Don't Let the Internet Intimidate You: Just Browse the Web

The Internet is loaded with so many weird notions - ''surfing'' the Net is one example - that it's tempting to dismiss the whole thing as Martian Morse code.

URLs? Ftp? No one really talks that way. And what about that funny little http:// that's starting to pop up everywhere? This lingo can't be worth learning, can it?

Well, yes and no. The Internet, like the invention of the telephone, is too important to ignore. The trick is to concentrate on what's really important. Learn what it means to ''browse the Web,'' and everything else will fall into place.

The World Wide Web is the graphic way of looking at Internet information. A huge number of Internet users are moving to the Web because it includes pictures and graphics, not just text. Instead of typing in obscure commands on other parts of the Internet, the Web lets people point and click with their computer mouse to navigate information.

One doesn't view the Web. In the hip lexicon of the Internet, one browses it. And to browse, people need a piece of software called a browser. If you don't have one and you want to explore the Internet, you should get one soon. Browsers are fast becoming the key computer programs of the 1990s. Some experts even suggest they'll become bigger than desktop-computer operating systems that dominated the 1980s.

Yet the field is so new - the first popular browser, Mosaic, is only two years old - that picking the right browser is not easy. Internet companies typically lock you into theirs. So do on-line services, such as Prodigy. It's usually possible to switch to another browser, but the procedure can be so difficult that beginners and intermediate users shouldn't attempt it.

And that's too bad, because some browsers are better than others. For users who want to do a lot of Web browsing, the best program at the moment is Netscape Navigator. It's the leading browser, and it's easy to see why it comes recommended by the likes of PC Magazine and practically everyone else.

The software is fast and incorporates many leading features. For example, browsers such as Netcom's NetCruiser force users to wait until they've downloaded an entire Web page. Netscape lets users begin reading it while it's downloading. America Online's browser does this too, but like most browsers it forces people to copy an entire Web document if they want to save it on their computers. Netscape lets users copy bits and pieces.

Make sure that your computer has enough power and memory (at least eight megabytes of random-access memory) to handle the new browsers. Also get the fastest modem you can afford, because the Web can be very slow otherwise.

The next version of Netscape's Navigator goes even further. It will include a number of security features that tell users when they're on a secure site. Since hardly any sites on the Web use that particular security today, this feature isn't very useful right now. But it does point to a time when people will be able to send their credit-card information through the Internet and not have to worry about someone stealing it. You can download a test version of the new Netscape by pointing your current browser to http://www.netscape.com.

Ah yes, that http:// again. Officially, it stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol, but all you need to remember is that almost all the places on the Web start with ''http://'' and are followed by their address or URL (or Universal Resource Locator). Occasionally, your browser will point to an ftp site (which uses a text-only tool called File Transfer Protocol).

But no need to show off in front of your friends. Just tell them you browse the Web.

* Send comments via Internet (laurentb@delphi.com) or to CompuServe (70541,3654) or America Online (LBELSIE).

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