It all began with WorldWideWeb. Not the vast smorgasbord that is cyberspace, but the basic browser that was developed, in 1991, by Brit scientist Sir Tim Berners-lee. It was renamed nexus to avoid confusion with the World Wide Web. Much data has since flowed under the bridge and users are now spoilt for choice. But before you download every new beta version, we help you choose what deserves your default click.
With a Guinness World Record of more than 8 million downloads on its launch day, Mozilla Firefox 3's arrival in cyberspace was nothing short of a supernova. But this was not a criterion on our test block and we put it through its paces to check if it was worth the hype and hoopla. Firefox has always been known for the features it offers and its extensibility factor with thousands of add-ons available. but since a Web browser is not only about features and add-ons, we tested it, on the basis of Design and Usability, Feature sets, Performance and Speed, and Security and Privacy.
Look and Feel
At the outset, Firefox 3 has a simple and clean layout that makes navigating easy. It has all the essential buttons like Home, Stop and Refresh prominently displayed and well-placed. The ability of adapting its look and feel according to the Operating System it is run on makes it easy to get accustomed to. On the usability front, opening up Web pages is a breeze with the enhanced address bar that display suggestions of frequently/recently visited sites when typing in any URL. There are no extra themes or skins provided with the installation, but it can be accomplished by installing addons like personas which instantly add skins to Firefox. When it comes to Design and Usability, Firefox 3 offers an uncomplicated look and feel, designed for ease of navigation, and was second only to Opera.
Firefox came up trumps beating other browsers in key areas like bookmark and history management, search engine integration, and tabbed browsing. It was far ahead of the pack when it came to customization, with thousands of add-ons available for almost every aspect of the browser. The manager is an easy way to install add-ons by listing popular ones without the need to open a Web page. It also provides extra info such as ratings, recommendations, descriptions, and images of the addons. Bookmarking a page is a snap owing to the icon provided in the address bar.
Editing and managing the bookmarks can be easily done from the address bar or bookmark menu. tags and keywords make it easy to search for any bookmarked page. Its password manager is unobtrusive with a discreet toolbar shown instead of the dialog box that offers to remember passwords. Spell checking and searching on page is also well implemented. Support for tags and the library feature—which acts as an archive for the browser history, bookmarks, and tags—is something which makes Firefox different from other browsers.
Web page load times were also on the higher side. We also checked if all the browsers were compatible with most of the sites available with help of the aCID2 test. Firefox did not come through clean, with some distortion in the test image. It has had a notorious reputation for system resource usage and while the latest version fixes many of those issues, it's still on the heavier load on memory with each additional tab was almost inline with the other browsers.
Given the extensive feature set and provisions for a ton of plug-ins, the extra weight comes as an side effect. For systems with 1GB or more of RAM (main memory), the slight pressure on memory usage should not be an issue. For older systems with 256Mb of main memory, we suggest lighter browsers like Chrome and Safari. They will operate seamlessly but will compromise on features, as you will read ahead. side. During out test analysis, it used up 35Mb of RAM and 25Mb of virtual memory at the startup.
The incremental load on memory with each additional tab was almost inline with the other browsers. given the extensive feature set and provisions for a ton of plug-ins, the extra weight comes as an side effect. For systems with 1GB or more of RAM (main memory), the slight pressure on memory usage should not be an issue. For older systems with 256Mb of main memory, we suggest lighter browsers like Chrome and Safari. They will operate seamlessly but will compromise on features, as you will read ahead.
As for security and privacy, Firefox offers the necessary protection for secure browsing. It not only provides strong phishing protection but also blocks malicious sites from spreading viruses, Spyware, and other malware. Firefox also offers an option of checking on the authenticity of websites by clicking the icon on the left side of the address bar. all downloads including add-ons are checked for viruses before installation. Firefox also comes with strong encryption support for securely sending information.
For security fixes, Firefox offers automatic updates that can be executed automatically or manually. It also provides comprehensive content blocking options like pop-up, scripts, images, etc. Firefox is one of the most secure browsers with almost all security features needed for safe browsing. It emerged the winner in this section for its well-implemented security mechanism.
Ultimately, Firefox 3 emerged the browser of our choice with its impressive set of features, extensibility, usability, and high level of security implementation, scoring an impressive 93. Our biggest gripe with Firefox was with Speed and Performance. Mozilla claimed Firefox 3 was much faster than Firefox 2, but even with the speed boost, it still has a lot of catching up to do. With the release of Firefox 3.1 just around the corner, we hope they fix the issue. Till then, if you are ready to sacrifice speed, we are sure you will like this browser for its comprehensive features.
This under-hyped browser gave us a pleasant surprise when it came close to Firefox 3 in the battle for top honors.In the end, it lost by the smallest margin with a score of 92. When it comes to publicity, this gem usually goes unnoticed, but a thorough check under the hood reveals a very streamlined approach packed to the brim with innovative features. an important thing to note is that Opera has now introduced a host of features that have become commonplace in most other browsers, with tabbed browsing being the most notable one.
