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A descriptive essay focused on “20 things I learned about browsers and the web


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Foreword to 20 Things
any of us these days depend on the World
Wide Web to bring the world’s information
to our fingertips, and put us in touch with people
and events across the globe instantaneously.
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These powerful online experiences are possible
thanks to an open web that can be accessed by
anyone through a web browser, on any Internetconnected device in the world.
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But how do our browsers and the web actually
work? How has the World Wide Web evolved
into what we know and love today? And what
do we need to know to navigate the web safely
and efficiently?
“20 Things I Learned About Browsers and the
Web” is a short guide for anyone who’s curious
about the basics of browsers and the web. Here’s
what you’ll find here:
First we’ll look at the Internet, the very
backbone that allows the web to exist. We’ll also
take a look at how the web is used today, through
cloud computing and web apps.
Then, we’ll introduce the building blocks of
web pages like HTML and JavaScript, and review
how their invention and evolution have changed
the websites you visit every day. We’ll also take
a look at the modern browser and how it helps
users browse the web more safely and securely.
Finally, we’ll look ahead to the exciting
innovations in browsers and web technologies
that we believe will give us all even faster and
more immersive online experiences in the future.
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Life as citizens of the web can be liberating and empowering, but
also deserves some self-education. Just as we’d want to know various
basic facts as citizens of our physical neighborhoods — water
safety, key services, local businesses — it’s increasingly important
to understand a similar set of information about our online lives.
That’s the spirit in which we wrote this guide. Many of the examples
used to illustrate the features and functionality of the browser often
refer back to Chrome, the open-source browser that we know well.
We hope you find this guide as enjoyable to read as we did to create.
Happy browsing!
The Google Chrome Team, with many thanks to Christoph Niemann
for his illustrations
November 2010
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What is the Internet?
or, “You Say Tomato, I Say TCP/IP”
hat is the Internet, exactly? To some
of us, the Internet is where we stay in
touch with friends, get the news, shop, and
play games. To some others, the Internet can
mean their local broadband providers, or the
underground wires and fiber-optic cables that
carry data back and forth across cities and
oceans. Who is right?
A helpful place to start is near the Very
Beginning: 1974. That was the year that a few
smart computer researchers invented something
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called the Internet Protocol Suite, or TCP/IP for short. TCP/IP created a set of rules that
allowed computers to “talk” to each other and send information back and forth.
TCP/IP is somewhat like human communication: when we speak to each other, the
rules of grammar provide structure to language and ensure that we can understand
each other and exchange ideas. Similarly, TCP/IP provides the rules of communication
that ensure interconnected devices understand each other so that they can send
information back and forth. As that group of interconnected devices grew from one
room to many rooms — and then to many buildings, and then to many cities and countries
— the Internet was born.
The early creators of the Internet discovered that data and information could be sent
Those chunks are called packets. So when you send an email across the Internet, your
full email message is broken down into packets, sent to your recipient, and reassembled.
The same thing happens when you watch a video on a website like YouTube: the video
servers around the world and reassembled to form the video that you watch through
your browser.
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Internet were akin to a stream of water,
the Internet’s bandwidth is equivalent to the
per second. So when you hear engineers talking
about bandwidth, what they’re really referring
to is the amount of data that can be sent over
your Internet connection per second. This is
an indication of how fast your connection
is. Faster connections are now possible with
cables that can send information close to the speed
of light), as well as better ways to encode the
information onto the physical medium itself, even
on older medium like copper wires.
The Internet is a fascinating and highly technical
system, and yet for most of us today, it’s a userfriendly world where we don’t even think about
the wires and equations involved. The Internet
is also the backbone that allows the World Wide
Web that we know and love to exist: with an
Internet connection, we can access an open,
ever-growing universe of interlinked web pages
and applications. In fact, there are probably
as many pages on the web today as there are
neurons in your brain, as there are stars in the
Milky Way!
In the next two chapters, we’ll take a look at how
the web is used today through cloud computing
and web apps.
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Thing 0
or, why it’s ok for a truck to crush
your laptop
odern computing in the age of the Internet
is quite a strange, remarkable thing.
As you sit hunched over your laptop at home
watching a YouTube video or using a search
engine, you’re actually plugging into the collective
power of thousands of computers that serve all
this information to you from far-away rooms
distributed around the world. It’s almost like
having a massive supercomputer at your beck
and call, thanks to the Internet.
This phenomenon is what we typically refer to
as cloud computing. We now read the news, listen
to music, shop, watch TV shows and store our files
on the web. Some of us live in cities in which nearly
every museum, bank, and government office has
a website. The end result? We spend less time in
lines or on the phone, as these websites allow us
to do things like pay bills and make reservations.
The movement of many of our daily tasks online
enables us to live more fully in the real world.
