Connecting your computer to the internet
If you are reading this, then you already have a way of getting online! You don't need to have your own computer. You may be reading this on a friend's computer, in a school or library. You may be thinking about changing the way you access the internet.
If you are accessing the internet via someone else's computer, that might suit you. However, you should be able to get much more out of the internet if you have access through your own computer at home.
To get onto the internet you need to connect your computer to a telephone line and to sign up with an internet provider (ISP). You just pop a sign-up CD into your CD drive, follow the instructions and your account will be set up. If you already have an internet connection and want to set up a different one, many ISPs will allow you to open an account online when you visit their website. When signing up with an ISP which charges a subscription, you will have to give your credit card details.
Some ISPs offer you a free account where you just pay for the local rate phone charges for the time you are online. This is the best approach if you don't use the internet a lot.
Many ISPs now offer various packages where you pay so much a month and all your phone charges while online are free, either at certain times or round the clock.
Cable television providers also offer packages which include broadband internet connection.
The internet can also be accessed on other devices, such as mobile phones, or by laptops while away from home using wi-fi facilities, but these are beyond the scope of this guide.
These days it can be frustrating trying to use the internet with a basic dial-up connection. The arrival of sharing sites like YouTube mean that you may want to view videos or listen to music. Google and various mapping sites have extensive satellite and aerial images available. There are animations and games available. With a dial-up account these can be very slow to download, or even impossible to use.
Most of the UK can now receive Broadband, which enables you to download things very much faster. Prices are competitive and are now not much dearer than dial-up packages.
If you do not have Broadband, it is worth looking at the relative costs, as the benefits are enormous - and you can use your telephone for voice calls while you are connected to the internet!
Useful information to help you choose a service provider can be found at ISP Review.
What programs do I need?
The main software that you will need is a browser for viewing web pages, a program for sending and receiving email and a newsreader if you wish to participate in news groups. Some popular software is listed below:
Firefox, web browser
Internet Explorer, web browser
Opera, web browser
Thunderbird, email and newsgroup reader
Outlook Express, email and newsgroup reader
Eudora, email and newsgroup reader
Safari, web browser for Mac
Some providers like AOL and Compuserve offer all-in packages, using their own unique software. Such packages have been likened to riding a bike with stabilisers. They are comparatively easy for beginners but experienced users may find them restricting.
Most other ISPs offer you a connection to the internet, giving you the freedom to use your own choice of software when using the internet. Some software, such as Internet Explorer and Outlook Express is often already installed on a computer. Others, such as Firefox and Thunderbird, can be easily downloaded from the internet.