Harley Hahn's
Internet Advisor


Chapter 7...

The Web

As you read the next few chapters and as you explore the Web on your own, you will find many new things to investigate and many new technical terms. At times, you may feel that the Web is overwhelming and the features of your browser are incoherent. If so, I want you to remember a secret that will make your life a lot easier:

You don't need to understand everything.

Ever since the Web became popular, it has been the focus of intense, sustained marketing wars. At first, Microsoft and Netscape (now owned by AOL) competed ruthlessly, each one trying to gain market shore for their browsers. Later, in order to dominate the marketplace, Microsoft began to integrate its browser, Internet Explorer, with Windows (the operating system) and with other Microsoft software.

Because market share was seen as being more important than quality, browsers were planned, implemented and rushed to market without extensive long-term testing. Thus, even today, many of your browser's features are there for marketing reasons, not because the designers made a careful, deliberate study of the needs of the users (you and me). As a result, your browser is a large, impenetrable hodgepodge of self-serving commercialism.

For this reason, you encounter an interesting paradox when you learn how to use the Web. At first, it will only take you a few minutes to learn how to look at a Web page and click on the links, and much of the time that's all you really need to know. You will say to yourself, "Boy, using a browser is easy. This hardly takes any time at all to learn." However, to use the Web well, you need to understand various details, including the idiosyncrasies of your browser, and that takes a lot more time than it should.

As you use your browser, there will be occasions when things happen that you don't understand. At such times, remember that everything you see was created by a person, not a mysterious force of nature, and there is nothing on the Web that you cannot understand, at least in general terms, if you are willing to take the time to learn about it.

On the other hand, it is not necessary to know everything. Believe me, you could walk into any conference of Internet experts, close your eyes and throw a brick, and not have to worry about hitting anyone who completely understands the Web (or even his browser).

The Web is the medium for much of the innovation in the Internet, and as a result, you will find a huge number of resources. However, many of these resources and many of the new ideas are experimental and have not yet stood the test of time; what is here today may not be here tomorrow.

Beginning with this chapter, I will help you understand the most important, most useful, and most enduring parts of the Web. However, the Web contains far more than any one person needs to understand, so let us start by recalling our most important observation: You don't need to understand everything.

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The Basic Ideas

In Chapter 2, I discussed the basic ideas related to using the Web. Before we move on, let's take a moment to go over those ideas.

The WEB is an information delivery system. You can use the Web to look at many different types of information and to access a variety of services. Like all Internet resources, the Web is based on a client/server system. You use a client program, called a BROWSER, to access the information on WEB SERVERS (of which there are millions around the world). The two most widely used browsers are INTERNET EXPLORER (from Microsoft) and NETSCAPE (from AOL).

Information on the Web is organized into files called WEB PAGES, although they are not real pages like in a book. A WEB SITE (sometimes spelled "website") is a collection of related Web pages. Many organizations and people have their own Web sites. For example, IBM has a Web site, the U.S. Senate has a Web site, and I have a Harley Hahn Web site. If you are so inclined, you can create your own Web site and make it available to everyone on the Net. (We will talk about how to do this in Chapter 15.)

Web pages can contain all types of information, including TEXT (characters), GRAPHICS (pictures and photographs), and MULTIMEDIA (animation, video and sounds). The defining characteristic of Web pages is that they can contain links to other pages or resources. This type of information is called HYPERTEXT (for a reason I will explain in a minute).

As you read a Web page, you will see the LINKS. If you click on a link (using your mouse), your browser will fetch and display the Web page to which that link points. When this happens, we say you are FOLLOWING the link. From your point of view, it looks as if you are jumping from one Web page to another, just by clicking on a link.

If you are a science fiction fan, you may be familiar with the idea of rocket ships that jump from one part of space to another via "hyperspace". On the Web, information that contains links allows you to jump from one Web page to another. Hence, the name hypertext.

Now that you know about hypertext, you can understand two of the common technical terms you will see on the Web: HTML and HTTP.

HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) is the system of specifications used to define the appearance and structure of Web pages. That is why the files that contain Web pages have names that end with html or htm, for example, index.html. (The html part of the name is called an extension.) We will talk more about HTML in Chapter 15.

HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) is the protocol used to transfer data between Web servers and Web clients (browsers). In Chapter 4, we talked about URLs (uniform resource locators), the types of addresses that point to Web resources. Now you see why so many URLs start with the letters http. For example, the URL for my Web site is:

http://www.harley.com/

The http designation tells your browser that the resource in question contains hypertext and must be accessed via the http protocol.

The best way to learn how to use your browser is to take some time to explore its features and to experiment. In the following sections, I will explain how to use your browser to perform the most important tasks. There will be slight differences depending on whether you are using Internet Explorer or Netscape. Where the differences are important, I will point them out along the way.

I do want to tell you that I find using a mouse slow and awkward, and I would rather use the keyboard. So, whenever I can, I will show you keyboard shortcuts that can make using your browser faster and easier.

If you would like to experiment with different browsers to see which you like best, I encourage you to do so. After all, when you choose a browser you are also choosing a mail program and a Usenet newsreader. However, remember that you do not have to use the mail program and newsreader that come with your browser. There are a variety of such programs, and they will work with any browser.

The following Internet Resources show the URLs where you can find the latest versions of Internet Explorer and Netscape.

— hint —

Even if you already have a browser, check to make sure you have the latest version. The browser companies release new versions every now and then, and it is a good idea to keep your software current.

