Choosing a web browser: Where do I start?

25th March, 2010

In the next few days we’ll be publishing a series of posts to help you make an informed choice about your browser. Today’s post looks at where to start when considering what browser(s) to choose.

What is a browser?

A browser is a piece of software that displays Web pages. Your browser influences the way you use the Web in a variety of ways, including how fast a page opens, how safe you are while surfing and how much of your data is shared with others.

Web browsers shouldn’t be confused with other key parts of your online experience, such as  operating  systems  (like  Windows,  Mac  or  Linux)  or  search  engines  (like  Google, Yahoo! or Bing).

What should I look for first?

You can read our overview of browsers here but if you haven’t thought much about choosing one, there are a few things to consider before making a decision.

Is the browser you are considering free? Today, the most popular and well-respected browsers are free to users. If you come across a site demanding a fee before you can download a browser, it might be a scam.

Before downloading a browser, one of your first steps should be checking if the browser is supported by your computer. Our overview of browsers shows you which will work on which operating systems. If you have an older computer, your operating system may not support modern browsers.

Check that the browser you choose will display the sites you visit correctly. Not every browser works with every site.  When this happens, Web pages aren’t displayed correctly or are missing text or functionality. If pages aren’t displaying properly on one browser, you might want to try another option and compare.

Finally, you might want to consider how the browser is made. Software is created in a variety of ways. Some browsers are known as “open source” or “free software”. This means you can modify and use the programme however you like. Other browsers are “closed source” or “non-free.” Installing such software usually means that you’re bound by certain conditions, such as not modifying it in particular ways (even though it’s running on your computer).

In our next post on what to look for when choosing your browser we’ll be considering browser security and customising your browser to your needs. In the meantime, we’d like to hear what features you think are important when choosing a browser.

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