Vocab of the Week: Browser Extensions

Whether you’re using Firefox, Safari, or Chrome, you can add all kinds of programs to your browser to personalize it. Browser extensions (also called add-ons) are small programs or apps that can be installed in your web browser to do all kinds of things, from preventing ads, to taking notes, to adding things to your Amazon wishlist.

Installation is simple, and typically involves going to your browser’s extension store or gallery, finding one you like, and clicking “install.” If you’d like to read more specific instructions on how to install extensions on your specific browser, check out this detailed article from Guiding Tech.

While there are literally thousands of extensions out there, I’m just going to start with one. That’s right, just one. Perhaps I’ll make a regular feature to let you know about more, but to avoid overwhelming you, I’m going to start with something that everyone can use.

A Cleaner Internet has created an add-on that turns busy YouTube pages (with their potential for inappropriate video recommendations and offensive comments) into clean, simple pages showing only the video you want. Once you’ve installed the extension, visiting YouTube will stop looking like this:

and start looking like this:

This is so useful when you’re trying to show an educational video to a classroom of students! Often, when I’ve shown YouTube videos to students, they get distracted by all of the recommended videos on the side of the page, and beg to watch them. Sometimes, there are inappropriate words or images included in the ads, comments, or other videos on the page. This extension solves all of that.

To install the Cleaner Internet extension, just head over to their website and click “Install.” The site will figure out what browser you’re using and download it. This particular extension can also be set up to clean Amazon pages, too, if you’re interested!

Once you get comfortable installing and using extensions, you can find so many more by using Google to search “top 10 best extensions for…” and add on your browser of choice. You’re sure to come up with all kinds of great stuff. And stay tuned for more suggestions!

Vocab of the Week: The Cloud

     If you pay any attention to the world of technology (and even if you don’t), you’ve probably heard several references to “the cloud” or “cloud computing.” It’s the new wave of computing, and its implications and applications are vast.

 There are actually several different definitions of cloud computing; some are broad, and some are narrow. I’m just going to explain the basic concept. In the past, most of our computing was done on a local computer. If you wanted to use a new software application, you had to install it on your computer, and files were saved to that same computer. It was difficult to share information from computer to computer without, say, putting it on a flash drive to take with you.

 With the advent of the Internet and the widespread availability of servers and server space, this is no longer necessary. Many applications are available simply by going to a website, no installation necessary. Changes made on one computer follow you to whatever computer you use because information is no longer saved on the machine, but in “the cloud.”

 The cloud is especially helpful in terms of data storage. If you keep all of your information on a local computer, any damage or errors on that computer can spell disaster—you can lose all of your data. However, when you transfer your information (emails, music, documents) to the cloud, it is hosted on several remote servers. If your computer breaks down, the information can be accessed from another one, or from your smartphone or other device. Plus, no need to worry about how much space is on your hard drive—with the cloud, you have an unlimited capacity for storage (though you may have to pay for it).

 People are turning to the cloud more and more, and new services are rolled out all the time. You can write documents, edit photos, track your expenses, and even stream your own music library, all from your web browser. Well-known companies like Google and Apple are embracing cloud computing and offering amazing services like iCloud that enable you to put your whole life in the cloud. The cloud is an excellent tool for businesses, as it allows employees to work collaboratively, making changes to one document or presentation, rather than passing around multiple new versions.

 So what’s the downside? Many people don’t like the idea of handing over control to a large company. What if you rely on Google for all of your needs, and they go bust someday? There are risks inherent in moving your data from your personal computer to the cloud, including security risks. However, it’s not unlike moving your cash out from under your mattress and into a bank, where you can take advantage of collective services and protections.

 Need more explanation? Here’s a great video of the next generation discussing the cloud.

Vocab of the Week: Web Browsers vs. Search Engines

Welcome to Vocab of the Week, a new feature on the Applewild Technology blog! In addition to cool Web 2.0 sites and tools, I thought it would be helpful to provide some education, as well. Today’s lesson is based on a question that was asked of me last week: What is the difference between a “web browser” and a “search engine.”

According to the wonderful Wise Geek website, a web browser is

“a software program that interprets the coding language of the World Wide Web in graphic form, displaying the translation rather than the coding. This allows anyone to “browse the Web” by simple point and click navigation, bypassing the need to know commands used in software languages.”

Your web browser is a computer program that takes information that looks like this:

…and turns it into this:

Some common web browsers include Safari, Internet Explorer, Firefox (free download from the internet), and Google’s Chrome (also available for free download).

In a nutshell: A web browser is the program you open when you want to surf the web. It has a box at the top where you can type in a web address, it has forward and back buttons, and it looks something like this:

Now, onto search engines. A search engine is a website that allows you to search the web—Google, Yahoo, Bing, and many, many others. Back to Wise Geek :

“Search engines are basically computer algorithms which help users find the specific information they’re looking for. With literally trillions of pages of information online, without effective search engines, finding anything on the Internet would be almost impossible. Different search engines work in different specific ways, but they all utilize the same basic principles.”

There are lots of different search engines out there, but the most commonly used is Google. Think of Google as a giant index to the web, only instead of indexing just the most important words, it indexes EVERY SINGLE WORD on EVERY web page. Of course, the algorithm takes much more into account, including popularity and number of links, but that’s the general idea.

A big reason for the confusion between web browsers and search engines is that many browsers have a built-in search box. Think about your Firefox or Safari window, and you’ll realize that there’s a Google box at the top. You may even use this box to navigate to a website rather than entering the web address into the URL box (I wouldn’t recommend this practice, as it requires more clicks, and therefore more time). However, though there is often a search engine integrated into your web browser, the two are very different tools with very different functions.

Hopefully, this will clear up the confusion. If you’d like to learn more about web browsers, check out Wise Geek’s article “What is a Web Browser?” For more on search engine, check out “How Do Search Engines Work?

Google has created an excellent illustrated web book called “20 Things I Learned About Browsers and the Web.” If you’re interested in getting into more detail on how the internet works, what “the cloud” is, and what HTML5 is all about, take a look.