In the years after the World Wide Web entered our consciousness in 1993, conducting business operations on the Internet was more novelty than necessity. Sure, companies registered their “.com” domain names and pundits spoke breathlessly about the Internet’s potential to revolutionize business, but it took companies years to integrate e-commerce into their existing brick-and-mortar operations.
Twelve years later, it’s nearly impossible to discuss business plans, proposals and operations without taking into account the Internet marketplace. The Internet and related digital technologies make so many aspects of business more economical, efficient and interactive. Just imagine the changes in customer service, fulfillment and direct marketing-and in intra-office communications and culture-that have been driven by Internet technologies in the past decade. Imagine the changes in consumer behavior that have taken place and the number of marketing tools that have been added to a businessperson’s repertoire.
In the 21st century, understanding business requires understanding the ins and outs of Internet technologies and how they can be put to work to the benefit of business owners as well as their employees and customers.
There’s a wealth of information, software tools, and Internet business techniques to help fledgling businesses stake their claim to their share of cyberspace. You just need to know where to turn. The amount of information out there can be daunting, so that’s where this tutorial comes in. We encourage you to use it as a starting point to learn about what it takes to establish and make the most of your Internet presence.
The first thing you need to establish your business’s presence on the Internet is, not surprisingly, to get your business’s computers connected to it.
Establishing your Internet connection has become increasingly easy over the years, and the vast majority of off-the-shelf computers on the market today have all the components you need to establish a simple connection. The most challenging question is the type of connection you want to establish, and that depends upon several factors, chiefly how much money you want to spend on Internet access and how much and how frequently you plan to use the connection. We’ll explain your connection choices after we look at the software and hardware your computer needs to get started.
Software. An Internet-connected computer needs two pieces of software that often are part of the same package: a web browser and an e-mail client.
A web browser is the software you are using right now to read this tutorial. You can think of it as your steering wheel that lets you drive around the World Wide Web. Most computers that run the Windows operating system come bundled, at no extra charge, with the Microsoft Internet Explorer web browser (http://www.microsoft.com/windows/ie). In fact, Microsoft controls more than 90 percent of the web browser market, according to January 2005 estimates.
These same Windows-based computers come with a free e-mail client called Microsoft Outlook Express (http://www.Microsoft/windows/oe). This software, using the same Internet connection as your browser, lets you send and receive electronic mail (e-mail) and perform other related functions. For a more feature-rich e-mail client, you can buy Microsoft Outlook (http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/FX010857931033.aspx), which goes beyond e-mail functions to include tools you will find useful in your business communications.
With Outlook, you can store detailed contact information, schedule meetings, and keep a digital appointment book. Many businesses find Outlook a more complete e-mail and scheduling tool than Outlook Express and are willing to pay extra for it.
Although Internet Explorer is used by a large majority of Internet users, it certainly isn’t your only choice. Netscape Navigator (http://www.netscape.com), which had a greater market share of the browser market in the 1990s than Internet Explorer, is also a feature-rich web browser suitable for business use. A relatively new browser called Mozilla Firefox (http://www.mozilla.org/products/firefox), an offshoot of Netscape Navigator, has made inroads with Internet users in recent months, but hasn’t seen widespread adoption by businesses. Opera (http://www.opera.com) is the best known of the other alternative web browsers you might want to consider. For more about browsers, click the Web Browsers section of this tutorial.
Hardware. Other than computers themselves, of course, your computers will need modems to connect to the Internet. A modem (short for modulator-demodulator) is a hardware device that converts digital information into analog information so it can be sent over ordinary telephone lines. The information is then reconverted to digital information at the computer receiving the information. In other words, a modem helps computers connected to the Internet exchange information.
A built-in modem used for telephone line connections to the Internet are standard issue in consumer and office computers sold today.
“56K” connections. The most-common, and least expensive, type of Interne
t connection involves a computer with a standard internal V.90 modem with an ordinary phone line running from a computer to a phone jack. This type of connection, often referred to as a “dial-up” connection or “standard dial-up,” requires you to establish Internet connectivity with an Internet service provider, often referred to as an “ISP.”
This method requires you to have an ISP-provided telephone number that your modem dials into to establish the connection. Because of the data-transfer limitations of phone lines, only up to 56 kilobits per second (known as 56Kbps or, more popularly, 56K) of data can be transferred at one time. In the world of Internet connections, this is considered slow.
This type of connection is fine for sending and receiving e-mail messages and for viewing web pages comprised of mostly text. But this type of connection is problematic when sending and receiving large file attachments, viewing multimedia-rich web pages, and hearing and viewing audio and video files.
