Best Browsers 2011: Which Is the Best Browser for You?

In early 2011, there have been major changes to four out of the five browsers that dominate the browser market: Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Internet Explorer. So it’s a great time for my third annual browser comparison, along with recommendations.

In last year’s browser comparison post, I noted that:

“Google’s Chrome browser was designed from the ground up to be good at running web applications, with an underlying architecture that is faster, more secure, and more stable than the competition. Chrome succeeded. The competition responded. Users have benefited.”

I also thought that Chrome deserved the “best browser” award at that time. However, the competition has since greatly improved. Though I again rank the browsers 1 through 5, the gap between #1 and #5 is narrow, as the current versions are all very good. Each browser is best for a different set of users.

The Easy Browser Decisions

Before you spend much time researching and deciding which browser is best for you, I suggest you start with the easy browser decisions:

  1. Keep your browser updated with the latest version. This helps speed, security, reliability, and compatibility. Firefox users with many add-ons may want to delay upgrades a few months to wait for add-on compatibility.
  2. If you’re satisfied with your current browser, keep using (and updating) it. It can take months to learn how to most effectively use a new browser. Except . . .
  3. Stop using Internet Explorer 8. All Internet Explorer versions prior to 9 are far behind the competition in speed, features, security, and usability. Windows 7 and Vista users can upgrade to the much superior Internet Explorer 9 but users of Windows XP don’t have that option and should adopt one of the other 4 browsers.
  4. Don’t use the password manager built into your browser. The best password managers are more secure, easier to use, and allow you to use your passwords anywhere.

Browser Speed Tests

Slow loading sites are a distraction and a waste of time. Happily, the latest versions of all 5 browsers load most sites quickly. Users will only notice significant differences between browsers on sites that make heavy use of graphics, animations, or JavaScript (like some web apps).

I’m not a big fan of detailed benchmark speed tests that don’t reflect real world use. For example, Chrome and Opera typically achieve the highest benchmark scores for many tests. But after several hours of using 10-20 tabs (or 3-5 web apps) on my 1GB Windows XP system, these browsers get very slow and need to be closed and restarted. Not so with memory-efficient Firefox, even though it scores lower off a fresh start.

Nevertheless, some of you will want to see the results of formal benchmark tests. This section on speed tests has been updated several times since this article was first published as more recent and/or thorough tests become available. The most thorough speed and memory testing I’ve seen as of September 2011 is:

Tom’s Hardware Web Browser Grand Prix VI August 29, 2011

However, both Firefox and Chrome have been updated since and these less thorough but more recent testings show some changes:

Lifehacker Browser Speed Tests February 14, 2012

Lifehacker Browser Speed Tests September 27, 2011

These tests supersede tests that were performed on older versions of the 5 major browers:

Computerworld browser speed tests March 10, 2011

Computerworld browser speed tests March 16, 2011

ars technica browser speed tests and IE9 review March 2011

Though SunSpider test results indicated IE9 to be slightly faster than Chrome Chrome 10 and Opera 11 in March 2011, the order has changed after July 2011. According to Tom’s Hardware, test results depend on operating system. For OS X, Safari 5.1 is fastest with Chrome in 2nd, Opera 3rd, and Firefox 4th. For Windows 7, Chrome is fastest, Firefox 2nd, IE9 3rd, Opera 4th, and Safari last. The ordering is different for individual tests – this summary combined many different tests.

Lifehacker tests conducted a month after Tom’s Hardware yielded different results. Opera 11.51 was overall fastest with Firefox 7 close behind, while IE9 and Chrome 14 trailed on a number of tests.

In all tests I’ve seen in 2011, there’s not a large difference in speed between the fastest and slowest of the 5 major browsers’ latest versions, with the exception of Apple’s browser. Safari has not been been significantly updated since June of 2010 while the other browsers continue to get faster, and this speed difference is starting to become noticeable on Windows systems. Safari did release a new version that can be used only on it’s latest operating system, OS X 10.7 (Lion), but many people are reporting that it’s slower, especially when many tabs are open.

Expectations are that Firefox 8 (November 8th) will have significant overall speed improvements, and Firefox 9 (December 20) will speed up JavaScript. So it is possible that by the end of this year, Firefox will have better performance than the other 4 browsers.

Here’s lifehacker’s March 2011 attempt at a real world speed test:

lifehacker browser speed tests

Lifehacker’s real world tests (Safari not included) found Opera and Chrome fastest in most tests with Firefox not too far behind. The 64 bit version of IE9 was considerably slower while the 32 bit version of IE9 was comparably fast in some respects, though slower at starting up and processing DOM/CSS.

Microsoft has stated and others have confirmed that the 32 bit version of IE9 executes JavaScript faster than the 64 bit version. A new installation of IE9 is set to the 32 bit version by default.

Browser Comparisons

Below are summaries of the strengths, weaknesses, and future expectations of the five major browsers—and what makes each browser distinctive and appropriate for a certain type of user. The browsers are ranked according to my preferences, which are based on the following criteria in order of importance:

  1. How well does the browser stay out of my way and let me focus on work?
  2. How flawlessly does the browser run web apps like Gmail and Google Reader?
  3. If I need additional features, how much flexibility do I have?

1. Chrome 10

Chrome 10 is available for Windows (XP and later), Mac (10.5.6 and later), and Linux systems. It continues to be very fast, secure, and reliable. Chrome 10 is much faster than prior Chrome versions, and this is especially noticeable on web apps and graphics-intensive sites. Google’s own web apps such as Gmail get an additional speed boost by using the SPDY protocol in place of HTTP. For graphics-intensive sites, Chrome can be made even faster (if your system has a modern operating system and a graphics card with up-to-date drivers, turn it on by typing about:flags in the URL and enabling both GPU acceleration options).

As in prior versions, Chrome’s uncluttered interface, automatic browser updates, and reduced use of dialog boxes help you work without distraction. Chrome works especially well for running various Google web apps as well as others like Evernote or Facebook.

Furthermore, Chrome now has a rich and diverse set of extensions, second only to Firefox. Some types of Firefox extensions will never be possible on Chrome due to a purposeful tradeoff that sacrifices flexibility and potential capabilities in order to keep Chrome fast, reliable, and uncluttered.

Chrome continues to enhance stability and security with additional sandboxing techniques. A properly sandboxed computer process is isolated from the rest of the computer and therefore is not able to have an impact on any part of the computer apart from its own process. The latest sandbox addition is Flash, the source of many a crashed browser. Starting with Chrome 10, Flash may be able to crash a single tab, but presumably nothing more than that. Thanks to sandboxing and other techniques, Chrome 10 is the most secure browser after a fresh installation, though IE9 is stronger in certain aspects of security and Firefox can be made more secure with appropriate add-ons.

Chrome is not for everyone. Firefox users may miss the functionality of some of their favorite add-ons. Some people don’t like the lean interface. Animated alerts for pinned tab updates are distracting (I use the “minimal” theme to take care of this). And though my testing suggests Chrome 10 is slightly more memory efficient than prior versions, Chrome is still a memory hog. You’ll need 1GB RAM for 5-10 tabs, and 2GB RAM if you routinely keep more than 10 tabs open—otherwise you’ll need to close and reopen Chrome every few hours (see here for more elegant workarounds).

