Computer Related Tutorials
~ Internet Basics ~

Updated August 2012

Part I. - The Internet

What's the Internet?

The Internet is a group of Inter-connected networks that span the globe. It's a technology that makes use of the world's communication networks, allowing any computer in the world connected to the Internet to share information with any other computer connected to the 'Net.

Expressed another way, the Internet is a world wide network of interconnected computers that 'talk' to each other through existing communication routes like telephone lines, cable networks, and wireless networks.

The beginning roots of the Internet were originally invented and created in the late 1960's by the Department of Defense (not Al Gore) as part of America's defense against a nuclear strike. Any computer in the world that can get connected to a communication network, such as the phone system, a cable network, or more recently a wireless network, can connect to the Internet.


What's the World Wide Web?

The World Wide Web is a collection of electronic documents that are linked together (like a spider web) through the Internet. These "documents" are websites, web pages, pictures, music, and other electronic files. These documents are stored on computers called servers located around the world, each connected to the Internet, so that all the stored documents are available to people connected to the Internet. The World Wide Web has become the realm of eCommerce - websites like and for example - where people can shop over the Internet and financial institutions can transact business over the Internet. It is also a tremendous source of information and education, through terrific websites such as!


How do you get connected to the Internet?

This is still a fairly common way of connecting to the Internet (although many people have switched to broadband, a much faster albeit more expensive way of browsing the web). To establish a dial-up connection, first you need a PC with a modem that you connect to a phone line. Short for Modulator/Demodulator, a modem allows your computer to connect through your phone line to an Internet Service Provider (explained below), or ISP, which in turn connects you to the Internet. To go online your computer must be equipped with a modem, either an internal modem built into your PC, or an external modem, a separate component connected between your phone line and your PC. The modem translates the digital signals from your computer into analog signals that travel over a standard phone line. Those scratchy sounds you hear when first logging on to your ISP come from the modem's speaker. There is meaning in all that noise. A modem on the other end of the line understands it, and converts the sounds back into digital information. You can think of a modem as a translator. It translates the technology of computers (digital technology) to the much older technology of the phone networks (analog voice technology), and vice versa.

Secondly, you need an Internet Service Provider (ISP). ISP's are company's that, for a monthly fee, provide the service of connecting thousands, or even millions, of individuals to the Internet. This way, the cost and hassle of connecting directly to the Internet, which requires equipment and technology that most people don't want to bother with, is shared and handled for you. Examples of ISP's are AOL, SBC Global, MSN, Earthlink, and NetZero, to name a few.

Through your PC modem and a phone line, you log on to your ISP through a dial-up connection. This "dial-up" gets installed on your PC automatically by the software (usually a CD-Rom) that your ISP supplies when you sign-up with them. Your ISP, in turn, provides a direct connection for you to the Internet so you can surf to your heart's content, provided you have an "unlimited" usage service!

Nearly all ISP's come with Email as well as Internet access. When you sign-up with an ISP, you establish a "User ID," also called "username" or "screen name," and a password. The User ID becomes the first part of your email address. Your password keeps your stuff, such as the email messages you send and receive, private so no one else can get to them.

Some ISP's offer a free version or "limited service" option, which means you may be limited to a specified number of hours of Internet access and email use per month, and/or be subjected to a lot of "pop up" advertising. NetZero's Free Internet Access (opens in a new browser window), for example, offers free Internet access but limits you to 10 hours of connectivity per month. That's not much, especially when surfing the web through a dial-up connection. Free Internet options may be free, but they often come with tons of distracting ads and pop-ups, and are not as fast or as reliable as the monthly fee versions. (Note: NetZero also offers unlimited Internet without the annoying ads for only $9.95 per month.)

It's important when choosing an ISP to make sure the ISP has local access phone numbers. Otherwise, you will pay toll charges for all the time you spend on the Internet. These toll charges show up automatically on your phone bill, and can add up fast!

DSL, Cable, and Wireless Internet
Other ways of connecting to the Internet include high speed broadband connections, such as DSL (your phone line on steroids) or cable (through your cable TV connection). These are generally more expensive than a regular phone line dial-up connection, but are much, much faster. A nice thing about DSL is that, even though it runs through your existing phone line, it does not interfere with incoming or outgoing phone calls! Like dial-up, DSL and Cable also require a modem, though a different kind of modem. There is also Wireless Internet, specially suited for handhelds, cell phones, and laptops on the go.


How do you surf the web?

OK, now you know how to get online. But what do you do now?

You make use of software on your PC known as a browser. Microsoft Internet Explorer (MSIE) is still the most widely used browser, mainly because it comes already installed on most new Windows PC's. However, that doesn't necessarily make it the best browser, just the one most people are familiar with. Other browser software today includes Firefox, Opera, and Chrome for PC's, and Safari for Mac's. If you learn the basics of web browsing through MSIE, however, you will also be able to make use of the other browsers since the functions are basically the same.

