In Our June, 2017 Issue:

Which Web Browser is Right for You?

by

The web browser is the most fun­da­men­tal piece of soft­ware on your com­puter. The major­ity of time you spend on your com­puter will be within a browser. Every web­site you visit, every online appli­ca­tion you use, will be con­ducted, medi­ated and con­trolled through a web browser. They are the gate­keep­ers between you and the internet

When it comes to browsers, peo­ple have their pref­er­ences. But they aren’t always well-​informed choices. Microsoft Edge (and before it, Inter­net Explorer) is stan­dard on Win­dows PCs, so many peo­ple default to using it. The same is true of the Safari browser on Macs.

On the other hand, Google Chrome is the most pop­u­lar web browser at the moment, and so many peo­ple auto­mat­i­cally use it— “it must be pop­u­lar for a rea­son,” right

Let’s explore the mod­ern web browser land­scape, and com­pare dif­fer­ent web browsers for speed, secu­rity and features

Niche Browsers

I will men­tion a hand­ful of lesser-​known, “niche” browsers through­out this arti­cle. Don’t be sur­prised if you haven’t heard of them; they exist mostly for a spe­cial­ized audiences.

The three most com­mon right now: Opera, Vivaldi (which tries to be like Opera of a few years ago), and Brave. Sandip Rai dis­cussed the secu­rity fea­tures of Brave in-​depth in our May 2017 issue

Oper­at­ing Sys­tem Support

It is also worth not­ing that not all browsers are avail­able to everyone.

Safari is only for macOS users; if you use Win­dows or Linux, don’t even think about it. Microsoft Edge is only avail­able on Win­dows 10. Older ver­sions of Win­dows run Inter­net Explorer instead, which is old enough that in gen­eral I won’t focus on it

Speed

Browser speed can be dif­fi­cult to mea­sure. It will vary some­what depend­ing on your hard­ware and the types of sites you visit. Web browsers will often have sev­eral releases and updates focused on speed. The fastest browser today could well be one of the slow­est next month

Still, by all rights, Microsoft Edge (exclu­sive to Win­dows 10) is the fastest browser cur­rently on the mar­ket for Win­dows PCs. Safari is prob­a­bly the fastest browser cur­rently on the mar­ket for macOS.

Chrome remains a very speedy choice. Indeed, it is the fastest for older ver­sions of Win­dows, and is very com­pet­i­tive on macOS and Win­dows 10

Any browser based on the Chrome engine, which includes the big­ger niche browsers— Opera, Vivaldi and Brave — will boast the same speed, as well

Mozilla Fire­fox is prob­a­bly the slow­est mod­ern browser, but this isn’t really a dis­tant last. It still per­forms very well, and is improv­ing all the time. Inter­net Explorer is the only browser to avoid if you want speed. IE sim­ply isn’t up to snuff

By this met­ric, Edge and Safari win. Chrome is a close second.

Mem­ory Usage

This is a tricky one. Mem­ory usage doesn’t really mat­ter for peo­ple who have a lot of stor­age space on their com­put­ers. If you have 16 GB or more, it prob­a­bly doesn’t mat­ter which browser you use. Don’t know how much mem­ory you have? You prob­a­bly have less than 16 GB

For those with less, the browser’s mem­ory usage can impact how well your other pro­grams run, as well as how many tabs you can have open before per­for­mance starts to degrade. The mea­sure­ments change over time and vary depend­ing on your com­puter and what types of web­sites you visit.

In gen­eral, indus­try con­sen­sus is that Chrome, Safari and Microsoft Edge are all mem­ory hogs. Chrome may be slightly more so than the other two.

Fire­fox used to be the biggest mem­ory hog of them all, but today is actu­ally quite slim and trim. Only niche browsers are liable to use less mem­ory. Plus, it is pos­si­ble to con­fig­ure Fire­fox to use less mem­ory at the expense of sta­bil­ity. I’ll leave that task as an exer­cise for the inter­ested reader

So Fire­fox wins here

Com­pat­i­bil­ity

Com­pat­i­bil­ity is an inter­est­ing met­ric. Web­sites that haven’t been updated since the early 2000s may fully work only on Inter­net Explorer. In some cases, they may not work at all in any mod­ern browser because they require tech­nolo­gies no longer sup­ported today, like Java applets. New browsers some­times can’t load old web­pages if the site’s code was poorly writ­ten or relied on some obscure bug in an old browser

I’m more con­cerned with the new tech­nolo­gies imple­mented in web browsers. For exam­ple, web browsers only started sup­port­ing native video play­back in the last five years. Before that, Adobe Flash was used instead, but it was less secure and more bat­tery draining

Mea­sur­ing a browser’s degree of sup­port for new tech­nolo­gies can be com­pli­cated. The web­site caniuse​.com tracks many such tech­nolo­gies. It places Chrome at the top of the heap, fol­lowed very closely by Firefox.

