How do I get on the internet?

How do I get on the Internet?

Actually, this is not as silly as it may sound. Despite the ubiquitous nature of computers today, only about half of an entire population in a developed nation have regular access to or have their own computer. But what about the other half? There is a good chance that a large number of these people who want to maximise their opportunities in life cannot do so either because:

  1. they are afraid to use a computer;
  2. they don't know how to use a computer and feel embarrassed to ask for help; or
  3. they find it too expensive to have a computer.

If you are one of those people who can't use a computer because it is too expensive, you will be interested to know there are now computers in your local library for you to use.

However, if you intend to send sensitive information like credit card numbers to online merchants, having one of your own is highly recommended given the poor quality security measures in place on public machines. If this is your situation, it is time many hardware manufacturers start reducing the price of laptops and desktops below the $1000 mark. Until that time comes, for the purposes of this exercise, please visit your local library and play around with one of their computers. The cost should be non-existent and if there are enough of them, you should be able to sit comfortably in front of a computer for a whole day until you master it.

The steps exposed!

For all those people who simply don't know what to do, here are the general steps for getting on the Internet:

    With a bit of luck the computer may be already turned on. If not, don't run away from it or choose another computer. Stay with the machine you're with and turn it on yourself. It is good to gain some confidence by finding that pesky button for turning the damn thing on. What you are looking for is a large switch or button hopefully with the words "On/Off" or a symbol representing the "Turning the computer on" process. Sometimes the button may be at the back of the machine. Fortunately, most of the newer machines have it on the front. For laptops, lift the lid and look above the keyboard area and below the screen; there should be a large button for turning on the machine. If it has a flashing light on it, the laptop is probably in sleep mode. Just press a button on the keyboard to start it up.

    NOTE: The act of turning on a machine may sound obvious, but not everyone knows how to do it.

    Some computers may ask you who you are in the only language it knows how (i.e. a username and password). If you know your username and password, please type it in the space provided in the dialog box. If necessary, move the cursor with your mouse and click into the space before typing. If no password dialog window is shown, just wait for the machine to load its operating system software.

    Now it is a matter of waiting for the desktop window to appear. If you are loading up MacOS8/9 or Windows 95/98/2000 operating system software, you would be wise to get up and make some coffee (is that why laptops have a sleep mode?). This can be a pretty slow process depending on how many software "extensions" and "control panels" are loaded up on top of the standard operating system software. Otherwise chuck a few funny faces at it; it certainly won't mind being teased at!

    Oops! We've got to stop using these complicated computer terms! The desktop window is a technical term for a computer graphic image called a "window" containing a bunch of icons sitting along the side of the screen, and a handful of words running across the top of the screen (for Macintosh), or a Start button at the bottom of the screen (for PC) called the menu command.

    The menu command is for telling the computer which applications you want to launch and how to configure your computer to make it look and perform in the way you want it. The icons are usually nothing more than shortcuts to launching and opening certain applications, files and folders instead of using the menu commands, but this will depend on how the owner of the computer has set up the machine.

    The time has now come to do some serious work. We've got to find a software application somewhere on this computer to help us get on the Internet. Assuming the owner of the computer has set up the machine correctly for Internet access, you must look for an application called "Netscape Navigator" or "Microsoft Internet Explorer" known as an Internet Browser in the technical jargon. For icon representations of these Internet Browsers, this is what they should look like:

    With a bit of luck, the icon for one of the abovementioned Internet browsers will be shown on the desktop. If not, you will have to search for it. You can either wade through the complicated list of application/file/folder names in the menu command, or do what most sensible people do and click the Start button (in PC) to find a word that says "Find". When you highlight this word with your cursor on the screen with the help of your mouse, select "Files and folders...". You can let go of the mouse button now! For Macintosh users, things are a lot more sane. Try pressing the COMMAND (i.e. the button with an Apple sign) and F on the keyboard simultaneously. No, pressing "F" does not necessarily mean you are telling your computer how frustrated you are in not getting your computer to do exactly what you want immediately. It is not quite smart enough at the moment to know what you want. Or alternatively, click the "File" menu command and choose "Find...".This will open up the "Find" dialog box. This is a window where you can find your application.

    Okay. Type the word "Navigator" or "Explorer" in the search field (i.e. a white coloured empty box) in the Find dialog box and click the Find/Search button. You should be presented with a list of files, folders and applications containing the name you have just entered in the search field. Look for "Netscape Navigator" or "Microsoft Internet Explorer". Does it have an icon that looks a bit like the one shown above? If so, that's the application you are looking for.

