Harley Hahn's
Internet Advisor


Note: On this sample page, you can read three sections of Chapter 7. Within The Harley Hahn Experience, you can read the entire book, including the rest of this chapter.

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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