“Whoever masters the Internet, masters the world…”
- Christophe Bonnefont

Alphonse de Lamartine wrote two centuries ago: “A single being is missing, and the whole world seems empty.” Yet at the beginning of this third millennium, isolation is rather the lot of the student, worker or holiday-maker lacking a Wi-Fi connection!

For fans of poetry - or indeed, anyone searching for anything - surfing the Internet for relevant websites is a must for staying in touch and finding out the basics of using a computer.

But here is the rub: a screen and a microprocessor are not enough to access a url. And so we propose to enter the world of bowsers 2.0 and gain a better understanding of them so you can choose which browser is best adapted to your needs.

What Is A Web Browser?

One of the first things you will learn during your computer courses!

To surf the Web with an electronic device, you need a programme that knows how to intepret the HTML and XHTML programming language, as well as PHP, JavaScript, Flash etc… so that the webpages appear on your screen with the layout, graphics and fonts that the web programmers envisioned.

By definition, a browser is a graphic interface which downloads data (texts, images, videos, sound) to present it to the user.

The first browser dates to 1990: WorldWideWeb by Tim Berners-Lee. However, it was not until 1993 and NCSA Mosaic that images and tables could be displayed.

Generally, your computer has a pre-installed browser; this is why most people never think about it. However, the free market allows you to choose your own means of surfing the Internet, even have several installed on your computer and change whenever you want.

Problems with cookies, a virus or recurring bugs can be good reasons for wanting to switch browsers. And, though some insist that having two different browsers leads to domestic problems, it is practical to have another browser on hand if a site doesn’t load properly on the one you are using.

Though there are still some independent email providers (such as Thunderbird), more and more people are turning to gmail (by Google) or other high-speed webmail providers. The same is true for IMs (Instant Messaging services): MSN is not the only one available anymore.

Unlike most other software programmes, Internet browsers are free - with a few rare and endangered exceptions.

The most common operating systems in use today are Windows, Mac Os, Linux/Ubuntu, iOS and Android. Each has its own particularities, which is why most have their own browsers. This is what we will be looking at now.

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Top Internet Browsers

With its microprocessor and user-friendly interface for use as a true digital office, the computer is still the king of digital. Today as for the last few decades, three main operating systems share the market. Here they are, by order of importance:

  • Windows, Bill Gates’ successful multinational, with its Windows 93, 95, 98, 2000, Xp, Vista, 7, 8, 9 and 10… This computing giant soon won over the hearts of firms and gamers.
  • Mac OS, Apple’s hyper-secure creation while Steve Jobs was still with us, from Classic to X, from 0.0 to 10.12.6. The apple with a bite taken out of it always had its exclusive markets such as graphic design and printing, but every passing year it gains on Nr. 1 thanks to innovative designs and marketing as innovative as the solutions it proposes.
  • Linux or Ubuntu (GNU), on the rise because of its open-source accessibility (it’s free) is very popular with IT technicians and free-access gurus. It first appeared in 2004 and has been perfected over time.

Within this very select little club you will find a great number of Internet browsers.
The 5 most common browser softwares (by market percentage), used by those looking for the best browser there is:

  • Google Chrome unites as of July 2017 more than half the internet users on the planet. Google Chrome owes its existence to Chromium, an open-source project, and has the advantage of working just as well with Windows, Mac and Linux.
  • Almost 1 in 5 Internet users praise Safari, juggling between Mac and Windows and using Webkit.
  • Internet Explorer (replaced by Edge in 2015) still attracts about one person in ten - yet it’s still lost ground from the time it was pre-installed on every Windows machine.
  • Mozilla Firefox satisfies about 7% of users. Like Chrome, it is polyvalent and runs on all systems (we strongly recommend it.)
  • With Opera, we are suddenly falling into an elite club with only 2% of users. This is somewhat surprising considering its multiplatform character which runs even on rare and little-known operating systems, and with a certain success on mobile devices (see nr. 4 below).
Google Chrome is a popular web browser.
Chrome is one of the younger browser generation but is already one of the most popular out there. Photo credit: Daniel Bowen on VisualHunt

Compatibility Table For Mobile Browsers

Let’s take a look now at mobile phones (mostly smartphones, as they are the most comfortable to navigate) and tablets (iPad, Amazon Fire…) and you will soon find many similarities to computers per se.

The word “microbrowser” is often used, a term that speaks for itself.

