How to get the most out of your web browser

Your browser is capable of much more than fetching search results and containing websites. Find out if you're using your browser to its maximum capabilities.

What should I use as my home page?

It can be good to stick with the default home page set by your browser—Chrome takes you to a tailored home page (called the New Tab page) that includes Google search as well as icons for the pages you use most often, for example.

But if you want to change it, choose a site you often view—your favourite news page or a social media site such as Facebook.

Alternatively, you may want to choose a search engine or webmail page.

Read more: 22 ways to get more from Google search


How do I change my home page?

This is simple to do, but the method varies depending on the browser you are using.

In Internet Explorer

  • Go to the website you want. Click on the gear symbol at the top right of the screen, then select Internet Options from the drop-down menu.
  • A new window will appear. Select the General tab and under Homepage click on Use Current. The address of the page you are currently viewing should appear in the address box. Click OK.

In Chrome

  • Go to the site you want and copy its web address in full (highlight the full address and click Ctrl/Cmd+C).
  • Click on the three-lines symbol at the top right of the screen, then select Settings from the drop-down menu.
  • A new window will appear. Under Appearance, where it says Show Home button, click on Change and then paste in the address of the site you copied. Click OK.
  • If you want to change back to the New Tab page at any point, all you need to do is repeat the process but select the Use the New Tab page option instead of pasting in the web address.

In Safari and Firefox

  • Go to the Safari or Firefox menu, then select Preferences. Select the General icon, then type in (or copy from the address bar) the web address you want into the Homepage bar.

Read more: How to get more out of your search engine


Multitasking on a browser

Can I have more than one website open at a time?

It’s very useful to keep one website open while you visit another, and all the commonly used browsers allow you to do this. It is like having a pile of books open on your desk: you don’t have to close one and put it away before you move onto the next.

One way to open a second web page while keeping the first on screen is simply to open a new window (press Ctrl+N, or Cmd+N if you have a Mac).

If you are on a PC and want to open a link in a new window, click with the right-hand mouse button; a pop-up menu appears, and you should choose Open Link in New Window.

I don’t like having too many windows open at once, though

This is where the tab function comes in handy. It allows you to see all the different pages that you have open—they are neatly displayed at the top of the screen, and look like those old-fashioned files that you used to find in a filing cabinet. All you need do to bring up the web page is click on the correct tab.

You can even move tabs around by grabbing the tab you want to move (click and hold to do this), moving it to the position you want and then releasing the mouse button to drop it.

The easiest way to open a new tab is to click to the right of the existing one—depending on your browser, there may be a small + symbol here or a blank tab. Alternatively press Ctrl/Cmd+T. Click the X button at the top right-hand corner to close the tab (Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox); if you are using Safari, the X is on the left.


Do tablets and phones use tabs?

They do. They may look exactly the same as on a computer. Or else you may see an icon consisting of two overlaying rectangles—like a couple of sheets of paper – at the bottom of the screen (this is how the Safari app on an iPhone works, for example). Tap this icon to see what pages you have open: the pages will come up in a kind of floating stack. You can bring a page to the fore by tapping on it, or close a page by tapping the X in the corner.

Read more: How to connect your tablet to the television


Your browsing history

I was on a great website, but can’t remember what it was called. How can I find it again?

Your browser keeps a record of the sites that you have visited in the past days or weeks. This feature is known as History. You can use this function to keep an eye on what any children have been looking at on the web, although this is by no means definitive since it is easy to edit.

In Internet Explorer 10, on the View menu, click Explorer Bars then History. (If you can’t see the View menu, right-click in the blank area above your internet window and make sure Menu Bar is ticked.) Click on any of the dates listed on the left to open up a list of the websites you visited.

In Safari, Firefox and Chrome, click on History from the menu at the top of your screen. In the drop-down menu that appears, you will see a list of the last websites that you visited. Click on any of these to view the website.

Below this in Safari you will see the rest of the week’s browsing history, organised into day folders; click on Show All History (Firefox) or Show Full History (Chrome) to view earlier history.

Read more: What does Google know about you?


Can I change the length of time that my browsing history is stored?

It depends on the browser that you are using.

In Internet Explorer 10, click on the gear icon, then select Internet options from the drop-down menu, then the General tab in the window that appears. Next click on Settings and tailor them to your needs.

In Safari, go to the Safari menu, then select Preferences. Click on General in the window that appears. Change Remove history items to your preferred time period using the pop-up menu.

In Firefox and Chrome, the browser itself determines how many pages can be kept—so you can only choose between remembering the history or disabling it altogether (find out how to disable your history opposite).


What if I want to delete History?

I have been shopping for gifts, and I don’t want to leave any clues!

Many people want to keep their browsing history private for a variety of reasons. It is very easy to do:

In Internet Explorer 10, click on the gear icon, then Internet options from the drop-down menu, then the General tab in the window that appears. Under Browsing History click Delete, then select what you wish to remove and click Delete again.

In Safari, go to the History menu. At the bottom of the drop-down menu you will see Clear History. Click on this to remove the record of the websites you have visited.

In Chrome, click on the three-lines icon, select History and click Clear Browsing History, select the time period you require and then click on Clear browsing data.

In Firefox, go to the History menu and select Clear Recent History. Choose the required time range from the window that pops up, and click Clear Now.

Read more: How YouTube changed the world


I don’t like the idea of History being stored at all. Can I prevent this?

Many people are concerned about privacy and tracking on the internet, and want to browse anonymously. It’s perfectly reasonable to want to do this, and browsers have made it easier for you:

In Internet Explorer 10, click to open a new tab and select InPrivate Browsing from the new tab screen.

In Safari, go to the main Safari menu and select Private Browsing.

In Chrome, click on the three-lines icon and select New Incognito Window from the menu, or press Ctrl/Cmd+shift+N.

In Firefox, go to the Tools menu and select Start Private Browsing.

If you browse anonymously, your browser will not keep a record of any websites you visit. Similarly, any files you download (copy) onto your computer will not be recorded in your download history.


Is my search engine keeping track of the websites I visit then?

Well, yes, it probably is. Any searches made from the same computer are tracked and kept by search engines for a fixed period of time. They can also be viewed by your ISP. That information is then analysed statistically, along with everyone else’s searches, to give search engines an idea of what people want to know from them. Tracking also helps to spot fraudulent or criminal activity.

Some search engines make a point of not storing any user details, and these include DuckDuckGo; you can also choose to search anonymously.

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