Arm yourself with the right tools, and you can chart new paths through the Internet's wilderness of resources.
Don't be misled by the "Information Superhighway" metaphor often applied to the Internet. The Internet more resembles a wilderness of resources, which, until recently, you explored armed with little more than a blank screen and a cursor. Internet pioneers had to navigate without any guideposts.
They had to learn the on-line lingo, a mishmash of acronyms and arcane computer commands.
These days, users can opt for something a bit more like a guided tour. Entrepreneurs and Internet devotees are corralling data in more easily searchable formats and devising programs to simplify searches. The most widely used programs are available for free on the Internet.
The Internet is a widely used tool for international networking, a way to send and receive information quickly and inexpensively, and a way to locate and gather resources, such as documents and free software.
But using the Internet to locate and retrieve information remains a challenge. Some people teach themselves how to use the Internet by joining on-line "help" groups for new users, by taking part in on-line discussion groups, and by using print resources. Others seek formal training.
Many excellent print books about the Internet are available. Two helpful ones for all levels of Internet use are The Internet Complete Reference, by Harley Hahn and Rick Stout (Osborne McGraw-Hill, 1994) and The Whole Internet User's Guide & Catalog, by Ed Krol (O'Reilly & Associates, 1992).
The Directory of Internet Trainers and Consultants is available free from The Internet Business Journal, an electronic publication. To get a copy, e-mail a request for the file "Trainers Directory" to M. Strangelove at the Internet e-mail address mstrange[at]fonorola.net. (When an Internet address appears at the end of a sentence, don't mistake the period for part of the address.)
Whatever approach you take to learning to use the Internet, remember that, like any skill, it will take you time to get good at it. Trainers who use it suggest it's worth the effort to learn at least the basics.
Your first hurdle is gaining access to the Internet. But before you take that leap, stop and think about why you want access.
Basically, you can use the Internet to communicate (one to one or in groups), look for information, and obtain files from distant locations.
Internet users rely mainly on three protocols, or functions, to accomplish these tasks: electronic mail (e-mail), file transfer protocol (FTP), and telnet (remote host access).
Electronic mail. E-mail is the ability to send and receive information in an electronic format. It is particularly useful for sending information to colleagues and networking with large groups of people.
FTP. File transfer protocol lets you copy public-access files stored in remote computers. The term "FTP" is used as a verb as well as a noun.
One warning: Some programs available through FTP may be contaminated with computer viruses, programs that could damage your computer or your data. Check any programs that you retrieve using FTP with a commercial anti-virus program available at any software store.
Telnet. It's also a verb and a noun. When you telnet, you gain access to a remote computer as though you were a local user. Telnet is practical for browsing the holdings of resources such as the U.S. Library of Congress or government bulletin-board systems.
Which of these three functions will you need to use? That depends on your personal and professional needs and preferences. Whether you can use the Internet to carry them out depends on how you gain access.
There are three basic ways to gain access to the Internet.
* You use a computer that is part of a network that links directly to the high-speed transmission lines that constitute the core of the Internet. …