A Web browser is a software program that interprets the coding language of the World Wide Web in graphic form, displaying the translation rather than the coding. This allows anyone to “browse the Web” by simple point and click navigation, bypassing the need to know commands used in software languages.
The World Wide Web is written in Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), which looks nothing like its graphic translation. To take a peek, Web users can right-click on any empty space in a webpage, and a small pop-up menu will appear. They can choose View Page Source in Firefox®, or View Source in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer® to see what the code looks like.
The first successful graphical Web browser, Mosaic, was written by Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina in 1992 and released in 1993. At that time, the only popular graphical online services were offered by Prodigy, America Online (AOL), and Compuserv. These companies were closed networks that provided their own proprietary content, message boards, email programs, and interfaces, and did not provide access to the Internet.
The Mosaic browser opened the Internet to the general public. It provided an easy way to navigate the Web and was free for personal use. To compete with the appeal of the Internet’s worldwide network, closed networks had to introduce a pipeline to the Internet and supply a graphic browser to interpret HTML. By the time this occurred in the mid-1990s, Andreessen had partnered with Jim Clark, former founder of Silicon Graphics, to create a new flagship tool called Netscape.
Netscape remained the Web browser of choice until Microsoft began pre-packaging their own version into the Windows® operating system. Internet Explorer® was generally considered inferior to Netscape in many ways, and it was particularly criticized for ongoing security issues, numerous bugs, and a lack of conformity to Web standard protocols. While this turned off many in the online community, the flood of new computer users knew too little to be aware or concerned. By 1998, Internet Explorer® dominated the market, due in large part to Microsoft’s ability to pre-load it into new computer systems.
At the same time, Netscape, then known as Netscape Communicator, released its source code to the public. The browser went through a massive rewrite over the next few years and emerged as the open source Web browser known as Mozilla, under the Mozilla Organization, then owned by AOL. By 2003, AOL passed off oversight to the newly formed Mozilla Foundation, which renamed the browser Phoenix and later Firefox®.
Both Microsoft’s Internet Explorer® and Mozilla's Firefox ® are free from to download and are two of the most popular options. In 2008, Google released the Chrome™ browser, which quickly claimed a significant part of the market. Many people who use Apple products have the Safari® browser, which was created by Apple for its operating systems; a version is also available for Windows®. Another alternative, Opera™, is also available. Many people choose to keep and use multiple browsers, since some sites work better in one than another.