The Browser Speed Wars Are Over

Browser speed matters more on mobile devices, where Opera Mini rules, writes CIO.com blogger Bill Snyder. On the Windows desktop, Internet Explorer 10 has the edge over the competition, though not by enough to affect day-to-day browsing.

Does it really matter how fast your browser is? Yes and no. On mobile devices, which generally tend to be slower than conventional PCs, it makes a difference. But on your desktop or laptop, the popular browsers all perform so well and so similarly that the differences are close to invisible.

For me, the interface, the available add-ons, and the amount of memory a desktop browser uses is much more important than a smidge of extra speed. Nonetheless, who doesn’t like speed, so I keep an eye on various companies that collect data on browser performance.

This week, I came across results from New Relic, a performance management company that says it monitors 40 billion page views a month; yup, that's billion with a "b." After digesting that huge bit of data, New Relic found that eight of the top 10 mobile browsers were various versions of Opera Mini. The fastest, though, was the BlackBerry browser, which is losing market share faster than Mitt Romney’s stock on the Intrade prediction market. Number 10 on the list was Internet Explorer 9 on Windows Phone.

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I was glad to see Opera Mini doing so well. When I looked at New Relic’s survey last April, Opera Mini didn’t show up at all; not because it’s slow, but because it wasn’t popular enough to render a statistically significant result. That’s changed.

Although Safari, the default browser on iOS devices still has an 87 percent share according to New Relic's survey, Opera Mini now is number two, a distant, but respectable 6 percent. IE and Chrome have shares of 4 percent and 1 percent respectively.   

On the Windows desktop (and when I say desktop, I also mean laptop), Microsoft’s IE10 is the fastest, though it’s lead over IE9, Firefox 15 and Chrome 21 is very small, and I’m not sure you’d notice it in day-to-day browsing. Chrome 22 rates 10th and judging by the chart, it appears to be about 25 percent slower than IE9.

That result surprises me since my anecdotal experience is that users find Chrome quite fast. Since Google automatically updates Chrome, most people, including me, are running version 23, which debuted too late for New Relic’s testing. As an experiment, I clocked Chrome against Pale Moon (a customized version of Firefox that is quite fast) using Speedtest.net, and saw almost no difference.

As to Windows market share, New Relic shows Chrome leading at 41 percent; IE (all versions) 35 percent; Firefox 21 percent, and Opera 2 percent.

My bottom line is this: There’s no browser speed war on the desktop. Pick the one that feels the most comfortable and you’ll be fine. But for mobile devices, I’d suggest you give Opera Mini a trial run and see what you think.

Image sources: Chart from New Relic; teaser image courtesy of NYTimes.com

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