Before you strap on that mouse, let's dispense with two issues quickly: What browser should you use? And what is Java really all about? Despite what you've read about the technical battle between Netscape's Navigator and Microsoft's Internet Explorer, remember it's really a marketing war. There's just one effective piece of software for cruising the Net: Navigator 3.0. Nearly every Web page is designed to be viewed with Navigator. Without it, a Web site's words and graphics can appear out of alignment — or won't appear at all.
Netscape reportedly has an 80% share of the browser market. Microsoft's share, which was zero a year ago, is now estimated to be about 10%. No doubt it will continue to rise as the browser battle heats up, and new plug-ins will be developed for Explorer as well as Navigator. For now, though, note this fact: Microsoft is giving away Internet Explorer, while Netscape's retail price for Navigator is $49. (You can download a trial version and use it free for up to 90 days; also, most Internet service providers throw in a free version of Navigator when you sign up with them.) When did you hear of Bill Gates giving away for free something you'd want? Bottom line: cough up the $49 for Navigator.
Java, developed by Sun Microsystems, is a programming language that lets people write a software program that will run on any personal computer. Java applets don't care about the type of operating system that's on your computer. All you need is a Web browser, like Netscape Navigator, that recognizes a Java program when it sees one.
Microsoft has tried to catch up by giving its Explorer the ability to play applications written in Java. However, the company did not make it compatible with the way Netscape interprets Java. So now some Java Web pages that work fine when you see them in Netscape's Navigator don't work properly in Microsoft's Explorer.
Microsoft has launched its own programming environment for the Net, called ActiveX. However, since Navigator works on 12 computer operating systems and Explorer can be used only with Windows 95 and Windows NT, it's unlikely you'll see Web-site creators design pages for Explorer for at least a year.
A version of this article appeared in the October/November 96 issue of Fast Company magazine.