Basics - Using a Browser Off the Web
by Evan H. Shu, FAIA
With the proliferation of the Internet and the exchange of ideas, work, and documents it supports, it still surprises many folks that the major common platform now available to facilitate that mode of exchange is the omnipresent Web browser.
This could be Netscape Navigator/ Communicator or MS Internet Explorer or AOL's browser du jour. Now almost every new system sold comes with one or more Web browsers already installed.
Even more surprising than this Web browser proliferation is that many of its most useful applications need not involve the Internet at all. Ingenious people from around the world are using Web browsers for all sorts of uses that the browser developers did not even dream of.
Read and Display Text files
While it is tempting to portray Web browsers as powerful, complex programs, we think it is much more helpful to think of them as simple text viewers. Think of them as not much more than a "Notepad" application without the ability to edit any text!
At their core, all Web browsers do is read plain text files that incorporate hypertext markup language (HTML). Instead of looking for files with the extension TXT (e.g. MYNOTES.TXT), they look for files with the extension of HTM or HTML (e.g. MYPAGE.HTM).
The HTML "tags" tell the browser how to format and display that plain text, but the real beauty of "reading" Web pages is that it is basically the same thing as "reading" your e-mail. In fact, you may have noticed that you are receiving more and more e-mail that looks like a Web page. That's because your correspondent is sending you e-mail with HTML tags in it.
Display Graphic Files
How about all the pictures in a Web page? What the Web page text in essence says is <INSERT PHOTO HERE>. Web browsers read two kinds of picture files, GIF and JPG (JPEG). When you see a picture in a Web page, your browser has been told to download PICTURE.GIF for example.