What Is A Browser? (And why should I care?)

I love analogies. They can explain the otherwise unexplainable. Here is a nice one:

Lying is like entering the labyrinth of the minotaur: the farther you go, the harder it is to find your way back.

Today however, I want to explain that your browser is like a TV set. It is a window to the web in the same way that a TV is a window to stations. While no analogy is perfect, this one is pretty close. It is so good, in fact, that you can answer technical questions with it.

For example:

Question: Can I view google using Firefox, or do I need Chrome?

Equivalent question: Can I watch NBC using a Sony TV set, or do I need a Toshiba?

The question answers itself when phrased the second way. The browser is just a window to the world. The web pages are the world. What makes the question seem interesting is that the companies that make browsers also have web pages, so it seems sensible to ask whether Google.com (a website) requires Chrome (a browser made by Google). It doesn’t. I have had clients call me believing that the internet was down because they got a website could not be found message when they started their browser. Most browsers are set to go to a specific page on startup, so that message could mean the website (MSN.com, for instance) is down, not the entire connection to the internet. It would be like turning on your TV and getting static on channel 4 and not trying any other stations. If you get a web page not found error, try a different page.

Imagine you and your significant other cannot agree on what is watchable TV. One of you likes nothing but sports channels, the other cooking channels. If you had two TV sets and you each used one exclusively, you could program them so that the favorite channels matched what you actually watch. The same is true of your browsers. If you both have Gmail accounts, one of you could use Google Chrome as your browser, and the other could use Microsoft Edge so that both of you could be logged in at the same time. Otherwise, you are forced to logout and login to switch accounts. (You could also achieve this with different user profiles, but that is often overkill.) I have two different Amazon prime accounts, one for personal use and one for my business. I keep them logged in on two separate browsers (Chrome and Edge). Favorites on each browser can match different users’ preferences, or even personal versus business needs of one user.

As for which browser you should use, these days it does not matter much. All current browsers (Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Safari, Opera, etc.) are capable and should serve you well. In a Windows environment, I will choose Chrome if it is available, but am fine with any of the major browsers. If on a Mac, I will usually use Safari or Chrome. Every once in a while, you will encounter a website that wants you to use a specific browser, but that is a rare occurrence. Basically, your browser is a TV.

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