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Fact Sheet 3: The Internet


The main uses of the Internet today are for sending and receiving e-mail - electronic letters which you compose and read on your computer screen; browsing the World Wide Web, a vast repository of information on everything from knitting to up to the minute news from the likes of CNN (http://www.cnn.com) and the UK's Press Association (http://www.pa.press.net) and chatting to other like-minded people, either in real-time using IRC (Internet Relay Chat, where you type messages on your screen and read others typing replies as you're connected to the system)or ICQ (http://www.icq.com); or the Usenet Newsgroups, where you post your messages on a bulletin board and read other peoples comments.

Your first task is to buy a modem (assuming you already have a computer), and reliable brands include 3COM, Motorola and Psion. Look for a V.90 model which works at 56,000 bps. As well as a brand, you also have to choose an internal or external model. Internal models have the advantages of being cheaper and, with older computers, of bypassing your own computer's serial port which may not be capable of running at the latest top speed (you need a 16550 UART chip on your serial port - if you're not sure if you have one, check with your computer manual or run the MSD programme in your DOS directory. This is not a problem for Apple Macintosh computers). External modems are easier to re-set if something goes wrong - you can turn them on and of without having to touch your computer - and they have a series of lights to show you the state of your online connection, whether you're receiving or sending data and so on.

If you have access to British Telecom's ADSL service or a cable TV company offering cable modems, go for that - it's much faster than a modem.

Choosing an ISP is perhaps the hardest part of this process - start off with one of the larger ones like MSN, Virgin or Freeserve and see how you get on first. You can pick up their installation CDs on most high streets now.

Most ISPs will provide you with some, if not all the software you need to get going online. You'll need a Web browser, either Netscape Navigator or Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Both these browsers come with their own e-mail programmes, or you could opt for one of the specialised programmes like Eudora. You can also send and receive e-mail using the best newsgroup reader, Forte's Free Agent (http://www.forteinc.com). For IRC, look at a programme called mIRC. All these programmes are available on the Internet - look at http://www.shareware.com with your new browser, and you'll be able to download a vast range of trial or even free software.