What Is A Browser?

What does a browser do, why is it important?

What is a browser?

First, you are using a browser to view this page. A browser is a program that runs on your computer. Windows is not a browser, it is a computer operating system and your browser is a program that runs on that operating system. Internet Explorer would be the browser that is included on all Windows computers (in the US at least).

To put it simply, a browser interpets a web page so you can view it on your computer.

A web page (like this site or Google.com or Yahoo.com or any other web page) is actually just a file on another computer.

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That file contains all the words, images, and other parts of a web page and some instructions on  what they are supposed to be arranged when you view it. The instructions are a little vague because they need to be able to be followed on nearly any computer. Unlike a printed magazine, designers of a web page can’t always dictate exactly what they want a web page to look like. They have to be flexible for different size monitors, different fonts, and even what browser is used. Sometimes, the browser you use can change the way a web page looks.

A browser interpets all this and shows the page on your screen so you can view it.

Sometimes, the browser needs extra help and uses a helper program to show something like a video or on screen game. These helper programs are usually call plugins or add-ons. The Adobe Flash Player is an example of  a plugin that is added on to nearly every browser. The plugin or add-on helps the browser interpret the web page file so you can see it or hear it.

Nearly everything you see on your browser is a web page sent to your computer from another computer.

You type the address of a webpage in the address bar of your browser (or click on a link with the address of a web page). That address tells your browser where to get the file that actually is the web page you would like. Your browser then tells another computer the address, which then will check with another computer where that address is. This continues till a computer that knows that address is found. Your browser is then told where this address is and asks the computer (called a web server) to send the file to your computer. Your browser then interprets the file and displays it on your screen.

How does your browser know how to interpret the web page?

There is an agreed upon set of rules for how the page is supposed to be coded called Hyperlink Text Markup Language or HTML for short. Theoretically, a web page should look good no matter what browser you use. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

There are actually many different browsers.

  • Internet Explorer (IE for short) from Microsoft. It is the most common because it is included in Windows. Note that there are several versions and only IE 8 is safe to use.
  • Safari from Apple. It is included on Mac OS computers, iPhones, and the iPad. There is also a version for Windows computers.
  • Firefox from Mozilla. Available for most operating systems and computers.
  • Chrome by Google. Available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. There is also the Open Source version called Chromium which is something of a test bed for Chrome.
  • Opera is another somewhat popular browser available for many operating systems.
  • And there are many more: Epiphany, Seamonkey, Arora, and Midori are among some less known browsers.

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Why is your browser important?

First of all, the browser is becoming possibly the most important program on your computer.

You very likely use your browser to check your email, view video, chat, and even play games. A lot more than the text with a few images and links to other pages that web pages started out as. Nearly everything that can be done on a computer, can now be done using browser. More and more, we are seeing new services and programs that are not done on our own computers, but on another computer using a browser to do it. Even typical office programs like word processors or spreadsheets are starting to see online (sometimes called cloud computing) options like Google Docs.

For me, the browser is the first program I start after turning on the computer.

Sometimes, I even start it when I mean to do something else. I  occasionally even use 3 different browsers at once for 3 different types of web access.

With all this going on, it is important that you choose wisely.

Some browsers are safer than others. Internet Explorer is often the first choice of many because it is already installed on your computer. It is also the first choice of malware designers and hackers to crack. Some of those cracks have been big enough to through your whole computer through. Because it is targeted so much, I recommend you use another browser. Internet Explorer is may actually be very well written, but it’s programming code is constantly being tested by hackers more than any other. Simply because it is the most popular.

Google has a cool, kinda Dr. Seuss inspired guide to browser and the internet called – 20 Things I Learned About Browsers and the Web if you would like to learn a bit more. Also, browsers and using them will be a main topic here so sign up for updates with my newsletter at the upper right of this page.

My personal recommendation is Google Chrome.

There are many reasons I recommend Chrome. Speed is one. Safely is another. I’ll have another post with some of the reasons.

What is your favorite browser and why?