If some of the instructions in this chapter don't match exactly what you see in your browser, it may be because you are using an old version.

Learn how to...

Control the Appearance of Your Browser

You can customize your browser by hiding or showing some of the toolbars and buttons.

Before we move on, take a look at Figures 7-1 and 7-2. They show what Internet Explorer looks like while viewing a typical Web page. From time to time, I will refer to the particular parts of the browser window, and, if necessary, you can refer to these figures.

By the way, don't worry if your browser looks a bit different. The appearance sometimes changes from one version to another, but the changes are usually minor. Moreover, you can control whether or not various parts of your browser window are hidden or showing. For example, Figure 7-2 shows what Internet Explorer looks like when the Links toolbar, Radio toolbar, and the Favorites list are visible. (We will discuss these toolbars later in the chapter.)

Figure 7-1: A typical Web page within Internet Explorer

Figure 7-2: Variations in the appearance of Internet Explorer

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Options and Preferences

Browsers are complex programs and, as such, have a variety of settings you can change. These settings give you some measure of control over the operation of your browser (although, if you are like me, not as much control as you would like). Within Internet Explorer, the settings are called OPTIONS.

There are many such settings, but generally, there are two types:

  • Configuration information that you set once: for example, your name, email address, mail server, Usenet news server, and so on
  • Settings that control the operation of your browser: for example, control over how links should be displayed

It is important for you to know where these settings are and how to change them when you want, so here is how to find them.

Within Internet Explorer...

  • Pull down the Tools menu and select Internet Options.

Or, you can get at the same settings via the Control Panel.

  • Click on the Start button, select Settings. Click on Control Panel. Double-click on Internet Options.

Once you find the settings for your browser, you may want to experiment, and I encourage you to do so. The only warning I would give you, however, is not to change settings that look crucial unless you are sure you understand what they do. As a precaution, you might want to write down the current settings before you make any changes, so you can restore the original values if you want.

Aside from changing the settings, you can also modify the appearance of your browser. Pull down the View menu and test the various choices. By doing so, you can add and remove the various buttons and bars, as well as change their size.

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Blocking Advertisements

If you hate to look at advertisements, there are two ways to avoid most of them. The first technique is based on the fact that most advertisements are graphics (pictures).

Within your Options, there is a setting that tells your browser not to load graphics automatically. The setting was intended for people with slow Internet connections, because it takes a lot longer to load graphics than text. People with slow connections can turn off the graphics to decrease the time spent waiting for Web pages to load.

However, regardless of your type of Internet connection, turning off graphics effectively cuts out the ads. Instead of seeing irritating pictures, you will see only outlines of boxes, showing where the pictures would go if you had loaded them. Here is how to tell your browser not to load graphics automatically:

Within Internet Explorer...

  1. Pull down the Tools menu and select Internet Options.
  2. Click on the Advanced tab.
  3. Go down to the Multimedia section, and uncheck the box next to Show pictures.

From time to time, you may see a page in which you want to see one of the pictures. In such cases, there is an easy way to override the default setting and tell your browser to load a picture on the current page. All you need to do is use your mouse to point to the picture, click the right button, and select Show Picture.

So, if you hate the ads, you don't have to look at them. You can block all the graphics (and virtually all the ads) as a default, and look at only those pictures you want to see. This method isn't foolproof, because you have to block all the graphics, and some of them are not ads. However, at least you have some measure of control over your own computer.

The second way to avoid advertisements is to use software that is designed to block the ads. Such software acts as a barrier between your browser and the outside world, by filtering out the ads before they even get to your browser. Some of these programs cost money, but they work well, and if you hate ads the money is well spent.

I strongly advise you to try one of these programs. It makes a huge difference when you look at the Web without ads. Once you try it, I bet you won't want to switch back. According to my ad blocking program, which keeps statistics, in the last 3 months (as I write this), the program has blocked 95,597 ads. That's 95,597 ads that I didn't have to look at; 95,597 times that someone tried to sell me something that I didn't even notice.

If your children use the Internet, the best favor you can do for them is to find a way for them not to have to look at so many advertisements. There are two reasons I say this.

First, children are exposed to far too many ads of all types and, on general principles, I think it is best if children's Internet experiences are as non-commercial as possible.

Second, Web-based ads only work if they get your attention. Thus, they are designed to emit the type of visual stimulation that will draw your eye away from the main content of the page.

However, children already have far too much rapid, transitory visual stimulation in their lives. Just ask any teacher how difficult it is to control hyperactive children whose patterns of behavior have been influenced by television and video games. It is much better for your children if their time on the Internet is more like a classroom experience (slow, thoughtful and rewarding) than like a video game (fast, superficial and meaningless).

— hint —

If your children use the Web, get an ad blocking program. This will remove the worst of the Internet from their environment.

Realistically, when it comes to influencing children, the ads are much more troublesome than anything else on the Net.

Note: The Junkbusters site is for advanced users, especially those who maintain a Unix system or a network.

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Where to Get Help

A moment ago, I told you not to change a crucial setting unless you understand it. But where do you go for assistance if you have trouble understanding something? There are two important sources of help.

First, your browser has a built-in help facility. There are two ways to access it: you can either pull down the Help menu or you can press the F1 key.

— hint —

Press the F1 key whenever you need help.

This is worth remembering because, as a general rule, F1 is the standard help key in almost all programs, not just browsers.

The second way to get assistance is to ask other people for help. This is important because the built-in help facility often will not answer your questions, or will answer them in a way that you can't understand. (Don't feel bad. It's not your fault. Most help systems aren't that good.)

