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What Do I Need to Shop Online

Do I have to have a particular computer or Web browser?

No, you just need a computer with a modem, Web browser software (such as Internet Explorer, any other internet browsers), and a phone number that connects you to the Internet.

Older browsers may have trouble with some aspects of some sites, as we detail in the answer to the next question, but the most sophisticated sites have been designed to be easy to use, even if you haven’t upgraded your browser in years.

Older computers have less memory, less oomph, and therefore creak a little as they surf. If you have an older computer (we call them "mature"), the whole experience will be slower for you than for your neighbor who has the SuperPowerWhizBang, but if you are used to the pace, you may not mind. You just know that when you start to collect a large file from a Web site, you can go boil some water, make a pot of tea, pour a cup, and blow the steam off the top before coming back to the computer to see if the download is complete.

What problems will I face shopping online with my old browser or old computer?

The biggest problem is speed.

If you happen to go to a site that uses a lot of large graphics, the pages will take quite a while to download. If a download seems to be taking a long, long time, you might want to click your browser’s Stop button and go to another store.

If the store’s designers are so unfriendly as to use something called frames, you will be at a disadvantage. Frames are independent files that get pasted together by your browser to produce what looks like a single page. One frame may present a list of departments, while a second frame presents the content itself. So the second frame may keep changing while the first one stays put.

Of course, even if your browser lets you look at frames, you may find them confusing. For instance, if you try to save or print the page, you may end up with the text of one frame but not the other.

Also, people frequently get confused when both frames change. The experience resembles rowing with oars of different lengths while heavy waves roll you left and right, forward and back.

Occasionally, designers offer you the choice of viewing their sites "with frames" or "without frames." That choice is just an admission of guilt, but with older software you should click the No Frames button. In fact, "No Frames!" should be a bumper sticker.

Similarly, a few sites offer you the opportunity to view the site as "Text Only," which is nice if you are using a really ancient browser on a slow connection. But most stores are so proud of their images that they do not offer this possibility. On the other hand, you may be able to set your own browser to ignore graphics and just display text. The text may look a bit odd because it was written and laid out assuming art would surround it, but you can probably navigate OK using text only.

If your monitor or computer can handle only a few colors at low resolutions, photographic images will probably look a bit lurid or splotchy. The minimum setting you need, to see pictures that look somewhat realistic, is 800 pixels by 600 pixels (800 x 600) with 256 colors. Pixels are picture elements, and the more you crowd into a square inch of screen space, the better, because each pixel can show you a tiny detail, and when an image has millions of these little details in every square inch, you get the impression of terrific clarity.

The more colors you display, the more the pixels can differentiate shadings, so the image becomes more realistic. Two hundred fifty-six colors on screen mean you can tell what the picture is about. With millions of colors and tons of pixels, you get a very clear impression of what the product itself looks like.