Look and Feel
Opera sports a metallic interface and an unusual layout with the tabs placed above the address bar giving a slightly different feel when compared to other browsers. It can also be tweaked to take on a Windows native look and feel. The navigation buttons are a little small but they are not difficult to use. Unlike Firefox and IE, Opera doesn't offer a quick way to navigate to previously visited sites inside a particular tab window. However, we found the progress view on the address bar (while opening up any site) very useful as it provided detailed info on what's going on while opening a site such as the transfer speed, time taken, number of elements, etc.
The Speed Dial option offers you a quick way to display frequently visited sites while opening a new tab. The address bar offers more advanced features like looking into Web page content while giving suggestions of websites and not just the site's URL and title. The thumbnail preview when we hover the mouse on the browser makes it easy to navigate multiple tabs. Another unique feature is the Tile and Cascade view located in the main toolbar, if multiple sites are open in the browser. Viewing them as tiles or cascading them is possible for a quick view of all the sites in the browser.
As for customizing the look and feel of the browser, Opera allows you to play around with various color schemes from the Tools->Appearance->Skin and the icons can be easily resized according to your preference. Downloading additional skins is easy—just click on the 'Find more skins' option to download additional skins right from the browser. Overall, finding our way around the browser was quite effortless. and with some unique features that are not available in other browsers, Opera was the winner in the Design and Usability section.
Opera is as feature-rich as Firefox is but it narrowly loses out to the latter. It has lots of features that are hard to find in other browsers. This includes builtin e-mail, IRC chat and bittorrent clients. an option for controlling Opera with voice commands is available, but it is only for Windows 2000/XP and has not been perfected yet. We found it difficult to understand (maybe because of the accent, and there is no option for voice training). Opera's Mouse gesture is another feature which is useful for someone who wants to navigate quickly. The Opera Community accessible from the Help menu provides an easy way to blog and share photos directly from the browser without opening up other Web service sites.
The Panel Sidebar is Opera's version of the library in Firefox. but it has much more packed into it—bookmarks, Mail Widgets, Contacts, notes, and lots of other useful options. Data sharing is possible through the Opera link—a free service that synchronizes bookmarks, Speed Dial entries, notes, and other personal data between multiple computers. but where Opera loses out most is the Features section. Despite boasting so many innovative and unique features, it disappoints in key areas like bookmark management as it doesn't provide one-click bookmarking, editing and managing with the ease Firefox offers. Password management is still a bit primitive with irritating dialog boxes popping up whenever a password is entered.
The Wand is Opera's password manager but it is not very intuitive to use. and search engine integration is not as good as other browsers. It provides nine default search services but doesn't provide easy access to other search engines like Firefox and Ie do. It also provides very basic History.
We found Opera safe enough with all the necessary security options available. anti-phishing support, protection from malware-infected sites, secure sites identification, content blocking, and other essential protections for the browser are well implemented. It doesn't provide notifications to check if the browser is updated, but provides an option for manually checking and updating it. It fell behind Firefox and IE here.
Opera was impressive on almost all counts but never took first spot. but it gave Firefox a run for its money as it didn't fall too far behind in all the areas. Opera stood its ground with reasonable showing in all areas of contention and so it deservedly was the runner-up.
Internet Explorer 8
The oldest player in these browser wars is still in contention for its share of the Internet pie. Internet explorer may still be sitting pretty in terms of having the largest user base (78 percent, according to sources) but there is a danger of it falling from its lofty perch, with Firefox, Chrome and the like upping their efforts. To stay afloat in the competition, Microsoft keeps on churning out version after version of their browser. So Internet explorer 8 (still in beta 2 at the time of writing) is Microsoft's latest offering. We tested it to see if it still deserves desktop space.
Look and Feel
Look wise, Internet Explorer 8 is not very different from IE7. The interface doesn't have many elements and is clean and sparse barring the many icons in the Favorites bar. It also offers the smart address bar displaying suggestions as you type the URL but it is not as advanced as Opera's. The Quick tabs button on the left of the address bar is an innovative feature that provides a quick display of all opened tabs. When you open a link in a new tab, all the tabs opened from a particular site are combined in a single color. Customization options are limited. IE 8 offers a decent browsing experience but there's really nothing to rave about.
A few innovative features have been integrated into Internet Explorer 8 and the most notable of them is the accelerator that provide easy access to various Web services from any Web page with just a few mouse clicks. Another unique implementation is Web Slices, which keeps you updated on a particular site or service, but the content is mainly focused for US users. Bookmarks (Favorites in IE) and History management are easy to manage. Add-on support is now available officially. There aren't many outstanding features to talk about and many still need to be improved. Case in point is the download manager which is limited, and there is also no proper password management option.