When all else fails, the best place to get help is from someone who knows more than you. For this reason, I strongly suggest you cultivate the friendship of one or two computer nerds.

— hint —

During times of total confusion, the phone number of a nerd is worth more than all the built-in help facilities in the world.

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Entering a URL

The basic function of a browser is to let you look at Web pages, so the first thing you need to learn is how to tell your browser to go to a particular URL.

There are several ways to do this. First, near the top of your browser window is an area called the ADDRESS BAR. When you use Internet Explorer, the address bar is just to the right of the word Address. (See Figure 7-1.) To enter a URL, use your mouse and click anywhere in the address bar. Then type a URL and press the Enter key. If you want, you can click on the Go button instead of pressing Enter.

If you want to try an example, use the following URL. (This is the address of my Web site.)

http://www.harley.com/

As a convenience, you do not have to type the http://. If you leave it out, your browser will insert it for you automatically. In addition, with simple URLs like the one above, you can also leave out the / character at the end of the URL. Thus, your browser considers the following abbreviated URL to be the same as the one above:

www.harley.com

(I discuss this and other URL abbreviations in Chapter 4.)

Once you press Enter, your browser will contact the appropriate Web server, download the information from that site, and display it for you.

Although it is easy to type a URL into the address bar, there are two alternatives that you may prefer. First, use your mouse to pull down the File menu and select Open. Your browser will display a small window in which you can type a URL. Type the URL and press Enter.

An easier way to do this is to press Ctrl-O. This is a shortcut that will display the small window immediately. I often use Ctrl-O, as I find it a lot faster than using the mouse.

— hint —

The fast way to enter a URL is to press Ctrl-O, then type the URL and press Enter.

What's in a Name?

Dialog box


From time to time, a program you are using may require you to enter a bit of information or make a choice of some type. The program will display a window with a place for you to type something, some buttons to press, or both. This window is called a DIALOG BOX.

As an example, when you are using a browser and you press Ctrl-O, you get a dialog box into which you can enter a URL.

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The Fastest Way to Enter a URL
with Internet Explorer

What I am about to show you is the single most useful hint you can learn about using Internet Explorer.

As you know, there are many URLs of the form:

http://www.something.com/

Within Internet Explorer, there is a fast way to type such URLs into the address bar. All you need to do is type the something and then press Ctrl-Enter. (That is, hold down the Ctrl key and press Enter). The browser will immediately fill in the rest of the URL and go to that address.

For example, to visit my Web page, click on the address bar, type harley, and then press Ctrl-Enter. The browser will automatically change harley to:

http://www.harley.com/

Now, in order to type an address in this manner, you first need to jump to the address bar. There are two ways to do so. You can either click on it with your mouse, or you can press Alt-D (that is, hold down the Alt key and press D).

Putting all this together, here is the big hint:

— hint —

With Internet Explorer, there is a fast way to enter a URL of the form:

http://www.something.com/

Press Alt-D.

Type the something.

Press Ctrl-Enter.

If you would like to try this out right now, type:

Alt-D   harley   Ctrl-Enter

This should take you to home page of my Web site. Now try it with your own name and see what happens.

This technique is valuable because there will be many times when you will want to guess at the name of a Web site, and using these shortcuts makes guessing quick and easy. For example, say you want to visit the IBM Web site. You have never been there before, but you guess that the URL is:

http://www.ibm.com/

All you have to do is press Alt-D, type ibm, and then press Ctrl-Enter.

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Using AutoComplete
with Internet Explorer

To make it easy to enter a URL, Internet Explorer offers a facility called AUTOCOMPLETE.

As you are entering a URL, your browser tries to guess what you are typing, based on the addresses of the Web pages you have already visited and the contents of your Favorites list. (I explain the Favorites list later in the chapter.) As soon as you have typed enough letters for AutoComplete to make a guess, it will fill in the rest of the letters for you. In addition, it will also show you a list of other similar addresses.

You now have three choices:

  • You can ignore the suggestion and keep typing.
  • If you like the suggestion, you can stop typing and press Enter.
  • You can select an address from the list.

(Press the Down key to move to the address you want. Then press Enter.)

AutoComplete is handy when you want to revisit a Web site and you don't want to retype the entire URL. Just type a few letters, select the URL from the list, and press Enter.

If you want to re-use a URL you have typed recently, there is another shortcut. Use your mouse and click on the small down arrow at the right end of the address bar. This will pull down a list of the URLs you have typed. Just click on the one you want.

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Navigating

As you use the Web, a lot of your time will be spent changing from one Web page to another. We call this activity NAVIGATING. The metaphor is a convenient one, and I will use it myself, because it is handy to talk as if you are actually moving from one place to another. However, as you use the Web (and as you read this book), don't lose track of the fact that you are not really moving through some mysterious universe. What is really happening is that your browser is presenting one page after another for your perusal.

In other words, there is no "cyberspace". (See Chapter 1.)

— hint —

The Web seems like a place, but it is really
a thing.

Most Web pages contain links to other pages, and the simplest way to move from one page to another is to follow a link. To do so, move your mouse pointer to the link and click on it. Your browser will then do whatever is necessary to get you the information to which the link points. Typically, your browser will contact the appropriate Web server, request the new Web page, wait for it to arrive, and then display it on your screen. How long you have to wait depends on several factors, the most important of which is the speed of your Internet connection.

