What's the Best Internet Browser to Surf the Web?

Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Internet Explorer, Safari... We rate the Big 5 of the Internet browser brigade to help you decide which should be your window to the cyber-world.

By John Maringmei
Tue, October 07, 2008

PC World — 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.

Firefox 3

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.

Feature Set
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.

Fast Track
The only area where Firefox lagged behind was in Speed and Performance. We did a thorough checkup based on browser startup time, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), JavaScript loading speed, handling of sites, compatibility, and system resources usage. It was slow off the blocks, taking marginally longer to cold start, compared to Chrome and Safari. It also felt heavy during startup and starting a new browsing session or re-opening tabs.

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.

Safe Passage
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.

Net Worth
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.

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