The generosity of the Internet community is one of its greatest features. Almost everything you need to use it effectively is there for the taking.
The Virtual Software Library (VSL) enables you to search the world for shareware and freeware for your own machine. Simply go there, fill in the boxes and the search across the Internet's world of computer networks will begin. VSL will locate the program and even tell you which site downloads it fastest.
As you will soon realise, one of the first programs that you will need is one that decompresses Internet files that have been compressed to save storage space (for example Winzip for a PC or Stuffit or Binhex for a Mac).
Increasingly, graphics on the Internet are beginning to dominate the text. Once you have downloaded them you will need a viewer that can cope with the two most popular formats, JPEG and GIF. Lview is freeware and will help you change the image to a certain extent. JPegview does a similar job for the Macintosh. Paint Shop Pro is shareware and, for the price, provides an astounding range of radical and creative adjustments to images.
Built into Netscape's Navigator, the most popular browser for the World Wide Web, is a facility that enables you to download text in a convenient format. You can also download images with ease.
Strangely, one of the first things most new education users want to read is inspection reports from the Office for Standards in Education. They soon discover they need Adobe's Acrobat Reader (for PC and Mac). This ingenious software is available free from the Adobe site and lets you read documents produced in a variety of formats.
Sound has arrived on the Internet. You used to have to download a complete file before you could listen to it. Now, with RealAudio, you can have audio on demand. Want to listen to T S Eliot reading? Simply click and across it will come, playing as it streams into your machine. The sound quality is not first-rate and will depend on the speed of your connection. What you hear is the potential. The Open University is already using it.
An equally interesting development is Internet Phone. For this you need a PC with a sound card and a microphone; a Mac just needs a microphone. Just load the free trial software and you can talk to people all over the world.
At the moment you take pot luck with whoever is on-line. Like RealAudio, the sound is variable, but it is the potential that is interesting. Imagine that link with the school in Australia when you can talk to them as well as write - and all for the price of a local call.
If you download a page from Netscape Navigator, all you will get is the text. Web Whacker enables you to download images and links as well.
Teachers who worry about where their pupils travel can use Hindsite. This shareware keeps a record of all locations visited over a set period, including the time and the date. It is intended primarily as a way of retracing your steps rather than a security device, but it could act as a deterrent to improper use.
Sooner or later everyone wants to create pages and there are many options (see page 26). You can use a simple add-on to an existing word processor which will turn your writing into the necessary format, known as HTML (Hypertext Markup Language). You can go for the simplicity of Web Wizard which will do a page in seconds, or for something like Web Edit, which includes all the complexities of this new form of publishing. In any case, you should download one of the guides and this will enable you to understand the background to these exciting developments.
I-View is a browser that can be used off-line and on machines that are not connected to the Internet. It enables you to view pages that have already been downloaded and that you have previously created.
The difference between shareware and freeware is that shareware carries a nominal fee if you use it. It is important to keep to these rules. The generosity of the Internet should not be abused and the laws of copyright should be observed. The future is already with us: three-dimensional images are now here, as is video. There is plenty of exploring to be done.
* VSL at http:vsl.cnet.comcgi-binvsl-masterquickform?
* Lview at http:vsl.cnet.comcgi-binvsl-masterquickform?
* Winzip at http:vsl.cnet.comcgi-binvsl-masterquickform?
* Paintshop Pro at http:www.jasc.comindex.html * RealAudio at http:www.realaudio com * Internet Phone at http:www.vocaltec.comiphn18.htm * Web Whacker at http:www.ffg.comwhacker.html * HTML at http:www.utirc.utoronto.caHTMLdocspc tools.html editors * Hindsite at http:www.rmi.netisys devhindsite.html * I-view at http:talentcom. com * Adobe Acrobat Reader at http:www.ascend.comhelp.html