What is the internet?
The original idea was conceived by Ted Nelson, a student at Harvard University back in the 1960's, and quickly taken up by the US Defence Department. They were worried that the single cable running all the way from a switch in the office to all the missile sites could be destroyed by enemy attack. Solution - imagine a spiders web of cables with a switch somewhere on its rim and a nuclear missile in the centre. An enemy missile could destroy a whole patch of this "web" or "net" but the electric signal would still be able to find a route around it. Telephones and computers were soon added to provide a secure means of communication between the scattered armed forces within the USA following a possible nuclear attack. A connection was then made via a cable across the Atlantic Ocean to forces in Europe giving rise to an international net, an "internet". The network was eventually opened up to universities and scientific research establishments and the true "Internet" was born.
In 1989, the "Hypertext Markup Language" (HTML) was developed by Tim Berners Lee, working at the European Laboratory for Particle Research (CERN) in Switzerland, to make the communication of text between computers easier. The following year a "browser" was developed to convert this html code into readable pages on a computer screen. The linking to the public telephone and satellite system since 1991 has now made it a freely available "World Wide Web" (WWW) for anyone to use. It is nice to know that something so earth-shattering (excuse the pun) in its implications for the future of our species on this planet has come out of something so menacing.
What is it now used for?
Unfortunately, the so called "Information Superhighway" now contains so much information and with so many people trying to access it, it's a bit like getting stuck on the M25 motorway near London Airport, unless you have a super fast broadband service.
- Basically you can search for information on almost anything that you need to know, from anyone anywhere in the world. Many companies, universities, tourist boards and societies now have an internet presence to promote themselves. There is also a massive amount of information created by private individuals on a wide range of interests and hobbies.
- Many software companies and universities advertise themselves by giving away excellent programs or upgrades absolutely free, or as 30 day demo versions. There is also a lot of first class "shareware" where you are asked to register and pay for the product after your (limitless) free trial. You can also obtain free driver upgrades for your printer and other hardware.
- So called chat-lines allow you to carry out instant written conversations with groups of people who are scattered all over the world.
- Using email you can send a letter instantly to anyone anywhere in the world for the cost of a local phone call or free as part of your subscription charge. You can also link text, graphics and even program files to your email letter.
- Using software such as Skype, which is free to download off the internet, and an internet phone or simple headset you can telephone anywhere in the world over the internet for free.
- Shopping is easy online. You can buy almost anything and search for the best deals. Online auctions like EBay are excellent for buying and selling new or second-hand goods. Goods can be paid for by credit card or through secure systems such as PayPal.
What do I need to get on it?
- A computer.
- A normal telephone connection point.
- A modem to interface the computer with the telephone system.
- An Internet Service Provider (ISP) - monthly subscriptions vary from £10-30 depending on whether they are inclusive of call charges. There are various providers to choose from, some provide a cheap trial period. Some provide a filtering service so that you cannot link to sites which are known to contain unsavoury material.
- An internet browser - provided with the computer operating system (Microsoft Internet Explorer) or it may be provided by your ISP.