Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Surfing the Web

Browsers have actually been around for a long time, but were never really called browsers. Instead, they were called text readers or read-only applications, because what these programs did was open simple files of text and let someone read them—like a book. These programs were on computers called dumb terminals.

It seems odd to call a computer dumb, but compared to the computers used today, these computers weren’t very smart. All they did was display information from big, monster servers called mainframes that were the size of an average living room. These servers weren’t all that smart, either, but they were good enough to take a lot of information and help businesspeople and scientists make sense of it.

The problem was that all these dumb terminals could only talk to the servers they were connected to. There was an Internet back then, but there was no World Wide Web; Internet traffic was mainly limited to messaging and file transfers, using tools such as Usenet, Archie, or Gopher.

Then, in 1990, a scientist in Switzerland, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, got a brilliant idea. What if you could read files on any computer connected to the Internet any time you wanted? You could put those files on a special server that had one job—showing those files to anyone who asked for them. Sir Berners-Lee, who was knighted for his work at the CERN institute, knew this idea would only work if all of these files were made readable by any computer. File compatibility was (and still can be) a huge obstacle for users to overcome.

So, Sir Berners-Lee suggested that people use HyperText Markup Language (HTML) files. Because they are essentially ASCII text files, HTML files could be read by any computer, would let people create any content they wanted, and would have hyperlinks—something that would revolutionize the way people absorbed material.

Browsers came about as instruments to read all of these new HTML files. As with the dumb terminals, Sir Berners-Lee just wanted people to read information quickly in files—not to change their content. So he and his colleagues figured out a way to make a program that did nothing but read and display HTML. Other people got involved and made the application read more complicated HTML code.

People began reading the information on the Web page and calling the process of reading those pages browsing—and that’s where the browser name comes from. Later, when the general public started using the Web, the verb browsing got morphed into surfing. The name browser stuck, though, because it still more accurately describes what this type of application does. You can call any program like this a browser, of course. A program that does nothing but show pictures could be a picture browser. But these days the name is more synonymous with Web browsers, such as the most famous open-source browser today: Firefox.

Source of Information : Cengage-Introducing Fedora 2010

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