Which is the best browser?: Chrome vs Firefox vs Internet Explorer – IT PRO

Update: Microsoft’s once-mighty Internet Explorer has finally been put out to pasture.

While it’s still included with Windows 10, the venerable old browser has been taken out back and given the ‘Old Yeller’ treatment, replaced as the built-in default by the snazzy new Microsoft Edge.

It’s really rather superb, too; an attractive redesign, streamlined functionlity and just enough new features to be exciting have made Edge a genuine competitor with Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.

If you’re interested in exactly how is stacks up against its predecessor, here’s our head-to-head: Internet Explorer vs Microsoft Edge.

Internet browsing has become an essential part of our day-to-day lives, but a lot of the time, we take for granted the software that we use to do it. Web browsers can have a huge impact on the way we perceive the internet, so choosing the right one is vital.

If you’re overwhelmed by the amount of choice on offer, don’t worry. We’ve collated the best options, and assessed them on all the most important criteria.

Note: We tested these browsers on a Windows 7 laptop with 4GB of RAM and an Intel Core-i5 CPU. We’ve also left Safari off this list, as Apple has discontinued Windows support for the browser. 

Boot time

Sluggish web browsers can be one of the biggest irritations when you’re busy, so we put them through their paces to work out which one fires up the fastest. We used Passmark’s Apptimer software, opening each browser five times and then averaging out the results.

Chrome has a reputation for speed, and rightly so – it averaged a very nippy opening time of 0.05s. Interestingly enough, however, although Chrome was the fastest, Internet Explorer was hot on its heels, coming in just 0.002s slower. Firefox brought up the rear, with a time of 0.07s.

In practice, we’d defy anyone to notice a substantial difference between them. All of our browsers fired up almost instantly, with no significant lag when switching between pages; they’re basically identical in terms of speed.

Memory consumption

A speedy startup is only half the battle, though. You have to be sure that once opened, your browser isn’t going to gum up your PC with poorly-optimised processes.

To test this, with measured the amount of memory used by each browser during a medium session: one window with a Facebook page, a YouTube video, a BBC News article, the Microsoft Outlook web app and the IT Pro homepage open in separate tabs.

Looking at the Windows task manager, it’s easy to assume that Chrome is a resource-hungry beast, as the browser will often list multiple simultaneous processes. However, this can be deceptive, as the chrome files each separate tab, extension and plug-in as a separate process.

This allows it to isolate any potential crashes or hiccups caused by specific processes, while the rest of the browser remains operational. Add the total memory usage up, and it’s really not as bad as it looks.

That doesn’t mean it’s good, however. Overall, it’s still the most memory-hungry browser we tested, beating IE by a hair’s breadth. Firefox was considerably less demanding than either, tying up an average of 412,000KB compared to the almost 600,000kb eaten up by Chrome and IE.

Browser benchmarks

When comparing anything, benchmark figures are useful tools to have, and there are numerous utilities designed for this purpose. We used the Browsermark and Peacekeeper benchmark to test the browsers’ HTML5 rendering capabilities, and the Sunspider tests to assess how they dealt with Javascript.

In the Peacekeeper tests, it was Firefox that triumphed, beating out Chrome by a fairly small margin, but trumping IE by around 50 per cent. The Browsermark test was similarly dire for Microsoft’s product, scoring just 2550. Firefox still beat it with 3946, but it was this time edged out of the top spot by Chrome, with a result of 4858.

The Sunspider benchmarks told a different tale, however. For processing Javascript, Internet Explorer is actually the fastest, with a score of around 114ms. That’s better than Firefox’s 191ms result, and more than twice as fast as Chrome, which came in at 240ms.

For HTML5 – the language used for the vast majority of web 2.0 functions – Chrome and Firefox are about tied, leaving Internet Explorer behind. It excels at processing Javascript, however, and its inbuilt ActiveX capabilities are also handy.

In terms of pure specs though, Firefox is likely to be the best option for many users. It balances both the raw underlying javascript used by many developers, and the flashy HTML used by more resource-intensive sites like YouTube, processing both to a high standard.

Design

If you’re going to be using a piece of software for the majority of your online interactions over the course of a day, one would hope that it at least looks attractive. With that in mind, we’ve compared all the browsers on our list aesthetically.

Google Chrome is the best-designed browser out there. Its minimalist design is elegant and uncluttered, containing exactly what it needs to. While it wasn’t the first to do tabbed browsing, it’s possibly one of the best, and the Omnibox feature, combining search functions with URL, was a widely-aped revelation.

Firefox isn’t far behind, however. The interface is a little less streamlined than Google’s, but offers more customisation as a trade-off.  We’re not huge fans of the mobile version, though. While it’s perfectly serviceable, it feels a little cluttered, and the buttons feel like they’re dominating the screen any time you open a menu.

