For many people, the web browser is an almost transparent part of their computer. To most, it's "how they access the Internet", but it's really just another software application like Microsoft Word, or a database package.
The browser used to be nothing more than the application used to access information, but something as changed. It's now increasingly being used to access application-like functionality. The classic example of this is e-mail -- where once you needed an e-mail application, services like Yahoo! Mail, Google Mail and Hotmail allow you to access e-mail via the web. And so this trend continues. Google recently announced a word-processor and spreadsheet solution available on the web.
With the web browser now taking a much more central role in how we use our computers, the makers of the browsers are updating their products to enable even more experiences via the web.
Microsoft recently released Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) -- the long awaited update to the standard web browser that comes with Microsoft Windows. It's the omni-present "blue E" icon that is still the browser that the majority of people use. IE7 has been in development for some time; time where Microsoft has seen other vendors release competing products for the web browser crown. The new version sports a different, simpler, look, but under the covers has some great new enhancements. IE 7 supports 'tabs' (the ability to open several web pages at one, all in the same window) as well as a host of security fixes that Microsoft hopes will enable IE to retain the top-spot. IE remains a product only for users of Microsoft Windows.
However, another web browser has been gaining popularity at an exciting rate. Firefox is a free product from Mozilla. It's actually worked on by programmers around the world, who help to give it innovative new features and reliability. Firefox has become popular because it has shown itself to be more secure than Microsoft's IE, but also because it has a large catalog of extensions, or plug-ins. These plug-ins enable other developers to create additional functionality for the Firefox product. Extensions are available (for example) to block advertising, to help web developers test their pages and to integrate with on-line services such as a photo-sharing site. Firefox is available for PCs, Mac's and works with Unix-based systems such as Linux.
Apple Macintosh users also have the option to use the default browser supplied with their computers: Safari. Itself based upon code contributed by programmers around the world, Apple adds it's own customizations and extensions to make a very polished product. One thing Mac users appreciate is the 'experience' of using a Mac. In this respect, Safari truly acts just like part of that experience. It's clean, simple and 'just works'. Fortunately, it's also very good feature-wise and has proven to be quite secure.
A browser known mainly amongst the web developer community is Opera. Opera was for a long time, not free - a contrast with the other browsers. However, it was very actively developed. Today, it's freely available to download for multiple operating systems. It has excellent support for the web standards being used more in todays applications and is very secure. Although little known, Opera is certainly built to the highest standards and can easily compete with the more well-known players. You may also be surprised to know that Opera is also available for mobile phones... browser the web on the go!
So, with so much choice, why not take a little time to explore what web browser works for you. Especially since these options are free!