After awhile, using the Web takes on a peculiar rhythm to which your mind will begin to synchronize:

Click... wait... read... Click... wait... read... Click... wait... read...

Learn how to...

Tell Your Browser Not to Underline Links

I suggest that you tell your browser not to underline links. Web pages will look less cluttered and be easier to read.

When you are reading a Web page, how do you know where the links are? There are several ways. First, most links are attached to words, and these words will be displayed in a special way. For example, they may be a different color than the rest of the text, or they may be underlined, or both. Most browsers have settings that give you some control over how links are displayed. Experiment with your browser and see what you prefer.

There are two other ways to tell if something is a link. When you point to a link with your mouse, the pointer will change to a picture of a hand, and the browser will display the address (URL) of that link in a special box at the bottom of the browser window. (This area is called the STATUS BAR.)

Aside from words, links can also be attached to pictures. Usually, the pictures are small ones, referred to as icons. (Within Windows, an ICON is a small picture that represents a resource.) If you point to such a picture, you will see the address of its link in the status bar. To follow the link, just click on the picture.

One special type of picture is an IMAGE MAP. With an image map, various parts of the picture correspond to different links. Here is a typical example. You are visiting a Web site that has travel information about the United States. The main Web page has a picture of the U.S. showing all the states. To see information about a specific state, you simply click on that state. In this case, you are looking at an image map in which each state points to a different Web page.

— hint —

To find out if something is a link, move your mouse pointer over the item, and see if the pointer changes to a hand. If so, you are pointing to a link.

If you are not sure what the link does, click on it and find out. (Nothing bad will happen.)

As you jump from one Web page to another, you will often want to go back to a previous page, and once you do, you may want to move forward again. This is easy: your browser has Back and Forward buttons. Just click on the one you want.

For a more elaborate way to move forward into the past, you can use the HISTORY LIST, a record your browser maintains of your recent Web page visits. To see the History list, click on the History button.

— hint —

Although it is possible to move back and forth within your recently visited Web pages by clicking on the Back and Forward buttons, that way is for weenies.

The fast, cool way to move around is by using the keyboard and pressing Alt-Left or Alt-Right. (That is, hold down the Alt key and press the key with the left arrow, or hold down the Alt key and press the key with the right arrow.)

Alt-Left moves back, and Alt-Right moves forward. Most people don't know about these shortcuts, but they are so cool I want you to memorize them right now.

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Reading a Web Page

Reading a Web page is mostly straightforward: you read it. However, I do have a few hints to help you have more control over your Internet experience. Some of these hints, by the way, are general Windows techniques that apply to any program you may be using, not just to browsers.

Many Web pages are so long that the complete page will not fit within the browser window. In order to read the parts of the page that are not visible, you need to move the page up and down (or left and right) within the window. This action is called SCROLLING, and you can do it with either your mouse or with the keyboard. Let's start with the mouse.

When a Web page does not fit into the browser window, your browser will show you as much as will fit and will place SCROLL BARS alongside the border of the window. (You can see scroll bars labeled in Figure 7-1. There are two ways to use a scroll bar. You can either click on one of the arrows at the end of a bar, or you can use your mouse to drag the slider within the bar. (To DRAG an object, move the mouse pointer over it, press the left mouse button, and move the mouse while holding down the button.)

In addition, some mice have a built-in scroll wheel. If your mouse has this feature, you can move up and down a Web page simply by moving the wheel.

The scroll bar on the right is called a VERTICAL SCROLL BAR because it moves the Web page up and down. The scroll bar on the bottom is called a HORIZONTAL SCROLL BAR because it moves the Web page left and right.

— hint —

Your browser will only show scroll bars when necessary. If the entire page fits in your browser window, you won't see any scroll bars at all.

If the Web page is narrow enough to fit horizontally, but too long to fit vertically, you will only see a vertical scrollbar (because that is all that is necessary).

Aside from using the mouse to scroll, you can also use the keyboard. The Up and Down keys move the Web page up and down by a small amount. The PageUp and PageDown keys move the Web page up and down in larger jumps. (Experiment and you will see what I mean.) As an alternative, you can press the Space bar to page down, and (in Internet Explorer only) Shift-Space to page up.

If the page is too wide to fit in the window, you can use the Left and Right keys to move it horizontally. Finally, for large movements, you can use Ctrl-Home to jump to the very top of the Web page and Ctrl-End to jump all the way to the bottom.

Within Windows, you can only control one window at a time. The window that is currently under your control is said to have the FOCUS. To move the focus to a particular window, all you need to do is use your mouse and left-click anywhere in that window.

The reason I am telling you this is because, on occasion, you will press a key (say, the PageUp or PageDown key) and nothing will happen. Usually this means that the window you want to control — the one containing the Web page — does not have the focus.

In such cases, just click on the Web page. Once the window has the focus, you will be able to control the Web page by using your keyboard.

Most Web pages are displayed using the entire window. Some Web pages, however, are divided into sections, each of which lies within a small window of its own. These sections are called FRAMES.

Frames are used when the Web page creator wants to have more than one independent window within a single page. This is useful when the sections of a page may need to be manipulated individually. For example, one frame might contain a table of contents that is always available, while a second frame contains information that changes. When you click on a link in the first frame, the results are shown in the second frame.

Figure 7-3 shows a Web page that has three frames. The first frame, near the top, contains a navigation banner. The second frame, on the left, contains links. The third frame, on the right, contains text.

