Most people have heard of Safari, Chrome or Firefox. But have you ever received the message “this version of Safari is no longer supported?” And what happened to Netscape?
The truth is web browsers come and go, with new versions of existing browsers typically released once a year. There are pros and cons for each web browser, and the one that will work best for you can depend on several factors, such as your internet speed, privacy and security needs and operating system (iOS or Android).
Here’s the breakdown on web browsers made simple. We’ve included all the details you ever wondered about browsing the web, plus answers to commonly asked web browser questions.
What is a web browser?
A web browser is software used to access the internet. You can access the internet without a web browser, but it requires use of text-based commands, i.e., computer code. This code is how all early internet users had to navigate the web, until the first web browser, called WorldWideWeb, was created in 1990.
It’s safe to say that web browsers were pivotal in launching the internet into widespread use. Web browsers are often confused with search engines, especially since many current search engines, like Google or Bing, allow you to type directly into the address bar to perform a search. So, what sets the two apart?
Difference between a web browser and a search engine
- Installed or downloaded onto your device
- Lets you access websites
- Examples are Chrome and Safari
- Lives online
- Lets you search for websites or information
- Examples are Google and Bing
Web browser types
Some web browsers are for a particular niche of people, such as engineers or developers. Some web browsers are popular in other countries, but unrecognizable in the U.S. How many of these have you heard of?
Web browser security
Computer, internet and Wi-Fi security is increasingly important as we spend more time and put more personal information online. Having the right web browser can help decrease security risks for your home network. Here’s three main browser concerns and what to do about them:
Is my web browser collecting personal data?
Yes. Your browser history is just one of the ways Google and other big companies track and collect information about you. Businesses do this so they can put together a virtual profile of each of their customers and serve targeted advertisements.
How often do I need to update my web browser?
Set yourself a reminder to update your web browser every six months. Why is this necessary? Browser companies will periodically release updates to fix security issues and known bugs. By keeping the most up-to-date version of your browser software, you can ensure that you have the newest security features.
Which web browser is the best?
Trends in popular web browsers have changed drastically over the past two decades. As long as customers demand more secure and faster software, we will continue to see changes in the web browsing arena.
If popularity is an indicator of the best product, then Google Chrome wins by a landslide. Over the last decade, Chrome has become the world’s most used browser due to its compatibility, speed and security features.
Best for privacy
The Brave web browser blocks tracking software, so it’s the browser to use if you are concerned about privacy and targeted ads.
Best for speed
Multiple browsers claim to be the fastest, it can be difficult to find unbiased data on which one truly leads the pack. Outside factors can also influence the speed of a browser, such as the device you use and if you employ pop-up blockers. Generally, Safari, Opera and lesser-known Vivaldi are all highly rated in terms of speed.
Best free web browser
The good news is, every web browser is free, so you can use whichever browser has the features that impress you the most.
Best for a PC
If you’re running a PC with Windows 10, Microsoft Edge is a great choice. While Microsoft’s long-running Internet Explorer browser was quietly retired in January 2020, Edge has since replaced it. Edge boasts faster and safer technology, including its proprietary anti-phishing technology called “SmartScreen.”
Best for Mac
Safari is the most popular web browser for Mac users. Not only does it come built-in with Mac devices, but Safari also releases multiple updates yearly, leading to a more secure browsing experience.
Web browser progression maps
From 2008 to 2015, there was a dramatic shift in the popularity and worldwide browser usage. This epic change took place in less than a decade and will continue to affect the way we use our devices for years to come.
Web browser FAQs
Since most web browsers are free to use, they generate income through a combination of search royalties, mobile browser services and revenue from data tracking for targeted ads.
Again, open a window with the browser you want to check. Go to Help (top right or top left corner for most browsers) and you should see About ‘browser name.’
Open a window with the browser you want to check. Go to Settings (top right or top left corner for most browsers) and make sure it says your system is up to date. Some browsers will automatically update on your cellphone or computer, but some updates require you to restart your device in order for updates to install.
The answer to this question depends on what you need out of your browser and what features are most important to you. Figuring out whether that’s security, speed or ad-free browsing is the first step to identifying the browser that is best for you.
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