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Web Browsers and Search Engines

You don’t need to know the terms “web browser” or “search engine” to be a confident computer user. But, since you already use at least one of each of these, you might want to know more about them.

Web browsers are software programs that act as gateways to the Internet. In a web browser, you set a home page, type website addresses, save favorites, see the sites you’ve visited, and use tabs to toggle among multiple pages. Examples of web browsers are Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, Chrome, and Opera.

Search engines are software programs that act as gateways to every encyclopedia, catalogue, yellow page directory, brochure, video, and business represented on the internet. They return to you a list of links to websites that contain your search words. Examples of search engines are Bing, Google, AOL Search, Ask.com, and Yahoo.

And … you have choices.

Once your computer is powered on and has access to a network, you use a web browser to get you onto the internet. Windows computers come pre-installed with Internet Explorer; Apple computers come pre-installed with Safari. However, you can chose to use Internet Explorer on a Mac, or Safari on a Windows computer. You can also choose to use Firefox, Chrome, or Opera on any computer.

Each web browser offers basically the same features, although some people like the look and feel of one over another, and each program has some unique subtleties. In addition, you could come across a feature that displays or works better in one browser than in another. My advice is to use one web browser most of the time, but have another one on your computer in case you need a “backup.”

Once you open any web browser, you can use it to access your chosen search engine. There are no absolute pairings. Just because the web browser Chrome is made by Google, you do not need to use it in order to use Google’s search engine. Similarly, even though Bing is Microsoft’s search engine, you can access it from web browsers other than Internet Explorer.

There are differences among the search engines. Each one employs its proprietary formulas for turning keywords into meaningful results. The most thorough way to get your search results is to try the same search in more than one search engine. You may find similar — or very different — results.

Most computer users settle into familiar patterns: one web browser and one search engine. There is nothing wrong with that. But it’s good to be aware of new versions and features in the other programs. After all, these companies are all in business to attract your attention, and you might find a feature on one web browser or search engine you like enough to make a switch. Nice to have choices.