Listening to some so-called experts talking on television, you’d suspect the Internet was a floating vapour that somehow allowed people to communicate – a little like telepathy crossed with ectoplasm. The reality is that the Internet is nothing more than lots of computers connected together. And because these are computers, they need software.
A Web browser is nothing more than a program that receives graphics, text and multimedia from other computers. An e-mail program is nothing more than software which connects to another computer to get text messages. Yup, text. Even those crappy ‘humorous’ attachments you get in your in-box are converted to text for the transfer process.
In other words, the Internet as most of us know it is software. And whenever you so much as whisper the word ‘software’, Microsoft pops up with a fistful of programs, ready to help out.
Want to browse the Web? You need Internet Explorer. For e-mail you should use Outlook Express, which also lets you access USENET newsgroups. For instant messaging you need MSN Instant Messenger and for video conferencing you need Net Meeting. In true Microsoft fashion, all of these things are also entirely free – when everybody who owns a PC buys your operating system without realising it, you can afford this kind of generosity.
But the Microsoft monopoly completely ignores a very active marketplace. Netscape Communicator and Opera are just two examples of very capable alternative browsers. Eudora, Pegasus, and Phoenix are just three examples of mail clients. FreeAgent is a cracking little USENET reader whilst ICQ does instant messaging far more effectively than MSN Messenger.
There are also programs that fill-in holes Microsoft haven’t got around to occupying: GetRight and GoZilla! are two examples of programs that can resume downloads if they get broken – say when you accidentally lose your connection to your ISP.
Other tools in the Internet software category include e-commerce applications that help Web site developers build online shops quickly and easily, plus various communications tools such as software modems and encryption tools.