A web browser is a program on your own computer that connects to other computers on the worldwide web, sends and receives data, and deals with that data for you (such as presenting it on screen, saving it, printing it).
There are several different browsers, made by different companies, that do the same job. The most prominent (with links where still available) are:
Internet Explorer version 9 (not for XP)
Internet Explorer version 8 (for XP)
There is also the AOL browser that is only used by AOL subscribers. AOL subscribers can also use any of the other browsers.
So what’s the difference between them? Not a great deal. Pushed to name the best feature of each, I would suggest:
Internet Explorer – automatic security updates via Microsoft update (that also keeps your Windows updated)
Mozilla Firefox – huge range of add-ons (plugins)
Chrome – fast
Safari – built by Apple, so has the look and feel of a Mac
AOL – er…
Unlike security software (antivirus, other antimalware, and firewalls) you can have as many browsers on your computers as you wish. They do not conflict with each other.
Browsers originally dealt with text and images but they can now also handle a variety of types of multimedia (eg video). A lot of this functionality is provided by the addition of specialised programs called “plugins” and “add-ons”.
For instance, you are probably familiar with Adobe Flash Player. This is an extra program, installed separately from your browser, that gives you the ability to watch videos etc directly from your browser. If we didn’t have what Flash Player does then we would probably need to download our video to our computer and then open up a different program to view it. Flash Player allows us to view it within our browser window and also allows us to “stream” the content. “Streaming” means that we are watching the video as it is delivered to our browser, rather than having to save it all first before starting to watch it.
There are many, many other plugins that we can add directly into our browser. I use one on Firefox called Adblock Plus. This does a very good job of removing ads from most websites. It’s available for Firefox and Chrome.
If your browser tells you that there is an update available and suggests that you download it then I would recommend doing so. This is because at least part of the update is likely to involve improved security for your browser. Remember that the browser’s job is to communicate with other computers, passing data to and from your own machine. This is precisely the area where people with bad intent will try to exploit weaknesses. Therefore, it is important that as soon as a flaw in your browser is discovered and rectified, you should incorporate that rectification as soon as possible by updating your browser.
As far as updating plugins is concerned, you probably often see nagging screens advising you to update Adobe Flash Player. Annoying though they are, I would suggest complying as the update may very well be to do with security. Likewise, if you see nagging messages about updating Java then I would comply for the same reason (Java is powerful programming installed on your own computer that websites call upon to add bells and whistles to their web pages).
If you have more than one browser installed then opening one up may cause a message to be displayed along the lines of “SuperDuper browser is not currently your default browser. Make it the default?”
The “default browser” is the one that loads up when a browser is called for, but none has been specified. Suppose, for instance, that you have a web page saved on your computer. This will probably be an “html” file. If you double-click on that file then your operating system looks for the “default program” (in this case a “default browser”) to open that file.
Obviously, there is only one “default browser” and the message above (when you start the SuperDuper browser) is really no more than your SuperDuper browser screaming “me, me, me” at you. It thinks it’s the most important browser in the universe and that it’s doing you a favour by suggesting that it should be the default browser instead of the one that you currently have as the default.
You can always change your default browser by opening up the one that you wish to be the default. If it doesn’t automatically scream at you to make it the default then look for the option to change the settings. There is bound to be a setting somewhere to make that browser the default.(Last updated 07/09/2023)