From the October, 1998 PC ALAMODE Magazine:
Service, System, Software, Sites -
Don't get confused!
by Susan Ives

After more than three years teaching basic Internet, I have noticed that most new users get confused over the basic terminology. When asked, "who is your Internet Service Provider?" they answer "Netscape." "What browser do you use?" "Yahoo," they reply.

 Until you understand the difference among service, systems, software and sites you are going to find the Internet frustrating to use. 

Service: To get access to the Internet you need an Internet Service Provider, abbreviated ISP. This is the company that cashes your check every month, the service who owns the phone number that your modem dials into. An ISP can be a national online service, such as America Online (AOL), CompuServe or Microsoft Network (MSN), or a regional or local company such as ENConnect, TexasNet, FlashNet, SW Bell Internet Services or AT&T. A few ISPs may limit your flexibility, but most will let you use any system, install any software and visit any site.

 System: Your system is your computer. You are probably running Windows 3.1, 95 or 98 as your operating system, or OS. You can do anything on the Internet using any of these operating systems - including DOS! When you initially sign up with an ISP as a minimum you should at least know your OS and your modem speed.

 Software: The primary piece of Internet software that you will install is your browser, probably either Netscape Navigator or Netscape Communicator (both popularly called Netscape) or Microsoft Internet Explorer (abbreviated MSIE.) Although the primary purpose of a browser is to view World Wide Web sites, these have become all-in-one Internet software tools that also allow you to send and receive e-mail, participate in newsgroups and do other Internet things. Both of these browsers are now free. Most users only use one or the other - having both installed on your computer would be the equivalent of having both MS Word and Corel WordPerfect installed.

 Instead of relying on your browser for everything, you can install other software that might have more robust features. For example, MSIE can use Microsoft Exchange, Outlook Express or Outlook for e-mail. The version of MSIE that comes bundled with Windows 98 uses Outlook Express. Some people prefer to use Eudora Lite (a free program) or Eudora Pro for mail. A popular alternative software for newsgroups is Free Agent. These types of software are sometimes called applications, "apps" or clients, as in "I use Eudora Pro as my e-mail client." "My newsgroup app is Free Agent."

 Beginners should stick to the software that their ISP gives to them upon signing on. The ISP probably has competent support for the software that they supply but might be lost if you install software they are not familiar with. As you gain experience, you might want to experiment with different software.

 Sites: Sites are addresses on the Internet. It doesn't make any difference who your ISP is, what kind of computer you use, or what software you decide to use: you can visit all of the sites on the Internet. All sites have a URL, or Uniform Resource Locator. This is the address of the remote computer where the site resides. A URL will look something like Anyone in the world with Internet access can visit the Alamo PC site.

 The type of sites that cause the most confusion are search engines. Search engines are sites on the Internet, huge databases that reside on a remote computer. No matter who you use for your ISP, or no matter what browser software you install, you can use any of the search engines such as Yahoo, HotBot, InfoSeek or AltaVista. One mistake I often see new users make is that they try to type key search words in the location box of the browser, or URLs in the search box of a search engine. 

Service, system, software and site. Keep them straight, and you're half-way to being an old hand on the Internet.

 Susan Ives is the co-leader of the Alamo PC Internet special interest groups.