Web browsers are the gateway to the cyber space. You must own a browser on your computer in order to browse any page on the Internet. What then, you may ask, are web browsers? A web browser (or “browser”, for short) is any computer program or application that is responsible for launching a computer user onto the Internet or a simple area network like the Local Area Network (LAN) at home, office or within any geographical location where such a connection is established; whether wireless or direct connection.
If you ever checked your mails on a computer, or read some news headlines from a newspaper website, then you must have used a browser in your life. Web browsers today are of course a component of a branded new system, especially the popular Microsoft Internet Explorer which comes packaged into the Windows operating system. In fact, “mini” browsers are also found in most of today’s mobile phones and other portable devices like personal digital assistants (PDAs) and the like.
Some browsers can be downloaded for free, like Mozilla Firefox, Safari, Opera, and Google Chrome, while others are owned for a fee; directly or indirectly. An example is the Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.
The work of a browser is encoding any page on the Internet that is embedded within Hypertext Mark-up Language (HTML) tags. Web pages are written, embedded and “coded” using the popular web design language called HTML, a simple web programming language the computer uses in order to display texts, videos, sounds and graphics/images.
The moment you started a browser, it loads onto your system memory (RAM) and suddenly displays itself on the computer screen.
As you type in the web site’s universal resource locator (URL) or address (e.g. “www.google.com”), it communicates via your system ports, through the aid of a “protocol” named Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), down to the computer (i.e. the Web Server) hosting the pages you requested, wherever it is located in the world. It does this through what are called “requests”. The system at the other end collects such requests, analyse them and sends back “feedbacks”, which in this case should be the web pages being hosted or stored in it. As your system receives the information, the browser then “encodes” it and display the content the way it was encoded by the Web Site Designer: with texts (including colours and shapes), sounds, videos, images and their arrangements within the browser display area. This, in short, is how your browser sources the web pages you requested from the Internet.
Modern web browsers have the root of their history some twenty years ago, and since then, they continue to be one of the driving forces behind the success of the Internet as a technology. Before their appearance, web pages were accessed only through the use of technology such as File Transfer Protocol (FTP), and later on a gopher system. A “gopher” was a computer program, written for the purpose of surfing the net, which was then purely text-driven. The structure of a gopher was very simple: it displays the web site pages in totality, giving the surfer the opportunity to see the content of the entire site through “menus”. These menus serve the purpose of what is today known as “hypertext link”, “link” or “menu link”. You can access information through a particular subject by clicking a menu, which takes you down further.
Considering the size of users then, one can say that gophers had served the right purpose. Because about eighty per cent of web surfers were either university lecturers or researchers from technology research centres within the US, Japan and other European countries. The content alone determines the users: most of which were research breakthroughs, reports and emails. Most of this information was also accessed through Bulletin Boards and Mailing Lists. No colours, images/pictures, sounds, or videos: only plain, black texts on a white background. However, as time goes on and looking at the restricted mode of opportunities a “gopher” offered, technology researchers embarked on finding an alternative.
The precursor was a research breakthrough in the year 1991 by a British Professor of Physics, named Professor Tim Bernes-Lee, when he founded the World Wide Web Protocol and the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) which makes simple surfing from one website/webpage to another through a simple computer protocol; using a hypertext link or Universal Resource Locator (URL). Added to this was the enhancement of the de-factor web design language (HTML), which now provides ways for embedding images, videos, sounds and creating texts colours in a web page. This single act owned him the global honour, titled: The Father of the Internet, in the year 1993.
This was what equally heralded the spread of these modern browsers, starting with the appearance of Mosaic 1.0 in the year 1993. The Mosaic browser was the first to trigger the so called Internet Boom or the Dotcom Boom that started in the early 90s. A year after the invention of Mosaic came the famous Netscape Navigator, a browser designed and owned by Mc Andreessen. Mr. Mc Andreessen was among the group that designed Mosaic, but later on left, founded his company – Netscape Communications – and invented the Netscape Navigator. Netscape took the market entirely from Mosaic and changed the surfing pattern of the Internet.
In the same year (1994), another browser called Web Explorer, founded by IBM Corp., was introduced into the market. IBM Corp. introduced its browser and packaged it together with its famous operating system, OS/2 Warp. In the year 1995 the browser market experienced yet another surge, when Microsoft Corp. launched its popular Internet Explorer, version 1.0. In the year 1996, again, another browser named Opera was launched. Opera took the market by surprise when it came with new features and the quality of speed, compared to other browsers in the market then.
The browser was small, a minimalist application so to say, and was originally designed for use on portable devices like mobile phones and other similar devices. Despite its sudden popularity, Opera had not taken the market share from Netscape Navigator, which possessed about 80% then, with Internet Explorer trailing behind with 10%. Microsoft Corp, like all other browser makers then, introduced Internet Explorer as a separate product. But realising the challenge from Netscape Navigator, two years later the company announced that henceforth, its browser shall be incorporated into its Windows operating system. This gave the company an upper hand over the rest, and since then, it has been leading in the browser market, with the largest share margin.
From the year 2000 to date, browsers of different shapes and sizes had surfaced, some died naturally, while others undergone some drastic changes. For instance, another browser called Safari, designed for the Mac OS X operating system, was introduced in 2002. The founders of Netscape also moved the application to the open-source platform, where the browser was revamped and renamed Mozilla, in the same year. After a year or two, Mozilla was refashioned to Mozilla Firefox, a full fledged open-source browser with the second position of market share in the browser market today, behind Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. On the other hand, America Online (AOL), which took over the old Netscape through the years, finally retired it in 2006, urging its customers to “move over” to Mozilla Firefox. Finally, towards the end of last year, the online mega-giant, Google Inc., introduced a new browser called Google Chrome. It is a browser designed with a very good size, security and speed, at least for the meantime.