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The little blue "e" on the desktop really isn't the Internet after all!

Sun Advocate/Emery County Progress

What is the Internet? Technical explanations aside, it really depends on who is answering the question. Tech professionals see it as a massive, global data network comprised of varied components that speak the same language. Others see it as a fast and convenient way to share data and other bits of information. But for many, the Internet is just that big blue "e" on their desktop.

In fact, many people use the Internet blissfully, not aware of how large and ominous the world's largest computer network really is. It can seem awfully ambiguous at times.

To some, the Internet is the ultimate source of multimedia and entertainment. To some, it's a fantastic way to communicate electronically with people all over the world. And to others, it's a vast digital library of information, available at their fingertips. But regardless of what it means to each person, there's no doubt that there's far more to the Internet than the unmistakable "e" - Microsoft's ubiquitous Internet Explorer.

Contrary to it's name, Internet Explorer isn't an Internet exploration tool, but rather a web browser. Like any web browser, it is designed to display web pages found within the World Wide Web - a subset of the Internet often referred to simply as the "web."

But what does that really mean? In layman's terms, it means that there's more to the Internet than the web. The world's biggest collection of interconnected networks both public and private, the Internet has the potential to be used for all kinds of things. Email, instant messaging, file sharing, remote computing, video conferencing, and digital phone service (like Skype, for example) are just a few examples of what the Internet can be used for - and that's all beyond web browsing.

As far as the web goes, many people don't realize that they don't have to use Internet Explorer - frequently referred to as just "IE" - to browse the web. While many are satisfied with IE, many aren't. And those that don't care for it may enjoy a number of freely available alternatives for Windows that can be easily downloaded and installed.

Each browser has a dedicated following of people that prefer it over the alternatives. And each has it's own look and feel, and often times has features not found in other browsers.

Typically installation involves visiting the browser's home page, clicking a download link, downloading a setup file to the computer and then running (double clicking) the setup file. It's probably best to save the to the desktop, if possible, so that they're readily available. Browsers running on Windows Vista (particularly Internet Explorer and even Mozilla Firefox) place all downloads in a "Download" folder specific to the user account by default. (Click Start menu ? Account Name (i.e. "Mary Jane"), then "Downloads").

The setup file typically includes a license agreement and a series of setup screens which may prompt the user with some questions regarding how the program is to be installed. If after the setup program the user decides to remove the program from their computer, they can do so via the Windows control panel (Windows XP: Start Menu ? Control Program ? Add / Remove Programs).

Unbeknownst to many, different browsers can be up and running at the same time. And installing one browser won't affect one that's already installed. As a matter of fact, most web developers do this all the time.

Here are several of the most popular (and free) browsers currently on the market:

• Opera. Opera wasn't always free. It wasn't that long ago that the company required users to pay for the software before they could get to it. But with so many free browsers on the market these days, Opera opened it's electronic flood gates and released it to the masses for free.

Over the past several years, Opera has garnered a strong reputation for browsing speed. The program in generally loads fairly quickly on most computers, and the time it takes for Opera to download and display a web page is often relatively short compared to many of it's competitors.

Interestingly, many of the biggest innovations in today's web browsers have roots in Opera. It's been an industry leader for many years, especially on mobile phones, despite it's somewhat ironic small market share on the PC desktop market.

Unlike Internet Explorer, Opera is available for Linux, Windows and Mac OS X versions.

• Mozilla Firefox. Mozilla Firefox is the proud offspring of the Mozilla Foundation, a company that America Online (AOL) decided to spin off a decade ago not long after they had acquired the leftovers of the once renowned Netscape corporation. Netscape fought voraciously against Microsoft in the 1990s for dominance of the web browser market and ultimately lost.

In any event, Mozilla Firefox has become highly popular during the past few years, being the only browser to present a significant challenge to IE's large share of the web browser market. Second only to IE in popularity, Firefox is one of the most popular web browsers on the planet.

Firefox is popular for being developed under an open-source model, which makes the software and the code it is created from freely available to the public. Firefox is also popular for it's extensibility. There are dozens or perhaps even hundreds of addons on the Firefox add-ons website that can extend it's capabilities and give it a visual make over.

Like Opera, Firefox comes in Windows, Linux and Mac OS X editions.

• Apple Safari. Safari is Apple's flagship web browser, which until recently was only available on Macintosh systems running Mac OS X. Apple has recently made a Windows version of Safari that has a bit of a Apple look and feel to it.

• Google Chrome. Google Chrome is a relative new comer to the world of browsers that hasn't entered the arena quietly. Chrome has amassed a very large following in a very short period of time.

While Chrome boasts a number of intriguing features, particularly on the security front, it's lightweight architecture, unique look and tight integration with Gmail are it's most compelling features.

While the many choices may confuse some, the bottom line is that choice is good for everyone and opens the door for competition, which drives innovation. It motivates browser makers to improve and enhance their browsers.

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