When you go onto the internet you’ll generally be doing so using a web browser. But what is a web browser – and what does it actually do?
A web browser (often just called a browser) is a piece of software that shows you the visual part of the internet on your computer. It’s the program you start when you want to look at a website.
You might well find that when you look for your documents they’re presented on screen in a browser-like window. This has been done to make it easier to work with computers.
What they do
You don’t need to know much about the technology behind the browsers, except to understand that they take the signals they pick up online and turn them into visual images, sounds or videos.
The images may be text (in which case you’ll be able to highlight it and paste it into a document, should you wish) or they might be a picture. You can use a browser to get into just about anything that’s publicly available on the web.
Elsewhere in these articles, we have a look at some of the different browsers available and their specific capabilities. There is a lot of common ground, though.
If you look in the View menu, for example, you will find tools to make the text you’re looking at bigger or smaller. If you have a trackpad on your laptop rather than a mouse, then pinching your fingers on the trackpad and opening them out may do the same thing.
If you’re finding a page difficult to read and don’t want to use the menu functions, hold the control key (‘ctrl’) down and use the plus and minus keys to change the size. This works with most browsers.
Browsers also come with their own security settings, which you’ll find in the Tools menu. This dictates whether websites can store information or ’cookies’ on your system, for example.
These are normally harmless identifiers. They could, for instance, tell a bookstore what you bought last time (so you can spend another small fortune on your next visit).
You can also use the security settings to exclude adult content, insist that sites have the right sort of security themselves before your computer will log on to them, and decide whether you want to keep a history of where you’ve been on the net in the Tools menu (although Windows has settings for the whole computer if you’re worried about what the kids might get up to).
So, a browser is flexible and configurable, according to your preference, but it is essentially your window onto the internet. The really interesting stuff starts when you look through it...