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Cloud computing offers other benefits as well. Not too long ago, many of us
worried about losing our documents, photos and files if something bad happened to our
computers, like a virus or a hardware malfunction. Today, our data is migrating beyond
the boundaries of our personal computers. Instead, we’re moving our data online into
“the cloud”. If you upload your photos, store critical files online and use a web-based email
service like Gmail or Yahoo! Mail, an 18-wheel truck could run over your laptop and all
your data would still safely reside on the web, accessible from any Internet-connected
computer, anywhere in the world.
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Web Apps
or, “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Appiness”
f you play online games, use an online photo
editor, or rely on web-based services like Google
Maps, Twitter, Amazon, YouTube or Facebook,
then you’re an active resident in the wonderful
world of web apps.
What exactly is a web app, anyway? And why
should we care?
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App is shorthand for an application. Applications
are also called programs or software. Traditionally,
they’ve been designed to do broad, intensive tasks
like accounting or word processing. In the online
world of web browsers and smart phones, apps
are usually nimbler programs focused on a single task. Web apps, in particular, run these tasks
inside the web browser and often provide a rich,
interactive experience.
Google Maps is a good example of a web app.
It’s focused on one task: providing helpful map
features within a web browser. You can pan and
zoom around a map, search for a college or cafe,
and get driving directions, among other tasks. All
the information you need is pulled into the web
app dynamically every time you ask for it.
This brings us to four virtues of Web Appiness:
1. I can access my data from anywhere.
In the traditional world of desktop applications,
data is usually stored on my computer’s hard
drive. If I’m on vacation and leave my computer
at home, I can’t access my email, photos, or any of
my data when I need it. In the new world of web
apps, my email and all my data are stored online
on the web. I can get to it on a web browser from
any computer that’s connected to the Internet.
2. I’ll always get the latest version of any app.
Which version of YouTube am I using today? What
about tomorrow? The answer: Always the latest.
Web apps update themselves automatically, so
there’s always just one version: the latest version,
with all the newest features and improvements.
No need to manually upgrade to a new version
every time. And I don’t have to go through a lengthy
install process to use my web apps.
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3. It works on every device with a web browser.
In traditional computing, some programs work
only on particular systems or devices. For instance,
many programs written for a PC won’t work on a
Mac. Keeping up with all the right software can be
time-consuming and costly. In contrast, the web
is an open platform. Anyone can reach it from a
browser on any web-connected device, regardless
of whether it’s a desktop computer, laptop, or mobile phone. That means I can use my favorite web
apps even if I’m using my friend’s laptop or a computer at an Internet cafe.
4. It’s safer.
Web apps run in the browser and I never have to
download them onto my computer. Because of this
separation between the app code and my computer’s
code, web apps can’t interfere with other tasks on
my computer or the overall performance of my
machine. This means that I’m better protected
from threats like viruses, malware and spyware.
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HTML, JavaScript, CSS
and more
or, this is not your mom’s AJAX
eb pages are written in HTML, the web
programming language that tells web
browsers how to structure and present content on
a web page. In other words, HTML provides the
basic building blocks for the web. And for a long
time, those building blocks were pretty simple
and static: lines of text, links and images.
Today, we expect to be able to do things like
play online chess or seamlessly scroll around a
map of our neighborhood, without waiting for
the entire page to reload for every chess move or
every map scroll.
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The idea of such dynamic web pages began
with the invention of the scripting language
JavaScript. JavaScript support in major web
browsers meant that web pages could incorporate
more meaningful real-time interactions. For
example, if you’ve filled out an online form and
hit the “submit” button, the web page can use
JavaScript to check your entries in real-time and
alert you almost instantly if you had filled out the
form incorrectly.
But the dynamic web as we know it today truly
came to life when XHR (XMLHttpRequest) was
introduced into JavaScript, and first used in web
applications like Microsoft Outlook for the Web,
Gmail and Google Maps. XHR enabled individual
parts of a web page — a game, a map, a video, a
little survey — to be altered without needing to
reload the entire page. As a result, web apps are
faster and more responsive.
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Web programmers often refer to this potent
combination of JavaScript, XHR, CSS and several
other web technologies as AJAX (Asynchronous
JavaScript and XML). HTML has also continued
to evolve as more features and improvements
are incorporated into new versions of the
HTML standard.
Web pages have also become more expressive
with the introduction of CSS (Cascading Style
Sheets). CSS gives programmers an easy, efficient
way to define a web page’s layout and beautify
the page with design elements like colors, rounded
corners, gradients, and animation.
Today’s web has evolved from the ongoing
efforts of all the technologists, thinkers, coders
and organizations who create these web technologies and ensure that they’re supported in web
browsers like Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari
and Google Chrome. This interaction between
web technologies and browsers has made the
web an open and friendly construction platform
for web developers, who then bring to life many
useful and fun web applications that we use daily.
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or, in the beginning there was no
ore than two decades after HTML was
introduced, we’re still asking questions
about what the web is, and what it might become.
What kinds of features and applications would we,
as users, find fun, useful or even indispensable?
What tools do developers need in order to create
these great sites and apps? And finally, how can all
this goodness be delivered inside a web browser?