    If you can't find it, it is time to do some finding of a different kind - namely, who is the silly owner of this computer who hasn't seen a need for installing an Internet browser? You could ask him/her, "What era are you from?" and "Why isn't there an Internet browser on your computer?". But we strongly recommend against this idea. Just ask him/her nicely could the computer be set up for Internet access. We can be sure the owner will love to help, especially when the Internet bill arrives later!

    Assuming you have found your pesky little Internet browser (have you had another coffee to celebrate the discovery?), double click on the icon reasonably quickly to launch it. You should see a splash screen showing that you have launched either Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer, followed by a big window sitting on the screen with a bunch of what looks like buttons at the top, an Address field (or empty box unless it already has some text in it), and a big window space below it for holding what looks like information. This window is the equivalent of looking at a page in a book with a few extra buttons and other things thrown in for good measure. Whether the page has information or not depends on whether the Address field has some text in it. This Address field is where you locate information from various web sites around the world.

    Now you are ready to visit places around the world called "web sites". Alright! We're cooking! You are probably wondering what are these places we call "web sites"? These are repositories for holding and sharing information (pictures, movies, sounds and text) from individuals and groups around the world. Think of a web site in terms of a collection pages in a book. Some web sites may be very comprehensive (as you will find out) in the information they hold and as such could be viewed as a complete chapter or book in themselves. But just think of a web site as containing numerous pages and you are looking at one of them right now (i.e. that big window in the middle of the Internet browser which seems to be designed to hold information).

    The next thing we've got to do is find one of those mysterious web sites. The way to do this is to type the address for one of them. Just like typing your home address whenever you want someone to send you a parcel, you must also type an address for a web site in the Address field of your Internet Browser.

    Don't know of a good web site address? Don't worry. You certainly don't need to be a savant with photographic memory abilities to know all the addresses of every web site in the world. We will give you a web site to visit right now.

    Of course, we could try typing,

    into the Address field of your browser. But let us not be too parochial about this web site. Anyway it really isn't all that exciting. So let's try something else more interesting like,

    and see what happens. Do you see information appearing in the middle of the window? If so, you've got something!

    So what do you do with it? You can laugh, cry, run away, or yell "Eureka!". If this is the first time you have visited a web site, then pat yourself on the back. You have made it! Welcome to the world of the Internet. If you have done this before, then what are you doing here? There is a lot more interesting information to read than sticking around with a web page like this one for Internet beginners. Or better still, what's on at the cinemas today? Or what's my boyfriend/girlfriend doing?

    Still interested in the Internet?! Sounds like you've got nothing to do today. Oh well, if you really must play some more with the Internet, then let's type in the address field of your Internet browser the following address:

    Now press the Return (or Enter) key. You should be greeted with a web page from the people at Yahoo in the United States. Now type a subject you are interested in into the search field (yes, you will see in the middle of your window). Have you decided on your favourite subject? Okay. Click the Search button. You will be presented with a list of web sites for you to visit. Just click the blue-coloured text in the list (these are called hyperlinks) to automatically take you to a web site. If for any reason you cannot reach the web site you wanted to visit (someone out there is asleep), press the Back button on your browser and try another site. There is no harm in going back. You certainly won't kill the browser or your computer if you do.

    That's it! It really is that simple!

    You probably know how to type a keyword in the search field of the Google's web site ( and press the Search button will get you all the web sites in the known internet world containing the keyword. But did you know you can search a keyword within a specific web site?

    Type in the search field of the Google's web site the following:

    [keyword] site:[website address]

    For example,


    This example will search for every instance of the word "photoshop" in the Adobe web site.

Can these steps be improved?

Most certainly! Let us begin with the humble Internet browser.

When you first saw this hideous looking thing on the screen called a browser, did you have immediate recognition of what it was and how it worked? Probably not. Perhaps it would have been nicer if the browser was designed in the first place to look like something we were all familiar with. So why not design Internet browsers to look like a book? To emphasis the point, why not get this "book-like" browser to use clever graphics to "turn the page", or "change the book" when moving to a totally different Web address each time you click on a hyperlink?

In the hardware department, more could be done to highlight simple things like what an "On/Off" switch on a computer should look like. For example, people who look at a computer for the first time are often trying to find a button on the front of a computer with the words saying "TURN ME ON!" or a plain old "On/Off" instead of a confusing and meaningless manufacturer-designed symbol which we all have to assume means turning on the computer. Furthermore, the button should be large and unmistakable from all the other buttons. Otherwise, it should be as easy as lifting the lid of a computer and it should automatically turn on by itself.

While there are many other things we would like to see in the design of a modern computer and software to help practically everyone get on the Internet with absolute ease, there is little we can do but be forever destined to live with the idiosyncracies in our technology until someone can suddenly see the benefit of a well-designed technology for the masses.

Until that time comes, happy surfing!