Exploring the Internet

The Internet is a network that links millions of computers around the world. Not so long ago, few people had heard of the Internet. Today, the Internet has revolutionized how people use computers. Many people depend on it daily to communicate with others and to get the information they need. You don't have to connect your computer to the Internet, but once you do, you'll probably wonder how you lived without it.

What is the web?

The part of the Internet that most people are familiar with is the World Wide Web (usually called the Web, or web). People often use the terms Internet and web to mean the same thing. But the Internet also includes other services, such as email, newsgroups, and file sharing. You can send an email message or participate in a newsgroup without using the web.

The web displays information in a colorful, visually appealing format. Headlines, text, and pictures can be combined on a single webpage (or page)—much like a page in a magazine—along with sounds and animation. A website (or site) is a collection of interconnected webpages. The web contains millions of websites and billions of webpages.

Webpages are connected to each other with hyperlinks (usually just called links), which can be text or images. When you click a link on a page, you're taken to a different page. Going from page to page using links is sometimes called surfing the web.

What can I do on the Internet?

Find information. The web contains a vast amount of information—far more than even the world's largest libraries. For example, you can read news stories and movie reviews, check airline schedules, see street maps, get the weather forecast for your city, or research a health condition. Reference sources, such as dictionaries and encyclopedias, are widely available, and so are historical documents and classic literature.

Most companies, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, museums, and libraries have websites with information about their products, services, or collections. Many individuals publish websites with personal journals called blogs (short for web logs) about their hobbies and interests.


  • Even though the web is great for research, not all information on the web is reliable. Information on some websites might be inaccurate, out of date, or incomplete. Before you trust information, make sure it comes from an authoritative source, and check other sources to verify the information.

Communicate. Email is one of the most popular uses of the Internet. You can send an email message to anyone with an email address, and it will arrive almost instantly in the recipient's email inbox—even if he or she lives halfway around the world. For more information, see Getting started with e-mail.

Instant messaging (IM) allows you to have a real-time conversation with another person or a group of people. When you type and send an instant message, the message is immediately visible to all participants. Unlike email, all participants have to be online (connected to the Internet) and in front of their computers at the same time.

Newsgroups and web-based forums allow you to participate in text-based discussions with a community of people who are interested in the same topic. For example, if you're having trouble using a program, you could post a question in a discussion group for users of that program.

Share. You can upload (copy) pictures from your digital camera to a photo-sharing website. Invited friends and family members can then visit the website to view your photo albums.

Shop. The web is the world's biggest shopping mall. You can browse and purchase products—books, music, toys, clothing, electronics, and much more—at the websites of major retailers (usually a credit card is required). You can also buy and sell used items through websites that use auction-style bidding.

Play. You can play games of every type on the web, often against other players—no matter where they are in the world. Many games are free, and you can download others for a fee. You can also listen to Internet radio stations, watch movie clips, and download or purchase music and videos.

Connecting to the Internet

To connect your computer to the Internet, you must first sign up with an Internet service provider (ISP). An ISP provides access to the Internet, usually for a monthly fee. You sign up for an account with an ISP just as you do for telephone service or utilities. To find an ISP in your area, try looking in your telephone directory under "Internet Service Providers."

Different ISPs offer different connection types and speeds. There are two basic types of connections:

Broadband. A broadband connection is a high-speed Internet connection. With a broadband connection, you're connected to the Internet at all times and can view webpages and download files very rapidly. Two common broadband technologies are Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) and cable technology. These require a DSL or cable modem, which is often provided by your ISP.

Dial-up. A dial-up connection uses a dial-up modem to connect your computer to the Internet through a standard telephone line. Many computers come with a dial-up modem already installed. In contrast to broadband, dial-up is slower and requires you to establish a new connection each time you want to use the Internet. However, dial-up is less expensive than broadband, and in some areas might be the only option for Internet access.

Once you have an ISP and a modem, you're ready to connect to the Internet. The Connect to the Internet wizard will guide you through the steps.

  • Open the Connect to the Internet wizard by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, and then clicking Control Panel. In the search box, type network, click Network and Sharing Center, click Set up a new connection or network, and then double-click Connect to the Internet.

Getting on the web

Once you've established an Internet connection, you can access the web using Internet Explorer, a web browser included with Windows. You can also use any other web browser that you have installed on your computer.

To start Internet Explorer

  • Open Internet Explorer by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button. In the search box, type Internet Explorer, and then, in the list of results, click Internet Explorer.

When you start Internet Explorer, it goes to whatever webpage is set as the home page. By default, the home page is set to MSN.com, a Microsoft website with links to a variety of information and services. (Your computer manufacturer might have set up a different home page.) However, you can choose any page (or a blank page) as your home page. For more information, see Change your Internet Explorer 8 home page.


  • To get back to your home page at any time, click the Home button Picture of the Home button in Internet Explorer.

Entering a web address

Just as every residence has a unique street address, every webpage has its own web address. That address is called the URL. For example, the URL for the Microsoft main website is http://www.microsoft.com.

