Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Internet Lie #10


The Internet Is The Internet


We access the Internet though many levels of well-defined and standardized software and hardware. Up to a point. That point is where our computers connect to the Internet. The software and hardware we use, which also has many levels, differs greatly from computer to computer. Many pieces, and each affects what Internet we see.


The piece of this puzzle we’re most familiar with is the browser. The odds are 8 out of 10 that you’re using Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Chrome. But there are at least a hundred different browsers. And each has a number of different versions. And even rare browser versions can have millions of users!


Browsers, and their versions, see the Internet by interpreting the languages employed by web pages. Beyond HTML and its variants, there are scores of other languages. Then there are handfuls of code generators, and database software. And media add-ons like Flash.


All of these require effective standardization for browsers to use them. That job belongs to The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Yet, most people don’t know the degree to which their particular browser version is compatible with these standards.


The combinations of browsers, versions, and languages is staggering. No wonder making web pages is a constantly (and confusingly) moving target. And there’s more. How you see the Internet also depends on how you’ve modified your browser. Besides add-ons and plug-ins and such, browsers are so customizable they make Burger-King look like Soylent Green.


Of all the programs that interact with your browser, the biggest is obviously the operating system. But also affecting what you see on the Internet are virus checkers and firewalls. Both can block all or part of web pages they consider risky.


From handhelds to gigantic TV/computer monitors, screen size—combined with resolutions that range from postage-stamp to facial pores—also affects what you see. Not only what you see, but every factor mentioned so far also determines the speed with which you see it.


Of course, some of these differences are small. And some of you know to use alternate browsers when you have a problem seeing a web page. But the variations are incalculable, and the Internet you see is rarely the Internet someone else sees. And it’s hardly ever the one you saw yesterday before you upgraded your browser.

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