Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Use Multiple Browsers (Technical Tuesday)

The web is a marvel. It changed our society in so many ways. And like most marvels it does a great job of working even if you don't understand how. Think of your car, or your air conditioner, or your refrigerator. You may know some about how they work, but mostly you just let them do their job.

Today I'm going to teach you a teensy bit more about how the web works. Don't worry, it won't get complicated, and having this knowledge will help you if you have your own website or blog. It may also help you if you've ever visited a site that didn't work.

We're going to talk about browsers and why you should have more than one.


Back in high school I worked as a summer camp counselor. Before camp began they held a series of training meetings. At the first one we usually played an icebreaker game. You know the drill--they force you to interact with all the strangers in the room?

One game involved picking a person out of the group and showing them a simple line drawing. The person described the drawing while everyone else drew what they understood. In the end, we'd all show our drawings. Often the results were--how should I put this--awful. Then they'd pick someone else to be publicly embarrassed It.

How this game was supposed to help us get along better, I'm still not sure. But it is a great example of how the web works.


Quick Definition:
Browser: Short for "Internet Browser" or "Web Browser". This is the program you use to access the web. The most common browsers are Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, and Mobile Devices.

Any time you go to a website it sends a stream of letters and images to your computer. Your browser receives these data and displays it to you. Using our icebreaker game, imagine that the website is the person describing the picture and your browser is the one trying to draw it.

Browsers have been playing this "game" for a long time. They're pretty good at getting things right, but there are still small differences (and sometimes major differences) between the browsers.

Have you ever gone to a blog and seen all the wonderful comments, but it won't let you leave one? Or have you visited a website and everything looked all messed up? Has anyone ever told you that YOUR blog or website was messed up, but it looks just fine to you? Many times, these are symptoms of the different browsers "drawing different pictures".

This is why, as a provider of web content, you need to test out your product in all the major browsers. You'll be surprised how different each one looks, and you may even discover why some of your users complain that they can't see your stuff.

Get the Browsers

All the major browsers are freely available to download and install. I recommend installing Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome. This will cover over 80% of your potential readers. If you have a big following using Macs you'll also want to install Safari.

Click on the following links to download and install. If you already have a browser you don't need to install it again.
Quick Tour

Each of these browsers approaches the web a little differently. Don't let that worry you. You don't have to spend a lot of time with them. You're just using them when you need to. Here and there.

All of the browsers will allow you to type (or copy) in a web address and press Enter to visit a page. All of them will let you scroll through your page and click on links. And that's it. There's a lot more to learn about each browser, but you don't need to know all that just to test your site.

To Browse or Not to Browse

First, when someone complains that your site or blog doesn't work right, make sure to check it out in each of  the different browsers. Odds are, one of them will have the problem. If that happens, then do a search specific to that browser such as "Internet Explorer won't allow Blogger comments". You might find your answer.

Second, any time you make big changes to your blog or site, test it with the browsers--especially if you're changing your theme. There have been numerous times I've visited a blog to find the titles overwriting the comments link, or jutting out into the sidebar, or have the posts all jumbled with strange colors. This is usually caused by the theme not supporting all the browsers. Sometimes you can report this to the theme creator and they'll fix it. Sometimes you'll have to choose another theme.


Having different browsers can be a pain sometimes. It means a bit of extra work for us bloggers and website creators, and it might be tempting to complain about that. Don't.

Having different browsers forces them to compete. Which means they're doing new things. Some of those new things are what makes the web so awesome today, and they will make it even more awesome in the future.

Now instead of feeling helpless when your browser or a site doesn't work, you can be proactive. Jump to another browser and see if that works.

Happy Browsing.

Question: Which browser do you use most often? What do you love/hate about it?

* The cool ice picture (pun most definitely intended) was taken by BuildArk and can be found on Flickr.

** Browser statistics are based on August 2011 data.


Peggy Eddleman said...

I use Firefox almost exclusively. As to why.... Hm. The icon looks coolest? No, really. I think it's just because I like the look and feel of it better. And it's not IE, and that's always a plus. :)

Donna K. Weaver said...

I have three different email accounts, and I hate having to sign out and then sign in again for each. So I use all three browsers (IE, Firefox, and Chrome) and each one handles a different email account.

John Waverly said...

Peggy - I like Firefox a lot because of all the plugins, but Chrome is growing on me. While I'm not an IE-hater, it's definitely #4 for me (behind Opera). If it didn't command such market share, I probably wouldn't use it at all.

Donna - That's a reasonable solution. Do you get confused with which browser has your bookmarks? Or do you have one primary browser and the other 2 just for checking email?

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