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mid-15c., "feed on buds," from Middle French brouster, from Old French broster "to sprout, bud," from brost "young shoot, twig," probably from Proto-Germanic *brustjan "to bud," from PIE *bhreus- "to swell, sprout" (see breast (n.)). Lost its final -t in English on the mistaken notion that the letter was a past participle inflection. Figurative extension to "peruse" (books) is 1870s, American English. Related: Browsed; browsing.
1845, "animal which browses," agent noun from browse (v.). In the computer sense by 1982.
The first browser was invented at PARC by Larry Tesler, now a designer at Apple Computer. Tesler's first Smalltalk browser was a tree-structured device. It enabled programmers to hunt quickly for items in a Smalltalk dictionary. ["InfoWorld" magazine, vol. v., no. 4, Jan. 24, 1983]
See Web browser.