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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Understanding the Computer Terms Web, Internet & Email

In this article I want to help you understand the computer terms Web, Internet, and Email.

Now you may think you know what these computer terms mean, but I've found that in fact, most people misuse and misunderstand 2 or 3 of those words every day!

Now please understand me -- it's not your fault if you sometimes get computer terminology wrong. It's just never been explained to you the right way for you to really get it, and chances are, you've been hearing other people misuse the terms too, since it's pretty common to mix them up.

Let me see if I can make it easier for you.

Let's start with email -- this is the one that most people get basically right, although they still misunderstand one important thing about it (more on that in a minute).

Email is, of course, "electronic mail" -- a pretty simple concept to get. Its the computer equivalent of a traditional letter. Traditional mail through the post office is often called "snail mail" these days because it takes days to get to the person you're sending it to, unlike email which can take seconds (although sometimes can take hours).

Even snail mail is pretty amazingly fast compared to how it used to be back in the day, when it could take weeks or months to get to someone.

Just like regular mail, email has a sort of post office that it goes through - something called a "mail server".

There are two types of mail server - POP and SMTP. But I prefer to use the terms incoming and outgoing because it makes more sense than the technical terms.

Don't worry about what the letters POP and SMTP stand for. Just remember:

POP = incoming, for mail that's coming in to you


SMTP = outgoing, for the email you're sending out.

Let's talk about the word "Web" now.

The Web is what most people think of as "the Internet" -- it's the web pages, or pages of words, pictures, and sometimes sounds and videos even, which you go and visit using your "web browser".

A web browser is just a program that lets you look at web pages -- most Windows people click on the blue E, which is Internet Explorer (made by Microsoft and given away with every copy of Windows, which is why most people use it. NOT because it's the best option).

Most Mac people with fairly new Macs use Apple's web browser Safari, which looks like a little compass.

Other people, both Mac users and Windows users, use a different program called Mozilla Firefox.

For a lot of good reasons, I strongly strongly recommend that Windows users do NOT use "the blue E" -- Internet Explorer -- the main reason is because it is very unsafe and is almost a guarantee that your PC will get infected with something nasty.

Mac users should not use "the blue E" (Internet Explorer) either, but more because it's very out of date and just doesn't work with many modern websites anymore.

One way to think of a web browser is like a car that lets you drive around on the "information super-highway" as they used to call the Web back in the 90s.

Some brands of cars are safer than others -- you could almost think of Internet Explorer as one of those old Poison Pintos, and Mozilla Firefox as a Volvo -- not a guarantee to save you from harm, but a lot safer than a Pinto!

One point of confusion some people have is that sometimes you can use web browsers to read your email. Like if you use Yahoo mail or Hotmail.

In that case, you are looking at your email through what's called "webmail" because you are using Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, or Apple's Safari to view your mail.

It's kind of like going to the post office and reading your mail there. Throwing some of it away, and then putting the stuff you want to keep back in the post office box for storage.

Using an email program like Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird, Eudora, or Apple's OS X Mail, is more like reading your mail at home, and storing the stuff you want to keep at home instead of at the post office.

Now let's talk about the last term: the Internet.

This may be, out of the three terms I've been talking about, the one that is most mis-used.

Here's the thing: the Internet contains BOTH the Web AND email.

But many many people, probably most people in fact, talk as if the Internet was a separate thing from email or the web, when in fact the web and email are both just *parts* of the Internet.

Or another way to put it is that the web and email are just certain ways of looking at all of the information that's available on the Internet as a whole.

The Internet is really just a big "network" of interconnected computers that talk to each other and share information. Some of it is presented as web pages, some of it as email, and so on.

Hope that all makes sense.

Thanks for reading,

Worth Godwin

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Worth Godwin has been giving people computer help
professionally for over a decade and a half, and as a hobby for years
before that. In the last few years he has focussed on his easy,
plain English approach to help people learn computer basics.

Join Worth's free computer tips newsletter now and get easy to follow emails that give computer tips, make sense of
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Sunday, August 12, 2007

A Simple Secret To Improving Your Basic Computer Skills (or If You Dig Yourself a Hole, Bring a Ladder)

Once upon a time, many years ago, I didn't know a thing about computers. People who know me, and especially my clients, often have trouble believing this.

But it's true; I wasn't born with some built-in ability to use computers. I started off as a complete novice, and had to learn as I went along.

In this article I'm going to explain something that I was very lucky to figure out on my own, way back when, that helped blast my computer skills into the stratosphere compared to where I started.

But first I want to tell you about a client of mine named Peter.

One day I was at Peter's office, helping him with a problem he'd had with his laptop. Peter has a problem which is very common – his computer skills never improve because he's afraid that if he tries something new, he's going to break his computer or mess things up somehow.

Maybe you've felt this way too.

So I was talking to him, and was telling him about when I first started driving.

When I first got my beginners permit, I wasn't very confident about what I was doing, and would get nervous when a car passed on my left, then a mailbox would be coming up on my right, so I ended up swerving, just a little, back and forth in the lane.

It probably looked pretty funny.

Of course, I didn't have to do this -- there was lots of space on both sides, and I wasn't going to be hit by anything.

All I had to do was just relax and drive instead of worrying about what might go wrong.

I've met a lot of people over the years who use their computers the way I used to drive back when I first started. And unfortunately, while I quickly got over this with driving, a lot of people never get past this problem with their computer.

The thing is, once I stopped worrying about something going wrong, and just relaxed and drove (while still, of course, paying attention to what was going on) I got a lot better at driving.

Turns out that Peter was kind of the opposite from me when he first drove. He actually "borrowed" his dad's car when he was just fourteen years old, and drove to a friend's house!

He dove right in and just did it, and probably really enjoyed himself...

...right up until the moment the cop pulled him over!

His attitude was great, and made it a heck of a lot easier for him to drive (even without lessons) than it was for me at first when I started to drive. If he'd just balanced that out by being a little more careful (or maybe waiting until he had his license!) he might not have gotten into trouble.

The attitude Peter had when he was a teenager about driving a car is the attitude I had about using a computer when I first sat down in front of one. I dove right in and just played around with it to see where I could go with it. And just by having that mental attitude, it made it a lot easier to learn computer basics, and improve from there.

But there was something else I did.

When I was exploring somewhere new with my computer, trying something I hadn't done before, I paid attention to what I was doing. I made a point of remembering how to get back to where I was, and what I did, so I could go back and fix it if it caused a problem.

So for example if I wanted to change a setting in a program, or try doing something new in a program, I first made sure I had some idea what would happen when I did it.

If I had no idea, I either looked it up, or left it alone.

If I did have some idea what I was doing, then I'd try it and see what happened, but would make sure I knew exactly what I'd clicked, and where it was so I could reverse it if I didn't like what happened.

And I'd only change one thing at a time, so if something went wrong, I knew what caused it.

The way I like to put it is "if you dig yourself a hole, bring a ladder."

Remembering this tip, and remembering to have the right attitude when it comes to computers will do a lot to help you feel more confident and empowered with the computer than you used to think you could.

So don't be afraid to try new things – just make sure you bring a ladder when you do!

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Worth Godwin has been giving people computer help
professionally for over a decade and a half, and as a hobby for years
before that. In the last few years he has focussed on his easy,
plain English approach to help people learn computer basics.

Join Worth's free computer tips newsletter now and get easy to follow emails that give computer tips, make sense of
basic computer terms, and deliver free, Plain English
easy audio and video lessons right to your inbox.