Let’s begin by clearing up a few misconceptions here.
First, you can have more than one browser on your machine. Many people do. I do.
Once you install Google Chrome, you still have Internet Explorer available to you. The icon should still be in your Programs menu and when you click it, Internet Explorer 8 opens. And you can then click the Google icon to use Google Chrome. Installing one browser does not automatically replace any browsers already installed. They are completely separate programs that can actually live together in something approaching harmony.
However, when you download an additional browser you do have the option of making it the default browser. And much like Highlander, there can be only one.
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What’s a default browser?
Let’s say you have a web page saved on your desktop and you double click it to open it. Your system selects a browser (usually Internet Explorer if you’re on Windows) and displays the saved web page in that browser. Whichever browser it selects to do that is the default browser – the browser that Windows uses when for some reason it needs a browser.
You can have as many browsers as you like installed on your system, but only one of them can be the default. That doesn’t mean you can’t use the others, it just means you need to explicitly run those browsers in order to.
For the record, I usually have three or four browsers on my machines. Some have Chrome set as the default, but some use Firefox. I still use Internet Explorer from time to time, and of course my Macs include Safari.
Why have multiple browsers?
People may have multiple browsers for many reasons. I find it very handy because I’m dealing with websites and their design. I’m testing things in different browsers throughout the day and sometimes, it’s easiest to fire up two different browsers side by side and compare how a site looks in one browser over another. Sometimes, I need to check, “Okay, what’s the website going to look like in Internet Explorer? Why doesn’t it work in Chrome? Why is Firefox showing a little bit differently?”
While web developers know that there are multiple browser platforms out there, some sites are still designed to be platform specific. For instance, you may visit a site where you can use the tools or functionality on Internet Explorer only.
Another good example is what I’ll call “login state”. I’m logged into the Ask Leo! website as the administrator, so I can make changes to it and do all sorts of wonderful things to the site. But the site actually behaves just a little bit differently when someone isn’t logged in. As a result it’s sometimes very handy to open a different browser and visit the same site only not logged in. When I do this with Ask Leo!, I can see how the site actually behaves for the average visitor, which is of course very important to me.
Why have one default browser?
No matter how many browsers you have, you must choose one to be the default. The browser that you choose depends on your personal preferences. Some people feel strongly about Internet Explorer while others like Chrome more. Usually, the browser installation program asks you this at setup time. Most browsers also have the ability to check to see if they are still the default browser, and offer to reset it in case some other program made a change you didn’t want.