If you've decided to get connected to the Internet one of the first things you have to do is get to grips with a program called a 'Browser'. The browser's job is to open a window onto the Internet by translating data coming down the telephone line into a form that can be processed and displayed on a PC. The browser helps you to find your way around the Internet and locate web sites, by typing in those odd-looking addresses or 'URLs' (see Jargon Filter) that begin with 'http' and 'www'. A browser is also a gateway for e-mail and if required, it will store messages, act as an address book and list 'bookmarks' for frequently accessed or 'favourite' web sites.      

Browsers have become one of the bogeymen of the PC world and they are probably responsible for more problems than all other types of programs put together. They cause crashes, squabble with other types of software and behave in mysterious ways that can make a PC user's life an absolute misery. You may well be lucky and get on-line and onto the net without any problems but find some wood and touch it fast! Trust me, your time will come!  

That time will come sooner rather than later if you fiddle around with your browser's critical settings, and there are plenty of them, tucked away on the various menus… That is not to say you shouldn't configure your PC to work the way you want it to, however be patient, especially if you are new to PCs, Windows or the Internet.

Before you touch anything get know your enemy. Browsers fall into two basic categories. Internet Access Providers (IAPs) such as Cable & Wireless, Pipex etc., who supply only basic Internet and E-mail facilities, generally use one of the two most popular browsers, Netscape or Internet Explorer. Internet Explorer version 3 (IE3) was included with Windows 95. Internet Explorer 4 (IE4) appeared with later releases of Windows 95 and it is an integral component of Windows 98. Netscape Navigator (version 3) and the recently released Netscape Communicator are also loaded on most new PCs as a matter of course.

The second type of browser is a customised version of Internet Explorer (occasionally Netscape Navigator), these are mostly supplied by the older well-established  Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like AOL and CompuServe that have their own unique content (on-line shopping, news, sports, travel, forums etc,).

When you sign up for Internet access the browser software is automatically installed or configured on your PC, and at that stage you have little say in the matter. However, there is no reason why you have to put up with it.  You may well want to change, particularly if you find you don't get on with the supplied browser or you are used to another program. There are quite significant differences in the way browsers operate and perform. Some make it easier than others to find and display Internet pages; e-mail facilities also differ widely and you may not want all of the extra bumf or advertising that comes with a custom program. You might even want to use two different browsers -- one for e-mail, the other for the net -- either way making the change is not too difficult. 

It is better to do this kind of thing quite early on as some browsers -- especially the custom versions -- can make it difficult or even impossible to transfer address books and bookmarks to other programs. After only a few weeks on the Internet these lists can grow quite large! We'll look at the two most common scenarios: changing the default browser on your PC, and replacing a custom browser with Netscape or Internet Explorer.

If your current browser is Internet Explorer (version 3x or 4x) and you want to switch to Netscape then open Internet Explorer (stay off-line), go to the View menu and click on Internet Options. Select the Programs tab, at the bottom of the dialogue box there is a tick-box marked 'Internet Explorer should check to see whether it is the default browser'. Uncheck the box and the next time you start Netscape it will ask you if you want to make it your default browser, click OK and it's done.

To use Netscape or Internet Explorer instead of the one provided by CompuServe, say, click on My Computer and open Dial-Up Networking. There you will find at least two icons, one for creating new connections the one other for your current ISP connection. Click on it and enter the requested password and user name information. You will need to re-configure the mailbox in CompuServe as it uses a proprietary e-mail system. If you want to use your new browser to pick up CompuServe mail it has to be changed to the more common 'POP3' (see Jargon Filter) protocol. It's not difficult but once the change has been made you won't be able to alter your e-mail address or user name. POP3 can be switched on during a CompuServe session (Go popmail) but it’s a good idea to read the FAQ first (Go UKHF, Files > Sending e-mail > POP3 Services). AOL's highly modified Internet Explorer browser is truly horrible, the simplest solution is to log on and then run plain vanilla Navigator or Internet Explorer over the top of it; you will however still have to use the AOL browser for e-mail.

Next week, Internet security and covering your tracks…




HyperText Transfer Protocol -- a set of rules used that governs how text is displayed on Internet documents plus a means of moving around inside documents and accessing other web pages by clicking on highlighted or underlined 'links.


Post Office Protocol version 3 -- widely used Internet e-mail standard, compatible with popular Windows 'client' software (Outlook, Outlook Express, MS Exchange/Windows Messaging, Eudora etc), on PCs and palmtop computers (Psion Windows CE)


Uniform Resource Locator -- a standardised address format for Internet web sites



One of the main complaints about the Internet is how long it sometimes takes to access and download pages. There's an easy way to speed things up and that is to just load text. Instead of all the pictures, graphics, advertising banners and sounds you will just see icons. If you want to see or hear an item just right click on the icon and you will get the option to load it. In IE 3 go to View on the menu bar then Options > Advanced and uncheck the Show Pictures box. On IE4 the procedure is View > Internet Options > Advanced, scroll down to Multmedia and uncheck the appropriate boxes. A similar facility in Netscape Navigator 3 is listed under Options, simply remove the tick next to Auto Load Images, on version 4 it s listed under Preferences on the Edit menu, click Advanced and uncheck the Automatically Load Images box.

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