This topic stems from a discussion I had on instant messenger with a friend recently. Like many users out there he uses American OnLine (AOL) as his Internet Service Provider (ISP). AOL comes with a browser, that’s based on Internet Explorer (IE), that gives you easy access to all of AOL’s features. The problem he was having, like many AOL users, is distinguishing his browser from his ISP.

A web browser is a software application that enables a user to display and interact with text, images, and other information typically located on a web page at a website on the World Wide Web.” as defined by There are a great many browsers available for anyone to use. The most popular ones are Mozilla Firefox, Mozilla, Netscape Navigator, Opera, and Internet Explorer. They all do basically the same thing. They display web pages. There are slight differences in the way in which they display web pages, but that’s for another time.

An ISP as defined by is “Internet service provider (ISP, also called Internet access provider) is a business or organization that offers users access to the Internet and related services.” So any company that sells you, the consumer, a method of connecting to the internet is an ISP.

AOL does muddy the water by offering you their version of a browser to use with their internet service. This is their way to put only content that they want you to see in front of you. AOL is very restrictive, and somewhat decisive in what your internet experience will be like. Even on AOL, you can take back control and see the internet the way it was meant to be viewed. And it’s simpler than you think.

After logging into AOL, minimize the main window to the task bar. Now open any number of the browsers that I already mentioned. If you’re using windows, you’ll at least have IE installed. Once it loads hit the F6 key. This will take you to the “address bar” in the browser of your choice. Now type in my web address “”, and my website should load. You are now surfing the internet without the AOL browser. One thing you’ll notice right away is that you have more viewable area in which to view a website. You may also notice that you see fewer AOL related pop-ups. Oh yes, much of the content that you see on AOL is content that someone has paid to put in front of you, yet you are not given a choice to see them, nor is you bill lowered in order to be marketed. I hope this helps to deconfuse the difference between a browser and an ISP.

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This article was last updated on: 08 Feb 2006