Tuesday, June 02, 2009

TechTeach, Issue Ten

What is a web browser? I’m glad you asked. A browser is a piece of software that allows you to see content on the Internet. You can view pictures, listen to audio, and read articles from sites across the world. There are two big names in browsers right now. One comes with Windows, called Internet Explorer. Another is called Firefox. Other, less well-known browsers are Opera, Seamonkey, Safari, Netscape, and Google’s Chrome. Chrome is only weeks old and has some issues with performance, so I can’t quite recommend it yet.

What’s the difference between Internet Explorer (IE) and Firefox (FF)? The big difference is that IE is an integral part of Windows and cannot be removed. Because of its closeness to Windows, IE is vulnerable to attack from the outside. That’s one reason why your defenses should be always up to date and running, or you should be using IE7. FF is a program that runs in Windows, and with the third version, runs in Windows 2000, XP, and Vista. With its distance from Windows, FF is easier to keep secure than IE is. The people that keep up FF also do many updates and FF will let you know when those are available for installation. It’s safer, easy to use and usually pretty quick to display pages.

Of the other browsers, the only I really have any experience with is Seamonkey. Odd name, but it does work well and is pretty secure. I use it for displaying on my second monitor while I am using FF on the first. Seamonkey also includes a chat program, email, address book and newsgroup reader. I only use it for the browser and chat.

If you want to see content online, most browsers will require other software to be installed. For example, if you want to chat with other people, you might need Java from Sun Microsystems. To see some animations, you might need Adobe Flash. In the early days of “the Internet,” there was only text and a few pictures. Browsers didn’t have to do much. Showing pictures (such as gif, jpg and other formats) is pretty much automatic. If you see a blank square with the red X in the upper left, which means the file is not available to be displayed. You can try to reload the page (blue arrow in a circle in Firefox, and a page with two green arrows in IE6 and a big green circle in IE7) and see if that reconnects you to the server and downloads the picture. Otherwise, that file was probably lost somewhere on the originating server.

All browsers have Favorites or Bookmarks to store links (Universal Resource Locator, or URL) to web sites that you may find. You can also organize these to your liking by type, alphabetical order, subject, however you want, using the Organize Bookmarks or similar menu. You should export your bookmarks file once in a while in case something happens to your computer for a backup.

Your browser can also start other programs, like Adobe Reader and Winamp. Reader displays PDF files (document files that are difficult to change) and Winamp plays audio. With Winamp, you can listen to music from around the world, and any genre you like.

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