These questions led to the evolution of the
latest version of HTML known as HTML5, a set
of capabilities that gives web designers and
developers the ability to create the next generation
of great online applications. Take the HTML5
tag, for example. Video wasn’t a major
(or, really, any) part of the early web; instead,
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internet users installed additional software called
plug-ins, in order to watch videos inside their
web browsers. Soon it became apparent that easy
access to video was a much-wanted feature on
the web. The introduction of the tag in
HTML5 allows videos to be easily embedded and
played in web pages without additional software.
Other cool HTML5 features include offline
capabilities that let users interact with web apps
even when they don’t have an internet connection,
as well as drag-and-drop capabilities. In Gmail,
for instance, easy drag-and-drop allows users to
instantly attach a file to an email message by simply
dragging the file from the user’s desktop computer
into the browser window.
HTML5, like the web itself, is in perpetual
evolution, based on users’ needs and developers’
imaginations. As an open standard, HTML5
embodies some of the best aspects of the web:
it works everywhere, and on any device with a
modern browser. But just as you can only watch
HDTV broadcasts on an HD-compatible television,
you need to use an up-to-date, HTML5-compatible
browser in order to enjoy sites and apps that take
advantage of HTML5’s features. Thankfully, as
an Internet user, you have lots of choice when it
comes to web browsers — and unlike TVs, web
browsers can be downloaded for free.
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3D in the Browser
or, browsing with more depth
D graphics and animation can be truly
captivating with all the right details in place:
details like lighting and shadows, reflections, and
realistic textures. But until now, it has been hard
to deliver a compelling 3D experience, particularly
over the Internet.
Why? Mostly because creating a 3D experience in games and other applications requires
data — lots and lots of data — to display intricate
textures and shapes. In the past, these large
amounts of data demanded more Internet ban
width and more computing power than most
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common systems could handle. All that has
changed very recently, and all for the better:
browser-based 3D has arrived.
Modern broadband helped solve bandwidth
needs. Many homes and offices now have broadband speeds that dwarf the connections of even
ten years ago. As a result, it’s possible to send large
amounts of data over the Internet — data that is
needed to display realistic 3D experiences in the
browser. In addition, the computers we use today
are so much more powerful than what we had in
the past: processors and memory have improved
such that even a standard laptop or desktop today
can handle the complexity of 3D graphics.
Neither broadband nor raw computing power
would matter without substantial advancements
in the web browser’s capabilities. Many modern
browsers have adopted open web technologies
like WebGL and 3D CSS. With these technologies,
web developers can create cool 3D effects for their
web applications, and we can experience them
without needing additional plug-ins. On top of
that, many modern browsers now take advantage
of a technique known as hardware-acceleration.
This means that the browser can use the Graphics
Processing Unit, or GPU, to speed up the computations needed to display both 3D and everyday 2D
web content.
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So why is 3D in the browser a big deal? Because now it joins
HTML5, JavaScript and other nifty new technologies in the toolkit
that web developers can use to create a powerful new generation of
web applications. For users, this means great new ways to visualize
the information we find useful, and more fun online with engaging
3D environments and games.
Most importantly, 3D in the browser comes with all the goodness
of web apps: you can share, collaborate, and personalize the latest
apps with friends all over the world. Definitely more data and fun
that everyone can use.
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A Browser Madrigal
or, old vs. modern browsers
Crabbed old and modern browsers
Cannot live together:
The modern browser is faster, featureful, and more secure
The old browser is slow, and at worst, a dreadful danger
Malicious attacks it cannot endure.
(with apologies to Shakespeare)
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Most of us don’t realize how much an old and
out-of-date web browser can negatively impact
our online lives, particularly our online safety.
You wouldn’t drive an old car with bald tires, bad
brakes, and an unreliable engine for years on
end. It’s a bad idea to take the same chances with
the web browser that you use daily to navigate to
every page and application on the web.
Upgrading to a modern browser — like the
latest version of Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari,
Microsoft Internet Explorer, Opera, or Google
Chrome — is important for three reasons:
First, old browsers are vulnerable to attacks,
because they typically aren’t updated with the
latest security fixes and features. Browser vulnerabilities can lead to stolen passwords, malicious
software snuck secretly onto your computer, or
worse. An up-to-date browser helps guard against
security threats like phishing and malware.
Second, the web evolves quickly. Many of the
latest features on today’s websites and web applications won’t work with old browsers. Only up-todate browsers have the speed improvements that
let you run web pages and applications quickly,
along with support for modern web technologies
such as HTML5, CSS3, and fast JavaScript
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Third and last, old browsers slow down innovation on the web. If lots of Internet users cling to old
browsers, web developers are forced to design websites that work with both old and new technologies.
Facing limited time and resources, they end up developing for the lowest common denominator — and
not building the next generation of useful, groundbreaking web applications. (Imagine if today’s highway
engineers were required to design high-speed freeways that would still be perfectly safe for a Model T.)
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