Perhaps most importantly, some people feel uneasy about how much of their data Google can see, which can really add up if you use Google search, Gmail, and Chrome. For people who are uneasy about Google’s data collection but still want Chrome’s benefits, there are nearly identical alternatives that don’t collect user data, such as SRWare Iron or other browsers mentioned here. (However, controversy surrounding Iron is discussed here). Google has also attempted to alleviate privacy concerns with a Keep My Opt-Outs extension and detailed explanations of privacy settings.

Despite these issues, Chrome is a great browser. For both power users and regular users with 2GB or more of RAM (and who are not afraid of Google data tracking), Chrome edges out very tough competition for my “best browser 2011” award.

Chrome simply does a better job than other browsers of getting out of the way while you work. Others are liking Chrome as well, as Chrome market share has grown from 7% to 11% since the last time I compared browsers 9 months ago.

Best browser for:

  • Power users who value speed and working without distraction over Firefox’s extra flexibility
  • Typical users with at least 2GB of RAM who want to get to work, not mess with settings
  • Users who frequently use web apps such as Gmail, Google Reader, Google Analytics, etc.

Avoid this browser if:

  • You spend hours per day using a browser on a system with less than 2GB of RAM (unless you’re willing to take steps to reduce Chrome’s memory usage).
  • You are concerned about how much Google tracks your computing activities

Major upgrade: Google’s philosophy of frequent, incremental updates means that Chrome version numbers no longer really matter. However, changes in Google Chrome 10 (released March 8, 2011) were very noticeable due to the large speed boost, support for hardware acceleration, and a changed interface for settings. Google does not plan any major new features to be added in the next few months, though hardware acceleration will be enabled by default starting with Chrome 11.

Google has users testing a CR-48 netbook that launches into the Chrome browser within seconds after turning on. Like Apple’s iPad, such devices are easier to maintain and keep secure than today’s general purpose computers. Google “Chromebooks” will be available for purchase on June 15, 2011.

Update October 2011: Many users, including myself, are noticing that Chrome 14 is slower than prior versions. On my Windows XP (1GB RAM) system the slowdown is so noticeable that I’m starting to use Firefox 7 instead – which is quite fast when used in combination with add-ons Tab Utilities and Noscript. Given Google’s obsession with speed, my guess is that the recent speed issues will be fixed within a few months.

2. Firefox 4

Firefox is available for Windows (2000 and later), Mac (10.5 and later), and Linux. A fresh installation of Firefox covers all the browser basics with no common features omitted.

A great thing about Firefox is that it doesn’t even matter what the exact feature list is. If there’s anything you don’t like or don’t yet have—you can probably change it or find it among Firefox’s vast library of add-ons. The richness and diversity of these add-ons makes Firefox the most powerful and flexible browser, though some learning is required to take advantage of all this power.

The “awesome bar” feature Firefox introduced last year is worth highlighting. It combines the search and address boxes together along with your bookmarks and browsing history in a way which magically does a great job of figuring out what you want to do next. Most other browsers now have this feature, but it seems to work much better in Firefox.

For those who desire or need the highest level of security, nothing beats Firefox used in conjunction with various security add-ons, such as NoScript and HTTPS Everywhere.

On systems with limited memory, I’m finding that Firefox beats the competition. (Note: many observers are experiencing Firefox 4 as less memory efficient. So it may depend on your system and add-ons configuration). I can open and close tabs all day and have 15-20 tabs open on a system with only 1GB of RAM. Firefox is not as speedy as Chrome or Opera when you first start it and open your first few tabs. But try using Chrome or Opera for a few hours and your 1GB system will slow down so much that you’ll want to close then reopen your browser.

Firefox 4 nearly catches up to Chrome with speed and key features. However, in my opinion it does not catch up with the interface.

Firefox 4 tries for an uncluttered interface (like Chrome or Opera) but misses both aesthetically and functionally. I find myself distracted by the bright orange menu-access button and tabs strike me as too boxy and wide. Worse is what happens when I click that orange button. I am confronted with a large, cluttered, dual-column menu that I find unintuitive to use. For example, it took me minutes to discover how to bring back the old Firefox menu (Click options half way down the second column, then check the item “menu bar” by selecting it). I suspect that bringing back the menu bar is something many veteran Firefox users will want to do.

Of course, Firefox’s sub-optimal interface is only a minor drawback if you’re willing to spend some time customizing. With less than 15 minutes of tinkering you can make Firefox look like it used to. Or you can make Firefox look more like Chrome. Or if you don’t like either of these looks you can customize further with add-ons such as Tab Utilities (do anything with tabs—even Phantom tabs) and Personal Menu (Don’t like Firefox’s menu organization? Make your own!). Or if you like everything about the new interface except the bright orange button, install the App Button Clear add-on. In general, just Google “Firefox add-on” and a few extra words to describe the feature you’d like to change or add, and you should find what you want pretty quickly.

All this tinkering is fine for users willing to make the effort to customize. However, the majority of users just want to work without distraction, not tinker with settings. If you’re such a user, and you don’t like the Firefox interface, I’d recommend Chrome or Opera, or if your needs are very simple, Safari. Conversely, if you want as much control as possible over your browser, you want Firefox.

Best browser for:

  • Users with less than 2GB of RAM
  • Developers
  • Power users who want to customize and personalize their browser

Avoid this browser if:

  • You use browsers no more than a few hours a week
  • You want an easy-to-use interface right out of the box
  • You value speed and/or working without distraction above all else

Major upgrade: Firefox 4 was released March 22, 2011. Soon after this major release, Mozilla adopted the Chrome model of frequent, incremental updates on a 6 week schedule.

UPDATE: Firefox 5 and 6 were minor updates but users will notice big performance improvements in versions 7, 8 and 9 as follows:

Firefox 7 (September 27, 2011): more efficient memory usage

Firefox 8 (November 8, 2011): 10%-20% speed increase in every aspect of browsing except for JavaScript

Firefox 9 (December 20, 2011): 20%-30% JavaScript speed increase.

This is Mozilla’s planned schedule as of August 2011 but actual dates for these performance enhancements may change.

It has been my family’s experience that Mozilla’s rapid updates since March 2011 are resulting in incompatibilities with specific web sites and add-ons. Specifically, when Firefox 6 was first released, I was not able to use rememberthemilk.com, and my wife experienced setup hassles and decreased functionality with the 1Password add-on for Firefox. Whether or not  you encounter difficulties will depend on which add-ons or web sites you use. But it can be a good idea to wait 1-2 months before upgrading to the latest Firefox version. That is usually enough time for authors to make their add-ons compatible with the latest Firefox version.

3. Opera 11

Chrome, Firefox, and Safari attempt to be bare bones browsers, to which you add functionality with extensions. Opera, on the other hand, already comes bundled with many extras that users typically want, such as ad blocking (though not automatic), note taking, and various tab features. Opera also includes a very flexible framework for sharing any kind of data across devices (Opera Unite).

Opera supports many forms of customization through third-party add-ons, including plug-ins, skins, panels, as well as separate applications called widgets. Opera now finally supports extensions as well. Hundreds of extensions are available, including automatic ad blockers and extensions for popular password managers such as LastPass and RoboForm.

On top of all that, Opera works on a wider variety of operating systems than any other browser, including Windows (2000 and higher), Mac (10.4 and higher), and Linux. Two-year-old Opera 9.64 runs on Windows 98 and Mac OS X 10.3. Opera also makes a simpler browser available for most mobile devices, which can sync bookmarks and history with Opera on the desktop. Opera’s turbo feature compresses data, which increases web browsing speed on slow connections and saves money if you have a metered connection where you pay per kilobyte.