Figure 7-3: A Web page with frames

When you read such a page with frames, you can control the scrolling of each frame independently, either with the mouse or with the keyboard. With the mouse, each frame will have its own scroll bars as necessary. With a keyboard, you can use the same keys within the frame as you do for a full-sized window (Up, Down, PageUp, PageDown, Ctrl-Home and Ctrl-End). However, before you can control a specific frame, you will have to click inside the frame in order to give it the focus.

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Right-Clicking

When it comes to using your mouse, you usually press the left button. Indeed, throughout this book, when I say to CLICK on something, I mean to point to it with your mouse and press the left button. When I say DOUBLE-CLICK, I mean to press the left button twice in a row. However, you will sometimes need to press the right button, and when you do, we say that you RIGHT-CLICK.

Although you use the left mouse button most of the time, the right button is important. As a general rule within Windows, right-clicking on an object displays a CONTEXT MENU containing selections relevant to that object. For example, if you right-click on an icon, you will see a context menu with selections relating to icons.

— hint —

Although most people don't know it, there is a way to use the keyboard to simulate a right-click on your mouse: just press Shift-F10.

Learn how to...

Change Your Mouse to be Left-Handed

If you are left-handed, you can reverse the function of the left and right mouse buttons by changing a setting.

Right-clicking is important because, typically, the context menus allow you to manipulate an object and look at its properties. Thus, if you become familiar with the various context menus, you will be able to use your programs (and Windows) more efficiently.

The reason I mention all this is because I want you to right-click on the various parts of your browser window just to see what happens. In particular, load a Web page and right-click on the page, away from a link. Now right-click on a link. Notice that you get different context menus depending on where you right-click.

— hint —

Whenever you feel like a quick break, take a moment and right-click on something, just to see the context menu.

You can't do any harm by right-clicking.

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What to Do When a URL Doesn't Work

From time to time, you will have a problem with a URL that doesn't work properly. For instance, you may try to connect to a Web page and, instead, you get an error message.

There are two types of error messages. First, you may see a message like:

File not found.

or:

The requested URL was not found on this server.

This means your browser was able to connect to the Web server, but the server could not find the file you wanted. (Remember, each Web page is stored in a file.)

Sometimes, you will see a File not found message along with error code 404. This is the standard error code sent by a Web server whenever a file cannot be found. (There is nothing cosmic about the number 404.)

A second type of error occurs when your browser cannot even connect to the Web server. In such cases you will see a message like one of the following:

Cannot open the Internet site.

There was no response.

The page cannot be displayed.

Cannot locate the server.

There are several things that might be wrong. First, if you typed the URL yourself, you may have made a spelling mistake. Check the spelling carefully. Many URLs are complex and it is easy to make a typing mistake.

If you click on a link and get an error message, it may still indicate a spelling problem, because the person who created the Web page may have made a spelling mistake when he typed the address. Such mistakes are more common than you might think.

If you think the address is correct, the next thing to do is make sure your Internet connection is working. An easy way to do so is to try an address that should always work, such as:

www.ibm.com

www.microsoft.com

www.netscape.com

If URLs like these do not connect, you are probably having a problem with your Internet connection.

If your Internet connection is working, and you are sure the URL is spelled correctly, the address itself may be bad. This can happen when a Web site is reorganized and some of the addresses that used to work stop working.

In such cases, I have a trick for you: chop off the right-most part of the URL and try again. For example, let's say you try to connect to the following URL, but it doesn't work:

www.harley.com/freestuff/valuables/money/news.html

In this case, the right-most part of the URL is news.html. Chop it off and try again:

www.harley.com/freestuff/valuables/money/

If that doesn't work, repeat the process:

www.harley.com/freestuff/valuables/

www.harley.com/freestuff/

www.harley.com

Eventually, either something will connect, or you will have proven that the Web site itself is not working.

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Managing Your Browser Window

In this section, I am going to show you a number of ways in which you can control your browser window. I am mentioning these procedures here because they are useful while you are using the Web. However, most of what I am about to show you are general techniques that will work for any program running under Microsoft Windows. In particular, I am going to show you how to move, resize, minimize, maximize and close your browser window.

Now, I have to mention that whenever I run up against stuff like this, I'm never quite sure how much detail to explain. After all, there are lots of new users who don't know much about Windows, and if I simply assumed they know all the basics, the conversation might go like this:

ME: If you have trouble reading a Web page, you can always resize the browser window.

NEW USER: What's a resize?

ME: Or you can maximize the window to get more room.

NEW USER: What's a maximize?

ME: And if you want to put away the window temporarily, you can always minimize it to the taskbar.

NEW USER: What's a ... ?

Well, you get the idea.

On the other hand, if you are an experienced user, you may already know how to manipulate windows, and I certainly don't want to bore you while I attend to the newcomers. "Old hat," I hear you say (or, if you are French, "Vieux chapeau.") So, if you already know how to use Windows, it's okay if you let your attention wander for a few minutes. After all, there are plenty of other things you might be doing: feeding the cat, putting away those old magazines in the garage, or maybe just catching up on your stamp collection.

All set now? Okay, let's push on.

The Web browser and everything it displays is contained within a window. You can control that window in various ways. First, you can change its size by making it as large as possible. To do this, use your mouse and click on the MAXIMIZE BUTTON in the top right-hand corner of the window. The maximize button is the one with the picture of a small square. (See Figure 7-1.)

When you click on this button, your window will expand to fit the entire screen. (We say that you have MAXIMIZED the window.) When a window is maximized, the single square on the button is replaced with a small picture of two overlapping rectangles. If you now click on the button again, the window will shrink back to its original size.

