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
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
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.
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 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 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
✔ Edge & Safar
✘ Internet Explore
✔ Chrome & Firefo
✘ Internet Explore
✔ Edge & Chrome
✔ Firefox & Chrome
✔ Edge & Chrome
✘ Internet Explore
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
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
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