Wowser browser

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Whether you're seriously buying or just browsing, there's always one that is just right for you... Way back in the (very) old days, computers were blocky. Everything was as verdant as the world of The Matrix, because the monitors were cathode ray monstrosities that were more environmentally-friendly than a virgin five ringgit note (ie, greener than jealousy).
I know this because I was there; there were computers in school, and I remember being the tender age of seven-years-old in 1982 when I saw my first computer. It wasn't until some years later that we actually had computer classes (1985, if my memory serves me well). We learned the joys of BASIC — which in the course of research for this week's column has led me to find that it stands for Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, apparently. I never knew that all those years ago, as I assumed it was called basic because we were, well, basic beginners.
And we used a Turtle to draw, although it was an altogether very tedious process, almost akin to keeping track of the number of costume changes at a Lady Gaga concert (not that she's likely to perform in Malaysia; after all, if Michael Learns To Rock was considered too racy...). But it taught that patience and perseverance pays off in the end, and that you could end up an lovely illustration dot-printed onto graph paper (if you didn't mind making about a gabazilion lines of instructions).
That, of course, was not only two-and-a-half decades ago, but also in the past millennium. Since then, computers have gotten a wee bit more sophisticated. Not only have they gotten more interesting to see, the applications they can run boggle the mind: CGI (Toy Story 3 is coming soon!), computer games (I am still obsessed with Red Alert 3 as well as Bejewelled Twist), programmes that add a savoury note to your life (Photoshop, iTunes, Toast, etc) and productivity at work (yes, it is a bonus, whether you like it or not).
But if there is one manner in which the humble computer has touched you faster than you can touch Mariah Carey's barreh, it is the Internet. I was exposed to the joys of computer-to-computer communication when I studied in college in 1992, and several years later, we were connected to a [quote mark gesture] "web" [close quote mark gesture] around the world via what was known as a [quote mark gesture] "web browser" [close quote mark gesture]. Man, I feel like Dr Evil today, and I don't know why.
According to Wikipedia, a web browser is defined as "a software application for retrieving, presenting, and traversing information resources on the World Wide Web". Basically (see what I did there: linking this neatly to my earlier paragraphs?), it meant that there was a program that acted as a window (using Windows 3.11, no less) into the World Wide Web — and though the idea had been floating for several decades, it took the introduction of the NCSA Mosaic web browser in 1993 (one of the first graphical web browsers) to see a surge in web traffic. Netscape Navigator debuted in 1994, and the rest (as they say) is history.
I remember those heady days; the excitement of living and doing stuff beyond this physical world we inhabit (although my exposure to role-playing games as a teenager, and to books at a much earlier age, already did that for me). Browsers were very simple affairs back then, as were homepages: all there was to see was a bunch of text that magically appeared when you [quote mark gesture] "clicked" [close quote mark gesture] on a link (OK, OK, I'll quit it...).
Microsoft, which for many not-really-difficult-to-see reasons became a symbol of an evil empire, soon released Internet Explorer, which led to the legendary Browser Wars (which had nothing to do with the Clone Wars, Star Wars or Apple clones notwithstanding), the word "anti-trust" gaining massive currency in everyday-speak and the increasing blaséness of users who kept expecting more and more from their web portal of choice — and there more than just the main two.
In the end, Netscape lost, though its source code lived on in Mozilla, which later produced Firefox. The wars, however, continue on to this very day. Meanwhile, Apple jumped on the act by taking a trek on a Safari, and Google eventually decided to add its own shine with a brand new Chrome-plated browser. It's enough for a composer to create an opera that couldn't have been more overblown if Wagner, Puccini and Prokofieff decided to collaborate on The Romance of Dubya and Britney (backing music by, The Village People and Conway Twitty and choreography by Stevie Wonder).
Speaking of operas leads rather neatly to the main point of this article: my favourite browser, Opera. It is the purest coincidence that I love classical music and that the browser is named after an art form that has survived and thrived for centuries — I loved it from the moment I discovered about it in 1997 (yes, I am a late comer to the game, but at least I made it). But there is so much to love about it: its ease of use and installation; the elegant simplicity of its features (most of which were unique to Opera before being quickly adopted by every other browser — tabbed browsing is merely one feature that was widely copied), its excellent architecture (it's pretty stable, frankly). And it certainly has never given messages like these:

Embarrassing, indeed.

Sadly, because not many people use it (relative to the actual number of Internet users worldwide, that is), it gets neglected by developers, which sometimes makes it difficult to navigate certain sites. But as a full-fledged Opera goer (at least, that's what I think we should be called), I am not too troubled. I am sure that my favourite browser will adapt quite quickly, just as it has done in the past decade and more.

At any rate, people will still need to get their daily fix of the Web, even if it not as cool as how Keanu Reeves did it in both The Matrix and in Johnny Mnemonic (a movie that was quite far ahead of its time, though rather hilariously dated by now). It seems rather significant to me that on a large proportion of smartphones around the world, Opera is the browser of choice. The Fox, The E and The Safari may be popular — but when the Fat Lady sings, she brings the house down.
Ahmad Azrai cannot wait for the day when computers will be surgically attached to our neurons (minus the spam and viagra ads, of course)...
Ed's note: A succinct pictorial description of the various stereotypes of browser users can be found here.