If you know the URL for a page, you can type it directly into Internet Explorer:

  1. In the Address box, type the URL.

  2. Click the Go button to go to the website.

Picture of the Address box in Internet Explorer
Use the Address box to type URLs.


  • You don't have to type http://. For example, you can type www.microsoft.com and Internet Explorer will fill in the rest.

  • To quickly enter a URL ending in ".com", type the part between "www." and ".com" and then press Ctrl+Enter.

Basic navigation

Using links. Most webpages have dozens—or even hundreds—of links. To get from one page to another, click any link. However, it isn't always easy to find page links. Links can be text, images, or a combination of both. Text links often appear as colored and underlined, but link styles vary among websites.

To test whether something is a link or not, point to it. If it's a link, two things happen:

  • The mouse pointer changes to a hand with a pointing finger.

  • A web address appears in the status bar of your web browser. This shows the website you'll go to if you click the link.

Picture of the mouse pointer over a hyperlink, showing the URL of the webpage in the status bar
Pointing to a link changes the mouse pointer and displays the webpage's URL in the status bar.

Using the Back and Forward buttons. As you go from page to page, Internet Explorer keeps track of your trail. To get back to the previous page, click the Back button. Click the Back button several times to retrace your steps even farther. After you've clicked the Back button, you can click the Forward button to go forward in the trail.

Picture of the Back and Forward buttons in Internet Explorer
Back button (left); Forward button (right)

Using the Recent Pages menu. If you want to get back to a page you've visited in your current session, but want to avoid repeatedly clicking the Back or Forward buttons, use the Recent Pages menu. Click the arrow next to the Forward button, and then select a page from the list.

Picture of the Recent Changes menu in Internet Explorer
The Recent Pages menu

Searching the web

With billions of webpages out there, finding the information you need would be impossible if you had to browse through each one. Fortunately, there's another way. You can use a search provider to find the pages that are most relevant to words or phrases that you specify.

You can search the web directly from any search provider's site. Or, to save the step of navigating to the search site first, you can use the search box in Internet Explorer. For more information, see Change or choose a search provider in Internet Explorer.

Picture of the search box in Internet Explorer
The search box

To search the web using the search box

  1. In the search box, type a few words or a phrase about a topic that interests you—for example, "chocolate cake recipe." Be as specific as you can.

  2. Press Enter or click the Search button Picture of the Search button in Internet Explorer.

    A page of search results appears. Click one of the results to go to that website. If you don't see what you're looking for, click Next at the bottom of the page to see more results, or try a new search.


  • Some search results are paid advertisements. These are usually labeled as "Sponsored Sites" or "Sponsored Links."

Saving favorite webpages

When you discover a website that you'd like to return to regularly, save it as a favorite in Internet Explorer. That way, when you want to return to the website, you can click it in your favorites list, without having to remember or type its web address.

To save a webpage as a favorite

  1. In Internet Explorer, go to the webpage you want to save as a favorite.

  2. Click the Favorites button, and then click Add to Favorites.

  3. In the Name box, type a name for the webpage, and then click Add.

To open a favorite

  1. In Internet Explorer, click the Favorites button.

  2. Click the Favorites tab if it's not already selected.

  3. In the Favorites list, click the webpage that you want to open.

If you have a lot of favorites, you can organize them into folders. For more information, see Managing your Internet Explorer favorites.

Using the History list

To see any webpage you've visited in the last 20 days, you can use the History list:

  1. In Internet Explorer, click the Favorites button.

  2. Click the History tab if it's not already selected.

  3. In the History list, click a day or week, and then click a website name. The list expands to show individual webpages that you've visited on the website.

  4. Click the webpage that you want to open.

Picture of the History list in Internet Explorer
The History list in Internet Explorer

For more information about the History list, see Delete webpage history and Change how long webpage history is kept in Internet Explorer.

Opening multiple webpages

At some point, you'll find yourself wanting to open a second (or third or fourth) webpage without closing the first one. To meet this need, Internet Explorer lets you create a tab for each new page you want to open. You can use the tabs to switch quickly between pages, and you can even view all of your pages at once.

To open a webpage on a new tab, click the New Tab button.

Picture of the New Tab button in Internet Explorer
New Tab button

After you click the button, a blank page opens on a new tab.

Picture of a new tab open to a blank page in Internet Explorer
A blank page on a new tab

Now you can open any webpage by typing a URL, using the search box, or choosing from your favorites list or history list. Once you have multiple pages open, click the tabs to switch between pages.

To see all of your open webpages at once, click the Quick Tabs button Picture of the Quick Tabs button. You'll see miniature version of each webpage. Click one to switch to that page.
Picture of the Quick Tabs preview of open webpages
Use Quick Tabs to see all of your open webpages.
To close a tab, click the Close‌ button Picture of the Close Tab button in Internet Explorer on the right side of the tab.

For more information about using tabs, see Tabbed browsing: frequently asked questions.