An alternative way to maximize a window is to use your mouse to double-click on the TITLE BAR (the bar at the very top of the window). Once the window is maximized, you can restore its original size by double-clicking on the title bar once again. In other words, double-clicking on the title bar alternates the window from maximized to non-maximized.

Another way to change the size of a window is to use your mouse to drag a corner or an edge. When you drag any of the corners, you make the entire window larger or smaller. When you drag an edge, you make the window larger or smaller in one direction only. For example, to make a window wider, you would drag either the left or right edge outward.

When you change the size of a window in this way, we say that you RESIZE or SIZE it. Whenever you resize a browser window, the browser automatically redisplays the contents to fit the new size, creating or removing scroll bars as necessary.

When you have finished with a browser window, you can close it by clicking on the CLOSE BUTTON. This is the button with an X on it, in the top right-hand corner of the window, just to the right of the maximize button. (See Figure 7-1.) Alternatively, you can use the keyboard to close a window by pressing Alt-F4.

— hint —

When you close a window, the program inside it is terminated automatically.

If you are working with a data file, be sure to save the file before you close the window.

If you want to put away a window temporarily without losing the contents, you can click on the MINIMIZE BUTTON. This is the button with a single small line, just to the left of the maximize button. When you click on the minimize button, the window will disappear and we say that you have MINIMIZED it.

A minimized window is not closed. You can restore it to its original size whenever you want by clicking on the appropriate button on the taskbar. (The TASKBAR is the long bar that contains the Start button, as well as buttons for the various programs that are running).

An alternative way to restore a minimized window is to press Alt-Tab repeatedly and select the program you want. (A lot of this will make sense when you try it.)

— hint —

When you minimize a window, the program inside it does not stop running.

Thus, if you are waiting for a program to finish a long operation, you can minimize its window and move on to something else. This is convenient when you are downloading a large file, and you want to do something else while you are waiting.

The last basic operation you need to know is how to move a window. Just drag the title bar, and the entire window will move. In other words, move the mouse pointer to the title bar, hold down the left mouse button, and then move the mouse while holding down the button. When the window is where you want it, release the mouse button.

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Opening a New Browser Window

There will be times when you will want to look at more than one Web page at a time. You can do so by opening a new browser window. In fact, you can open as many browser windows as you want. You can then switch from window to window, using each one as you see fit.

If you accumulate extra windows you don't need, you can get rid of them by closing them. When you close the last browser window, it stops the browser program itself.

Opening a new window is easy.

Within Internet Explorer...

  • Pull down the File menu, select New, then Window.
  • Or, you can simply press Ctrl-N.

I get bored easily, so I tend to open a new browser window whenever I have to wait for anything.

For example, let's say I am reading the daily comics. I connect to a Web site to read Blondie, but it takes too long to load. I immediately press Ctrl-N to create a new window, and use that window to start loading Cathy. Then I switch back to the original window and read Blondie (which has loaded by now).

After reading Blondie, I press Alt- F4 to close the window and switch back to the other window to read Cathy.

(Although this scenario sounds complicated, it's actually fast and easy. Try it.)

So far, I have described how you can create a new browser window intentionally. It is possible, however, for a new window to be created automatically.

Sometimes this is useful. For instance, a Web page might be designed to serve as a table of contents for various resources. When you click on a link, the resource you choose can be automatically displayed in a second window so as to keep the original window available (so you can choose one resource after another).

Most of the time, however, automatic window creation is used for a more aggravating reason: to make an advertisement pop up in your face. If you use an ad blocking program (see earlier in the chapter), it can be configured to block the creation of pop-up windows. Otherwise, there is not much you can do about this except to avoid the Web sites that do this. In my experience, some of the worst offenders are the sites that offer free Web site hosting services. They seem to be "free", but only because they make the people who visit the pages look at lots of ads.

(Actually, there are even worse sites, where you will find Web pages designed to create a whole cluster of new browser windows, each of which contains an ad, and each of which must be closed separately.)

— hint —

When a Web site creates an unwanted pop-up window on your screen, remember the two ways to close a window:

You can either click on the close button in the top right-hand corner of the window, or you can move to the window and press Alt-F4.

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Reloading a Web Page (the Cache)

It can take a long time to download all the information for a Web page, and while it is downloading, you have to wait. For this reason, your browser uses a temporary storage area, called the CACHE, to save the information from recently viewed Web pages. Whenever you want to load a page, your browser looks in the cache to see if the page is already there. If so, there is no need to reload the page from the Internet. Thus, the second time you look at a Web page, it should load much faster (because it is in the cache).

Learn how to...

Change the Cache Settings

You can control how your browser uses the cache by changing its settings.

Using a cache is great, because it can really speed things up. However, there is a problem. The content of Web pages changes from time to time, and if you always load a particular page from the cache, you will never know if the page has changed.

To obviate this problem, your browser will only keep information in the cache for a limited amount of time. After that, if you request the same Web page, your browser will go to the Net and load it again, just to make sure you get an up-to-date copy. You can control how often your browser reloads a page by changing the cache settings (see below).

At any time, you can force your browser to ignore the cache and reload the current Web page from the Internet.

Within Internet Explorer...

  • Click on the Refresh button.
  • Or, press Ctrl-R.

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Creating a Shortcut to a Web Page

In your adventures on the Internet, you will find lots of Web pages you want to visit again. For example, you may have a news source you like to check each day for the latest scoops, or you may find an interesting site you want to revisit when you have more time.

