What is a web browser / Internet browser?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines "(web) browser" as:
"A computer program used for accessing sites or information on a network (such as the World Wide Web)."
If you've been following our lessons up until now, you'll recall that the World Wide Web is a collection of information and other media, organized by "websites", connected by "hyperlinks", and built on top of the global network of linked computers that make up the Internet. Now, here's the million-dollar question: how do you actually get (to) this information? Though the World Wide Web is built on top of the Internet, it isn't just floating around in cyberspace where anyone can get at it (in fact, this would be quite dangerous, as it would be very easy for anyone to get into private areas and look at personal information!). Instead, different pieces of the World Wide Web (usually individual websites) are stored on special computers called "servers", which only release certain information to people who know how to ask for it.
This is where web browsers come in. A "web browser", or an "Internet browser" (as it is sometimes called), is basically a computer program that acts as your tour guide for the World Wide Web. It knows how to ask nicely for and get web pages from the server computers they're on, shows you the information and media that are on each web page, and takes you to wherever a hyperlink leads when you click it.
Web browsers often have other neat functions, too. You can "bookmark" certain web pages so that you can quickly access them again if you need to, or even designate a "home" web page that your browser will automatically get for you when you open it. You can also add extra functions to a browser in order to access content that you otherwise couldn't (the Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight plug-ins are two common examples of this), and even customize how your browser looks!
Oh, and most web browsers are free to download, install, and use. We thought we should mention that. You can put away your wallet now.
What are the best web browsers?
Currently, there are five Internet browsers that people around the world use more than any others. And, like we mentioned, they are all free to download, install, and use.
This web browser was created by the Mozilla Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping create an Internet that everyone can — and is allowed to — access and contribute to the growth of through innovating new and better online experiences. Created in 2004, it enjoyed moderate success that peaked around 2010, but its popularity has been slowly declining recently. It is most popular in Southeast Asia, though it also has strong followings in some countries in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the Caribbean.
This web browser was created in 2008 by Internet mega-corporation Google. Its popularity skyrocketed over the next few years, and it is now currently the most used web browser in the world. Part of its popularity comes from the fact that it's an "open-source" browser, so people can look inside it and see how it works.
This web browser by Microsoft was one of the first popular and commercially-available ones, besides Mosaic and Netscape Navigator. It comes pre-installed on many devices that use the Windows operating system. Created in 1995, it has seen its popularity decline considerably within the last 5 years or so, though it is still popular in Eastern Asia. Microsoft has announced that it will replace Internet Explorer with a new service called "Edge", which will be released alongside the Windows 10 operating system in July 2015.
This web browser was created in 2003 and comes pre-installed on many Apple devices. It has traditionally not been very popular, but its use has steadily been increasing over the past 5 years or so, to the point where it is supposedly more popular than Firefox now.
Another early web browser that debuted in 1996, Opera hasn't been all that popular throughout its lifespan. However, it has produced some innovative features that other more widely-used browsers have adopted, such as allowing a user to begin their browsing session by choosing from a list of websites that they most frequently visit (known as the "Speed Dialing" feature). Opera is mostly used in Africa.