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Science, Maths & Technology

The internet: FAQs

Updated Thursday, 1st June 2006

Some answers to simple questions about the net

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People using computers

How do you get free e-mail?
An E-mail is a text-based message that is sent predominantly through the Internet, or internal company network (Intranet). If you don't have access to your own computer, you can still send e-mails using a free web based e-mail account, like Hotmail, Netscape, Yahoo! or Excite. These allow you to send and receive messages wherever you can find a computer connected to the web e.g. in libraries and Internet cafés. You do this by simply connecting to their web site and following the on-screen instructions. If you have your own computer, you can sign up with an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to get Internet access and they will often provide an e-mail account. Some companies charge a fee for providing the service, others are free but you pay for the telephone calls.

What is FTP?
FTP or File Transfer Protocol, allows you to transfer files from one computer to another via the Internet. FTP software is required to copy files onto a web server to create or update a website. Commonly used FTP applications are Fetch for the Macintosh and CuteFTP, for the PC. FTP is less frequently used for general downloading these days, due to the rise of the world wide web. Files that would have previously been downloaded using FTP can now be downloaded by clicking on a link in a web page.

How do I get my own web page?
You don't need to have your own server space or be a programming expert to set up your own web page, there are plenty of free sites that allow you to get yourself online. Tripod and Geocities are two of the best known sites where you can upload images, text and even video and audio clips to your site by signing up and completing online forms. If you have some free web space with your dial-up or ADSL account, you could try learning HTML and creating your own site from scratch. All you need is the Notepad that is supplied with your Windows PC or SimpleText on the Macintosh. The easier option for the beginner is to use a HTML editing package. Free demos of web authoring tools Dreamweaver and Flash are available at the Macromedia website. Sites such as AddMe will help you promote your site. The World Wide Web Consortium is the standards body that sets the www standards that all of the browser developers have to follow. Nothing like getting it from the horse's mouth!

What are newsgroups?
Usenet newsgroups are text based discussion areas where anyone can post or read a message, question or comment. There are literally thousands of newsgroups, with topics ranging from Red Dwarf fans to particle physics. Many e-mail and browser software packages also include newsgroup functionality. FreeAgent is one of the most popular newsgroup software packages on the Internet.

What is e-commerce?
E-commerce is the ability to conduct commerce online. E-commerce enables you to securely and quickly find, research and buy products or services, and everything is delivered to you in the comfort of your own home. No hassle, no fuss, and no shopping bags. What more could you want? It is potentially one of the biggest growth areas of online activity, many people believe that it will be the biggest. It is an ever expanding industry, enabling you to buy anything from your grocery shopping, to a ski holiday, to a new car!

What is a plug-in and why do I need them?
A plug-in is a type of program that integrates with a larger application to add an extra function or capability to it. Many web sites have been developed using a plug-in, and won't fully work without it. Most sites that require plug-ins usually offer an option to download the plug-in for free. They are called plug-ins because they 'plug in' to your browser the first time you download them onto your computer. web plug-ins generally bring multimedia functionality, enabling you to get anything from 3-D animation to sound and video. They add extra dimension to the text and image format of an ordinary web page. There are many plug-ins, but among the most widely-used are Real Player, QuickTime, and Flash. Flash enables effects, buttons and animations on the web. QuickTime is widely used to provide video for web sites, whilst Real Player enables you to be able to listen to radio stations and watch streaming video.

How do I contact my friends online?
There are various ways to communicate with friends and communities online. E-mail is the most commonly used method of communication on the Internet. Your message is sent to a server, where you download it the next time that you are online. Popular e-mail packages include Eudora and Microsoft Outlook. Instant messaging allows you to detect when your friends are online, so that you can either send them messages, or chat. Common messaging software packages include ICQ, AOL Instant Messenger and Yahoo Messenger, among others. Chat rooms are another way to contact friends online. These are "virtual spaces" where you can communicate with people in real-time. Chat rooms can usually be seen through your web browser. web forums are another way to keep in touch, also called web 'notice-boards', and are similar to Usenet Newsgroups, but are web-based. You can read all the messages posted to date by previous users, and then post your own.

What is an ISP? And what is broadband?
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are the companies that connect people to the Internet. Some ISPs charge for your access whereas others don't charge for an account but make their money from advertising and e-commerce. ISPs provide you with the software you need and give you a telephone number that your modem can call to connect you with the Internet. Broadband is the term applied to a variety of faster Internet connections. Instead of having to dial up, you are always connected to the Net, via cable or ADSL, so you can leave your Internet connection open without running up a huge phone bill.

What is online TV and radio?
Online TV and radio is a way for traditional broadcasters to deliver their content over the Internet. To send their signals in real time, the data has to be 'streamed' over the Internet. If you'd like to know how one radio station in Serbia streams their media, check out our B92 Serbia FM section. In order to access video and audio online, you need plug-ins. The most common plug-ins for this purpose are RealPlayer and Windows Media Player. Using these players you can listen to radio stations and watch TV or video playback on your screen. In order to send the signals over the Internet, they have to be heavily compressed, so the sound and picture quality is not CD or TV quality.

Can I educate myself online?
The Internet is transforming education. There are an infinite number of ways in which it can be used, from delivering course materials and reference works, to teaching down the line directly to computer screens in schools, colleges and people's homes. The Open University has pioneered the development of distance education, where students are taught through a combination of printed materials, TV programs, guided reading and occasional face-to-face meetings. It uses web-based tutorials and a software system called First Class to put students in touch with lecturers and other students. The University for Industry and companies like Education Online are finding ways to deliver course materials over the Net, and many students are attracted by the flexibility which Net-based training provides.

What is MP3?
MP3 stands for Moving Picture Experts Group, audio layer 3. It describes a way of squeezing high quality music files into chunks small enough to download easily over the Internet. A normal audio CD is packed with data, and a typical three-minute song would take up huge amounts of a computer's memory. Using the MP3 system, songs are packed down into a more manageable size. You can buy portable MP3 players from electronics shops, download MP3s from the Internet, load them onto the player, then listen to them whenever or wherever you want. Record companies are concerned because MP3 is an excellent way to make illegal copies of songs, depriving them and the artists of money. Therefore they are searching for a solution, the most popular so far being an alternative version to MP3 which can be copy protected.





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