Despite the extra included features, Opera is as fast and uncluttered as Chrome. I prefer Opera’s interface to the other browsers as it uses panels and a well designed menu to hide a tremendous amount of power and flexibility, giving me one or two click access to pretty much everything I need. On top of all this, Opera has historically experienced fewer security issues than other browsers.

So if Opera is such a great browser, why is it in third place, why am I not using it, and why don’t more people use it?

  1. Like Chrome, Opera is very fast when starting, but quickly overloads my 1GB of RAM and then gets progressively slower. For my Windows XP system, this slowdown happens sooner than with any other browser. I did not experience these memory issues with Opera 10.
  2. Some web sites don’t work flawlessly, as many developers don’t test their sites with Opera. Various Google web apps seem to be especially problematic. Examples include incorrect line heights for Google Reader’s article list mode, not automatically placing a curser in Gmail’s “Compose Mail” window, and not immediately changing a date range in Google Analytics (to make it work after the attempted date range change, you have to click to a new report then back to the current report). I have not experienced these types of issues on Chrome or Firefox.
  3. Most people have simply never heard of Opera.

The last reason should not stop you from checking out this browser. Opera is a terrific browser that can work well for a wide variety of people—so long as their system has more than 1GB of RAM and they don’t use a lot of Google Apps. If Opera worked as smoothly as Chrome with Google Apps and my 1GB RAM system, it would be my primary browser and rated #1 for 2011.

Best browser for:

  • Power users who prefer Opera’s extensive customization options
  • Typical users who simply prefer the elegant interface
  • Computers with old operating systems (Windows 2000, PowerPC Macs, etc.)
  • Users with slow or metered connections (enable Turbo)

Avoid this browser if:

  • You spend hours per day using a browser on a system with less than 2GB of RAM
  • You frequently use web apps like Gmail, Google Reader, and Google Analytics

Major upgrade: Opera 11 was a major upgrade (December 2010). Opera 11.5 is expected to include much fuller support for hardware acceleration that works with a much wider variety of operating systems and graphics cards than competing browsers.

4. Safari 5

There have been no major changes to Safari since version 5 was released on June 7, 2010. Safari is the browser bundled with all new Mac systems and is good enough for many users. It works on Macs (OS X 10.5.8 or higher) and Windows (XP and higher). The pretty interface blends in well with the overall look and feel of a Mac and Safari is easy to use. Although Safari is not quite as fast as the latest versions of the other 4 browsers, users with fast connections will rarely be distracted by slow-loading sites.

On the topic of distraction, Safari lacks distraction-blocking full screen mode. However, a click of its built-in “reader” button transforms cluttered web pages into an easy-to-read format (similar to arc90′s “readability” bookmarklet). Safari’s smaller feature set and limited flexibility also help reduce distraction and interface clutter. Safari is therefore ideal for people who spend just a few hours a week using the Internet. Such people typically have no interest in ever more powerful features or customizing the browser.

Those wanting to customize the browser do have hundreds of extensions to choose from, including Adblock for Safari. This post on Safari extensions describes some of the better ones, as well as sites that offer extensions not available through Apple. Extensions are a welcome addition to Safari, but the quality and quantity of extensions and overall customizability of the browser trails the competition.

Safari lacks many features users have come to take for granted with other browsers. Missing features include full screen mode, automatically reopening all tabs from last session (must be done manually from the History menu), and pinned tabs, to name just a few. Safari also has had many security issues over the years. While Safari 5 has many improvements over prior versions, hackers still find it easy to exploit Safari vulnerabilities to take over a computer.

Though I’ve listed far more negatives for Safari than the top three browsers, I enjoy using it. It’s simple, fast, and easy to use—ideal for light browsing.

Best browser for:

  • You love simplicity and want to avoid anything that is the least bit complicated
  • You use browsers just a few hours a week or less
  • You want an easy-to-use interface right out of the box
  • You want your applications to have the same look and feel as everything else on your Mac.

Avoid this browser if:

  • You are a power user with significant needs for customization, flexibility, and some of Safari’s missing features
  • Though not a power user, you typically have many tabs open and could benefit from extra tab management features available on other browsers
  • Avoiding security issues is a major priority for you

Major upgrade: Version 5 was released on June 7, 2010 for both Windows (XP, Vista, 7) and Mac (10.5.8, 10.6.2 and higher), and is described above. Apple has not discussed future specific plans, other than to announce WebKit2 development. This implies that the next version of Safari will be faster, especially on multi-core hardware.

Simpler versions of Safari are available for the Apple’s iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch devices. These versions do not support Adobe Flash, but are otherwise very easy to use and well suited to these devices.

5. Internet Explorer 9 (IE9)

IE9 is much faster, more secure, and more standards compliant than IE8 and vastly better than versions before IE8, which were very slow, dangerously insecure, and outrageously non-compliant with web standards. As always, I urge my readers to abandon older versions of IE in favor of the latest version of one of the five major browsers profiled in this post.

What do people like about IE9? The 32 bit version (but not the 64 bit version) scored higher on speed tests than already-speedy Chrome and Opera in March 2011 (UPDATE: As of August 2011, Opera and Chrome are faster, and Firefox will be faster by the end of 2011). It is especially fast on graphics-intensive sites that can take advantage of hardware acceleration. Tabs are now separate processes, benefiting security and performance. IE9 warns about socially engineered malware better than other browsers, offers better Active X controls, and has addressed many security issues found in prior versions of IE.

With regards to the interface, the browser integrates with the Windows operating system (especially Windows 7) in a way that makes using web apps seem more like regular desktop software—much more so than Chrome. Many popular features of other browsers such as combining the search and URL bars and an improved download manager have been incorporated. There are many options for customizing and controlling the browser, though some complain that configuration options are strewn all over the user interface. Perhaps most importantly, the interface now uses very little vertical screen space. IE9 may be the best browser for small screen devices such as netbooks, as user can set tabs to be on the same line as the address bar.

So why do I rank IE9 last? For starters, it only works on about 1/3 of all computers—those running Windows 7, Windows Vista, or Windows Server 2008. IE10 will only run on Windows 7. Many people in the U.S. now routinely use multiple computers with different operating systems installed, and it’s a considerable distraction to have to learn and use different browsers for each system. If you have a Windows 7 desktop at home, a Mac laptop, and a Windows XP desktop at work, you can use your same favorite browser on all three—so long as it is not Internet Explorer.

Also a distraction is learning how to use the full power of IE9. Remember IE8 features like Web Slices and Accelerators? (You will be excused if you don’t.) Few people actually use these features. It seems likely that IE9’s innovative integration with the desktop and extra control over Active X security will suffer the same fate. What all these interesting features have in common is requiring users to know they exist, seek them out, and learn how to use them. The few people who do may very well love this browser. However, for the rest of us who just want to fire up the browser and get to work, all these extra features are irrelevant.

I have unfortunately not been able to test IE9 myself, as my computers all run Windows XP (I’m not alone: 55% of the world’s computers run Windows XP). But I have read many reports that a number of web sites don’t work perfectly with IE9, with web apps being especially problematic. The problem is likely due to web sites that have created many hacks and workarounds to work with prior, non-standards-compliant versions of IE. These sites didn’t anticipate the possibility that Microsoft would one day ship a standards compliant browser. While putting IE9 into compatibility mode will usually solve this issue for a specific site, many users won’t know to do this. While I expect these issues to be fixed over the coming months, it’s yet another distraction users can avoid by using a different browser.

