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Web Browsers 101

web browsers

The Evolution of Web Browsers

When I first started using the internet, there were very few choices for web browsers. Netscape Navigator was popular in the mid 90’s, as was Internet Explorer. Webpages were very simple, and the browsers job not too complex. Online shopping was in its infancy, and at a very basic level. Fast forward to today. There are many more choices for web browsers, and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. Online experiences have expanded to include movies, music, video chat, and live customer support. Having multiple “tabs” with a different website on each lets us switch between Facebook, email, and the news without having multiple windows open all at once. Utilizing all these advancements require the right browser.

How They Work

A web browser is a software application installed on your computer or smart device that lets you view webpages. It takes the “code” or programming written by a web developer and transforms it into a readable, interactive format that you can view. Modern websites use some of the advanced features supported by browsers to run special applications for gaming, or interacting with a feature such as a map or shopping cart. Not all browsers support the same technologies. For example, some high security features with online banking only work with Internet Explorer. Google’s Chrome browser allows tighter integration with Gmail, Maps, and other Google services.

You might be a diehard fan of a particular browser, or maybe you just use what came installed on the computer. Either way, exploring other options might improve your web browsing experience, increase security, or speed up your web experience.

Google Chrome

Chrome is my go-to browser for personal web browsing. It’s fast loading webpages, but does tend to consume more memory doing so – a drawback if you use an older computer that’s already struggling. There are two features I use regularly. On my smartphone, which is an Android, I can open Chrome and view a website. When I switch to my laptop, I open Chrome and select “recent tabs”. The same tabs I had displayed on my smartphone are now open on my computer. Since I switch back and forth often, this is a very cool way to keep my browsing experience consistent. Another great feature is syncing favorites. All favorites you save in Chrome can be available on any device with Chrome. I love to cook, and I often bookmark a recipe on my computer. When I’m in the kitchen, I can use my smartphone and open the bookmark I saved from my computer. For many users, the ability to quickly access apps such as Google Drive and Gmail are big reasons to use Googles browser. Chrome has an extensive Web Apps store where you can find many useful additions. Just click on the “Apps” button in the upper left of the browser, then click “Web Store”. There are a number of features unique to Google Chrome you might find useful, which is likely why it’s the number one web browser in use today. You can download Chrome at https://www.google.com/chrome/

Microsoft Internet Explorer

Microsoft Windows ships with Internet Explorer preinstalled. This is a large reason why it’s number two in the browser popularity contest. Currently at version 11, Internet Explorer offers fast web browsing, leading security features, and minimal performance hits. A service called “SmartScreen filter” checks websites that you visit against a list of known malware or phishing sites, prompting a warning if you accidentally go there. While nothing is 100% effective, SmartScreen filtering was shown by NSS Labs to block 99% of socially engineered malware. Internet Explorer also offers some features not found with any others. For example, a technology known as “ActiveX”, which is required for some websites to work, is native to Internet Explorer. ActiveX is often used with business web applications, such as WebEx meetings or QuickBooks integrations. For this reason, Internet Explorer is my “business” browser. A word of caution, ActiveX should only be allowed on websites you trust. Some nefarious websites may prompt to install an ActiveX control that contains malware. Unless absolutely certain of the origin and use, you should always decline such an invitation.

Mozilla Firefox

Firefox has been around since 2002, and was an immediate competitor to Internet Explorer. Unlike Internet Explorer, which is for Windows computers only, there are versions for Apple and Linux computers – making it a favorite among more advanced users. Like Chrome, Firefox offers syncing across devices – even allowing you to continue a browsing session from one device to another. This sync also applies to passwords and form data, so your saved logins will follow you from device to device. Unfortunately, iPhone or iPad users are out of luck, as the mobile version of this browser isn’t supported. Only Android users will get these features on a mobile. To download for mobile or desktop, go to https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/products/

Safari

Safari is the standard browser for Apple computers and devices, and Apple has put a lot of effort into making it useful. iCloud sync lets you share tabs across devices, and sharing web links via email, FaceBook and Twitter is built in with the “share” button. Safari does not offer a current version for Windows, sadly.

Points to Consider When Choosing a Web Browser

Keep in mind some websites might not interact well with the browser you are using. For example, Gmail loads fastest with Chrome. My online banking works best with Internet Explorer. When in doubt, consult the help section of the service you are trying to use for advice on what browsers are supported. And with any browser, it’s important to keep it up to date. Installing the latest updates is automated with Chrome and Firefox, but Internet Explorer is updated using Windows update…..you’re keeping your computer updated with Windows Update right?

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Matt Rice, CTO

Matt is a graduate of Central Maine Technical College. He has been with Burgess since 2001, acting as Service Manager, then General Manager, before becoming an owner. Matt focuses on developing and delivering technologies that fit best with customer needs.

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Comments

  1. I have a bunch of students that run my help desk and do tech support. Six of them went through Joe’s Apple certified technician training and became certified Apple technicians. I was wondering what certifications there are for windows support technicians at the entry level and thought you might be able to point me in the right direction. When I do the research on the web it feels like I’m reading in a foreign language.

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