There are four ingredients needed to access the Internet (1) an ISP, (2) a modem, (3) a Web browser and (4) an email program.
The Internet Service Provider (ISP)
Your access to the Internet is through an Internet service provider (ISP), which can be a large company such as America Online or MSN, or any of hundreds of smaller ISPs throughout the country. You are offered unlimited access for a fixed rate per month.
Depending on the kind of service you have, you will need a unit of hardware called a "modem" for connection. Slow-speed dial-up telephone access uses an analog modem, which may already be installed in your computer. If not, one can be plugged into the USB port.
If you sign up for cable or DSL service, which is from 40 to 100 times faster than telephone dial-up, your provider may send you the appropriate modem, or you can purchase it at your local electronics store. Quite simply, opt for the high-speed service if you can. Dial-up modems are an exercise in extreme patience.
Browsing the Web
A Windows PC comes with the Internet Explorer Web browser. The Mac comes with Safari. Windows and Mac users quite often choose a different browser such as Firefox (www.mozilla.org) or Chrome (www.google.com/chrome), which offer additional features and are not as subject to attack by hackers.
The first time you hook up to a new ISP, you may need their assistance to configure the dial-up or networking software in your computer. After that, all you do is launch the browser to "surf the Web."
Although email can be sent and received using your Web browser (see email interfaces
), your computer may come with a dedicated email program like the ones found in smartphones. For example, the Mac comes with Mail, while Windows has renamed its free program many times: Outlook Express, Windows Mail, Windows Live Mail and Mail. However, many users prefer Eudora, Thunderbird and other email clients.
The first time you connect to a new ISP, you may need help in configuring your email program to use their mail servers. From then on, you launch the mail program as you would any other application.
If you only browse the Web, there is little lost in starting with one ISP and switching to another. However, switching your email address is not like switching your street address. The U.S. Postal Service will forward your letters for a while, but if you close your account with an ISP, they may not be as accommodating. It would be a good idea to find out, if you plan on heavily promoting your email address.
Get Your Own Domain Name
There are two ways around this problem. First is to register your own domain name and use an ISP that supports third-party names. For example, had Alan Freedman, editor of this encyclopedia, wanted to secure the alanfreedman.com domain name, his email address could have been firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have your own domain name and switch ISPs, you keep your email address because it belongs to you.
Use an Alternate Email Provider
A second way to keep your email address is to establish an account with an Internet email provider that you stay with no matter which ISP you use for Internet access. There are sites on and off the Web that provide free email and email forwarding. See how to register a domain name