What is a browser?

web browsers

Copyright Sean MacEntee (Creative Commons)

Ask yourself this question:  what is a browser?

And now watch this video from April 30, 2009 where very few people understood the difference between a browser and a search engine.  Do you think that this would change if the same question was asked today?  Another video from 2009 answers the question of what is a browser.

To be honest, while I think the number of people who could answer that question properly would probably go up, I’m not sure that it is as high as it should be.  (OK, the guy that uses AOL is never going to get it so let’s not go there.)

As a society there is a tendency for us to use technology without actually understanding technology.  And, I guess in some respects that isn’t all that bad.  People don’t know how a car actually works, but they can drive one.  They may not know how an FM radio works, but they can still listen to music / sports / talk.  At some point the technology becomes so familiar and commonplace that how it works fades into the background.

People photocopy things all the time but probably never realize the technology that goes into the end product.  A smartphone contains technology which would have cost millions 25 years ago and yet people carry it around in their pocket, or purse on their belt.  They don’t need to know how the technology works, just how to use it.

Unfortunately, I think that is a detriment in the IT business.  The people who know to build things the best have a deep understanding of the technology so that they know the ramifications of their decisions.  They know the trade offs that need to be made in order for the correct decision to rise to the top.

When I went to school we learned how a mainframe worked so that when we developed applications for the mainframe we knew the impact of our choices.  Developing for the PC?  I built a number of computers from the ground up, understanding what pieces were required for each task so that I knew how my choices would affect the overall system.  Based upon that knowledge I knew how different application designs would behave.  Building for the web?  The same deal.  If you know how things work you can build better applications.


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