I had an interesting call this week from a client in Phoenix. He reported that his internet was broken. I was afraid I might have to send over a local technician, since remote access only works if the client has internet service, but his computer showed up on my remote access application and reported that it had a healthy connection. I asked him a few questions and found out that it wasn’t his whole internet that was broken, it was his web browser.
(By the way, for those of you that are purists, internet and web are no longer supposed to be capitalized, according to the 2016 Associated Press Stylebook, but if you type “should the word internet be capitalized?” into a search engine, you’ll see that the fight still wages on.)
A web browser is a piece of software designed to allow us to use the resources available on the internet. You might think of the browser as your car. The car is really pretty useless unless there are roads and highways to drive on, right? The roads and highways are like the internet: they exist to take us to various places, and the car is the tool we use to take advantage of all those roads to get us to the places we want to go.
The internet is a worldwide network that consists of millions of computers, all offering various information, images, programs, and other resources to which people want to have access. The browser is very important, because its design will limit or allow certain resources to be accessed.
In 1994, Netscape Navigator was really the only commercially viable browser. It was based on US government efforts to make their information network (the precursor to the internet) easier to use. Netscape was really the reason the Internet became as popular as it did, as quickly as it did. It was free, and it was easy and fun to use.
Today, there are four mainstream browsers to choose from, along with 20 or 30 others that are less widely used. Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, Apple Safari, and Mozilla Firefox are all popular, modern browsers that will open most internet resources. They all have their advantages and disadvantages.
Microsoft Edge is available for Microsoft Windows 10 only -- that is its biggest weakness. Add in the constant nagging to make it the default and the non-intuitive (in my opinion) controls and settings, and it’s easy to mark off your list. It is pretty fast, according to the ZDNet tests (click on the picture to the right to read about which is fastest), but that doesn’t make up for its lack of usability.
Apple Safari is a fairly good browser, but it only works on Apple products. If I were an Apple fan, I would probably use it, but limiting myself to one platform has never been easy, with my job description. My browser of choice works very well on Apple, Linux, and ChromeOS, too, so I can use it on all of the operating systems I run.
I like Mozilla Firefox almost as well as Google Chrome, which is my browser of choice. Firefox is fast, secure, and works on most platforms. I have it loaded on most of my machines as a backup web browser, and if you don’t like Google products for some reason, it’s the browser I recommend.
Google Chrome is my favorite. It is integrated into my Android smartphone, and all of the Google apps I use are native to the Chrome platform. I can open it on nearly any platform and access the same bookmarks (favorites), email and contacts list, cloud storage, Chrome Remote Desktop, and Google Keep notes. The webmail client works very well in Chrome, so I don’t need a separate email client on any operating system. That might not be enough to convince you to try it, but it is fast, light, extremely configurable, and very secure, so maybe it’s your next browser, too!
I logged into his computer and found that it was his Internet Explorer 11 that was broken. My first reaction was surprise because it’s such an old browser.
Internet Explorer 1.0 was created in 1995 and released with the Windows 95 operating system. It was included with every version of Microsoft Windows that came after that, although it is not easy to find in Windows 10. It hasn’t received any substantive updates since 2015, when Microsoft Edge replaced it in the release of Windows 10. In the world of computers, IE is practically the Egyptian mummy of software.
On second thought, I reminded myself that it was just a little more than a year ago that my Cox cable business account worked in any browser other than IE. As new web browsers come out, web pages have to be revised to work in them, and some organizations are slow to make changes. IE works adequately on most websites, and better than other browsers on a few -- although the sites that work well in IE are declining fast. That’s what my client had run into: an updated website that wouldn’t even load in IE.
I gently reminded him that I had been trying to get him to switch over to Google Chrome for a couple of years. He insisted that he did use Google, which caused a bit of confusion until I realized that he meant he used the Google search engine in the Internet Explorer browser.
A little more gentle explanation, plus creating a profile for him and importing all of his IE favorites and history and deleting all the shortcuts to IE, and I think his problem is solved.
It’s not only new, popular browsers that make website owners and developers scramble to keep up. Browsers’ progress is influenced by websites, too. When businesses want features that would make their websites work better, software designers are eager to meet those needs better than the competitors do, and web browser developers want to support the newest features and attract more widespread public adoption of their browsers.
In the cyclical development of browsers and content, the needs of browser end users are hardly considered. All the developers figure that the users will like their exciting new browser with its fancy video player, but I don’t think we’re as excited as they are. Most of us would rather use software we’re familiar with for as long as we can, as demonstrated by the widespread use of Internet Explorer, Windows 7, and even Windows XP. Software manufacturers want to sell their latest and make more money, and website owners want to make their sites as cool as possible for the same reason, although through several different mechanisms.
As a matter of fact, habitually using the latest and greatest browser probably means a less than excellent experience for us, as well. The coolest effects and the latest plugins may have bugs. Most websites will not be able to keep up with the rapid development of those effects and plugins, so there won’t be any cool stuff to look at for a while. If we “fix what ain’t broke” too quickly, we could run into big trouble, and not receive a lot of benefit.
Developers and software companies make money by putting out new products all the time
It is very difficult to let go of the old and embrace the new, but I think this time it’s necessary. Hacking, viruses, and all kinds of malware seem to be on an endless growth curve, and one of the main ways they can be forced on consumers is through their browsers.
In addition to security concerns, the older your browser is, the less likely it is to show web pages with no problems. Forms may not work, images, videos, and other media may not display properly, and web applications may not work in an older browser.
If you are still using Internet Explorer, you should definitely pick a new browser. If you’re not, check your browser to make sure it’s up-to-date. Click on the picture to the right for an easy way to do this. When you go to get an updated browser, don’t get an Alpha, Beta, or Developer edition -- remember that the “bleeding edge” browsers are much more trouble than they are worth. Leave that to the nerds, and stick with an established, safe version. Also, consider getting a second web browser as a backup. It can really help if your first browser gets corrupted by some malware.
As usual, please use our contact form below to email me with any questions about your web browser, your internet, or your computer in general. If I don’t know the answer, I guarantee I can help you find it!
Mighty IT Computer Repair & Training