What is the Internet? It is a network of computer networks, linked by dedicated lines and the phone system. It belongs to no one but the networks are run by governments, colleges and companies. Anyone can put information on to the Internet; anyone with a computer, a modem and a phone can tap into it.

What can I do on it? If you have full Internet access you will be able to send and receive e-mail, transfer files and programs into your computer via File Transfer Protocol, take part in the 11,000 Usenet Newsgroups (discussion areas), and "surf the Web". The World Wide Web consist of tens of thousands of pages that are connected by "hypertext links". Click on a highlighted word, and you jump to another page, which could be held on a computer half way round the world. It is easy to set up a Web site: the CIA has one, but so do thousands of individuals.

How do I get on it? You will need a computer, a phone and a modem, which sends data down the line. Choose a high speed modem - at least 14,400bps. Then ring a service provider - see article (left). Cross examine the sales person. Is VAT included? Is there a flat monthly cost or do you pay by the minute?

If you choose an "easy" provider, you will be sent a disc or two, which you slot into your computer. It will ask a few questions, and the software will be loaded. If you have Windows, you will see icons for Trumpet Winsock, which is a dialling program, for a World Wide Web "browser", such as Mosaic or Netscape, for an "e-mail reader", for a "news reader", and for an FTP program. Mac users will find a list in their Apple menu. When you click on, say, Mosaic, Trumpet Winsock will dial, then an introductory page will be displayed. Or at least it should be. If you choose the more difficult route, you will have to download the software via File Transfer Protocol. Only do this if you fancy a challenge.

Where can I find out more? A handful of magazines have practical advice: Internet, Internet and Comms and .net. Wired, though trendy, is not much use for beginners. Books include The UK Internet Book by Sue Schofield (Addison-Wesley pounds 19.95), Accessing the Internet: a guide for the UK and Ireland by John Smith (International Thomson Publishing, pounds 8.95) and Internet UK by Ivan Pope (Prentice Hall, pounds 19.95). Sue Schofield's book is the best for beginners.