Browser wars redux: Top 5 duke it out

For browser fans, this is the best of times. The five most popular Web browsers -- Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, Google Chrome and Opera -- have released significant new versions this year.

Although Internet Explorer retains the lion's share of browser use, its competitors are gradually gaining favor. It's been a very long time since the browser market has been this unsettled and open to competition.

The good news for users is that every one of these top five browsers is exceedingly feature-rich, increasingly fast and easier than ever to use. The bad news is that it's become very hard to decide which to use.

That's why we decided to put the newest versions of the top browsers through their paces. Although Safari is available for Windows, and Opera and a beta version of Chrome are available for the Mac, we focused on the most popular configurations: Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Opera for Windows, and Safari and Firefox for the Mac.

We delved deep into their features, considered their speed and ease of use, and recommended what type of user each browser is most suited for. Finally, we chose overall winners for the Mac and Windows platforms.

What we've concluded has nothing to do with market share, and everything to do with which are the flat-out best, and why. So check out our reviews and recommendations, and let us know whether you agree.

Firefox 3.5 (Windows)

Of all the browsers, Firefox offers the best balance among speed, features, usability and extensibility. Because of this, it has been slowly eating away at the substantial lead enjoyed by Internet Explorer on Windows. Like Opera, Firefox is available for Windows, the Mac and Linux, so it is ideal for people or companies who use multiple platforms.

In my experience, Firefox doesn't feel as fast as Chrome or Opera, although it seems speedier than Internet Explorer. In Computerworld tests using the SunSpider benchmark suite, Firefox fell in the middle of the pack for JavaScript rendering.

Firefox may no longer be the browser to always introduce new features first (Safari, for example, introduced private browsing), but when it does include them, they always seem to be well thought-out and nicely implemented.

What may be the browser's greatest strength, though, is not its feature set as much as its massive ecosystem of free add-ons -- thousands of them, in every category imaginable. That, even more than the browser itself, is what sets it apart from its competitors.

Browser features

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