Despite the negatives IE9 is a huge step up from its predecessors and will be good enough for most people. And this is a good thing, as most computer users use the browser that comes bundled with their new computer and Internet Explorer is the only permitted browser at many workplaces. Window users who choose a different primary browser will still need to use some version of Internet Explorer for IE-only sites such as Windows updates.

For those who use only recently purchased Windows 7 systems, continuing to use the pre-installed IE9 could be the best choice, in addition to being the simplest choice. But if you’re among the majority of people who use at least one system that is not Windows 7 or Vista, you’ll be better off using the same browser on all of your different systems. That browser won’t be Internet Explorer.

Best browser for:

  • small screen devices such as netbooks
  • regular users who use only Windows 7 or Vista systems
  • Power users who like IE9’s extensive feature set and configuration options

Avoid this browser if:

  • You regularly use a non-Windows 7 (or Vista) computer
  • You need the greater flexibility offered by Firefox, Chrome, or Opera

Major Upgrade: IE9 was just released (March 14, 2011). IE10 will have features such as CSS transitions and more complete CSS gradient support that are more aimed at web site developers than end users. IE10 requires Windows 7, and will not be available for Windows Vista or earlier.

Conclusion: There’s No Best Browser

Last year I sung the praises of Chrome 5 and thought it was the best browser for most users. But I also noted that competitors were responding, and that “you just need to keep regularly upgrading your browser to see big speed, security, and stability improvements, along with an ever less cluttered interface.”

That’s exactly what has happened, and now the most recent versions of all five browsers are all so good that most differences between them are minor. Though I did rank the browsers according to my personal preference, I think there is no obvious best browser for everyone (unlike AA batteries where there is an obvious best aa battery). It’s a matter of choosing which browser best suits the kind of user you are.

Therefore, my strongest recommendation this year is to stick with your current browser. This assumes you are satisfied with your browser and that you have a computer and operating system that supports upgrading your browser to the latest version.

All this is great for users. All five browsers are far faster, more secure and less cluttered than they were three years ago and all include helpful new features. I am especially pleased with what this means for older systems. My work computer is a Dell 4600 Windows XP system that I purchased in 2004. It runs faster than ever because the majority of my work is now done using 2011 browser versions that are far faster and more capable than those from 2004.

Many people replace their computer every 3-5 years when the system gets too slow or outdated. Now, thanks to faster browsers and the trend towards working in the cloud, there is no need to replace computers until they quit working altogether. It’s good for the environment. It saves time. It saves money.

Thanks to great browsers and cloud computing, forced obsolescence of computers is becoming . . . obsolete.

If you liked this reference guide for browsers, you may also like other FilterJoe guides:

Best AA Batteries

Best Monitor Setup to Reduce Eye Fatigue and Distraction

A Guide to Using Passwords Without Distraction

Filed in category: Browsers and the cloud.

54 Comments

  1. Bill
    March 15, 2011 at 5:15 PM

    You might want to check out Safari 5 on a Mac that has OS 10.5 or greater. Apple just updated it to fix some bugs and security issues. We have two Macs. My 7-year old G4 laptop with OS 10.4 (Tiger) doesn’t support Safari 5, but Safari 4 is faster than the latest version of Firefox, and meets all my needs. As of yesterday we have the latest version of Safari 5 on our iMac, OS 10.5, but I haven’t had a chance to try it out yet.

    The problem is, as you pointed out, the browsers change so frequently that any comparison is likely to be out of date before you can publish it.

  2. March 15, 2011 at 6:17 PM

    Bill – I think you are comparing Safari 4 and 5 to versions of Firefox before 4, and they are faster. This post discusses Firefox 4, which will be released within days, and is much faster than prior versions. The “release candidate” can already be downloaded and is very stable and quite fast.

    Browsers do change frequently and that is great for users. I try to publish my annual comparison just after there happens to be major changes to several browsers – and then typically there won’t be too many major changes over the next 6-9 months. I suspect Safari 6 will be released in 2011 and I know all browser makers are working on improving support for hardware acceleration. But other than that, I think the above descriptions are good through the end of 2011 and maybe even into early 2012.

  3. Hugh
    March 16, 2011 at 4:06 AM

    Joe,

    Thanks for the great article! I learn something new each time you write an article. I am still using Firefox with noscript and have not had any virus problems since. Recently I noticed that Firefox was acting a little funny. It was not erasing cookies when I closed it, even though I had designated Firefox to do that in the internet options. I downloaded another version of it, and it notified me that a new noscript update was available. I downloaded it, and the problem was fixed. That has been the only problem that I have had with Firefox in months.

    I did try downloading Chrome again recently, but it seems to constantly trigger my McAfee antivirus software. I keep getting warnings that a program is trying to access my computer. So I have uninstalled Chrome. I wonder if Chrome affects your antivirus software at all?

    Overall, I am definitely pleased with Firefox. I am looking forward to the new faster version. I do occasionally use Internet Explorer, and I have noticed that it is faster than my current Firefox. I have it set to not accept cookies, and I use it when I want to go somewhere online and not have to accept cookies.

    Personally, I wish that I would not have to accept cookies at all, but the nytimes.com and gurufocus, and others force one to accept cookies.

    Also, I noticed that Flash uses cookies. There was an article on the nytimes.com that showed how to not accept cookies on flash. However, when I tried their instructions, my flash would not work at Bloomberg and other sites. So I gave up.

    Recently, I have tried the addons of adblocker and https everywhere in addition to noscript and foxit reader with my Firefox. Hopefully they will work out for me.

    I also wanted to mention that I enjoyed your article on monitors for reading. I measured my monitor to eye distance. I guess I unconsciously have set up my monitor system so that it is the same distance from my eyes as you recommended . I always wondered why I had my monitor so much farther away than others seem to have. I think that I may be reading too much. :)

    Sorry for the rambling comment. This is the only place where I find good info about these types of problems.

    Thanks again for the great article!

  4. March 16, 2011 at 7:30 AM

    Hi Hugh,

    Thanks very much for the comments and compliments.

    I’m glad NoScript continues to completely stop malware on your Windows system. You mention that IE8 is faster than Firefox 3.6.x for you. That is because one of the add-ons or plug-ins is slowing down your Firefox installation. I would bet that McAfee installed something on your Firefox (either add-ons, plug-ins, or both). I use Norton’s security suite and always keep it disabled on Firefox to keep performance reasonable. NoScript will likely block anything a security suite would catch but with not much impact on performance.

    I don’t particularly care that much about cookies myself but note that several browsers now have a private or incognito mode. Use this mode and there will be no trace left when you end each session. Also note that there is a movement to stop advertisers from tracking you. IE9 has just come out with comprehensive options for this, and as I mentioned in the Chrome section, Google just released an add-on you can install. My guess is within months all 5 browsers will have some kind of way to stop cookie tracking by advertisers, should you so desire.

  5. Allie
    March 18, 2011 at 7:27 PM

    Thanks, Joe for providing the most informative new info I have found on browsers. Currently, in an attempt to figure out what works best for me and my new gmail, I’m running both Chrome and IE9 on my new laptop with Windows 7; Webroot antivirus. They are both running very smoothly and quickly (much to my amazement, since I’m an old Mac lady, and a tad behind the times) so I may just leave things as they are. However, in the spirit of finding what I need and working without distraction (Amen!), any thoughts on whether I should choose just one?