So, a web browser is the software program you use to access the Internet and the World Wide Web (see server for an example of how this works). Your browser (a type of client program) retrieves data from remote web servers and displays websites, web pages, and any compatible electronic documents on your PC.

To start surfing the 'net, simply type in the URL, or web address, of the website you want to go to into the browser's Address Bar, hit Enter (or click the "Go" button), and that's it. The website will begin downloading, and after a hopefully short time, the website or electronic document appears on your screen.

Nearly all web pages contain hyperlinks, or simply links, that let you hop around an entire website quickly, especially if the site has good navigation. Simply put, this means that when you first look at a site, you can get a good understanding of what's included in the site, and quickly jump to the section or sections that you are most interested in. You can identify links easily, because they are usually underlined, and when you move your mouse cursor over them, the mouse pointer becomes a pointing hand (like this). Some links are in the form of pictures, or images, or even "buttons." But you'll always be able to tell if it's a link because, again, the mouse pointer becomes a pointing hand. Usually one mouse click on a link (or sometimes two) will get you off and running to the section that the link is referencing. Some links bring you to an entirely different website. These are known as external links. For example, from the Mindlink site, there are links to over a hundred other websites, such as the "NoStigma" website, DMHAS, CCAR, the Bazelon Center website, and many others.

Back Button
A good thing to know about is the browser's Back Button. All browsers have a back button - a button showing an arrow pointing left and sometimes the word "Back," usually at the top left of the browser page One click on the back button, and you are returned to the web page you were previously viewing. There's also a Forward Button. Remember this -- when you get lost in cyberspace, the Back Button is your friend!

Another good thing to know about is "Favorites," also known as "Bookmarks" (in Microsoft Internet Explorer, they are called Favorites; in other browsers, like Firefox, Netscape, and Opera, they are called Bookmarks). As you begin surfing the web, you'll very quickly find a lot of websites that you will want to return to at a later date. The browser's Favorites function is a nifty way to 1.) store the URL of those websites so you don't have to remember all those addresses, and 2.) quickly get back to them whenever you want. This is a great feature for websites you visit frequently.

And now you're surfing the web!


How can you search the web?

According to a December 2011 survey from Netcraft, there are more than 365 million websites available on the world wide web. Netcraft is an Internet services company based in Bath, England that provides web server and web hosting market-share analysis. The company is famous for its free anti-phishing toolbar for the Firefox and Internet Explorer browsers. For homework, you should visit all 365 million sites! Smiley face

You may not know a specific website to go to, or may not know a particular web address of a website you're looking for. Or maybe you're trying to find information or do research, but aren't sure where to start. So how do you find what you're looking for on the web? This is where Search Engines come to the rescue. Do you Yahoo?

Search engines are wonderful tools, and they're free! There are literally hundreds of search engines available, but a dozen or so of them are the most used and best known. Here are examples of a few of the most widely used search engines (these links open in new browser windows):

Search engines are in the business of cataloging and indexing web pages. Like a card catalog in a library, they classify websites into categories, such as business and economy, travel, computers and Internet, education, health, natural history museums, and many more. The results of your search will be a list of websites related to your search term.

In general, you make use of a search engine by first going onto its website, then typing one or more words, or a phrase pertaining to the topic you are trying to search for. For instance, if you'd like to know what the weather is like in Cancun, Mexico, you might type in "weather cancun mexico." With a little luck, the search engine will return a list of a few websites where you can find that information. The list will provide brief descriptions of the websites, with clickable links to take you directly to the site and more complete information.

Sometimes a search will return a list that doesn't seem to pertain to what you wanted to know, or it will return way too many hits, literally thousands or hundreds of thousands of choices. This usually means you haven't been specific enough, and need to refine your search terms. Like everything else in life, you'll need to practice using search engines to become proficient.

Rather than seeking information about a particular subject, you may want to ask a specific question. For example, you may want to ask "How do I convert Fahrenheit to Celsius?" or "How far is the earth from the sun?" In this case, try Ask (opens in a new browser window).


Let's check out

Using the skills you've just learned, let's browse Advocacy Unlimited's website, What do you need to do to get to Mindlink?

Once you're on the site, notice the left side of the page. This is referred to as a "navigation bar." Many websites are set up this way. It's kind of like a table of contents for the entire site.

Take a look at each of the main "sections" in the navigation bar on Mindlink's homepage ( Other special areas within the site to note are:

Wow! Mindlink has over 300 pages of info, help, reference material, and interactive stuff (such as the AU Discussion Board, Advocate's Connection, online application for AU's Advocacy Education Course, and online self-study courses), plus links to tons of other helpful and informative websites. And it's still growing! There's even a Spanish version now. Not too many sites are bilingual. And there's also a Transformation section, covering AU's involvement in CT's Mental Health System Transformation.


More Help and Further Learning

Computer Related Tutorials: Internet Basics

Arrows pointing rightPart I, The Internet

Arrows pointing rightPart II, Email

Arrows pointing rightPart III, "Non-Techie" Technical Term Definitions

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