Easy Browsers & Web Surfing

© 1995, 1998Laurie D. T. Mann

Expanded and revised Web version of an article ("Easy Mosaic")
for the November/December 1994 Cursor, the Carnegie Mellon University Computing Services Magazine
Last updated on September 15, 1998

Sitemap for Web Help

For the people who know that "all knowledge is on the Internet," that fact has always been a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it meant maybe you could, perhaps, find the data from the security of your own computer. A curse because you had to use FTP or Gopher ever so carefully to extract it. Sure, many of us used the Internet to transfer files back in the olden days, but was it ever fun?

Publicly-accessible articles, data, graphics, ephemeral, etc. have been liberated over the last few years by the development of the World Wide Web. While the Web is becoming a commercial phenomenon, don't forget that it started as a project in distributed document management by Tim Berners-Lee while he was working at CERN. trivia bit Meanwhile University of Illinois college student Marc Andreessen (trivia bit) wrote an easy-to-use graphic Web browser called Mosaic. A few years ago, Mosaic was the first popular Web browser, but things have changed dramatically. Now Netscape and Internet Explorer are the two primary browsers.

Now, if you can access the Web, you can go anywhere in cyberspace that's been linked to it. Best of all, when you're just wandering the Web, you don't even need to type in cryptic commands and path names, just select a hyperlink and click on it.

This article will introduce you to the Web, to browsers, and to Web pages.

What Makes the WWW So Powerful?

The WWW is a huge, distributed, accessible, linked collection of documents, images and sounds. Some of the material we now take for granted as a Web site was was at an FTP or gopher site before the Web was even developed. Say you've been on the Internet for a while, following USENET newsgroups like rec.arts.movies, but you're new to the Web. You decide to follow the Internet Movie Database hyperlink.

This link provides interactive access to a huge movie database. This material had been developed originally as an FTP site. Thousands of rec.arts.movies readers have contributed to this site, by rating movies and by providing movie information. The data hasn't changed much, but its presentation on the WWW make it much easier to find and to use.

Things that make the WWW more interesting and more powerful than the traditional ASCII data on the Internet include:

formatted text and graphics
Formatted text is easier to read than straight ASCII, and being able to attach graphics, sounds, video and Java applets gives the document creator much more flexibility.
ease of use
Web browsers are very easy to use. Once you add a few hyperlinks to your bookmark or favorites list, you can avoid typing in path names for anything. Further, if you want to learn HTML it's easy and there are a number of net-resources available to teach you.
links and hypertext
Creating links between material on different sites gives Web site developers enormous flexibility in building their sites. It gives the users an easy way to organize data on the Internet for their own use. Using linked documents to create your own reading paths can help you more easily find what's important to you and ignore the rest. Furtermore, instead of always having to download and maintain odd bits of data at your site, you can link to it at another site and use it when you want it. Creating hyperlinks helps to ensure that you'll always access the newest version of the material.
You'll find forms, windows to create database searches, chat software, online gaming and all kinds of interactive material on the WWW. You can create links to graphics, text, sounds, databases or applications.
user involvement
You can add to the Web just about anything you'd like to add (that's not already under someone else's copyright). Be creative, be bold, get involved. Create your own Web page!

Getting to Know Browser Basics

Well, you've gotten this far with a browser - Congratulations!

On this Web page itself, you see underlined phrases which are links to other documents. Even after you select a link, you're not "lost in cyberspace," you can always return to the previous window by clicking on the Back button, usually found at the top of the screen.

When you point your cursor at a hyperlink and click on it with your mouse, the bottom of the browser window displays messages such as "Document: Done." A new Web page appears in the browser window This means that your server has successfully communicated across the Internet with the server that stores the other Web document. If you select this hyperlink, you will be accessing the World Wide Web Frequently Asked Questions document (or the WWW FAQ). This page is stored on a server is at Boutell.Com in Seattle (trivia bit) You're making a trip without leaving your computer.

But before you start digesting the WWW FAQ, take a closer look at your browser window. I'm assuming you're using Netscape because it's so widely-distributed.

Across the top of the browser window is the menu bar. Just under the menu URL window (labeled "Location" in Netscape).

Displays the page previous displayed.
Displays a page you visited earlier, but after the page you're currently on. Useful for revisiting sites.
Displays the default home page. The home page is defined by Selecting the Options menu at the top of the window, and the General Preferences menu item. When the General Preferences window appears, select the Appearance tab. The Browser Starts With Window lets you set a home page location. Enter a Web URL, or select a file from your hard drive to be your starting point.
Redisplays the current page. This is useful if a network problem garbles the page.
If you've turned image-loading off, select this button to display images on the current page only.
Opens a new Web page in the current browser. You can enter URLs directly in the Location box, so you may never even use this button.
Prints the current page.
Locates a string on the current page.
Stops loading the current document.

The little broken lock at the bottom left of the screen is a security marker. Most of the time, it stays broken. However, when you browse a secure page using Netscape, the lock becomes solid. That means if you need to transmit secure data, like credit card information, your transaction should be secure (not hackable by a random Web user).

Getting Started on the Web

Before you begin, you might want to open an extra browser window, so you can keep this text in one window and visit new Web sites in another one. Just select the File menu at the top of the browser window and click on the New Web Browser menu option.

Since you've found this article, you've either stumbled over it on someone else's hotlist or from a search engine results page. That means you have the very basic fact down - you can find things on the Web.

Once you find things, then what? You want to be able to store a list of interesting places to visit. In Netscape, you can bookmark each of your favorite sites. If you select the Bookmarks menu from the menu bar, some of your bookmarks are displayed. Whenever you see a Web site that interests you, add it to your bookmarks by selecting the Bookmarks menu and selecting the Add Bookmark option. Days later, when you want to view the site again, just select the Bookmarks menu, and click on the bookmark to return to the site without typing in a lengthy URL.