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Tech Sense by John Bell October 2022: Using your Tools: The Browser

Updated: Nov 3




Using your Tools: The Browser

We have been back to school for a few weeks now and I thought it might be time to learn how to better use your computer and the software it includes. The most common software used for most home computers is the Internet browser. Depending on your computer and your personal choice the browser is likely to be one or more of Google Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, or Apple Safari. There are other choices but these four represent 85% of the browser traffic going to Wikipedia as of October 2021 with all the remaining browsers each having less than a 2% share. The web browser is the tool used to access the World Wide Web on the Internet.


Web Browser Choices

First let me answer a personal question, my personal choice of browser is Firefox which I use on my Linux and Windows computers and my Android phone. My reason for using Firefox is that in my experience it provides the most privacy and protection of the major browsers. Chrome is the most popular browser with more users than all the other browsers combined. I used Chrome on the handful of Linux systems that I have that do not support Firefox. My primary issue with Chrome is that Google’s primary business is selling advertisements and it is difficult to turn these off on the Chrome browser. Microsoft Edge is Microsoft’s replacement for Internet Explorer. If you are still using Explorer please stop now, it is no longer supported and is not safe to use on the Internet. Edge is built on top of the same codebase as Google Chrome but has Microsoft “enhancements.” Safari is currently specific to Apple products and other vendors must use a browser based on Apple’s WebKit libraries the same as Safari. This means that only the appearance of the application is different if you use Firefox or Chrome and you do not get the advantages of the other JavaScript or HTML rendering engines.


The Tab Bar

Working down from the top, most browsers offer a “tab” oriented interface. Each tab represents a different webpage and selecting a tab changes the view to that page. Holding the mouse cursor on the tab allows the tab to be moved (dragged) into a different place left, or right of its current position. Right clicking with the mouse brings down a menu of choices which varies slightly between browsers. The choices often include closing the tab or moving it to a new browser window and may also include moving the tab into a new browser window. The “pin” menu choice will stick the tab in place, so it stays open in the browser.


The Tool Bar

Below the “tab bar” is the “tool bar.” The tool bar usually has a series of icons and spaces where information and can be entered. The icons start on the left and start with left and right arrows, left being used to move back to the previous webpage (if there was one) and right being used to move forward to the next page assuming you have previously moved backwards. The next icons are often a house (sometimes confused with a fat up arrow) and a circular arrow.

The house icon (if it appears) is used to navigate to your home page. Your home page can be changed in the browser settings. Chrome defaults to google.com while Edge comes with the default setting to a Bing related page with search and news articles. The home icon may or may not appear. If the home icon is missing it can be added back through the settings menu on most browsers.

The circular arrow has a special purpose, it refreshes the page if it has changed. Technically, it sends new request to the web server asking for the contents to be re-sent whether the contents have been changed. This is often useful if a page hasn’t rendered correctly, and you want to try again.

The next area on the tool bar allows text to be entered and it is called the address or address/search bar. This is where a web URL can be entered to directly navigate to a page on the web. All the browsers used to have a separate search bar that allowed a search to be performed immediately. Some browsers allow this to be re-enabled. The default however is that if text is entered into the address bar and not recognized as an URL it will be sent to the selected search engine and the browser will return the search results.

The icons that follow are likely to be different on each browser. The right most icon will normally be three short lines or dots stacked vertically. Selecting this icon will bring you to the browser settings menu. To the left of this you may find an image of a face or a place holder for one. This allows you to sign-in to the browser maker, Google for Chrome, Mozilla for Firefox, and Microsoft for Edge. Google and Microsoft use the login to help them track you across different devices and all of them will use it to synchronize the data they store for you like passwords, addresses and web form information across devices. I make it a habit to always log out here when I need to use the web privately.


Wrap Up

I am out of room for more this month. Next month is the Christmas Shopping column so I will pick up part 2 after that. In part 2 we will talk about important settings, private browsing, bookmarking, and add-ons and extensions. I am considering a future column on how to get value from your spreadsheet and how to use your Word processor like a writer. Let me know if you are interested in topics like this.

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