P1 Technology Helpdesk
with John Rivera
P1 Tech Help: “I’m just browsing.”
One for the thumb (drive)
Demystifying the desktop
The Internet is a cooperative message-forwarding system that links networks all over the world – some have called it a “network of networks.” I will spare you the intricacies (geek-speak involving nodes, super-nodes, routers, and whatnot) of “how the Internet works” because the explanations are infinite and they don’t serve our purpose here, which is to help you use, not explain, the Internet. Simply said, the Internet is a much bigger version of the computer network in your agency’s office, but the Internet gives you the ability to link with computers not just in your office but all over the world.
To start, your computer must have the ability to communicate to another computer (i.e. it must have a modem). When the Internet first took off, everyone with a computer and modem was communicating to the Internet via telephone modem. We’d basically tell our computer to make a phone call to the Internet Service Provider (ISP) to gives the ability to connect to other computer – we knew they were online because their phone line had been tied up for hours. While some computers still use the phone modem, it is a method quickly fading from use, in part because it’s too slow, but also because it causes a terrible drain on the telecommunications system.
Nowadays, instead of a having a dial-up modem, we have the ability to surf the web via Broadband, Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), and Satellite. Those particular methods are “always-on” which means that they’re available for use anytime and almost anywhere without otherwise disrupting your telecommunications capabilities.
When your chosen ISP installs the modem it assigns a specific Internet Protocol number (a.k.a. IP address). The IP is much like a social security number that is broken up into quadrants. These quadrants tell the ISP who you are and where your signal is coming from. The IP number even tells you what particular computer in a network.
The nice thing about broadband modems is that the IP number is already assigned (Static IP) and you are instantly logged onto the Internet once your computer is turned on. The dialer modem has to connect before assigning an IP number thus making you wait until the IP number is assigned. Again this is a fading method.
The ISP then authenticates (an electronic handshake) with your computer and authenticates the IP number. Once the IP is authenticated you are on the Internet. Once you open the home page of your browser you type in a web address, called a Uniform Resource Locator (URL). The simplest explanation for URL is the familiar “www.PoliceOne.com.”
- The www is the prefix to the page, it stands for World Wide Web it is followed by the name of the web page given by the person who published it and “com” means that the page resides in a United States web server. The dots serve as separators.
- The com at the end of the URL usually means the page resides on a web server in the United States. (A web server is a computer attached to the Internet holding the web page you request to see) Other countries have the similar addressing but end in .uk for the United Kingdom or .ca for Canadian web pages and so on.
Today all this usually happens in the blink of an eye but for those of us who can remember back when the Internet started, you’ll recall that you could hear the progress by all the tones.
Once you’re online you must start the “browser” to surf. The browser is a computer program that communicates with the web servers via HyperText Transfer Protocols (HTTP) and enables the user to see the web page on the screen. Web pages are written in a language called HyperText Markup Language (HTML). The browser translates HTML into the format you see on the browser. If you are ever curious about what HTML code looks like, just open up a web page and right click then select “view source”. This will show you the “code” behind the web page. This “code” tells the program the particular style, color, size and format of everything on the web page.
The most widely used browser is Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE). This browser is already embedded into the Windows operating system, which is also the most widely used OS. By all measure, it’s a good browser but sometimes lags and has so much in the background that it occasionally slows or can even grind some computers to a halt.
I did a little research, looking for other Windows-compatible browsers, and I found an ever growing list of them by reputable companies. Many of those are free to download for you to use on your computer.
A few of the browsers I found were the Camino for the Mac operating system; NetSurf, which is a Linux browser; SeaMonkey, which is a cross-platform browser that can be used by both Windows and Macintosh operating systems. Another, increasingly popular browser is Mozilla’s Firefox (no relation to the Clint Eastwood movie), which can be enhanced with a number of add-on features called “plug-ins” for the savvy Internet user. IE and other browsers have plug-ins too, just not as many as seem to be created for Firefox.
I downloaded and have been using the Opera browser for about a week. It is a cross-platform browser and I have found it easy to use with some small differences to get used to. This particular browser opens on a screen that has nine different screen shots of web sites you have chosen. You can select the screen shot and the browser immediately navigates you to that updated page. The way the browser looks can even be customized to your liking. I have found it to load many web pages noticeably faster than IE and you can import all of your favorites from IE. If you decide to venture out of the IE browser, I recommend you do it at home on your personal computer and not at work; your IT department may frown on users downloading any applications or programs from the Internet and installing it on work computers.
One last thing: make sure you’re running anti-virus software on your computer and download from reputable sources, as we all know there are a lot of people out there who thrive on damaging computers by coding viruses into a download. I recommend going to Wikipedia.com and searching the particular browser and downloading from their site. Wikipedia supplies the web site link, once selected you are navigated to the site.
Until next time, stay safe.