Opera Mini is a microbrowser.
Smartphone browsers like Opera Mini are called microbrowsers. Photo credit: Johan Larsson on VisualHunt.com

This is a good time to offer a table of web navigation possibilities depending on your equipment:

Web BrowserFirmCompatible SystemsDate of CreationInstallation link
Google Chrome/ChromiumGoogleAndroid, iOS, Windows, Mac, Linux2008https://www.google.com/chrome/browser/desktop/index.html
SafariAppleiOS, Mac et Windows (from XP up)2003https://support.apple.com/en_GB/downloads
FirefoxMozillaWindows, iOS (since 2015)2002https://www.mozilla.org/en-GB/firefox/new/
EdgeMicrosoftWindows 10, Xbox One2015https://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/windows/microsoft-edge
Internet ExplorerMicrosoftWindows (support ended 2015)1994https://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/download/internet-explorer.aspx
OperaOpera SoftwareiOS, Android, Nintendo DS1994http://www.opera.com
UC BrowserUCWebiOS, Android, Windows Phone, RT, S60, CE, Bada, J2ME, BREW, MTK2004https://uc-browser.en.softonic.com/
Avant BrowserAvant ForceWindows (2000, XP, Vista and 7)2004http://www.avantbrowser.com/default.aspx?uil=en
Maxthon Cloud BrowseMaxthon International LimitedWindows, Linux, OS X2006http://de.maxthon.com/

In addition, we should also mention various alternative browsers such as Seamonkey, Rockmelt, Camino (native to Mac OS X) and Dolphin Browser HD.

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How To Choose the Best Web browser?

Your average user mostly wants to use the Internet to consult or create web content.
However, the question of which browser is the best is largely subjective.
With the help of this table, you will be able to best choose and install a version that will run smoothly and be compatible with your system.

After that, you will need to make up your own mind. Different browsers will work better depending on your RAM, what kind of computer security you have (firewall or antivirus - there are good free antiviruses out there like Avast), what kind of pop-up blocker plug-in you want to use.

You can look at statistics where those who habitually surf the Internet express their preferences; but there is no easy solution, especially since everyone surfs differently: watching lecture videos on YouTube, listening to Internet radio, visiting insecure sites, posting on programming forums, getting a computer science degree in an online degree program….

Mozilla Firefox is a good browser.
Mozilla Firefox's fiery fox has a well-known logo inspired by nature - and is a good all-round browser for Mac or Windows.

Depending on what smartphone or tablet you have, the system bugs won’t all be the same. For example, Opera Mini has the advantage of limiting the temporary files in your cache.

There are some reflexes you should train to avoid inconvenience - have only one default browser, uninstall any malware or spyware (if you suddenly have a different startup page or homepage, that’s an important clue), avoid clicking on advertisements (even consider using something like Adblock), regularly empty your browser cache and delete your browser history, get a better antivirus, don’t install unnecessary plug-ins, be wary of supposed “new functions”, set up your advanced settings, install a new browser or re-install the old one if it becomes unusually slow or crashes regularly.

Google ChromeFast, secure and with a minimalistic interfaceYou personal data remains in the hands of Google
FirefoxSecure and well-structured. A model browser with an IDM model interface perfect for managing your downloads.Less add-ons and extensions than Chrome
SafariSimple and without unnecessary functions. The traditional browser for Apple hardware.Not that fast.
OperaOpera’s list of VPN tools.Recurring problems with JavaScript.
Internet ExplorerThe fastest browser out there…… but with horrible security; also problems with a lot of HTML and XHTML norms

Internet Explorer has problem with Web 2.0 norms.
While Internet Explorer is fast, it often has trouble interpreting the common web programming languages html and xhtml and the layout language css, displaying websites in an odd fashion. Photo credit: atzu on Visual hunt

A List of Deceased Web Browsers

Out of nostalgia for old web apps considered the “fastest browser in the world”, out of curiosity or because you want to develop your own open-source software by taking inspiration from the source code of the best applications of the past, it might be interesting to cite some of the defunct software that have served us well (you might learn about some of them during your computing courses):

Netscape Navigator (abandoned in 2008) was created by Mosaic developer Marc Andreessen: until it was overtaken by Internet Explorer in 2000, the most used browser worldwide
NCSA Mosaic an old-timer dating to 1992, born under Window then used by Macintosh, and without which there would be no urls.

NetPositive - or “Net+” - is the first-born for BeOS systems -if that doesn’t make you feel old.

Either way, don’t forget to monitor your add-ons and protect your private life. This is particularly important if you are using Google rather than an alternative search engine such as DuckDuckGo, as your data is gathered to tailor ads to your tastes depending on where you surf!

A good free browser should also offer good parental control, run smoothly no matter how many tabs you have open, and offer the possibility of sychonising a new version with the old.

Still have questions? Check out our beginner computer courses!

Click here for A Guide To Web Security & Computer Safety.

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As an Englishman in Paris, I enjoy growing my knowledge of other languages and cultures. I'm interested in History, Economics, and Sociology and believe in the importance of continuous learning.