  6. March 18, 2011 at 8:38 PM

    Allie – Great question and not an easy decision, as both are great choices for Windows 7. But I would choose one as your primary browser if I were you.

    If you also use another system regularly that doesn’t run Windows 7 or Vista, then that would tip the balance to using Chrome as your primary browser. If you use nothing but Windows 7, it’s just a matter of personal preference for which interface and feature set you prefer. Chrome requires less effort to master, but if you visit web sites regularly that are graphics intensive and run lots of web apps, you may be happier with IE9 which is optimized for Windows 7 running on modern hardware.

    My guess is that if you run both for a month, you’ll find you prefer one over the other. (Note that to fairly test the two against each other, you should enable hardware acceleration using about:flags for Chrome. Starting with Chrome 11, hardware acceleration will be enabled by default.) And then you can choose which to make your primary browser. Would love to see you report back with which you chose and why if you run such an experiment for a few weeks or more.

  7. Jata
    May 2, 2011 at 10:59 AM

    Wow, that’s weird.

    How can you do a browser testing/ranking without having tested yourself IE9.

    Maybe that’s the reason why you score it lower than the rest. Today IE9 is with difference the best browser out there.

  8. May 2, 2011 at 11:25 AM

    I hear you, Jata. I would have loved to have tested IE9 but I’m not about to buy a new computer to do it. I’ve looked into upgrading either of my Dells to Windows 7 and many users report struggling to get sound working on both of my units. So I’m sticking with XP.

    Given this situation, I spent many hours reading other reviews on IE9 and did my best to compile these opinions (all other browsers, including prior versions of IE, I tested myself).

    The core issue remains: IE9 is not even an option for the majority of users. And Vista users who get it won’t be able to upgrade to IE10 when that comes out. In my opinion, this alone is enough to rank IE9 behind the other major 4 browsers, any of which can run on over 90% of systems currently out there.

    I am careful to note in the IE9 section that it’s a great browser that is an excellent option – possibly the best option – for someone who has recently purchased a system with Windows 7 pre-installed. I also note twice that the gap between the latest versions of the 5 major browsers is pretty narrow at this point.

  9. Niku
    May 31, 2011 at 3:29 PM

    I switched from Safari to Google Chrome when I discovered how many of the problems I used to have with numerous websites was simply due to Safari’s incompatibility with them. I’m not saying that Google Chrome is perfect in this matter, but it is light years ahead of Safari. Compatibility is important, very important, and I am surprised that no browser reviewer that I can remember ever discusses this issue. I have found Chrome to be vastly superior to Safari in this regard, but I don’t have the time to do a statistical valid comparison of even the most popular browsers. Sadly, if history is a guide, no such study will ever be undertaken, but I can hope.

  10. Maria Romanova
    July 17, 2011 at 8:17 PM

    Hi,
    I found this article very helpful but wonder if you could help me. I’ve been having major problems with my safari so decided to download first chrome then firefox but both without success via my parallels ie browser attempting to download for mac – would you know a way of doing this or should I ask elsewhere?
    Thank you so much for your informative article.
    Kindest Regards,
    Maria

  11. July 17, 2011 at 9:43 PM

    Maria – I’m assuming you mean the Parallels Desktop software that runs Windows on a Mac? I would think the best way to sort that out would be to contact support for the Parallels software. If you’re just trying to install a browser straight onto the Mac (not on Parallels), you should not have any problems – if you do that indicates problems with your computer that you need to sort out with Apple tech support.

  12. ben carroll
    September 4, 2011 at 2:20 AM

    Thanks for your detailed analysis on browsers.
    Just bought a new Compaq laptop + 500 GB portable HD.
    Windows 7, IE9, Home Office 2010, Norton 60 day trial.

    Find browsing is slower than on my 11 yo P4 wobbly, near full 70GB computer with Firefox 3.5.
    XP Office, McAffee and a variety of other programs on it. How come ?
    Same IP service.
    I would consider the ideal browser to be fast, secure, anonymous, simple to use.
    Appreciate advice.
    Sharing knowledge is an enduring gift.
    BJC

  13. September 4, 2011 at 7:28 AM

    My guess is that it’s an add on slowing down the browser, because IE9 without add ons is very fast on a modern machine. Go into Tools, then “Manage Add ons.” Examine the times listed for “Load time” and “Navigation time” for each add on, and try disabling the ones that have a long time associated with them. If all the times seem slow, first thing to try is disabling everything to do with Symantec’s Norton tools. I’ve experienced huge slowdowns on some browsers with Symantec’s plugins or add-ons. Toolbars can also slow down a browser. Or it could be some other add on.

    HP often bundles software with new systems (which includes add-ons as part of the browser) that can greatly slow down the default IE9 browser or other parts of the system. Dell often does this too – I bought a computer in 2006 from Dell that, out of the box, wouldn’t even allow me to get to the desktop thanks to preloaded software, in addition to being slow after I solved some problems just to get to use the computer. Since that experience, I steer away from Dell and HP. I just bought a Lenovo notebook and was much happier with the quality and quantity of pre-loaded software. The system is very fast and responsive.

  14. ben carroll
    September 4, 2011 at 10:39 PM

    Hi Joe. Thanks your comments.
    Bought Dell ST 2420L monitor & Presario CQ62 with Win7 Home Premium + Office Home & Student 2010 as suggested by ‘shop expert’. I am 68 yo computer dummy.
    Took me 11 years to get comfortable with XP.Pro and Firefox. Now I’m struggling with unfamiliar laptop, Win7, ( format not as good as XP ) and Explorer9.
    Computer and browsing definitely slower than my old heap.

    Went to Tools / Add ons as you suggested. Found a list but but no Load / Navigation time for each. – MS Silverlight, Adobe Shockwave Flash, PDF link helper,Bing Bar, Bing Bar BHO, Search Helper, Win line ID sign in helper, Office Doc cache handler,SunJava Plugin 2ssv Helper, Norton toolbar,Symantec NCO BHO, Symantec Intrusion protection. Total on HD 3.42 GB. Plenty of space on this new HD.

    * What is necessary to keep ?
    * Should I opt for different browser ? Which ?

    Previously, on old computer I had problems with Chrome,
    (dont trust Google), old Explorer and new versions of Firefox.

    * Would Firefox perform better on my new laptop ?
    * What version best suited to it ?

    New Monitor – Dell Full HD/LD/backlight- ST2420L :
    Wish I had read your article on monitors earlier.
    Asked for a large monitor because of eye fatigue and lack of clarity with old AOC monitor.
    Getting eye fatigue with new Dell but can’t turn it vertical.
    * Any suggestions ?
    Regards

  15. September 5, 2011 at 7:45 AM

    Hi Ben – to stay on the topic of the browser post, I’ll post my thoughts on your browser issue here and eye fatigue on the Best Monitor Setup to Reduce Eye Fatigue and Distraction post.

    If you’re comfortable with Firefox and like using it, then by all means install it and use it. And then keep upgrading as new versions roll out – for security reasons alone you never want to be behind the latest version by more than a few months. I just updated the Major Upgrade section of Firefox and you’ll see that by the end of this year, Firefox 9 will be much faster and more memory efficient than prior versions. Speed will be competitive with other browsers and it seems possible that Firefox will be the most memory efficient.

