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Back To Basics: Browser Vs. Operating System

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017 by | Filed Under: Android, Computer Terms, I've Always Wanted To Know..., iOS, Mac OS, Using The Internet

I’ve had some conversations this week where I was trying to figure out what operating system that folks with a problem were using. When I asked, they responded with things like Internet Explorer, Safari, and Chrome (this was for a phone and not a netbook, so I knew it wasn’t the right answer). The problem with those answers is that none of those programs is an operating system. They are all browsers. Now before you think I’m picking on senior citizens and their tech know-how, let me tell you that the age range in this sample was from 80 to 17.

Let’s take a look at the differences between a browser and your operating system or OS. The operating system or OS is the software that controls your device’s basic functions such as running programs, controlling peripherals like a keyboard and allowing your device to understand what you want when you tap the touchscreen.  Popular operating systems for PCs are Windows, Mac OS, and Linux.


The most popular operating systems for smartphones and tablets are Android, iOS (found on iPhones and iPads). There is also a Windows Phone operating system.


Chrome has a Chrome operating system that’s found on Chromebook devices. Chromebooks are very much like a tablet in laptop’s body.


A browser is a program that allows you to use the Internet.  You turn on your device and then select an icon like the ones shown below to go online.


Now for many folks these days, their browser may be the only app they ever open on their PC. You might go straight online to check mail and read the news or watch a video.

Popular browsers include Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox and Microsoft Edge as well as Safari. You can’t run every browser on every operating system. You might choose to run Chrome on a Windows, Mac, or Linux operating system. But you won’t be able to run Internet Explorer or Edge on anything but a Windows computer. Plus, Edge only runs on Windows 10.

Chrome is the most popular browser, it’s used on both PCs, Macs, and mobile devices. The default browser for Mac computers is Safari.

Why does this matter?  If you’re looking to add a program or a peripheral to your device, you have to know the operating system. Just like if you’re driving a car and want to buy a part. You need to know what’s making that thing run.

To check your OS on a Windows system, type “computer” in your search box, then right-click on the result and choose properties. Your OS will be displayed.


For a Mac, choose the Apple Menu and About This Mac.


For Android phones, check under Settings and look About Phone.  For iPhones, you’ll need to go to Settings then click General and then About.

~ Cynthia

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4 Responses to “Back To Basics: Browser Vs. Operating System”

  1. Bruce Warner says:

    Okay, I can be a little picky, but being in IT since 1968 (and still active) all I could do was wonder if there were still such people in the world. They my daughter called, and it could have been your callers. Then my wife asked me a VERY similar question. Some things will NEVER change. Hopefully the few people that actually take the time to read it will without assuming it doesn’t apply to them will learn something.

  2. Bill Beschman says:

    A computer is like a car. The Operating System is the ‘engine’ that powers everything. A browser is one of the many gears of the ‘transmission’ that directs power from the ‘engine’ to useful action such as connecting to the Internet. Other ‘gears’ might include actions such as word processing or photo manipulation. A browser extension would be like an ‘accessory’ such as the lights, radio or windshield wipers used only when requested by the user. The form of the computer (desktop, laptop, tablet, phone) is the ‘body style’ of the car (sedan, truck, motorcycle, etc.). Just my 2 cents worth.

  3. Gary Lee Williams says:

    I followed your instructions – obvious there are so many systems out there that one instruction can’t work for everybody. On my Win 10 machine in entered “computer” in the search box. None of the responses gave a reasonable response when I right clicked.

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