WTF is a web browser?

Sometimes it’s surprising how many web users don’t know what a web browser is. I don’t know how many times I’ve been helping a customer, relative, etc and said “open a web browser” and their reply is “what is a web browser”. My immediate thought is “DAMN, how in the heck am I ever going to get them through converting a word doc into PDF and uploading it to the WordPress site I just created for them”.

Note: If you happen to be a customer, relative, etc and are reading this, don’t take offense. Trust me, if you were trying to walk me through stuff you do at work every day, you’d be saying “WTF, this guy is an idiot” too.

It usually turns out that they know more about the web than that first response reveals. Their intelligence isn’t the problem. There is a deeper cause. And a lot of times I can rephrase and say “open Internet Explorer”. Or amazingly, if they don’t know what IE is either, I can almost always get away with telling them to “get on the internet” or “go to Google” (or Yahoo, etc).

The problem I think is that the web browser is such an integral part of a web users every day experience. It’s like a part of the operating system to them. It’s just there. And that creates another problem. Since many users don’t even know what a web browser is, how can they be expected to know “which” web browser to use. Or to keep it updated.

I guess as web developers, IT consultants, or whatever you call yourself, it is our job to educate the masses. We have to show them that there are choices, and make them aware enough to hopefully keep it up to date.

Below I describe three ways that can help web users understand web browsers and the choices they have.

So what is a web browser, really?

Sometimes you just need to explain to the user what a web browser is. Fortunately for us, Google has an excellent video that does just that.

Which web browser should they use?

Frequently when we interact with users, we like to give them a choice of which browser to use. Sure we have our preferences, but we shouldn’t force it on them. And most current browsers are great compared to the demon of yesterday. We typically provide the user with the following choices:

Can you guide the user to a better web browser?

Yes, you can. If you develop sites that are dependent on having current web browser technology, consider prompting the user if you detect an older or unsupported browser. Let them know that the site may not operate correctly, or block them completely if needed. Some modern AJAX interfaces can really screw up in unsupported browsers. So, it is better to be safe; know which browser is being used.

Here are some related resources that can help you detect and mitigate cross browser issues.

Browser Detection and Cross Browser Support – in depth technical details of various detection methods

BrowserCam – test your website in multiple browsers

DualTech has a page devoted to helping users understand what a web browser is in the hopes that they will use a current one.


  1. nphp101 says:

    I guess, the best thing to educate the clients or customers in website terminologies is to pack them with rush tutorial with a corresponding cost (training), which is optional to your website package. Thus, at least your knowledge is being paid.

  2. x86 says:

    Why you didn’t mention Opera and Safari?

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