There may be newer or better browsers than Netscape, but Newscape has implemented andvanced formatting codes and pages everywhere contain the disclaimer "This page looks best when viewed with Netscape" . This pressure will probably get Netscape's enhancements written into the next version of HTML but the de-facto standard for Mac browers is presently Netscape. Get yours at Netscape. In addition to advanced page formatting, Netscape provides rudimentary access to most WWW functions (ftp, newsgroups, mail, IRC, etc.) but you may need more complete programs for some areas (see below).
One thing that may not be immediately clear is that you can do more than one thing at once on the Internet. While working on this page, I have also been downloading a set of software updates (85 files), listening to a press conference (see my "Useful" page), uploading new versions of this page to my server via Fetch, and bouncing all over the place gathering the links you find here. If you click a link that begins a download, you can click another and begin another download, or open a new browser (Netscape:File menu:New Browser), and go somewhere else. While all this is going on, you can check your E-Mail, or browse the newsgroups, or chat on IRC. True, sooner or later you'll reach the limit of what your modem can do, but you don't have to just sit and wait for something to finish.
USENET is a collection of over 13,000 different newsgroups (similar to electronic bulletin boards), each dedicated to a different subject. The subjects range far & wide and include such areas as politics, architecture, ballet, computer support and any type of radical fringe element you care to name. There is a wealth of valuable information in the groups but beware: the groups are often victim to posts from some really crude people.
At any rate, you owe it to yourself to plunge in. You can read news in Netscape but considering the staggering amount of information available, you really should have a more complete program. After trying several news readers, I have settled on Newswatcher v2.1.8. I like this program because it is pretty stable and provides robust search and filtering options for browsing newsgroups. This and other good Mac Internet utilities are available at Macintosh Watering Hole.
If you want to download programs or pictures from the newsgroups, you'll need a few utility programs. Stuff Expander will decode binhex files and extract .sit archives. You probably already have this on your hard drive somewhere. Binary files on the net are UU encoded. Don't ask me what UU means, but you'll need a decoder to turn those pesky UNIX files into Mac files. UnUU does the trick quickly. You may occasionally run across a file that is Base-64 encoded. Not too many tools will decode this type file, but Base64-1.1.0 will! All these programs can be set up for automatic operation from Newswatcher v2.1.8's "Extracting Binaries" preference item.
Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is live on-line discussion, similar to AOL chat groups. You can chat (after a fasion) using Netscapt at ICS and others but here again, a dedicated program is probably better.
Homer is fun, but only defaults to one chat server. Global Chat is probably the easiest to start with and provides two chat servers for connection. Info on Global Chat is available at the Global Chat home page. Ircle is a lean, mean IRC client whose server preferences dialog shows dozens of IRC servers. Information on Ircle is available at the The Official Ircle Home Page.
I have no doubt that hundreds of IRC servers can be found on the Internet, I just havn't looked. Try some of the WWW search engines on my Links page.
Short for File Transfer Protocol, ftp is what to use when you want to get a file from somewhere or put a file somewhere. You may not always notice, but if you have downloaded a file (such as any on this page) you have used ftp. An ftp site is a repository for files, and Netscape can view and download files from anonymous ftp sites (those that do not require a password). However, Netscape does not support "tagging" a group of files for download and doesn't seem to be equipped to deliver a user name and password for private ftp sites. If you need access to a private ftp site or plan on building your own homepage (stay tuned for my homebrew homepage tutorial), you'll need a stand-alone ftp client. I use Fetch 3.0.1b1. Be aware that this is a beta version but seems pretty stable. Fetch 3.0 is available, but has some incompatibilities with 68XXX series Macs and a filename truncation problem with System 7.5's Open Transport. Refer to The Fetch Page for more info if you wish.
Here's a test - direct access to the AltaVista search engine: