What is a browser, and what can it do for you? | TheUnion.com

What is a browser, and what can it do for you?

Photo for The Union John Hart

I see lots of different browsers on my friends' computers. I see Safari on the Mac, and Internet Explorer on Windows. I've seen friends using Chrome, Firefox, and others on both platforms. What exactly is a browser and why does it exist? And what browser am I using? I don't know how to tell.

Stop right now and start up whatever application you use to browse the web. Where you type the web address, enter http://www.whatbrowser.org. This useful site can tell you which browser you're currently using and if your copy is up to date. This is useful information!

To quote from whatbrowser.org: "Internet Explorer is a browser. It's a piece of software on your computer. It lets you visit web pages and use web applications. It's important to have the latest version of your browser. Newer browsers save you time, keep you safer and let you do more online." Putting it as simply as possible, a web browser is a piece of software that allows you to view web pages.

In its simplest format, the World Wide Web consists of millions/billions of documents, created using a text-based language called HTML. In order to view these documents, you need some software that can make a request for a specific page to a specific address: Your request for a page turns into a response, which displays the requested page. It's (obviously) a lot more complex than that, but you can think of your browser as a means of viewing web pages.

People often confuse their browsers with the content displayed in the browser; That is, they equate their browser with Google or Bing. Others confuse the browser with their computer: A browser is not the Windows PC or Mac. As we said before, a browser is nothing more than a piece of software that runs on your computer that allows you to view and interact with web pages.

Some browsers are platform-specific (current versions of Internet Explorer run solely on Windows computers, and current versions of Safari run only on Mac computers). Others, like Chrome, Firefox, Opera and more, run on both platforms, plus Linux. In addition, you'll find web browsers on all smart phones and tablets — iPhones and iPads run Safari (although you can install Google Chrome on these devices), and Android phones and tablets run Google Chrome. Each different browser supports browsing the web, of course, and each provides its own set of unique features and capabilities.

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Some folks like the features in one browser, and others prefer another. Each browser maintains its own settings, history, bookmarks, cache and add-ins; if you have trouble with one browser, you can experiment with another. (To find alternate browsers, search the web for Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox). Ken is partial to Chrome because it easily synchronizes bookmarks and settings across his Mac, PCs, iPhone and iPad. Chrome maintains all these settings across all the platforms on which he browses. Other browsers can do the same thing (Safari uses iCloud, Internet Explorer can use SkyDrive), but Chrome makes it all truly easy.

Whichever browser you choose, make sure you keep it up to date. New security risks find their way to the public weekly, and it's important to maintain the most secure browser you can — update regularly!

iPhone 5C or iPhone 5S?

I don't understand why Apple released both the iPhone 5C and the iPhone 5S. What's the difference? Which one is right for me?

It's true: If you want a new iPhone at this point, you must choose between the iPhone 5C and iPhone 5S. The iPhone 5C is the colorful one — it's available in green, blue, yellow, pink and white. Apparently, there are folks who need a phone of a particular color (Doug and Ken don't fall into that category.) The iPhone 5S is the one with the fingerprint reader, the better camera and the faster processor. In other words, it's way more advanced than the iPhone 5C. They're both available with multiple storage options; both are available with 16 or 32GB of storage, and the 5S offers a 64GB option, as well. These sizes have nothing to do with the speed or power of the phone — they simply indicate how much "stuff" you can store on the phone. If you use your phone to watch videos (Ken does this for hours every day at the gym), you'll have to consider how much space you need: If you stream your video from iTunes, Netflix, Amazon or Hulu+, then you won't need much storage space. If you tend to download videos from iTunes to keep with you, you'll need as much storage space as you can afford.

Doug and Ken both sprung for the iPhone 5S, which is $100 more than the 5C in every configuration. Not only is its camera and processor better, but the fingerprint reader provides quick access to the phone when it's locked (and it should be, whenever you're not using it).

There's no "right" phone for everyone, and we can't recommend the right one for you, as well. Apple's web site allows you to compare the phones: http://apple.com/iphone/compare/.

It's useful to note that you can still get the iPhone 4S for free on a new contract. You can only get the 8GB model, but note that it's quite a step down from the 5S or 5C — but it is free. Also note that if you already have an iPhone 5, it's hard to justify the upgrade to a 5C because they're essentially the same phone except for the colors. The upgrade from an iPhone 5 to a 5S is a little less hard to justify, but it's probably worth waiting for the inevitable iPhone 6.

If you need a new phone now, and if you're sold on the Apple/iOS world, you can't go wrong with either the iPhone 5C or 5S. We suggest looking at the 5S if you can afford the $100 premium and think carefully about how much space you'll need. We both went with the smallest size, since neither of us tends to carry a lot of music and video content around with us.

Doug Behl and Ken Getz spent years answering technical questions in private, and are minimizing the questions by pre-emptively publishing the answers. Hear Doug and Ken's tech tips on KNCO radio weekdays at around 8:21a.m. and 5:38 p.m.; find full write-ups including links to the products they mention at http://blog.techtipguys.com. Submit your own technical questions to questions@techtipguys.com.

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