Which Web Browser Should I Use?
A blow-by-blow comparison of the best browsers available
Web browsers are not a type of software where a clear-cut choice between the various options is easy to make; unlike, for example, the world of professional photo-editing software, where Adobe’s products hold a near monopoly. Rather, with web browsers, there are a handful of big name providers, whose products may seem virtually interchangeable in terms of basic performance, leaving the user unsure of the point of straying away from the default browsers included with their computer.
To add to this atmosphere of general confusion, browsers are updated with alarming regularity, adding new features and functionality all the time. Like racehorses nearing the finish line, the big names in browsers are always trying to pull ahead of one another by a nose. As a technology solution provider, we here at Geek ABC would like to attempt to remove some of the ambiguity surrounding this essential piece of software and point you in a clear direction about which web browser will suit your personal needs and preferences.
Popular Browsers – An Overview
The most popular browsers currently are Google Chrome (Chrome), Internet Explorer (IE), Mozilla Firefox (Firefox), Safari, and Opera. There is usually a great deal of debate regarding which one is the most popular at any given time, but it’s generally thought that Chrome and Firefox are winning the race due to their cross-compatibility and strong app support.
The difference in performance between the aforementioned browsers is generally thought to be fairly small, though that is subjective and dependent on things like the kind of hardware one is using. Deciding which browser(s) to use depends largely on individual need. The average user may be satisfied with IE or Opera. Advanced users may prefer the fully open source Firefox, and cloud-oriented users may prefer Chrome. Some users may want to use different browsers for different tasks.
All of the major web browsers share similar basic functions and features, such as tabbed browsing, privacy browsing, a password manager, download manager, searchable address bar, etc. The differences largely lie in things like compatibility, memory usage, and extra features, such as extensions.
Comparing Popular Browsers
Chrome was released in 2008 to provide users a clean, fast, and stable browsing experience. Google hired several Mozilla Firefox developers and essentially tried to improve on Firefox, and now Chrome is one of the most popular browsers. It has since become part of the goliath Google machine, spawning its own OS and becoming an integral part of Google syncing.
Chrome is known for being fast, lightweight, and for having a wide variety of extensions and WebApps (programs that run within the browser instead of being installed on the computer itself).
- Fast and stable.
- Most secure browser.
- Huge variety of extensions available in the Chrome store.
- Users can also install themes, altering Chrome’s appearance.
- Chrome is available for all of the major desktop operating systems, as well as for Android and iOS. Users who sign into their Google accounts can sync their tabs, bookmarks, browsing history, and passwords across all of their devices using Chrome. (This is part of why I personally use Chrome everywhere, even on my iOS devices.)
- It offers the best compatibility with Google’s range of products and services.
- Not as ‘open source friendly’ as Firefox.
- The browser has become more bloated over time.
- Minor incompatibility issues with some sites.
Mozilla Firefox was released back in 2004; to still be one of the top web browsers ten years later, you know it has to be doing something right. Originally designed to be part of a chat, mail, and HTML editing software package, the developers felt the browser would make the suite too big and released it separately. Unlike Internet Explorer and Chrome, Firefox is owned by a non-profit (Mozilla Foundation) and is completely open source. It’s entirely volunteer owned and operated.
- More open source than Chrome; it is used as the default browser by most of the major Linux distributions.
- Can be customized in ways other browsers can’t, with personas and add-ons, as well as extensions.
- More secure privacy mode and downloading.
- Compatible with Android devices Users can make use of Firefox Sync to replicate tabs, bookmarks, history, add-ons, etc. across multiple computers and mobile devices.
- Firefox has definitely bloated over the years. The increased file size and memory requirements result in a sluggish and less stable experience on some computers and devices. (This is why I personally abandoned Firefox after years of use.)
An old standby, Internet Explorer (IE) was first released in 1995 with Windows 95. Because it’s bundled with Windows, IE is the most widely distributed browser in the world, but it’s earned itself a bit of a bad reputation over the years nonetheless. Previously, it was thought to be the go-to only for new and naive computer users, due to security holes and poor performance. With the release of IE 10, however, Microsoft has somewhat redeemed its much-maligned browser. The new interface is clean, with minimal menus and inconspicuous icons for quick access to favorites, settings, and the home page, and security and performance have been enhanced.
- Well-integrated with Windows; it is the only browser that is fully integrated with the Windows 8′s new tiled interface.
- The recent version is running faster and is more compatible with open web standards, making it much easier to use.
- Improved security.
- Compatible with the widest variety of websites.
- The available toolbars and add-ons pale in comparison to the variety offered by Chrome and Firefox.
- Limited syncing abilities. IE 10 can sync between multiple computers, but not mobile devices, and it offers less data than Chrome or Firefox.
- Still not the most secure browser out there, and still a target for many hackers.
Apple’s default browser offering, and the Mac’s answer to IE. Smooth, clean, secure, and fast, Safari would be an ideal browser if it were not for a few key drawbacks, such as a lack of compatibility.
- Page-load times are notoriously fast.
- Strong security.
- Syncs with iCloud.
- Lackluster customization options.
- Only available on Apple platforms, and only syncs with Apple devices.
Opera was released in 1996 and has been credited with originating many of the features that more popular browsers repackaged and use today. Once an industry leader, it’s been accused of turning into a follower as it turns around and adopts features from Firefox and Chrome, but it still provides a fast and reliable browsing experience.
- History of innovation.
- Very secure.
- It comes bundled with more functionality than other browsers, having a built-in email and IRC client.
- Has options for reducing bandwidth on slower connections.
- Its mobile version is speedy and is very popular for mobile surfing.
- Syncs well with mobile devices.
- Not open source.
- Frequent compatibility issues.
- Its extension library is poor vs. Firefox or Chrome.
The Bottom Line
Unless you’re an open source developer, or very devoted Apple fanatic, Google Chrome is likely your bet. Its security, customization options, amazing syncing abilities, and low memory usage make it ideal for most users across most devices.