be downloaded before listening).
  • Vivo Live Video: allows real-time viewing of video clips.
  • ShockWave: allows multi-media, user interactive content in a web page. Very exciting, but not real-time. (Not yet – they say they are working on it!)

There are many, many more plugins available – see your browser’s home site for a list you can use.

Browsers and Children

Included with all the great entertaining and informative content on the web, there is also content that is of an adult nature. Enforcing decency laws on the net is much harder, given its nature, so if you have children around that use your computer, it is up to you to do your own screening. Things have improved, as now most adult-oriented sites require a credit card and membership for access, but there is still a chance that youngsters may access material not suited to them. To help you screen this material out, there are a variety of programs you can install that screen the contents of web pages, looking for ‘keywords’ that you enter. If the program detects any of these, it will not allow access to the content. Some of these are:

Browsers and Security

A new and slowly thriving business is – business on the net. With the great advancement of encryption and security methods, credit card transactions are becoming safer and safer. Experts say that on-line transactions are now as secure as card-swipes in grocery stores and your neighborhood bank machine.

On-line transactions can now be processed on a “secure server,” which encrypts the data entered into an on-line order form. Most browsers support SSL (Secure Socket Layer) transactions (the url for a protected page will start with ‘https://’ instead of ‘http://’) such as Netscape and Internet Explorer, and will indicate that the current page is being processed on a secure server by either displaying a box informing you, and/or indicators (such as the key on the bottom left of the Netscape browser). The secure server then transmits this data via e-mail to the retailer.

This is where there is some danger in entering sensitive information. MAKE SURE that the company you are sending your credit card information to is a valid, reliable company. Use the same caution you would ordering by phone, or from an ad in a magazine. Also – make sure that the form is being processed on a secure server.

For more information, please see Netscape’s Secure Server FAQ.