    If you want to give IE9 an honest try, then first try disabling the Norton and Symantec add ons. If it’s still not fast, then try disabling the Bing Bar and Search helper add ons. If still not faster then try MS Silverlight. You could also try calling HP tech support, though my guess is the first thing they’ll have you try is what I suggest – disable add ons one by one to find out which is the culprit. You can’t harm your computer or browser by disabling an add on, though disabling adobe Shockwave Flash will disable flash content on web sites – which will incidentally cause sites with Flash to load much faster but with blank boxes where Flash content is supposed to be.

    You might have had similar issues with Firefox on your old computer when you tried later versions. There have been some versions of Firefox I’ve used with greatly reduced speed due to Symantec and Norton add ons. I disabled these Symantec and Norton add ons and used NoScript instead, which doesn’t usually cause much of a speed hit and actually makes some sites faster because JavaScript is blocked (unless you white list the site temporarily or permanently). All 5 major browsers have been getting faster with newer releases. The only reason they might get slower is if there is a very slow add on that get installed on the new version, but not the old version. I suspect this is the reason that you found an old version of Firefox to be fastest for you (and also most dangerously insecure, by the way). Perhaps Symantec/Norton did not make an add on that is compatible with the very old version of Firefox, but I know they have since Firefox 3.0. And it is a very big performance hit on some versions of Firefox.

    The other possibility is that you quickly got a virus or some other form of malware on your system after you set it up. Any of the 5 browsers will be fast on any modern system more powerful than an Atom-based netbook, and yours certainly fits the bill (I looked up the specs: Celeron 900 is not the fastest chip around these days but it should be plenty fast for browsing). So if you’re not experiencing fast browsing, then something in your setup (probably an add on) is slowing it down and you have to figure out what it is.

  16. ben carroll
    September 5, 2011 at 3:49 PM

    Hi Joe. Moderator responses on tech sites / forums are often condersending or too high tech for computer dummies. Your detailed response in simple terms is much appreciated.

    Have a high regard for Firefox. Served me well over the years
    but will wait for the new stable edition later this year and put up with IE9 for time being.

    * I suspect Norton but if I remove / disable will Win 7 / IE9 offer sufficient protection?

  17. September 5, 2011 at 4:29 PM

    Ben – I don’t know how much extra protection you get from Norton’s add on for IE9. If I were you, I would at least try to identify what your issue is. Disable Norton for a few hours and see if IE9 is much faster.

    I don’t think Firefox 6 is unstable. It’s more a matter of the various add ons and web sites keeping up with Firefox’s more rapid release schedule. The solution is simple. Don’t update Firefox immediately when new versions come out. Wait 3 months or so then upgrade.

  18. September 11, 2011 at 9:44 AM

    I’m using Opera on a Vista 1GB RAM system that’s a few years old now. I recommend you try setting the disk cache to something large, like over 100MB and the memory cache to 20 or 40MB, not automatic. I’ve noticed that Opera is much more responsive with these settings when you have many tabs open.

    One other tip for all browser users: minimize flash. In particular, I find myself loading several YouTube videos in multiple tabs at once and I would say this is the biggest factor that slows down my system/browser. It’s an old habit I find hard to break…

  19. September 12, 2011 at 1:48 PM

    Opera Fanboy – I appreciate the Opera optimization advice. Do you have any advice on how to make Opera work better with many of Google’s web apps (Gmail, Google Reader, Google Analytics, etc.)? I actually prefer the Opera’s interface and the feature set it emphasizes but Google web apps are too quirky in Opera. Not Opera’s fault, I know, as Google simply doesn’t test and support its web apps for Opera. But nevertheless it’s a problem for people like me who make heavy use of Google (and other) web apps.

  20. John S
    October 21, 2011 at 2:34 PM

    After trying Firefox 7 on my HP Netbook with a Atom 455. I can tell you that it is pretty slow with hardware rendering enabled. Its still pretty slow with software rendering but it is better. In all honesty IE 9 still runs the best except for Chrome unless you open a lot of tabs up. Then Chrome really slow down.

  21. Eric
    October 29, 2011 at 11:03 AM

    Joe,

    I like your article. The thing I noticed in one of your reply’s about windows 7 and not having sound work. I used windows 7 beta before release and never once had problems with the sound driver. It worked flawlessly with drivers compared to windows XP.

    There are too many people that are using windows XP, that are so not into change that they have to say things that are not true to keep themselves from moving to a greater OS windows 7. It has been the best microsoft has done so far. All OSes under it has been BSOD. I had maybe a few since beta. Where as all others are daily.

    Everytime I hear someone say XP is the best, it ticks me off. It is not. I do not use Mac at all. I won’t say why. I don’t want to start anything. I am currently using Chrome latest 15. I do not like the fact that there are 10 processes running with only two tabs in Chrome. All the other browsers don’t do this. I am using Chrome, because it runs better than all the others over everything I done on the internet.

    IE9 cannot login to some sites, and Firefox has memory issues. So I am sticking to Chrome until Microsoft fixes IE, and Firefox fixes there memory problem.

  22. October 29, 2011 at 11:47 AM

    Hi Eric – Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I think many people just use the OS they got with their system until the computer dies. Then they buy another and use whatever OS is bundled with that. And that’s fine as most of what people do these days doesn’t require the OS to be more modern – surfing, word processing, spreadsheets, email, videos, etc. The process of upgrading from XP to Windows 7 is pretty painful – I’ve researched it for my 3 older systems and other people who have upgraded my particular models have run into driver issues (usually sound). So I decided not to waste many hours of my life doing an upgrade and hunting down the right drivers to get everything working. I do understand that any new system with Windows 7 preinstalled will work fine.

    That being said, I purchased my first system in several years a couple months ago and it came with Windows 7. It is way more stable than XP (particularly for Windows Media Center, which is one of the primary functions of this new notebook). I’ve never been happier with a computer than I’ve been with this Lenovo e510 (with Intel i5 2410m inside). And that’s saying a lot as I’ve purchased 10 computers during the 30 or so years I’ve owned computers.

    Regarding chrome and all its processes – there’s a good and bad side to it. The bad side is that it uses more memory. The good side is that it restricts security and stability issues to a single tab or extension – if that process crashes it won’t bring down the rest of the browser.

    Now that I’ve had a chance to use IE9 for a couple months, I’m not liking it so much. It’s way faster and more stable than IE8 but it throws too many dialog boxes at me and I don’t like some of the user interface choices. For example, it literally took me 5-10 minutes to figure out how to bookmark a site. I don’t use it enough to even remember how I did that so I’ll have to figure it out again the next time I want to bookmark something.

    I so wish Google supported Opera on Gmail, Google Analytics, Google Reader, etc. I’m a very heavy user of Google services, so I can’t live with that. Opera would be my main browser if it weren’t for all the quirks on Google sites – I think the user interface is the best of the bunch and it feels a little faster to me than Chrome. But Chrome is quite fast and is my main browser at this point.

    Have you tried Firefox 7? That’s the version that tackles memory issues and many users are reporting that FF7 indeed uses less memory.

  23. Cupertino8732
    October 30, 2011 at 1:22 PM

    Privacy in browsers should be big concern too — a good browser should only connect to the internet when you tell it to.

    Default settings on 99% of modern browsers quietly establish various active net connections as soon as the application opens (and during initial install). The big-boys (IE, Firefox,etc) can be user-configured to stop all that– but it’s often a tedious process… and not for newbies.