Internet Explorer, unsurprisingly, resides firmly at the bottom of the heap. It doesn’t have a reputation as a good-looking browser, and with very good reason. The boxy, angular design of IE11 does it no favours, and it looks squat and antiquated when compared to more polished rivals.

Additional functionality

When looking at professional tools, one must remember that specs aren’t everything, and a browser’s functionality must also be taken into consideration. Some aspects are universal; all of the major contenders now support tabbed browsing and searching from the address bar, for example.

Some aspects aren’t as commonplace, however. While Internet Explorer allows multiple tabs, it registers each one as a separate window on the taskbar, which slightly defeats the object. It also has little to no support for add-ons, plug-ins and web apps, which rules out a lot of after-market functionality.

Chrome, by contrast, has a raft of third-party extensions, many of which have become essential. It’s also unmatched in first-party integration. If you’re already part of the Google ecosystem, via Gmail, Google Drive, Android, or any combination of the three, then the way Chrome blends in with these tools will be supremely convenient.

One popular extension, AdBlock Plus, stops annoying adverts popping up while you browse the web – but in early September Google appeared to have circumvented the software, also forcing users to watch full length adverts on YouTube before their selected clips started playing, with no option to skip the ads.

Firefox also offers various third-party plugins, although its selection is slightly lacking in comparison to Google’s. It makes up for this, however, by being more intuitive to configure than Chrome. The options are laid out in easy-to-navigate menus, and described with simple language.

If you’re the kind of person that likes to juggle multiple, high-level tasks, the amount of plug-ins and services that integrate with Chrome makes it a perfect fit. Those who are less experienced, on the other hand, can use Firefox as a stepping stone to these more advanced tasks without getting bogged down in complex jargon.

Cross-platform interoperability

Living in a connected world, we have the ability to access the sum total of human knowledge. This also means that we often have multiple devices with which to do this, and using a different browser on each can get exhausting.

Luckily, many browsers will now sync across all your devices, allowing you to access your bookmarks, history and stored details wherever you are. A web browser’s level of device interoperability is something that must be taken into account when examining them.

Internet Explorer does not perform well in this regard; IE is only supported on Windows devices, meaning that those who want to sync their PC bookmarks with those on their iPhone will have to look elsewhere. Firefox, similarly, is only available on Android and the Firefox phone itself.

The standout is Chrome, which is currently available on both Android and iOS, although sadly not Windows Phone. Chrome uses your Google account to link your activity across not just your browsing sessions, but all Google-linked sites and services.

When one looks at the amount of apps that include Google integration, this makes Chrome by far the best choice for mobility across multiple platforms.

Security and privacy

Considering that we live our lives, in many cases, almost entirely online, security is not something that can be ignored. Internet Explorer has possibly the worst track record with breaches, and various flaws in its code have led to repeated vulnerabilities.

However, it has spent a long time improving, and has now reached the point where it is no longer the security liability it once was. Microsoft has made continual improvements, and it’s now a reasonably secure bet.

Firefox has a proven commitment to security, with highly-paid bug bounty programmes and reputation as the browser of choice for many infosec professionals. It’s also highlighted data protection as a key issue, stating in their corporate manifesto that “individuals’ security and privacy on the Internet are fundamental and must not be treated as optional”.

Security-wise, Chrome is among the best browsers out there – the fact that Flash is built-in and automatically updated means that vulnerabilities are kept to a minimum. Unfortunately, its record falls down considerably when it comes to privacy.

It’s no secret that Google is something of a hoarder when it comes to users’ information, and it makes full use of Chrome to gather as many details as possible. For example, if you have the Omnibox’s automatic suggestions turned on, anything you type in will be registered and stored by Google, whether you hit enter or not.

There are options to turn tracking and data collection off, but they’re buried in the options, and a more cynical soul might assume that Google doesn’t want you to find them at all. If you’re prepared to sacrifice your personal data on the altar of convenience, it won’t be an issue, but more privacy conscious users might want to avoid Google chrome.

Verdict                                                                                                              

Going purely by the numbers, Firefox would appear to be the best browser out there. It’s got solid performance across the board, it’s attractive and well-designed, and it has a gleaming record for security and privacy awareness.

However, try as we might, we just can’t tear ourselves away from Google Chrome. Sure, it’s noting down all our information like an obsessive ex, and it’s not the fastest for Javascript actions, but the convenience of having one unified browser for our phone, tablet and PC is just too much to give up, especially including the inbuilt app support.

Despite technically being the better choice, Firefox remains in second place, waiting for Google’s offering to slip up. Chrome, on the other hand, overcomes its few flaws by dint of being an incredibly slick experience with the best cross-platform capabilities around, and remains our pick for best browser.   

 

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