Most folks who use a “real” computer to access the Internet (as opposed to using a phone) do it with a single piece of software: the mighty “browser.” Strangely, though, most people don’t even know that’s what they are doing.
Even though browsers are the computer programs we use the most, they are also the most misunderstood. Please pay close attention and read carefully as I endeavor to remedy that situation. Once you understand what a browser is, and what it can do, your enjoyment of the Internet will grow immensely.
Simply put, a browser is nothing more than a computer program that lets you look at websites on the Internet; that’s all. The more formal term is “Web Brower,” as it is a program that lets you “browse” the World Wide Web,” which is where all the “websites” are. Just like you “browse” the shelves at a store for a product you like, you browse the World Wide Web for websites that are of interest to you. Just like we drive automobiles from town to town, we drive browsers from website to website.
There are many different browsers, with names like Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari and Google Chrome. Though all slightly different, they are all designed to do the same thing: let you look at websites. They all do the same thing, but maybe in slightly different ways. It may take changing a setting, or adding a feature, but by in large, there’s nothing you can do with one browser that you can’t do with another.
Most of the apps we use on our phones and tablet computers are nothing more than tiny browsers that only go to one website. For example, the Facebook “app” is just browser software that connects you to, and lets you use, the facebook.com website.
All apps of that type, be it Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, the local TV station app, the Weather Channel, or Google Maps, are nothing more than scaled-down browsers that only let you do one thing: use the website they were designed for. With a full-featured browser, you can visit any website in the world, most of which will never have an app you can put on your phone.
How do you get to different websites with a full-on browser, though? With your car, you use the steering wheel and a map to visit your destination. With a browser, you use the address bar, and perhaps a search website like google.com.
Probably the most powerful feature a browser has is the Address bar. Even though they see it every time they see a website, a shocking number of people don’t know what it is or how to use it. They think the only way they can get to a website is by clicking little “shortcut” links or other icons they stumble across, even though the address bar has been staring at them the whole time, begging to be used. The address bar is the browser’s steering wheel, providing the fundamental way of moving from one website to another.
The long, rectangular horizontal box at the top of the browser window, that contains website addresses, is called the Address bar. You’ll notice things like “https://www.websitename>.com,” or maybe just “<websitename>.com.” That’s the address bar, the area in the browser that displays the website address that you are visiting.
If you’ve never used the address bar, try it now. Take your mouse pointer, rest it inside the address bar and give a single click. The address in the bar will suddenly be highlighted blue. Press the Delete key on your keyboard and the address will disappear, leaving the bar empty. That’s means it is ready for you to type a website address. Type www.davemoorecomputers.com and press the Enter key on the keyboard. You will be taken to my website. The address bar is that easy to use.
That’s great if you already know the precise address you want to visit, but what if you don’t? That’s when you do a search at the world’s biggest encyclopedia, Google. Let’s say you don’t know the Norman Transcript’s website address. Visit www.google.com (type it in the address bar and press the Enter key) and type Norman Transcript in the search bar that’s in the middle of the screen. Google will show you “search results.” Click on the first one, and you will be miraculously transported to www.normantranscript.com. It’s that easy!