    OPERA browser is terrible — constantly trying to connect… and punch holes thru the PC firewall. Special firewall rules are the only way to stop it. It’s probably not malicious, but adds very unnecessary vulnerabilities to unwary users.

    SRWare Iron is also very suspect. I just tested the latest version, locking down all its available configuration settings… to prevent it connecting to the net on its own.
    BUT ‘Iron’ insisted on very aggressively & silently trying to connect to GOOGLE, as soon as it was opened. My firewall detected, blocked, and logged this heavy activity.

    Why is IRON calling GOOGLE ??

    The whole supposed purpose of IRON is to eliminate GOOGLE CHROME’s intensive tracking of user activity. Very Strange.

    I quickly purged IRON off my PC, but some curious soul ought to put a packet-sniffer on IRON to see why it likes GOOGLE so much (if the traffic is unencrypted ?).

    Think browser privacy… as much as browser speed !

  24. Steve
    November 6, 2011 at 3:51 PM

    Which browser is the best ? Absolute no one ! All are capable to choke cpu/computer down despite multicore cpu’s and powerful hardware ! I have tried it all !!! The crapy/faulty MS idea to interract with computer/os thru browser has result in circumstances that rules today internet threats and in absolute no way internet today is no fun at all but security risk, browser/OS threats and so on ! Browsing thru internet today is nothing but trouble and everbody wants to fuck somehow/somewhat everbody !!! MS won’t secure sandbox isolate OS from inside out, software developers won’t secure app/browsers – result end user is always in trouble with securing OS and app and newer enough security/relaiability/stability of OS and app (and all making hapy money on end users back)!!! How come that opening web page can polute the whole os representing/resulting in great security risk and no one is doing something abaut it that is capable/called to do it !!!

  25. November 6, 2011 at 8:35 PM

    Steve – I think what you say was a very legitimate criticism several years ago, but browser makers have taken great strides in recent years. Chrome was the first with process isolation (of tabs) and that is making its way into the other browsers. Firefox has had good security options for years thanks to extensions like NoScript and HTTPS Everywhere. Neverthless, novice users can easily be tricked into download executable code to their computers that will take over the computer when installed.

    One of the greatest achievement of new form factors like smartphones (especially iOS and Blackberry) and iPads is rarely discussed: Novice users are much less likely to install malware or execute malicious javascript on a Blackberry or iOS device then a Windows or Mac OS system.

  26. Micah
    November 9, 2011 at 1:47 PM

    I like the Opera browser a lot; it’s fast, light, runs on my MacBook, Windows XP & 7 machines, Ubuntu machine, and even my phone. My biggest problem with it, and one of the biggest reasons I use Chrome instead is that it’s not compatible with 1Password, which I rely on more than any one browser. In its latest release, I like that Chrome has added swipe functionality for OSX Lion (very similar to the latest version of Safari). Thanks for the info, it’s helpful.

  27. November 9, 2011 at 1:54 PM

    1Password is a great password manager and I can understand that being your top priority. Note however that there are some other great password managers out there that are compatible with Opera: RoboForm and lastpass. In case it’s helpful, I discussed these 2 as well as 1Password here:

    http://www.filterjoe.com/2010/05/14/which-password-manager/

    Switching password managers can be a chore, so I can certainly understand sticking with 1Password as being more important that browser choice. I personally love Opera as well and so wish that Google supported it’s services for Opera. Every time I try using Opera for hours at a time, I end up giving up due to the many little quirks with Google.

  28. Karen
    November 10, 2011 at 10:22 AM

    I use IE8 on a Vista computer. When IE9 first came out, I downloaded it and tried it, but it was totally wacky and crashed and froze a lot. I deleted it and went back to IE8. Since IE9 keeps coming up in my automatic downloads as an “important” not “optional” choice, I am trying to decide if I should give it another try. Has anyone out there installed it recently on a Vista machine with good results? IE8 works fine for me and I’m used to it, but if security issues are improved I would switch. It is Nov 10, 2011. I wonder if the version offered now has the bugs worked out of it, compared to when it was first released. Thanks to all you folks who take the time to offer advice on these forums for the benefit of us who are “tech-challenged”.

  29. November 10, 2011 at 10:35 AM

    Karen – I have never used Vista but purchased a Windows 7 system a few months ago with IE9 preinstalled. I use it a 5-15 minutes per day and lately it seems to crash when I try to close the browser. Even if it weren’t doing that, it’s my least favorite browser. It’s fast enough finally and much more secure than prior IE versions. But I get hit by dialog boxes way too often (do you want to disable some of your plugins?) and find the user interface less intuitive than the other browsers (have you figured out how to bookmark a site, yet?).

    My suggestion is to use another browser. Opera, Chrome, and Firefox are all great browsers, and you can read above to figure out which of them best matches your needs.

  30. Jayasankar.K
    November 15, 2011 at 10:04 PM

    hi top fastest browser is Google chrome.But fastest download from Opera mini.

  31. Andrew petronio
    November 30, 2011 at 6:25 AM

    Hi i am running windows 2000 with internet explorer 6. What browser do you recommend for an upgrade

  32. November 30, 2011 at 6:52 AM

    Andrew: Opera is the best supported browser for older systems. IE 6 is very insecure and will not work on many sites.

  33. Scott
    December 8, 2011 at 10:59 AM

    How do you feel about Comodo’s Dragon browser (based on Chrome) ?

  34. December 8, 2011 at 11:11 AM

    Scott – I haven’t tested the Comodo Dragon browser and don’t know anything about it beyond what Wikipedia says. I can understand the temptation to want a browser that has Chrome’s features without all the Google tracking, but at least one prior effort in this regard (SRWare Iron) is surrounded by controversy, as I noted in the Chrome section of the post.

  35. Scott
    December 8, 2011 at 11:22 AM

    Joe,

    Wow ! Talk about a lightning fast response ! Thanks !

    Yes, I read your links on Iron with interest. That’s what made me curious about any opinion you had on Comodo’s privacy-conscious version of Chrome, since that one is from a company with a more long-standing and good reputation behind it, no ?

    Btw, how do you feel about the more “front end” type of browser ? E.g. Avant, Maxthon, etc. ?

  36. December 8, 2011 at 2:23 PM

    Scott – I get notified within minutes on my phone every time posts a comment and you happened to catch me with a moment free earlier today. Comodo certainly has a good reputation which is a big plus, but of course that doesn’t guarantee anything. Perhaps with my next browser review update (hopefully within the next 2 months), I’ll try to test and/or find out more about Comodo Dragon.

    I haven’t personally tested Avant, Maxthon, or any other browser with market share below 0.5%. The 5 browsers I profiled in the post collectively have over 99% market share in web traffic, so it’s not worth the effort to examine others.

    A problem for all browsers with small market share (unless they’re a closely related fork of one of the top 4 browsers) is that web app services like Google and Yahoo don’t put in much (if any) effort to ensure their apps are compatible. Even Opera, a browser I love in many ways, receives poor support from some web app makers (i.e. Google) because it has less than 2% market share.

  37. thexfiles123
    December 8, 2011 at 5:43 PM

    I very much prefer Firefox over Chrome, but Chrome is always second best in my opinion and Opera is third.

  38. Mark
    December 13, 2011 at 8:08 AM

    Maxthon 3 – No mention of it here and it is brilliant.
    Quick to load, has many features of other browser ie speed dial etc some nice features like nightmode (dulls screen to save eye strain) and many features that are actually useful and not gimmicks.