IE provides a myriad security options which you can implement for a safer browsing experience. We found that it was almost at par with Firefox and comes with a lot of security features. Apart from the already packed security features, IE8 offers anonymous browsing (In Private) leaving no trace of your surfing history. Also IE8 has separate processes for individual tabs in a browser window.
So in the end, we found that Internet Explorer 8 has improved on a lot of features like speed, performance, security, and also packs in some cleverly crafted features getting a final score of 86. but it still has some catching up to do with Firefox and Opera in terms of usability and features.
This was one browser, which generated a lot of interest at the time of its launch because it was a Google product and since Google products and services are known for their simplicity and clever innovation, we delved into its various aspects with great anticipation. And sure enough it has some little gems hidden inside its petite frame.
Look and Feel
The first thing that we noticed was Chrome's unusual interface. It has a simple look and feel but provides a wider space for viewing Web pages. There is a tab bar in place of the title bar with no menu bar and toolbars cluttering the interface. The one thing that caught our fancy was the address bar (also known as the 'Omnibar') which doubles up as a search bar. apart from giving suggestions on the URL that you entered, Chrome also lets you search directly from the address bar. When opening new tabs, Chrome displays a preview of sites in the new tab which is like Opera's Speed Dial. However, unlike Opera where you need to add the sites, Chrome automatically displays recently visited sites.
There are no advance navigational options—only the Forward/ back and Refresh buttons are available.as for customizability, it came as no surprise to us that there was nothing to speak of. This was understandable because Chrome's prime focus is giving users more surfing space and not unnecessary embellishments. We would say that Chrome might not have the polish of other browsers, but has a clean look with some innovative features thrown in.
Chrome is not loaded with features, but is notable in that you can create application shortcuts to a Web page on the desktop, providing easy access to Web pages without the need to open up a browser. a handy feature that is also available in Chrome is resizing areas like the comment box in a Web page. Apart from that, features that other browsers have, like a basic bookmarking manager, full search engine functionality, support for addons, news feeds, password management, etc are not that developed. So it is fair to say that Chrome may have some unique features but it is too stripped down.
Getting on to security and privacy, Chrome offers some useful and innovative features like tab isolation where tabs can be separated from the main window. It also offers an Incognito window for privately viewing sites. Other than this, Chrome offers basic security features like anti-phishing, content blocking, encryption support, etc, but misses out on some advanced protection. But, overall, it is secure enough for your daily net usage.
So, to be fair, we can say that Chrome is quite impressive considering it is a completely new browser. Its heart is in the right place as it focuses on browsing rather than concentrating on bloated elements. but it is still too barebones to compete with the more established browsers. The minimalistic approach may be good for distraction-free browsing, but sometimes extra features do come in handy, and that is where Chrome falls short.
It has been more than a year since Safari for Windows was launched but it's still struggling to be a favorite with Windows users, what with Firefox, Opera, and Internet explorer not ready to give up even an inch of territory. But it may be lack of publicity that hampers its popularity. We find out if Safari is really good enough to be considered among the best.
Look and Feel
In the looks and usability department, it obviously has a Mac feel to it, which might be a deterrent for some who are not familiar with the Mac interface. Browser elements like icons, toolbars, and menu bar are a bit smaller than usual giving it a polished look. The address bar is not as advanced as other browsers that offer URL suggestions. While navigating around multiple sites in a particular tab, the ability to go to previously visited sites (found in Firefox and IE) was sadly missing. It compensated for this a little with the Snapback feature that allows you to quickly navigate to the top level of any site in a particular tab. Customizing the look and feel is not something that is abundantly available in Safari. Overall, it has a very simple design with basic navigation tools and for that reason, it fared poorly in this section thus hitting the bottom rung of the comparison.
There are not many extra features in Safari that other browsers don't have. The usual set includes tabbed browsing a smart enough bookmark manager, and history management. We didn't find the search engine integration very impressive with only two search services provided. Adding more search service providers was not that easy. But it did have a good password/ form manager that was easy to use. There was also no support for add-ons. All-in-all it didn't fare too well in comparison with the others in terms of features and here too Safari was at the bottom.
The only area where Safari gave the other browsers a run for their money was in the Speed and Performance section. In the browser startup time test, Safari was close behind Chrome, even beating it in the warm start test. And in the CSS test, it beat the other browsers hands down clocking only 47ms. Content-heavy sites brought out Safari's ugly side as browsing became quite sluggish Compatibility is not an issue with Safari as it passed the aCID2 test and got a reasonable 75 in aCID3. the browser did use quite a bit of system memory though.
The security options in Safari are very limited and we couldn't find some essential security features like anti-phishing, malware protection, and automatic updates. But surprisingly, it has a private browsing option similar to IE8's In Private and Chrome's Incognito feature. There is not much to talk about here except that it at least has support for encryption and content blocking. In this section also, Safari came last.
It's evident why Safari came last in our comparison. We really feel that to be in contention, it needs a complete revamp.
This story, "What's the Best Internet Browser to Surf the Web?" was originally published by PCWorld.