Eric Baker

Hints & tips
Internet browsing

v7.3  28 November 2019  © Eric Baker

How do I decide which browser to use?

You may not have much choice on a phone or tablet but on a real computer you do and they all seem desperate for you to use theirs. Firefox was my favourite for a while but now it's Chrome. It works pretty well and crucially synchronises all our bookmarks across two computers, two tablets and two phones. Safari is no longer being updated for Windows but I do use Opera whenever I want to browse via a VPN, ie to see what happens if it seems I'm located in another country. Strangely Microsoft Edge just didn't seem to work effectively on my last Win 10 PC. It works on the new one, but too late to even consider. But I've started using Vivaldi because it will run a mobile version of Instagram on a PC browser screen and Instagram is very stubborn about not uploading from PCs.

In October 2019 reckoned that on desktops and laptops (where you have a real choice) Chrome was way up top with a near monopolistic 67% market share, trailed by Firefox, 9%, IE 8%, Edge 5%, Safari 4% and Opera 2%. In a way that's a terrible situation, eg some e-commerce websites don't seem to work properly on Chrome and it's a real bully with sites it deems 'insecure' even if they have no data input fields at all. On mobiles Chrome has 64% and 55% on tablets.

Other browsers I like the way Chrome and Firefox make it so easy to build up your own menus of favourite sites. Here's Chrome's top strip, with plenty of tabs open and an extensive DIY bookmarks menu strip.

IE browser


How can I improve my search results?

Google search Use double quotes. Copper wire bars in Google gets nearly forty million hits (anything containing all 3 words). "Copper wire bars" in quotes gets 125,000 - only pages with that exact phrase but still a lot. Put -ingots after it (a word with a leading minus sign) and it drops to 36,000. If you are not sure about spelling etc use OR, eg "color palette" OR "colour palette" gets many more hits than either phrase alone.

In Google search, remember that sponsored links are there because they paid to be, not because they matched your search at all well. Eg search for a long discontinued camera and you'll get sponsored links, none of which are actually offering that model for sale. You should generally assume that sponsored links are only for outfits trying to sell you something. Search for free software and you'll get sponsored links from all sorts of odd sources and one site offers free software such as Firefox via a mandatory payment stage! The image on the right shows an entire page of paid ad content from a Google search for best accounting software. There is not a single genuine search result in view. Should that be allowed? I always try to skip past the ads but they are making it increasingly difficult.

Google streetview Use the best option for each search you make, eg in Google the news or images options are useful and map based searches are becoming excellent. I use viamichelin to plan road trips round Europe, streetmap for local UK maps, Google maps to find tyre sellers nearby and so on. On Google maps in many areas you can click your way into street view, allowing you to travel along a street as if you were there - the pic shows a bit of central London. I also use the Google maps offline option to download maps I can then use for navigation with no data connection, just GPS.

Another good tip for more selective results in a Google search is click on Tools then Any time then choose Past week or whatever.

How do I keep my Google list when searching?

The key is when you want to investigate a link in your Google search results list do not click on it. Instead right click on it (long press on a tablet or phone) and choose Open in New Tab. That way it comes up in another tab in the same browser window. When you close that tab, your Google list is still there, just as you left it. In all the modern browsers clicking a link with the middle scroll wheel button opens it in a new tab too. You can also close a tab by clicking on it with the scroll wheel button.

How do I grab an image from a web page?

Make sure it's not copyright restricted, especially if your use is at all commercial. I use the Win 10 Snip & Sketch tool, which is pretty good. Next I copy it into memory or save it to disc.

How do I change my home page?

Browser settings pages will let you switch to a different startup website easily but I much prefer the option to start up with the tabs that were open when you last closed it.

How do I put a web address in an email or document?

Highlit URL Go to the site/page you want then click on the web page address to highlight it. Then Edit Copy (or Ctrl C) to load it into memory. Go to the email or document (or wherever you want to use the link) and Edit Paste (Ctrl V) to insert it. Tap the space bar whilst at the end of the link and it will turn blue/underlined in many applications and take anyone to the web page with a click of the mouse. On a tablet you long press for copy and paste. On a phone you might get lucky.

What are Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for?

Search me. Facebook seems to be a way for young people to tell the world in far too much detail what they're doing in an endless quest to get more 'friends'. And it seems to have a very cavalier attitude towards privacy. The journalist Jonathan Taplin said that the average Facebook user "works for two hours a day for Mark Zuckerberg", for free. Micro-targeted ads should be illegal worldwide and knowingly accepting money for lying political ads must be sailing a bit close to electoral fraud?

I think I've sent two tweets in the past 7 years and just can't be bothered with it.

Instagram could be fun for ten minutes but I only finally signed up in late 2019 and then only because it had such an aggressive 'sign in or piss off' attitude. So I uploaded 10 or so photos, not all square and dicovered some of the disadvantages. There's no way of re-ordering your posts (!!!), it punishes you for photos that are not square (which suits a minority of images) and the max photo sizes are very lo-res indeed. I came to the conclusion it's not about the images at all but more for bloggy/influencer people who really care about monetising followers. Doubt I'll both with it much. I'll stick with flickr where I've had more than 2,000,000 photo views.

How can I increase the viewing area in the browser?

Most browsers respond to F11 to switch between normal view (where they occupy a lot of your screen space) and full screen view (where the website gets the full screen area). This is particularly important with modern wide but shallow screens. Great for watching movies but not ideal for many other things. If you want a screenshot and the content doesn't quite fit Ctrl - (minus) will shrink the content on a PC/laptop. On tablets and phones browsers tend to hide the top area when it's not in use.

Search results

How can I find favourite websites quickly?

You can always put favourite sites in your favourites or bookmarks list - make sure you make subfolders to keep them tidy. But I like having my real favourites in a personalised toolbar. It's dead easy with Chrome or Firefox. Below is a portion of our personal toolbar, with lots of sites under the folders and off to the right are extra bookmark folders:

How best to keep kids safe online?

There are software solutions which aim to formalise parental control of children's online browsing. But kids tend to bypass these quite easily (if only by going round to a friend's place or just using your password to sign on).

With wi-fi, smartphones and tablets so ubiquitous, trust and discussion is becoming the only realistic option. Some ISPs have crude filters but do you really want your internet browsing to be limited to someone's idea of what's suitable for a 13 year old?