    Give it a go

  39. Rich
    December 16, 2011 at 6:39 AM

    Joe, nice writing! And very generous of you to share your thoughts.

    I am running a XP on a Dell laptop which is even older than the oldest machine you’re using that was mentioned in the article. Unfortunately, memory on this PC is constrained to a max. of 384MB(!). Yes, XP was designed to be happy running on a PC with 256MB or even 128MB of memory!!! Now with 8 – 9 years past many Windows ‘improvements’ (XP3, etc.) performance has lagged, though I did a ‘fresh’ install of XP this year.

    I am a fan of Chrome & use it on other machines. My question, then, is ‘what is the most efficient browser – or browser configuration – for use on this machine’? I am talking ‘lean & mean’; a minimalist sort of approach …? Any thoughts? (Thanks!)

  40. December 16, 2011 at 7:29 AM

    Richard,

    Opera is your best bet. I have a Windows 98 Machine that runs Opera 9.64 at a reasonable speed, though I haven’t turned it on in nearly 2 years. It has 384MB. I am certain that Opera 9.64 would run easily on your machine, and I think there’s a good chance the latest version of Opera 10 would run fine as well. Starting with Opera 11, Opera seems to use more memory with multiple tabs open. The minimum listed requirements for XP are 256MB but I’m guessing that means it will start fine but then require frequent open and closing of the browser if you use more than 1 tab.

    I love that you’re using a decade old Windows PC! However, you should buy a replacement no later than 2014, when updates for Windows XP officially end, meaning no more security patches.

    These days memory for today’s systems is incredibly cheap. I bought a Lenovo ThinkPad Edge e520 with an Intel i5 inside earlier this year that came bundled with 4GB of RAM. To future proof myself, I spent less than $20 to get an additional 4GB of RAM. I think it will be a very long time before 8GB is considered low!

  41. grace
    December 29, 2011 at 11:43 PM

    Why doesn’t the post have avant browser? There is no memory leak, it’s fast and easy to use and you can customize the interface.

  42. Cynthia
    January 8, 2012 at 4:35 PM

    I love Firefox, but version 9 is quite a bit annoying. You might tell me that I installed this version within the 2 months you recommend to wait instead of after them, but I was upgrading from a much older version. Now, when I go to a theme site, it will download a theme, but then give me an error when trying to install it, saying that it “could not be installed because Firefox cannot modify the needed file”. What does that mean, and what can I do to install a theme? Dragging the downloaded theme from my Desktop into the Extensions tab as one site suggested also gave me an error message that it couldn’t be installed.

  43. sourabh
    January 10, 2012 at 10:09 AM

    You might want to check out Safari 5 on a Mac that has OS 10.5 or greater. Apple just updated it to fix some bugs and security issues. We have two Macs. My 7-year old G4 laptop with OS 10.4 (Tiger) doesn’t support Safari 5, but Safari 4 is faster than the latest version of Firefox, and meets all my needs. As of yesterday we have the latest version of Safari 5 on our iMac, OS 10.5, but I haven’t had a chance to try it out yet.

    The problem is, as you pointed out, the browsers change so frequently that any comparison is likely to be out of date before you can publish it.

  44. JP
    January 13, 2012 at 3:26 PM

    I appreciate your in-depth review. But are you sure you want to call Firefox “memory-efficient”? I don’t think even the folks at Firefox believe that! (LOL). A freshly launched Firefox hogs more than 3 times as much memory as Opera or Chrome on my system. After some surfing, this number climbs….

    In any case, the only browser that no longer annoys me is Opera. Everything else seems to either be unstable, bloated, lacking in user control, or just plain gimmicky. (Sadly, these are not mutually exclusive categories.) I really do hope the people at Mozilla can get their house in order again, because Firefox was my favourite for years. In my opinion they destroyed it with this new rapid development cycle that makes browser updates outpace addon updates.

  45. Chris
    January 31, 2012 at 7:27 PM

    My main issue is battery life… Firefox on my Macbook Pro seems to use more memory and increases heat and fan speed, running on average 10 degrees hotter… hence using more battery power than Safari or Chrome. I’m sure though over the years Firefox will improve. I think for Windows Chrome is the best & on Mac Safari is the best. While Firefox is ok on both, people who support open source will obviously use Firefox out of principal alone.

  46. Steve
    February 1, 2012 at 1:29 AM

    Yes pretty much agree of how web/browser development should not be going on ! Few years ago with Opera browser with some hard tweaked 56k analog dialup internet acces with speed arround to 256k (many of you wont belive it – hardware/soft/os/tcpip optimization max possible – until home telephone company has installed some CPM’s on physical line/wire – juish tech to slow user down and then wanted to sell me some complette ISDN internet access with exact 2×128 kb speed and some hardware to at unbelivable high price (today this will be around 1000 euro) – 2 month salary and ) i have manage to have many web pages opened and still opening new web page on klick of a mouse ! Today i have cable broadband 6mb+ and browsing internet is horrible terrible experience ! Web browsing is consuming more resources as some heavy game written for the same hardware ! Personaly i use Opera browser as is fastest but without java script enabled ! Pages that wont open due java script i simply ignore ! What i miss today in browsers is inteligent page handling for more opened tabs ! Pretty soon we will be advise in computer shop’s that for internet browsing 4 GB ram is minimum ! Smells like home supercomputer for just to do what – internet browsing ??? Someone has lost his mind or more of them !!!

  47. alice
    February 6, 2012 at 1:03 AM

    Avant browser, firefox and ie 9 have improved in 2011. Avant browser adds more useful features and merged gecko core in avant 2012. Firefox resolved memory leaks in firefox 10. IE9 has own HTML 5.

  48. Andy Viner Seiler
    March 18, 2012 at 6:37 AM

    Joe, this is such a splendid article. However, I have a major issue not addressed here that many other Firefox users MUST also have. I adore Firefox. I love the add-ons, I love the design & features — it’s the best! Problem is, I have a 10.4.11 Mac, which falls JUST below the requirements for the newest version of Firefox. (That doesn’t stop Mozilla from constantly suggesting I update to the latest version.) As if on cue, Firefox has slowed WAY down for me, & various features just aren’t working for the first time. I cannot afford a new Mac. Is there ANY browser that doesn’t treat a 2007 Mac like an antique but that is sophisticated enough to fine-tune (I can’t abide Safari at all)? Or am I just doomed to ever-decomposing performance? ANDY VINER SEILER

  49. March 18, 2012 at 7:01 AM

    Andy – You should try Opera. For many years they have done a great job of supporting the widest variety of operating systems, including very old ones. The only thing not to like about Opera is that some major web properties are not carefully tested with Opera, so the result to end users is that some sites have minor odd behaviors.

    On the other hand, 10.4.11 is old for a Mac. My guess is that you may be having other frustrations besides just Firefox. Apple and the Apple development community tend to abandon Apple systems that are older than about 4 years or so. Windows systems tend to have a longer life – I just a few days ago finally retired a Windows XP Dell I purchased in 2004. And my new Windows Professional 7 system has an XP mode, so I’m able to run a piece of software I purchased in 2000.

  50. Eric
    August 28, 2012 at 6:38 AM

    wow man that’s a super review, thank you!
    I actually use a browser that’s not mentioned here and I’m wondering what you think about it.
    It’s called Torch…have you heard of it?

    I really appericiate it. thanks!