A 56K connection is recommended as an inexpensive solution for small businesses and home offices with simple e-mail and limited web surfing needs that don’t require extensive use of multimedia or the exchange of large file attachments.
ISDN. ISDN (Integrated Digital Services Network) is a more-advanced type of dial-up connection that can transfer data up to 128Kbps, double that of a standard phone-line connection.
This setup is a true digital connection, rather than the digital-analog combination of standard dial-up, allowing it to use ordinary phone wires at double the normal data transfer capacity.
The faster speed means it costs more than standard dial-up, but it’s better at handling data transfers, and the true digital connection means it’s more reliable than standard dial-up connections.
Many businesses use ISDN for telecommuting or remote workers who need to communicate to a business’s main office. That’s because ISDN give workers access to standard office communications tools, such as an Internet connection, e-mail and fax capabilities, and telephony, because it can simultaneously support voice and data transmission.
ISDN requires additional hardware beyond a standard dial-up connection. A dual telephone wire setup dedicated solely to the ISDN connection is required as well as an ISDN router in your office. (A router is a network device use to data between two or more networks). This equipment typically is installed by your local phone company.
It’s also a good idea to first check with the phone company to ensure ISDN is available in your area before buying any hardware, as about 10 percent of the United States lacks ISDN service.
DSL. DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) technology uses the same twisted copper telephone lines as standard dial-up and ISDN, but with drastically improved speed. DSL can be up to 140-plus times faster than 56Kbps modems, and up to more than 60 times faster than ISDN. It’s also popular because it’s relatively inexpensive compared to other broadband connection options.
The increased speed found with this type of Internet connection is achieved by using sophisticated modulation technology in a direct connection between DSL-connected computers and the telephone company. In fact, your computers’ physical distance from the phone company determines, in large part, the speed of your DSL connection. That’s why it’s a good idea to subscribe to DSL only if the phone company providing it is located close by, at least within three or four miles.
There are different types of DSL available. The most common are ADSL (Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber Line) and SDSL (Symmetrical Digital Subscriber Line).
With ADSL, data downloads take place up to 8 megabytes per second (Mbps), and uploads are up to 1Mbps. This type of service is ideal for businesses needing access to the World Wide Web and the ability to send and receive large multimedia files.
SDSL offers the same download and upload speeds: up to 1.544 megabits (not megabytes) per second. This symmetrical speed makes it ideal for e-mail and web servers on small networks as well as interoffice communications. It is also often more expensive than ADSL and doesn’t support standard phone services.
Broadband connections such as DSL-in a huge advantage over standard dial-up and ISDN-are an “always-on” connection, meaning computers with DSL connection have continuous connections to the Internet. This is an important consideration if you have many workers who need frequent access to the Internet and the ability to send and receive large data files.
Cable. A cable Internet connection, unlike the previous types of connections we’ve discussed, doesn’t use phone lines at all. Instead, this technology takes advantage of existing television cable lines and “cable modems” to transfer data at very fast rates: 42Mbps for downloads and 10Mbps for uploads.
This type of connection is heavily marketed by cable companies to residential areas, given that most homes are already wired with television cables. This makes it a popular choice for home offices, although the subscription rates are higher than dial-up connections and DSL. Still, the price is generally reasonable for small businesses and the high-speed, always-on connection makes for a highly reliable and very fast Internet connection.
Because of the continuous connection that flows through phone cables, cable connections, like DSL connections, are not highly secure from unauthorized entry by hackers. It’s highly recommended that computers with these types of connection are protected by a firewall (a set of related hardware and software used to protect a network).
T1 and T3. These high-speed Internet voice and data networks are very expensive and recommended only for larger companies using a computer network.
A T1 line is a high-speed, always-on, highly reliable connection established usually with fiber-optic lines that can carry 24 digital voice channels or data at a rate of up to a phenomenally fast 1.544 megabits per second. T1 connections are often used for both a company’s phone system as well as a high-speed, always-on Internet connection. A T1 connection is usually shared by many workers at a company simultaneously needing continuous high-speed Internet access.
A T3 line is used most often for huge networks, like those that comprise the Internet or for hosting heavily visited websites. Digital data is transferred at 44.746 megabits per second, a huge broadband connection needed by only the largest networks and website hosts.
Learning how computers connected to the Internet exchange data of all types is useful for understanding how the Internet works. The Internet is essentially an immense network of computers that communicate with each other through the transfer of data. To successfully accomplish these transfers, sets of rules, called protocols, are needed. These often-elaborate sets of formal communication rules are designed to ensure that the transfer of data occurs across networked computers with as little data loss and as few errors as possible.
There are different protocols used at different stages of the data-transfer process. Of the dozens of protocols used, let’s take a look at some of the most-common ones you will come across as you operate your Internet business.