In a way, understanding this is more important than understanding the internet. This is because this is where you get a choice that actually impacts your every-minute life.
A browser is a program that helps you get where you want to go on the internet. Think of it as your virtual Uber, but for information. You announce where you want to go by typing it into the search bar. A page of options comes up. You pick the one you like. Click! And you are there.
Your browser actually gets you where you want to go by using hyperlinks (thanks, CERN!) or more specifically, by using HyperText Transfer Protocol, aka HTTP. You may have noticed that a lot of addresses on the internet start their names with http://…. Now you know why.
(And you probably guessed, when they add the “s” to make it https, the “s” stands for “secure.”)
(It’s actually more complicated than this, but I think you get the idea, and there is no pop quiz to worry about.)
The primary test for browsers is speed. Just like Uber riders, the browser user wants to get to the destination as quickly as possible. However, another consideration is security. (And ditto for the Uber rider, I expect.) Some browsers warn you if you are going to a potentially dangerous site, and give you the option to cancel the search. In most cases, this might simply mean going back and properly spelling your intended search. Huh?
It’s like this: Certain nasty locations have been known to identify themselves with intentionally misspelled variants of ordinary high-trafficked sites. A good browser can detect this and stop you before you accidentally arrive in a cesspool. While I appreciate this feature tremendously, I have to accept one thing: a browser that can be programmed to avoid porn can also be programmed to avoid a political sentiment or a religious site. Think China. But I digress.
There are many web browsers. Mosaic was the first, in 1993, and Netscape was the second, in 1994, but both of these are now defunct. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, frequently abbreviated IE, debuted in 1995 and pretty much took over the world. The fact that it is included by default in many, many new computers certainly helped, and has led to various attempts at antitrust lawsuits. Then again, the early competition hadn’t quite figured out what was at stake. The most notable other browser choices are Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Safari. We’ll cover a browser a day for the rest of the week! Fun stuff!
Please note: “Ask” is not a browser, but merely a “browser helper add-on.” Many people think it is a browser because it shows up from time to time as your home page. This generally happens after you download something that is free. Free software (or freeware) can be perfectly harmless and even useful, but it often comes with other unwanted goodies inside. It is important to review all the checkboxes before you download freeware. This will give you a chance to say no thank you to Ask and other awkward products. Ask basically hijacks your home page and replaces your search engine. And then it makes everything very, very slow. So be careful!