Safari lags behind a ways, fol­lowed by Edge. Inter­net Explorer isn’t even tracked any­more. If you care at all about using the lat­est and great­est inter­net tech­nolo­gies, skip Inter­net Explorer

By these mea­sure­ments, Chrome and Fire­fox are equal con­tenders for the crown. But really, both Safari and Edge work just fine. Just avoid Inter­net Explorer

Secu­rity

Secu­rity is an inter­est­ing issue when it comes to web browsers. I define secu­rity as the ways a browser pre­vents a web­site from under­tak­ing mali­cious activ­i­ties with­out user permission.

For instance, installing a new pro­gram with­out ask­ing the user before­hand would be a major secu­rity vio­la­tion. Dif­fer­ent browsers employ dif­fer­ent strate­gies to pre­vent such vio­la­tions from happening

In this field, Edge is num­ber one. Over the past decade, Microsoft has devel­oped some of the best secu­rity in the busi­ness. Edge dis­pensed with the ancient Inter­net Explorer code, and it really shows. Even newer ver­sions of Inter­net Explorer are remark­ably secure — nearly equal to Chrome, which was built since the start to be as safe as possible

Fire­fox is far less safe, rel­a­tively speak­ing, though it has been work­ing on fix­ing its archi­tec­tural issues. Safari’s secu­rity sit­u­a­tion is some­what unclear

The clear vic­tors here are Edge and Chrome

Weigh­ing Win­ners & Losers

Speed

✔ Edge & Safar

✘ Inter­net Explore

Mem­ory Usage

✔ Firefo

✘ Chrome

Com­pat­i­bil­ity

✔ Chrome & Firefo

✘ Inter­net Explore

Secu­rity

✔ Edge & Chrome

✘ Firefo

Exten­sion Support

✔ Fire­fox & Chrome

Final Con­clu­sions

✔ Edge & Chrome

✘ Inter­net Explore

Exten­sion Support

Fire­fox has long been and remains the king of exten­sions, and has the most advanced sup­port for them. Chrome has decent exten­sion sup­port. Due to Chrome’s pop­u­lar­ity, many exten­sion devel­op­ers now focus pri­mar­ily on sup­port­ing that browser. It is pos­si­ble to run Chrome exten­sions on Fire­fox, even though they haven’t been released for it

Edge’s exten­sion sys­tem is quite advanced, but some­what less so than Chrome’s. Due to its new­ness and lack of pop­u­lar­ity, the vast major­ity of exten­sions aren’t (yet) avail­able for Edge

By this met­ric, I would say Fire­fox and Chrome are both strong con­tenders. Edge may com­pete one day, just not today

Other Fea­tures

Most web browsers focus on speed and com­pat­i­bil­ity, but sev­eral bring a lit­tle more to the table

Chrome and Fire­fox, for instance, both offer excel­lent device syn­chro­niza­tion. They make it easy to unite book­marks, his­tory and pass­words across dif­fer­ent devices

Opera fea­tures built-​in ad block­ing, VPN pri­vacy and chat app pin­ning. Face­book Mes­sen­ger and What­sApp con­ver­sa­tions can be pinned to the side of your browser.

Vivaldi is most notable for its cus­tomiza­tion. You can change it in just about any way you want. The Brave web browser focuses more on privacy-​oriented features.

All three of these niche browsers use the exact same engine as Chrome. Web­pages will look exactly like they would in Chrome, and load just as quickly

Final Con­clu­sions

Taken as a whole, Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome are my picks for best browsers for your lap­top or desk­top com­puter. Fire­fox is right behind.

While Safari is fine, I think most macOS users would have a bet­ter over­all expe­ri­ence using Chrome. Avoid Inter­net Explorer like the plague

On cam­pus? Most Metro State com­put­ers have both Inter­net Explorer and Fire­fox. Fire­fox is the unequiv­o­cal best browser on cam­pus. In my tests, Fire­fox took a few sec­onds longer to start up, but often loaded the Metro State home page before Inter­net Explorer man­aged to. Over the course of a brows­ing ses­sion, you’ll almost cer­tainly wait around less by using Firefox

Even on cam­pus com­put­ers with Chrome, I still rec­om­mend using Fire­fox. Firefox’s lower mem­ory require­ments ensure that it can do more on memory-​starved com­put­ers. Of course, if you pre­fer Chrome, use it. It’s a per­fectly fine browser. Unlike Inter­net Explorer