There are all kinds of things you can do with Net. You can play text based interactive games modelled on adventure of Dungeons and Dragons. You can explore resources using a hypertext system that lets you click on highlighted words to get more information. All of this is fun, but none of it is relevant to the essence of the Internet. As with every other aspect of personal computing, there is a great tendency on the Net to do something simply because it can be done. Or to try something just to see if it works. The result is a proliferation of features and options that can obscure the really important stuff the way all the features of today’s VCRs and Video-CD Player handle their essential functions. For the time being, forget about everything else you’ve read or heard and listen to your authors. In the end, Internet boils down to four crucial functions:
- Getting files (FTP)
- Exploring distant computers as if you were onsite (telnet)
- Sending and receiving mail (E-mail)
- Reading and participating in discussions of any topic you can imagine.
These four features are the skeleton upon which everything else things. Notice that we have included the Internet name of each feature after its functional description above. Thus, in Internet-language, the four features are FTP, telnet, E-mail, and news groups and mailing lists. Here is how they shake out:
FTP: It stands for File Transfer Protocol. The key to understanding this feature is realizing that many systems on the Net have set aside special areas containing files for FTP you to download. When you FTP to one of these sites, you are locked into one area. You can’t go anywhere else on the host system. You can’t upload files to the system. All you can do is to move around the directory structure of the FTP area, getting the files you want, which is fine since there are tonnes and tonnes of files to choose from.
Telnet: It is also called remote login. Telnetting to a site is a lot like signing onto local bulletin board. You log in and are usually presented with a menu system. Though still limited, your access to the host machine is much broader than in the case of FTP. You can use the menus you find to move all around, running programs, downloading files, and searching for information.
For example, when you telnet to a library card catalogue system, you can use that system the same way you would if you were actually standing at a terminal near the library’s reference desk. When you telnet into a campus information system, you can use it just as if you were an enrolled student at the host college or university.
E-mail: The sending and receiving of electronic mail messages is probably one of the most magical things the Net makes possible. For years, the interlinking of the world’s many e-mail systems has been a break among their users. The XAOO international standards, which made this possible, was hammered out nearly a decade ago. But, with the notable exception of VSNL, Business India, CompuServe and MCI Mail, most commercial e-mail systems dragged their feet in implementing it.
Now, thanks to the Internet, nearly everyone can communicate with everyone else, regardless of the commercial E-mail system they use. That’s because commercial systems have been forced by user demand to offer access to Internet e-mail. And once you have an Internet e-mail address, you can communicate with anyone else with an Internet E-mail address.
Newsgroups and Mailing Lists: If you’ve ever used a bulletin board system (BBS) or an online special interest group (SIG) like those available on India gate, Wondernet, Pcquest, CompuServe, American Online, Delphi, and the rest, then you already have a very good idea of what Internet newsgroups and mailing lists are all about. People transmit comments, questions, answers, and opinions to a group. When one comment leads to another, a message thread develops. Reading a message thread is like reading a conversation that has taken place over time. Mailing lists are simply a variation on this theme of one-to-many communication. They exist because the software that runs one of the major networks hooked into the Internet cannot handle newsgroups. Every comment or question or whatever that gets transmitted to a mailing list goes to everyone on that list, whether they want it or not.