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Information for new Internet users

posted 11 Jan 2011, 21:35 by Jess Maher   [ updated 27 Feb 2011, 02:51 ]

This page contains information for new users of the Internet.

The glossary is a good place to start, to familiarise yourself with Internet terms. Or click on one of the topics below:


What is the Internet?

The Internet is a network of computers all over the world, connected by telephone line and satellite connections. You can use the Internet to send and receive email, and to access websites. A website is a groups of linked files on a computer which can be viewed by other computers around the world. One website can link to other websites and so on, and the World Wide Web is the term we use to refer to the whole network or "web" of interconnected websites.

Every website has an address, which is a line of text called the URL (Universal Resource Locator). A URL begins with http:// and tells your browser where to find the site or page you want. You can see the URL of the site you are at in the location bar at the top of your browser. The URL of this page is /About/Help/information-for-new-internet-users.htm.

ISP stands for Internet Service Provider, a company or organisation with a large computer hosting websites and providing access to the Internet. If you have a website or email (other than free email) on the Internet, you will have an ISP (it could be the organisation you work for, a university, or a private company).

Web Browsers

A web browser is the program (application) you use to view websites; Netscape and Internet Explorer are the two most commonly used. The browser reads the web site files and displays the as the graphics and words that you see on your computer screen.

Browsers include a number of useful functions to help you find your way around the Internet. Bookmarks, or Favourites, allows you to save the URL of a web site so that you can go directly to it in future. You may like to bookmark your own website, your favourite search engine, and any other sites that you visit regularly. Simply choose "add bookmark" or "add page to favourites" and the browser will remember the URL. If you have a lot of bookmarks, you can organise them into folders so that it's easy for you to find sites.

Other functions include being able to go backwards and forwards through the sites you have visited; you can do this using the "Go" menu option, or the back and forward buttons on the browser's toolbar. You can customise your browser to always open at a particular Home site and to display the toolbars you want to use. The "reload" and "refresh" buttons are useful too - if a page has not appeared properly in your browser, it's a good idea to try reloading it again as the transmission of data across the Internet may have been disrupted.

Spend a bit of time getting to know your browser and setting up the preferences you like. For example, when you email someone from a website, you can set the browser to include your own email address as a return address. You can learn more about both Netscape and Internet Explorer, download software upgrades and find out about Internet email from their websites. Netscape is at and Internet Explorer is at

Getting Around

Where you see underlined text, you can click on these words to link to another page or website. Images can also be "clickable" - you will know this if the cursor turns into a pointing finger when you move it over the image.

Often a website will have a site map, like a contents page or index, a useful way to get an overview of a website and go directly to the information you are interested in. Some large websites have a search function that allows you to search for a word or phrase within that website. Read the instructions to find out how to use a site's search function.

Search engines are websites that allow you to search the Internet for a particular subject. Sites can be registered with search engines, and the search engines can also search the Internet, automatically gathering information about websites they find.

Some of the bigger search engines are GooglextraMSNYahooAltavista and for websites hosted in New Zealand, Search NZ. Try out a few search engines and then bookmark the ones you find easiest to use.

A search engine will ask you to type in a word or phrase, and then provides a list of sites that match your search. There could be thousands, so it's a good idea to be a specific as possible. If you put quotes around a phrase, "like this", the search engine will only look for those words appearing together in that order, which will cut down the number of results. Some search engines will also allow you to refine a search - once it has come back with a page of results you can then search more specifically within those results.

For a comprehensive list of search engines, try Beaucoup which has over 1,000 listings of engines, directories and indices across the world to help you find whatever you're looking for!


Email stands for "electronic mail"; it's a way of sending messages from one computer to another. Generally if you have access to the Internet you will also have an email account, but you can have an email account without having your own World Wide Web access.

You can either have an email account with an ISP (Internet Service Provider) or a free email account via the Internet (check out Hotmail and free email offered by search engines). If you have a free email account you will access it through a website, which means you can access it from anywhere in the world.

To access an email account with an ISP, you will need to dial in to the ISP and have the right account settings, so it's a bit more complicated, but if you're using it from one computer it's more secure and offers more functions than a free account. ISPs offer different packages and prices, so if you are looking at setting up an email account with an ISP it's worth shopping around.

Email can also be used to send files from one computer to another. These are called attachments, and can be text or graphics. Occasionally you can run into problems if the computer you are sending an attachment to doesn't have compatible software, but these problems are happening less often as the technology improves.

Newsgroups and Discussion Forums

Newsgroups began as a way for website administrators to exchange news on particular topics, and have grown into public discussions on thousands of topics. You can access and join a newsgroup through functions in your browser that allow you to search for groups on a particular topic, join the discussion, and post messages. When you post a message to a newsgroup it is instantly visible to others in that newsgroup all over the world.

Some websites have discussion forums within the site, allowing regular users to share ideas and information. These forums can be open to the public or only accessible with a password, and the messages posted can either go directly onto the website or through a moderator, who will monitor the discussion.

In newsgroup and discussion forums, there will be "threads" - allowing you to follow a line of discussion from the first posting through any responses to that posting. It's important to enter a subject when posting a message, so that users can easily identify threads of discussion and join in to the appropriate conversations.

If you are joining in an Internet discussion, it's best to have a good look at the discussion threads. If there is a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page, read that first, so that when you do join in the discussion you are fully informed and don't repeat things or ask inappropriate questions.

Downloading Files and Software

When your web browser finds a website and displays it for you to view, it has downloaded that particular file from another computer; the page will be temporarily saved in your browser's "cache" or memory, so that if you visit it again in the near future it will be displayed quickly.

You may come across a website that includes PDF (Portable Document Format) files; these are documents that you can download to your computer and then view in a programme called Acrobat Reader. You can also print the document out. This method is often used to make large print files, such as annual reports and company profiles, available electronically. It allows the document to be viewed as it would appear in a hard copy rather than translating the document into web pages.

Acrobat Reader is available to download free from:

You can also download text documents in Microsoft Word - there will usually be instructions on how to do this where it occurs, but generally it's just a matter of double-clicking on an icon and saving it to your hard drive. The only concern is that if it's a large file, it may take some time, which can get expensive!

A lot of software is available to download from the Internet. The big software companies all have their own websites which offer product support and information and upgrades if you have already purchased a program. There are also numerous shareware sites, offering free software for games and applications. Again, there will be instructions on how to download and install the software, and once again the time it takes to download is the thing to watch out for.