Whenever you look at web pages with your computer, tablet or mobile phone, you use a program or app called a web browser.
Before the likes of iPads and smartphones became so popular, most of us went online through our computers.
There are lots of web browsers to choose from, from Apple’s Safari to Mozilla’s Firefox and Google's Chrome to Microsoft Edge. One of the oldest browsers still in use is Opera, which was first released in 1995, and retains a dedicated fanbase.
It used to be that PCs came preinstalled with Internet Explorer and most people stuck with it (about 93% of PC users, at one point in the early 00s). With the release of newer browsers, including Firefox in 2004 and Google Chrome in 2008, as well as smartphone browsers taking off, IE use started to decline, and in 2015 Microsoft announced that Microsoft Edge would replace IE as the default Windows browser.
The browser landscape is a lot more varied than it was when IE ruled the roost. The most popular browser by far is now Google Chrome, which has a market share of over 63%. This is followed by Apple Safari (just shy of 20%) and Microsoft Edge (just over 4%). The other browsers all have much smaller market penetration, although 'small' is relative - Opera, for example, might 'only' have 2.2% of market share but that's still over 320 million active users.
A browser is the piece of software that translates websites into something that looks clear and comprehensible on the screen of your computer or other online device.
If you are using a phone or tablet, the browser can ensure that the mobile version of the website is displayed – typically, this involves less detailed, cut-down pages which are better suited to smaller screens.
The browser should ensure that features such as video contained within a web page or high-resolution images run properly on your computer.
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What happens if I don’t update my browser?
Most websites run happily with most browsers. But compatibility problems can arise when newer sites – perhaps with more advanced features – are displayed by browsers on older devices or computers.
For example, if you have a computer which is more than 10 years old and which runs a version of Internet Explorer that was developed in, say, 2007, the chances are that a lot of the sites you used it to look at today would not display correctly.
This lack of compatibility could manifest itself as pictures or video that don’t load properly; some of the links to other parts of the website might not work; or you may not be able to fill out forms on the site.
Browsers need to be kept up to date so that they can continue to display the latest websites without any difficulties. Often, these updates are made automatically by the companies which supply the browsers – but in some cases, there may be action that you need to take to ensure you are running the latest version of your browser where possible.
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Ensuring your browser is up to date
If you are finding that some websites don’t display or even work properly on your computer or device – or if you don’t remember having updated your browser before - it is a good idea to check the browser you are using is up to date.
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How do I know if I have the latest version of my web browser?
The site updatemybrowser.org will run a quick check on your web browser and let you know if you have the most up to date browser, or if you need to update to a newer version.
How long will it take to update my browser?
If your web browser does need to be updated, it should be a quick process, though it does depend on your computer’s processor power.
For this reason, you might like to set some time aside to update your browser when you won’t need to desperately print out tickets or directions immediately afterwards, just in case it takes longer to update than anticipated; especially as you probably will need to restart the browser before updates take effect. Just another reason why it’s sensible to make sure your web browser is kept up to date!
You should not lose any of your saved details such as bookmarks or favourites.
How do I update my browser on a Windows computer?
How to switch from Internet Explorer to Microsoft Edge
If you're still using Internet Explorer it's probably time to move on, as Microsoft has been concentrating on its newer browser Edge, with Internet Explorer 11 due to no longer be supported on Windows 10. When you switch to Edge you can easily import all your data, including bookmarks, saved passwords, settings and browsing history, from Internet Explorer. Read Microsoft's guide here.
Microsoft Edge has improved security and privacy, as well as offering a better browsing experiences with more customisation options available.
How to update Google Chrome
Open the browser and then click on the three vertical dots at the right-hand end of the toolbar at the top. Click on “Help” and then “About Google Chrome”. This will automatically start a scan to check whether Chrome is updated, as well as telling you which version you are using.
How to update Firefox
Click on the Firefox menu represented by three horizontal bars at the top right of the screen. Next click on the help icon (a question mark) and then on “About Firefox”. The browser will check for updates and then ask you to restart your browser.
For both Chrome and Firefox, these instructions are based on the versions of the browser used on the Windows 10 operating system. For earlier versions, you may need to reach the About Google Chrome or About Firefox pages in a slightly different route – but it will still be via the browser menu and then Help.
How do I update my Safari browser on a Mac computer?
If you want to update the standard Mac browser, Safari, click on the App Store option on your home screen and then on Updates. This will show whether Safari, as well as any other programs, need to be updated.
How to update Opera
Click on the Opera icon (the red O) and click on Update & Recovery. The browser will then scan for available updates. You also have the option to restore your settings to default, which can help if your browser has become slow but is up to date.
Updating browsers on old computers
After a while, the companies that make older computer operating systems stop developing new updates for them and instead concentrate their efforts on newer systems.
Similarly, software businesses may stop offering updates for browsers, as well as other types of programs, that run on older operating systems.
For example, if you have a computer running Windows XP or Windows Vista, you will no longer be able update Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox.
At the same time, you may only be able to use an older version of the Internet Explorer web browser on such systems, or try one of the smaller browsers. K-Meleon is a low-resource browser that only needs 256MB of memory (compared to the 4BG required by Chrome) and works on old versions of Windows, including XP and Vista.
Whether you need to take action – for example, by upgrading to a new machine – really depends on how you feel about any limitations that result from the lack of upgrades. It may be that you can continue to use your computer for other tasks, such as word processing, while browsing the web on a more up-to-date tablet.
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Updating browsers on tablets and smartphones
Updates are a common part of using the likes of iPads, iPhones and Android devices these days, and most tablet and phone browsers should be updated automatically. In your settings you will have the ability to make sure your apps only update while you are connected to WiFi to make sure you aren't using up your mobile data.
To check things are up to date, firstly check under your device’s Settings option whether a system update is necessary. Next, visit the App Store (on Apple devices) or the Google Play Store on Android and then check for updates on individual apps.
Like desktop or laptop computers, these devices can become obsolete as well – so if you have an old iPhone, it may no longer accept Apple’s most recent system updates. This is likely to have a knock-on effect so that some apps, including browsers, can no longer get the latest updates: this can then result in web pages loading slowly, or not displaying correctly.
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