There are two ways you can save such URLs: you can either create a shortcut to the Web page, or you can save the address on a special list. In this section, we will talk about shortcuts. In the next section, I will show you how to create a list of URLs for your favorite Web pages.

A SHORTCUT is an icon that represents a resource (such as a URL). Normally, a shortcut resides on your desktop, the area represented by the background of your display area. (The DESKTOP is what you see when you have no open windows.) Once a shortcut is on your desktop, it is a simple matter to access the Web page. All you have to do is double-click on the icon. This action sends the URL right to your browser. (If your browser is not already running, it will be started automatically.)

— hint —

If your browser is already open, there is an easier way to use a shortcut. Just use your mouse to drag the icon and drop it on the browser window.

A typical way in which you might use a shortcut is to point to your favorite news site. Then, whenever you want to check the news, all you have to do is double-click on the icon or drag it over to your browser window.

So how do you create an icon? There are several ways. As you are reading a Web page, use your mouse and right-click anywhere on the page. When the context menu pops up, select Create Shortcut. A shortcut to the current page will be created and placed on your desktop.

— hint —

You can use the keyboard to simulate a right-click on your mouse by pressing Shift-F10 (as long as the focus is on the window).

Thus, while you are reading a Web page, the fast way to create a shortcut to that page is to press Shift-F10 and select Create Shortcut.

Another, more interesting way to create a shortcut is to use the small icon just to the left of the address bar. This icon represents the URL of the current page. In Internet Explorer, the icon is called a PAGE ICON. Take a moment and look at Figure 7-1. I have labeled this special icon, so you can see exactly where it is.

Once you know where the page icon is, creating a shortcut to the current page is easy. All you need to do is use your mouse to drag the page icon to the desktop. A shortcut will appear automagically. Try it.

So far, we have talked about creating a shortcut to the current Web page (the one you are reading). As a convenience, it is possible to create a shortcut to a specific link on the current page without having to click on the link and wait for the page to download. Just use your mouse and drag the link to the desktop. This creates a shortcut to the link, rather than to the current page.

For example, say you are looking at a Web page that has weather information. The page contains links to information about particular cities, and you want to create a shortcut to the Web page for your city. Just drag the appropriate link over to the desktop.

Once you create a shortcut, there are several ways to customize it:

To rename an icon:
Click on it and press the F2 key, or right-click on the icon and select Rename. Then type the new name and press Enter.

To move an icon:
Use your mouse and drag the icon to a new location.

To delete an icon:
Click on it and press the Delete key; or you can right-click on the icon and select Delete.

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Saving URLs in a List

In the previous section, I mentioned there are two ways to save URLs. The first way is to create a shortcut stored as an icon on your desktop. Shortcuts work fine for a small number of URLs, but as you use the Web over a period of weeks and months, you are bound to encounter more than a few Web pages whose URLs you want to save, and the best way to do so is by making a list.

All browsers allow you to create and maintain such a list, however, the name of the list and the details of how it works differ from one browser to another. With Internet Explorer, the list is called the FAVORITES LIST.

A Favorites list consists of a number of ITEMS. Each item has a name and represents a specific Web page. (Within the item is the URL for that page.) The various items are stored in FOLDERS, which you can organize as you see fit. Thus, you can customize your list to be exactly the way you want it.

When you first use your browser, the Favorites list may already have some folders and items. These are set up for you by Microsoft or the company that made your computer, and you do not have to keep them. You can delete anything you want and create your own, brand new list.

The items in the preset list did not get there by accident. They were put there to help promote their products and marketing programs. (Don't feel bad about deleting the entire list if you feel like it and building your own from scratch. As one of my readers, you are a thoughtful, imaginative individual with important human needs — not a mindless pawn to be manipulated by big companies and their advertisers.)

It is worth your while to spend some time learning how to use and organize your Favorites list, and to get you started, I am going to explain the most important things you need to know: how to use the list, how to create a new item, how to edit your list, and how to make a backup copy to guard against accidental loss.

Before we start, though, I want to give you a hint:

— hint —

In my experience, if you don't save a URL the first time you see a Web page, you will probably never see that page again. Although you may think you will remember how to find it, you won't.

So, if you are looking at a Web page and you feel like you may want to return, don't hesitate to save the URL to your Favorites list.

Don't worry about saving too many URLs. From time to time, you can edit your list and get rid of the junk.

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Using the Favorites List
with Internet Explorer

There are two ways to display your Favorites list. You can either click on the Favorites button, or you can pull down the Favorites menu. Try both methods and see which one you like better.

You will notice that the list has a number of folders. You can navigate in and out of the folders just by moving your mouse. (Try it.) When you see an item that looks interesting, click on it. The URL for that item will be sent to your browser, which will fetch the appropriate Web page and display it for you.

As an example of what an open Favorites list looks like, take a look at Figure 7-4. It shows a typical Favorites list with a number of folders open. Notice that I have used my mouse to navigate to a particular item. If I were to click on that item, my browser would fetch that Web page for me.

Figure 7-4: A typical Favorites list within Internet Explorer

The first time you use your browser, there may already be various folders. As I mentioned, these folders contain items chosen by Microsoft or the company that made your computer in order to advance their own marketing goals. I created my own folder to hold my own personal items. I then went through the other folders and items, and saw if there was anything I wanted to keep.

— hint —

When you start to organize your own Favorites list, feel free to remove any of the preset items and folders. Nothing bad will happen.

