25 May 2014 karlberry   » (Master)

A not-so-technical friend asked me, "What is a browser?"
My reply was, how about: software providing an interface for navigating information.

Here is my reasoning:

1) "interface" - there are the usual graphical browsers like firefox.
There are also textual-only browsers (such as lynx).
Also, non-interactive programs that simply download a file from the web
can be construed as browsers of a sort. "Interface" can encompass all
of that.

2) "navigating" - because an important component of the whole thing is
going from one piece of information to related, or maybe not related,
information. That is, "hyperlinks", although nowadays people rarely
bother with the "hyper". (I'm ignoring the fact that one can also edit
web pages in browsers, debug javascript programs, and do all kinds of
other unrelated things.)

3) "information" - instead of "web page", because browsers can work with
all kinds of things besides web pages, although of course they are the
most prevalent.

My definition says nothing about the www or even the Internet. This is
because browsers are quite useful for looking at stuff on one's own
computer. In fact, as you may remember or have come across, there was a
huge brouhaha and accompanying lawsuit about this in the late 90s, wrt
people replacing Internet Explorer with Netscape. MS's response was to
make Explorer be "part of" the operating system, specifically not
restricted to poking around the web. (I'll spare you the details, but
if you want them, here is the basic story:

I wrote the above before checking to see what kind of answers came up on
the net. Let's see ...

At least my friend didn't think a browser *is* Google.
(The first 30 seconds are enough to get the flavor.)

Here's wikipedia's take on it (first paragraph is enough):
They're specifically addressing "web browser", not "browser". Few
people would make that kind of pedantic distinction, as I do above.

So it goes ...

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