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June 9, 2012

Web Browser Battle: Which One Should You Use?

Of the top web browsers in the market, you really can’t go wrong with any one. Whether you use Chrome, IE, Firefox, Safari or Opera, you’ll likely find the experience to be generally positive and extremely productive.

Not all browsers are equal, of course. Far from it. However, all of the top browsers now have the basic necessities that users require: they run fast, they comply to the necessary standards and they’re loaded with valuable features. Finding the one you like isn’t about eliminating all the bad browsers and finding the gem among the pile of rubble. Instead, it’s about deciding which features are most important to you and your work process, then finding the browser that complements those preferences.

Speed

Chrome has now moved into a neck-and-neck position with IE as the number one most widely-used browser in the world. While Google’s concerted campaign to advertise their browser is definitely one of the reasons why it’s been so successful, people wouldn’t have stuck with it if it wasn’t as good as advertised. Chrome’s ability to impress users has always boiled down to one thing: speed. It simply works fast out of the box, with excellent load times, fast Javascript execution and even hardware graphics acceleration.

Don’t get us wrong — Chrome doesn’t have a monopoly on speed. IE9, for instance, now runs Javascript as fast as Chrome. Plus, both IE9 and Firefox count hardware acceleration among its features. As someone who likes to keep tabs on browser benchmarks around the web, though, it’s hard to deny that Chrome almost always consistently comes out ahead in structured comparisons.

Speed, of course, isn’t just about how fast the browser can process data and render a page. In a lot of ways, it also has to do with how well the browser supports the kind of work you usually do on a browser. It’s the main reason I didn’t switch to Chrome until late last year — Firefox simply had all the plugins that made my work simpler while Chrome didn’t until around that time.

Innovation

By far, Opera has shown the most innovation in terms of features. Items like tabs, web-caching, pop-up blocking, speed dials and built-in search, among others, originated directly from the Norwegian-made title.

Of course, other browsers (and, many times, plugins) often bring in the same features as soon as Opera brought them to people’s attention. Opera does deserve marks for the seemingly constant innovations, though. Other browsers aren’t all that behind in bringing innovative features, though, such as a built-in PDF reader (Chrome), incognito mode, tight Windows integration (IE9), Reader View (Safari) and panoramic tabs (Firefox).

Syncing

Throughout the 2000s, many people used IE at home because it’s the only browser they’re allowed to use at work. Since IE is familiar and comes built into their Windows machines, they simply default to using it in their personal computers, too. It makes sense — why change the way you use the web on different computers when it isn’t necessary?

Because most browsers now have almost the exact same base set of features, going from one to another won’t exactly cripple your work process, so it’s easier to use IE in the office, Chrome on your personal laptop and Safari at the iMac on your home office. The main issue is likely to be syncing. Having the same shortcuts, the same bookmarks, the same settings, the same extensions and the same saved passwords will ease your move from one computer to another. As such, a browser that offers syncing for stored data across multiple platforms (Windows, Linux, OS X, iOS and Android) will be critical to a lot of people’s requirements. To me, Firefox offers the strongest capability in this area, although the others, especially Chrome, aren’t that far behind.

Style

Browsers need to look good and facilitate ease of use, too. To me, Chrome’s minimalist approach and Safari’s beautiful interface are tops in this area. Most of the field are on close to even terms, though, so none of the browsers should give you troubles in appearance, layout and navigation. Plus, most of the top browsers now give you plenty of room to customize with themes, plugins and extensions, so there’s really no shortage of room to personalize them to your preferences.

Stability

Stability is critical to the web browser experience. Users won’t stick around if a browser crashes every 30 minutes or slows to a crawl every time a multimedia website opens.

To ensure system stability, never download beta or test versions of any browser. Stick to the “stable releases,” which are usually labeled as such. If you’re going to install an unstable browser because you want a specific feature in it, do it as a secondary backup. Always keep an older, more stable version in hand to help minimize frustration when problems occur (and, believe me, they will).

Security

There are no 100% secure browsers, just as there are no 100% secure systems. However, the more security measures are integrated into a software, the lesser the chances of having it used to compromise your system.

Chrome, throughout its numerous iterations, has traditionally been regarded as the most secure browser in the field. It simply implements a whole lot of built-in safeguards to keep out malware, adware, viruses and hackers from making their way into your computer.

Of the latest batch of browsers, most experts believe Chrome and IE to be the most secure, with the rest of the field trailing a little behind. Whichever browser you choose, though, it’s usually not enough to rely strictly on browser security to keep everything in check — you may want to install third-party internet security software to guarantee a trouble-free experience.

Reviews

When choosing a browser, most of us will be drawn to reviews posted around the web. Here’s a good guideline to keep: treat all reviews you get with a grain of salt. Measuring browser performance isn’t an exact science. Many variables will come into play and a lot of those have to do with the kind of work you do on a computer. And what I do likely isn’t the same thing you do, so my experiences may not necessarily be the same as yours.

The best way to find out which browser you’d like best is to download it, install it and use it. If you hate a browser, you’ll likely figure it out within two or three days of use. And if you find a keeper, you’ll know, too.


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