The New User's Directory

"I wanted to find out more about ... "

[World-Wide Web] [A Specific Operating System] [A Specific Question]
[Anything helpful on the web?] [Downloading Software]



About the World-Wide Web

Essentially, the Internet is a bunch of computers which are all connected so that theoretically, they can all communicate and share information. The Web is one form of transmitting that information. Computers run a hypertext transfer protocol (that's what the "http" at the beginning of most web URLs, or addresses, stands for.)

When you click on a link, you are sending a request for that file to the http protocol on the computer hosting the web site - for example, selecting a link to http://www.fas.harvard.edu/ sends a request to the hosting computer at Harvard, a UNIX workstation called fas.harvard.edu. The file is then transmitted to your web browser (the program you're using, which is probably Netscape.) Pages are identified by URL's. URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator, and it is the address at which a page "lives." However, hypertext links allow you to jump from page to page without typing in a long URL.

The good thing about the Web is that, unlike gopher or mailing lists or e-mail, you can present sounds, pictures, and even movies, alongside textual content. Another good thing about the Web is that there is no strict hierarchy of organization - it's sort of a big cross-referenced amorphous mass. Remember choose-your-own-adventure books, where you determined the storyline by choosing different pages to turn to? That's the idea here.

Of course, this sometimes makes it hard to find what you're looking for - but that's where cataloging and searching sites come in handy. You've probably heard of Yahoo, which is sort of the unofficial Yellow Pages of the Web. Yahoo organizes pages by category, as well as allowing searches. If you just want to search for a keyword, however, try WebCrawler or Lycos. These two search engines take the keyword you enter and search the actual text of web pages to find those that best match your query.

Web is a lot like television. There's a lot of it, and most of it seems to be variations on a few themes. Some pages are very entertaining, well-done, and useful...and well, a lot of them aren't.

----- * If you're a Harvard student with an FAS account, check out
----- instructions on how to set up your own web page.

Anything Useful on the Web?

So is there anything useful to be found on the web? Although lots of people complain about the lack of content on the web, I'm very optimistic about the possible uses of the web. Sure, there are plenty of ugly backgrounds and blink tags out there, but survival of the fittest is slowly winning to an extent; I see far less ugly commmercial sites out there now than I did a few months ago.

For example, there are some services which are far more convenient over the web. Package tracking, for example: if you want to check on a package you sent, why call the number and be put on hold when you can check for yourself in a few seconds? Federal Express and United Parcel Service (UPS) both offer this service now. Or, for example, the National Address Server, which takes part of an address and returns the correct version (corrects for street/address/lane confusion) with zip code.

Another helpful trend in web pages are the "regional" pages cropping up in various places - which often have information on sights to see, restaurants, things to do. For example, if you're studying or living in the Cambridge/Boston area, there's:

| The City of Cambridge Home Page | Boston Area Weather |
Cambridge Town Crier | Cambridge Restaurants |

If you don't live near here, don't despair - Yahoo has an entire category devoted to regional pages.

As far as entertainment goes, there's no shortage of web resources there, either. For the most part, you can just pick a keyword for whatever you're interested in and search for the right pages. But here are a few entertaining links from my bookmarks file:

| Disney Home Page | MCI Summary of World News | US News and World Report Online |
Cool Site of the Day | Project Bartleby: Quotations and Literature Online |
Paramount Pictures | Send an E-Postcard! | Calvin and Hobbes Gallery |

And, of course, there are places where you can download software, which is our next section...

Downloading Software from the Web

If you're looking for shareware and you don't want to deal with FTP'ing it, the best place to look is the web. Most major shareware archives now have a web interface where you can just select a link and automatically download the files you want. Plus, if you configure your "options" correctly in whatever browser you're using (assuming graphical browser for a moment here), you can set up your files to automatically translate and/or decompress themselves. Plus, some of the more detailed archives have preview descriptions and search capabilities, which is very convenient.

Macintosh Shareware Archives

| Searchable UMich Mac Archives | UTexas Mac Archive |
AOL's mirror of the Stanford Info-Mac archives | Macintosh Internet Software |

Windows (3.1 and 95) Shareware Archives

| Microsoft Windows 95 Software | Windows 95 Utility Page |
Winsock Internet Software | CSUSM Windows Software |

Plus there are places to download software and source code for UNIX stuff - but that doesn't really belong on a new user's page. I'll have a page for web resources soon.

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