Creating a new item is easy. Whenever you find a Web page worth remembering, use your mouse to pull down the Favorites menu and click on Add to Favorites. You will then be shown a dialog box.

If you click on OK, the item will be saved to the bottom of the Favorites list.

If you want to put the item in a particular folder, click on the Create in button, and you will be shown a diagram of all the folders in your Favorites list. To indicate where you want to place the new item, just click the folder of your choice. (If you see a folder with a plus sign [+] next to it, it means there are subfolders. To look at the subfolders, click on the plus sign.)

— hint —

Whenever you see a Web page you might like to save on your Favorites list, just add it to the bottom of the list.

Later, when you get a spare moment, you can edit the list and process all the new items that have accumulated, deleting them or putting them into folders as you see fit.

To edit your Favorites list, pull down the Favorites menu and select Organize Favorites. Your browser will create a new window containing the entire list.

Once you see the new window, you can make any changes you want. For example, if you don't like the name of an item, you can rename it. The details are straightforward, so I won't go into them here. Just experiment for awhile, and it won't be long before you will be able to do whatever you want.

— hint —

Whatever items you place in the Links folder will automatically appear as buttons on the LINKS BAR (See Figure 7-2.)

Thus, you can create your own convenient, custom buttons simply by organizing the Links folder.

The last thing I want to teach you about your Favorites list is how to make an extra copy of it, just in case something goes wrong and you lose the original. (Such a copy is called a BACKUP.)

Internet Explorer stores your Favorites list as a folder in the Windows directory on your hard disk. The best way to make a backup is to use Windows Explorer (the Windows file management program) to make a copy of the entire Favorites folder. My suggestion is to save the backup folder in a completely different location, away from the Windows folder.

If you do not know how to use Windows Explorer to copy folders, ask someone to help you. Don't muck around with your Favorites folder unless you are sure you know what you are doing.

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Sending a URL or a Web Page to Someone

There will be lots of times when you see a cool Web page that you want to share with a friend (and one of the best things about the Internet is that sharing is easy). At such times, you have two choices: you can send the URL or you can send a copy of the actual page.

My preference is to send the URL. This is because a URL is only a single line of text — much smaller than an actual Web page — and it is more efficient to send the address of a page than the page itself. When someone receives a message that contains a URL, his mail program will recognize the URL as a Web address and will display it as a link. All the person has to do is click on the link and the URL will be sent to his browser automatically. Moreover, if he wants to share the Web page with another person, he can forward the message.

Learn how to...

Use the Windows Clipboard

Using the clipboard to copy and paste information is one of the fundamental skills you need as a Windows user.

There are several ways to send a URL to someone. The basic idea is simple: get the URL into a message and mail it. One way is to copy the URL to the clipboard and paste it into a message. My advice is to always copy and paste URLs. Never retype them, because it is too easy to make mistakes.

Internet Explorer makes it easy to create a mail message containing the URL of the current Web page.

With Internet Explorer...

  • Click on the Mail button and then select Send a Link.
  • Or, pull down the File menu, then select Send and Link By E-mail.

The second way to share a Web page is to send a copy of the actual page. Doing so is the same as mailing a message that contains HTML. In Chapter 6, I discuss the problems involved when you mail HTML. The biggest problem is that you can't count on your recipient being able to view the HTML properly unless he or she uses the same mail program as you. Thus, I encourage you to send URLs rather than the actual Web Pages..

Having said this, I will now tell you how to do it.

With Internet Explorer...

  • Click on the Mail button and then select Send Page.
  • Or, pull down the File menu, then select Send and Page By E-mail.

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Setting Your Home Page

Each time you start your browser, it automatically loads a specific Web page. We call this your HOME PAGE. The first time you use a browser, it will have the address of a default home page. However, you can change it to whatever you want. All you have to do is change the home page setting. Here is how to find it:

With Internet Explorer...

  1. Pull down the Tools menu and select Internet Options.
  2. Then click on the General tab (if it is not already showing).

Once you know how to find the home page setting, you can change it as you see fit, so experiment and see what you like best. If you find a home page you really like, there is an easy way to jump to it whenever you want: just click on the Home button near the top of your browser window.

— hint —

On the Internet, you can go home again (whenever you want).

What's in a Name?

home page


The term "home page" is used in two different ways.

First, your home page is the Web page your browser displays automatically whenever it starts. In this sense, "home" refers to the place from which you begin your Internet explorations.

Second, we use the term to refer to the main page of a Web site: the place from which you start to explore that site. It is common for Web sites, especially the larger ones, to have one main page to act as a starting place. Typically, this page — the home page — contains an introduction to the site, navigation aids, news about the site, and so on.

With respect to your default home page, I am going to tell you something interesting that many people don't realize. The location of this page is an extremely valuable commodity. Most people don't bother to change their home page, so each time they start their browser, they see the default home page. Overall, this creates a vast amount of traffic to this page, making for a huge captive audience.

For this reason, both Microsoft and Netscape have created elaborate home pages which they set as the default for their respective browsers. These home pages provide a variety of links to useful information, as well as a great deal of self- promotion and advertising.

For this reason, the browser companies use their default home pages to create a huge captive audience to whom they can show massive amounts of advertising. My feeling is you should change your home page just on general principles.

If you are not sure what to use as your home page, you may want to use my Web site:

http://www.harley.com/

This is the easiest way I know to show your friends and family that you are a person of great distinction and excellent taste.

— hint —

Regardless of what you choose to use as your home page, my advice is: Take control.

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