The Internet is made up of many parts. It essentially is a network, but on that network many different things can be done. One of the first popular 'App' was e-mail, something we all know and love, or love to hate. What really transformed the Internet into what it is today are three little letters www. The World Wide Web, or Web for short, is what most people think of when you say Internet. To access the Web you need a web browser and there are several choices available for the Mac.
When you buy a Mac, it comes with a very powerful operating system, OS X. Apple also throws in their own web browser called Safari. During the 2010 WWDC show, Apple quietly released a new version of Safari, version 5.0. With this release, Safari is the fastest browser for OS X, when tested in OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard.
There are some nice additions in the new Safari 5. The one that I like the best, even though it isn't 100% perfect at this moment, is the Reader function. If you spend a good part of your time reading articles on the Internet you will really like Reader. When Safari loads a page you will sometimes see a gray icon appear at the far right end of the address bar. This will be just to the left of the refresh icon.
When this appears, just click on it and Safari will dim the page and pop out a window with just the article and any image embedded in it. The one thing that it doesn't show is advertisements. If an article continues on other pages, Safari will combine them all into a single easily readable pop-out document.
In the little that I have played with it so far, it works very well, but I have had some sites not show 100% of the article in question. Also I have had the Reader icon appear, but when clicked it does nothing or reverts to the RSS icon from Safari 4.
Some may think that this is ingenious, not having to see all those annoying ads, but there are those who think that these advertisers help pay for this free content. If people don't see these ads, web sites won't be generating revenues they need to keep operating. It's hard to say whether something like Reader will impact advertising. The ads are still there on the original page so they will be seen.
The other major new feature in Safari 5, something that has been available in other browsers for quite some time, is extensions. Think of these as plug-ins, little features that can be added without having to redo the whole program. We all use the Internet in different ways. Why try to put every feature you can think of in a browser when the user can just add in the ones they need. Now we will be able to customize Safari 5 to the way we use the Internet. At the moment there are not really any extensions yet, but they will be coming very soon.
Of course the new Safari 5 is adept at the upcoming web standard HTML5. This will eventually be the standard for web programming and something that Apple is very excited about. HTML5 is one of the contenders to Flash, especially on portable devices like the iPhone and iPad, for multimedia applications and content.
While Safari may come free with your Mac, you don't have to use it. There are several other browsers to choose from. I personally use four different ones. The one that I use the most on my Mac is still Safari. But I do also use Firefox quite a bit. Just recently, Mozilla, the group behind Firefox, released a beta version of Firefox 4.0. The one thing I will warn you about is that even though it is 'ready to use', Beta really means unfinished. I have been running Firefox 4 for a few days now and have not had one problem. I would not run it as my main browser yet and would not use if for anything important.
The other reason why I use Firefox is all the extensions. Since I regularly use several different computers laptops, desktops, Macs, and Windows PCs I can't live without the great Xmarks extension. I just install Xmarks in all my versions of Firefox, even my Windows PCs, and now all my Bookmarks are synchronized. Any bookmark I add to my work Mac will appear in all my other computers.
The newest browser on the block is from Google. Chrome is based on Apple's open source project called WebKit the rendering engine for Safari. Google Chrome is fast and clean. It has a sparse look to it, but is still very Mac like in its operation. Chrome is one of the fastest browsers for Windows, and is very fast in OS X. Chrome 5 still came in second place when tested against Safari 5, Firefox 3.5, and Opera 10.53. Chrome is definitely a modern browser. It also has extensions and plug-ins and is compatible with the upcoming HTML5 standard.
Chrome is very new and does have a promising future. I think we can expect quite a bit from Chrome. If not from some amazing features at least it will create plenty of competition.
There are some other lesser-known browsers out there. Mozilla has another one called Camino. Opera is now up to version 10.53. And Netscape, who sort of started it all, is still out there, but not really used any more. Internet Explorer, which used to ship with Macs many years ago, was abandoned by Microsoft and is no longer available. Even if you found a copy I wouldn't use it, it does not understand the modern Web of today.
There you have it. Web browsers are just like individuals. They each have their own personalities and quirks. Most Mac users will opt to use Safari, mostly because it is built into the OS, but I like it because it is fast and accurate. Chrome is rapidly overtaking Safari in popularity though. And I still keep Firefox handy, for those times when I need my bookmarks library or if Safari has a problem working on a specific website.