Saturday, February 28, 2009

Browsers and Browser Alternatives

I get asked "what on earth is a browser?" every once in a while - it makes me forget that some of the things I take for granted everyone knows, isn't always true.

A web browser is the program used to view web pages.  If you use a PC, Microsoft's Internet Explorer is the most common browser people are familiar with.  Microsoft has now begun releasing version 8 of it's browser for public use.  For some folks, this may be already installed on your computer, and for others, it will begin being pushed out as part of Microsoft's updates if it isn't already.

Almost everybody uses a browser, but not everyone understands what it's job is.  

Underlying every web page is a programming language that instructs the browser how to make everything look.  HyperText Markup Language or HTML for short, is the name of this programming language.  It instructs the browser on text appearance, photo or other object locations, and uses other progamming such as java for special effects.  It also makes use of "plugins", or smaller applets or programs for the browser to properly display video and audio information from websites.

Even though all browsers make use of this similar function, there are differences between how browsers interpret that information.  Internet Explorer has been criticized for it's bulk and how slow it completes the process of displaying the information almost since it's introduction in the early 90's.  

This led early on to alternative browsers coming on the scene, with Netscape being one of the most popular early on.  Microsoft, concerned about what it considered to be a threat, countered by including Internet Explorer as part of the operating system - thereby insuring it would be the most likely product used by consumers.  Other products made appearances, but none successfully competed with Microsoft.  

Today, Firefox, an open-source (free) alternative browser from Mozilla, is the closest competition with Internet Explorer, and it has been gaining popularity as lightweight and fast alternatitive.  Apple has recently introduced a PC version of it's browser, Safari, Google has introduced Chrome, and even a European competitor, Opera, has been making a comeback.  Each has it's positives and negatives, but it is interesting to try these different products and see how they operate compared to IE.  

What do you use for your browser, and how happy are you with it?

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