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More Than Webbed Feet

The Internet, Linux style

These days, average home computer users spend more time surfing the Web and writing e-mail messages than doing just about anything else. Even if you're not much of a surfer, there are still numerous other applications that aren't really Internet applications per se but that still make use of the Internet in some way, such as gathering song and album information when you rip audio CDs to create MP3 files. Having a computer that isn't hooked up to the Internet is like buying a new Maserati and then refusing to take it out of the garage.

Of course, how you connect to the Internet depends on your hardware and provider. There are a number of possibilities in this area, including high-speed local area networks (LANs), cable modems, and ADSL connections from phone companies. Most computers also have an internal 56Kb/s modem or can be connected to external dial-up modems for slower connections over regular phone lines. Depending on what you've got, setting things up on your system should prove a cinch in the case of LAN connections and any others that make use of your Ethernet port (such as cable modems), possibly a bit more work in the case of wireless connections, and sometimes a bit of a challenge when it comes to the ol' dial-up connections. In this excerpt, you will learn how to set up these connections and learn a bit about what Linux has to offer in terms of the most commonly used Internet applications - your Web browser and e-mail client.

Firefox: Your Internet Browser
Now that you are connected to the Internet, you no doubt want to get down to some cyberspace discovery and exploration, and the most commonly used means of doing that is with a Web browser. The default Web browser in your Ubuntu system is Firefox, which is enjoying increasing popularity in not only the Linux world, but in the Windows and Mac worlds as well. Chances are you are already a Firefox user, but if you are not, then you needn't worry - things work more or less the same in all browsers. That being the case, you should be able to use Firefox's basic features without any instruction. Of course, there are some features that do distinguish Firefox from its competition, so I will mention those.

Controlling Browser Window Clutter with Tabs
Usually when you click a link on a Web page, the new page opens in the same window. On some pages, links are coded so that the new page opens in a new, separate window, or maybe you occasionally opt for opening a link in a new window by right-clicking the link and then selecting the Open Link in New Window option. This can be very useful; however, once you have more than a few browser windows open, it gets sort of hard to find what you're looking for in all those open windows. It can also slow things down a bit.

This is where Firefox's tab feature comes in handy. To see how it works, try it out yourself right here and now. Open your Firefox browser by clicking the launcher on the top GNOME Panel (or going to Applications Internet Firefox Web Browser); then Google the word nyckelharpa using Firefox's handy search box, which is next to the word Go at the top-right corner of the browser window (see Figure 1). By default, Firefox will perform searches for keywords entered in the search box using Google. You can, if you like, select other search engines by clicking the G icon in the search box and then making your selection. Amazon.com, eBay, and Yahoo! are available, to name a few, and you can even add others. For now, however, let's stick to Google for our present search by typing nyckelharpa in that search box. Once you've finished typing, press the ENTER key, after which a page of Google results should appear in the main page of the Firefox window.

Note: While tabbed browsing is no longer as unique as it once was (Safari has the feature built in, though you have to enable it yourself, and Internet Explorer now has the same functionality available as a downloadable add-on), it is implemented and enabled by default in Firefox.

The top result should be the American Nyckelharpa Association, and you are now going to open that page in a new tab, rather than in the same or a new window. To do that, right-click the link, and in the popup menu that appears select Open Link in New Tab. You can, if you prefer, make things a tad easier and dispense with the popup menu selection step by simply clicking the link with both mouse buttons simultaneously or by holding down the CTRL key as you click the link. Either way, the new page will appear in a new tab, while your original page of search results remains, ready and waiting in the other tab (see Figure 2). I am pretty confident in saying that, once you get used to this feature, you will wonder how you ever got along without it.

Other Firefox Features: Popup Manager
Firefox has a number of other useful features. One is its Popup Manager, which suppresses those annoying popup windows that often appear when you access a new Web page. You can enable or disable this feature from the Preferences window (Edit Preferences) by clicking the Web Features icon in the left pane of that window and then checking or unchecking the box next to the words Block Popup Windows. You can also permit certain sites to provide popup windows (some popups are not only useful, but necessary for the correct functioning of a site) by clicking the Allowed Sites button next to that Block Popup Windows entry and inputting the URL for the site in question.

One of the coolest things about Firefox is that it allows you to further expand its functionality by adding various extensions. These extensions include all sort of things; many are quite functional, while others are just plain fun and goofy. They range from blog-writing tools to image viewers. For this project, however, we will be installing a cool weather station of sorts, called Forecastfox, that allows you to view not only the current weather conditions in your area (or any other area of your choosing), but also a two-day local forecast, Doppler radar maps, and more - all from AccuWeather.com. All of this is available at the click of a button from the Status or Menu bars, or the Bookmarks or Navigation toolbars - your choice (see Figure 3).


More Stories By Rickford Grant

Rickford Grant, author of Linux for Non-Geeks and Linux Made Easy (both No Starch Press), has been a computer operating system maniac for more than 20 years. From the Atari XL600 to today's Linux machines, he has been the guy behind the help desk for family, friends, and colleagues. Rickford currently resides in Raritan, New Jersey, where he spends his working hours as a teacher and his free time cycling along the Delaware and Raritan Canal or annoying his neighbors with his Nyckelharpa (a Swedish key fiddle).

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