Connecting a computer to the Internet is surprisingly simple, despite some of the intimidating jargon that may be encountered. To obtain access to the Internet a computer must be connected to a network that is part of the Internet. Globally, it is estimated that over 30 million people have access to the Internet, a figure that is rising at a rapid rate. It is now common to find a networked computer in the offices of universities and many businesses are also realising the importance of the Internet. It is estimated that there are presently 54 000 corporate Internet accounts in Europe alone, a figure which is predicted to rise to 115 000 by the end of 1995. Many people have access to the Internet at work where connection is a simple matter of plugging a computer into the network socket in the wall. This will typically be a fast network connection, such as Ethernet, which allows rapid transfer of data to and from the network. A business or home user may connect to the Internet via a telephone line. There are three basic requirements for Internet connections over a telephone line; a computer, a modem, and an Internet service provider.
The computer need not be a sophisticated machine, and a basic personal computer will often suffice, though services such as the World Wide Web benefit from a faster computer. A reasonably fast modem which allows data communication of up to 14 400 bps (though faster 28 800 modems are becoming more common) is essential. The price of modems has decreased dramatically over recent years. A fast modem offers two advantages, firstly speed, and secondly, smaller phone bills. Even a fast modem is relatively slow when compared to a direct Ethernet connection though communication speeds will undoubtedly increase with time as more users have access to fibreoptic cables at their doorstep allowing data to be transferred much faster than standard telephone lines. A 14 400 bps modem provides sufficient data transfer rates for most current services on the Internet. An alternative option to using a modem is an ISDN card which enables a computer to send digital information using telephone lines rather than the analogue signal of a conventional modem. This option is much faster than a conventional modem, however, the cards are expensive and a special ISDN line is also required.
Internet providers are available in many countries. Internet service providers should be distinguished from information providers such as eWorld, CompuServe and CIX, which currently offer only limited access to the Internet. These on-line bulletinboard services provide a wide range of information sources such as newspapers online, encyclopaedias, dictionaries, sport, entertainment, to mention a few of the literally hundreds of information resources. These services tend to be relatively expensive compared to a simple Internet connection. The Internet providers offer a relatively inexpensive method of connecting to the network, with typical costs of US$. 15 per month, though this may fall as competition increases. Once connected, all the services described earlier are free. The Internet providers usually will provide full information on the hardware and software that are required to connect to the Internet. The software required will depend on the type of computer (PC or Macintosh) and is usually free or shareware. For example, on the Macintosh, the required software is MacTCP and MacPPP (or MacSLIP) to enable an Internet connection to be established over the telephone. The basic software allows the host computer to communicate with the Internet using special protocols known as TCP/IP. It is best to find a provider that has a local dialin number. Each company usually has Internet links throughout the country so a user would typically connect to the local number thus making connections relatively cheap. It is also worthwhile checking to see how many modem connections are provided at each number and also what speed modem is provided. These are important factors as if there are only a few modems available it may be difficult to get connected at certain times of the day. Additionally, most companies should support data transfer rates of at least 9600 bps (preferably 14 400).
It should be noted that facilities such as e-mail and Usenet do not require a continuous link to the Internet. For example, e-mail programs may be set up to automatically dialin and check for mail periodically.
There are several methods available to aid the search for a specific type of information on the Internet. One method which is usually successful is to send a request to an appropriate Usenet newsgroup. Another approach is to consult a reference source such as the Internet Yellow Web Pages, which is a comprehensive subject catalogue of information available on the Internet. While the directory is comprehensive, it should be borne in mind that new servers are continuously being made available so the directory should be considered as a starting point unless a recent edition is available.
There are a number of tools available on the network to assist in the search for information and software. The first is the Archie server. An Archie server is used to tell a user what anonymous FTP sites store the file that is being searched. Archie servers are accessed by host computers using a client program. The name of the sought file is entered and the program then connects to the Archie server. This server will then try to match the name of the file submitted to any files found on the Internet. An Archie server may be considered as a catalogue for the library of software held on FTP servers.
A powerful and simple way of finding resources on the Internet is by means of a Web browser such as Mosaic Netscape. There are a number of pages on the Web that are specifically designed to assist in the search of Internet resources and these operate by means of keyword searches. A text box enables the entry of a search string. Once the search has been completed, a list of all relevant information sources that are accessible is displayed as a list. Clicking on any item of the list will result in that page being downloaded. Another WWW resource to assist the searching for information is the World Wide Web Worm (WWWW). The Worm is a program that continually scours the Web for resources and compiles a list of all the pages in the form of a searchable index. It does this by following all the links on all Web pages it comes across. This in fact takes a long time (several weeks), however the index is frequently updated. Links to some of the most popular and powerfulsearch tools available for searching the Internet are accessible via PharmWeb (see below).