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The Internet Age and the Bigger Picture

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Of all of the individual aspects currently influencing technology, the Internet must surely be the most significant. The Internet now pervades almost every aspect of the IT industry, as it does our daily lives. Any company that is not already on the Internet in some form or other is looking for a way to get on, because more and more an Internet presence can mean the difference between success and mediocrity.

Companies use the potential of the Internet in a variety of ways. Some use it as a way of communicating their message to customers. Considering the relatively low costs involved, companies can make the Internet a completely viable 24 hour a day, 7 days a week advertisement. Furthermore, the potential customer base the Inter-net gives access to is in the millions. Others companies use it as a medium for supplying information or advice on their products, reducing the need for telephone call centers and operators. The Internet provides limitless opportunities to creative and entrepreneurial businesses.

Perhaps the biggest driver of all for the Internet from a business point of view, however, is the development of e-commerce.The sale of goods and services over the Internet has come a long way. Not too long ago, you would go online, find a product that you wanted, and then phone the company directly and order it. Pioneers of e-commerce such as have developed and presented new ways to shop, making the whole process much more comprehensive, convenient, and considerably more consumer friendly. Further, recent Internet security advances have increased consumer confidence, all but alleviating previous concerns of credit card details being viewed by unwanted eyes.

Perhaps the massive increase in spending online is not by chance. Advertisers themselves use technology to watch people's Web habits and build consumer profiles based on actual buying patterns. This, perhaps invasive approach, allows companies to target their advertising campaigns and advertising dollars directly at those people most likely to purchase their products. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is a matter of personal preference. It is, however, how things work in the information age and acts as a demonstration of the kind of power and functionality that technology provides.

Of course the Internet is not restricted to business use. Many individuals have embraced the Internet using it for entertainment, information, and recreation.The lure for many modern surfers is that the Internet provides a relatively impersonal and seemingly anonymous communication medium. Nowadays virtual chat rooms connect human beings from all over the world.

In a way though, the Internet is merely a front end, a visual presentation if you like, of a wide range of aspects of the IT industry. It is a user-friendly medium that provides people with the tools to access information and systems that run applications and store information. The important thing to remember is that every Web page has to be designed, every site has to be run on a server of some description, every request passed over a network and every PC that runs a browser needs to be designed, built, configured and supported. In other words, from an IT professional's perspective, the Internet is simply a window through which people can view our, dare we say, art.

The Bigger Picture

The IT industry today is certainly not just the Internet. Even though they may well have some connection or relationship with the Internet, companies use computers and technology to perform day-to-day tasks. Any company with more than a few computers is likely to have its own technical support person, or at the very least a relationship with a local computer company so that in time of failure, help is readily at hand. The important thing to remember is that for many companies, it is not the computer that is the focus of their business, but rather the functionality that the computer provides. Companies have become dependent on this functionality and ultimately on the computers.

Businesses with more than a few PCs are very likely to have installed a computer network. Depending on requirements, some companies may use PC-based operating systems such as Microsoft Windows 98 or Windows NT Workstation to share files from system to system, while larger companies have server-based networks. Nowadays, most companies opt for server-based networks. These server systems run operating systems from manufacturers such as Microsoft, Novell, or a version of Unix or Linux.

Companies may use a standard suite of applications such as Microsoft Office. Server-based networks provide the option to store applications and files locally on the user's PC or on the server. The servers, along with offering the capacity for centralized file storage, may offer services such as email, databases, or specialized applications.

Today's office networks are powerful and diverse, connecting computers in offices, irrespective of location. The standardization of protocols has also meant that today's PC is a window to almost any other type of system, be it micro, mini, or mainframe computer, whether it be on the network locally, across the Internet, or over a private network.

Though they were responsible for bringing PCs to the mass market, IBM's share of this market has shrunk considerably since those early days. Now, you are more likely to see PCs from companies such as Compaq, Dell, Gateway, or other less well-known manufacturers on a user's desk. Modern mainframes, though smaller than their predecessors, still perform a key role in many companies, delivering processing power and storage capabilities not available in smaller computers.
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