Browser wars, 2011

Which browser is best for security, speed, and compliance with web standards?

It wasn't that long ago that things were as dull as used dishwater when it came to Web browsers. Then, along came Firefox and suddenly it wasn't just an Internet Explorer world anymore. Today, in 2011, Google's Chrome Web browser, not to mention Apple's Safari and Opera Software's Opera, are all good choices for your Web browser.

In particular, over the last few months, Chrome, Firefox and IE have all come out with great new versions. Today, you have a richer choice of top-quality Web browsers than ever before for your Linux PC, Mac, or Windows PC. So, how do you decide which browser is best for you? Well, I bravely installed the whole lot of the latest generation of Web browsers and this is what I found.

Things in common

The new browsers differ from their predecessors in more ways than just performance. They all (with the exception of Safari) have adopted slicker, cleaner interfaces. I see this as both a good news and bad news situation: While I like the cleaner look, with only one menu bar at the top of the display, I don't see that this design choice, which Google pioneered with Chrome, is really a better choice than the earlier interface style. Indeed, while technically savvy users won't have any trouble with any of these interfaces, I think many people might find these front ends a little off-putting.

All of the new browsers are much more secure than their predecessors. Chrome, which runs all Web page processes in a virtual sandbox is the best of the lot. Safari and IE, even now, suffer from persistent security attacks and problems. If security is your first concern, Safari and IE still are not up to the mark set by Chrome and, to a lesser extent, by Firefox.

How the Web browsers were tested

I ran all the browsers through their paces on both Windows 7 SP1 and Windows XP SP3. For XP and Windows 7, I used a Gateway SX2802-07 desktop. This PC uses a 2.6GHZ Intel Pentium Dual-Core E5300 processor and has 6GBs of RAM and a 640GB hard drive. Except for IE 9, which runs only on Windows 7, and Safari, which only runs on Mac OS and Windows, I also ran the others on Mint 10 Linux on a Dell Inspiron 530S powered by a 2.2-GHz Intel Pentium E2200 dual-core processor with an 800-MHz front-side bus. This box has 4GBs of RAM, a 500GB drive. For the Mac, I used a 2010 15" Mac Book Pro with an Intel 2.66GHz Core i7 processors, 4GBs of RAM, and Snow Leopard.

For testing purposes, I used my Windows 7 box, since it was the only one that all the Web browsers would run on. Yes, that's right. IE 9 will not run on XP. It requires either Windows 7 or Vista. And, oh by the way, looking ahead, IE 10, which is due out in 2012, won't run on Vista either.

To see what the browsers could do I used a wide variety of publicly available tests. If you want to know exactly how a given Web browser will run on your PC, you can test it for yourself. All these tests are simple to do and require almost no technical knowledge.

Acid 3

Acid 3

The Acid 3 test, from the Web Standards Project, checks out how compatible a browser is with various Web standards such as Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), JavaScript, and Extensible Markup Language (XML).

At one time, almost no Web browsers could come close to passing this test. Today, even the least-standard Web browser, Internet Explorer, scores well with a 95. The best browsers, Chrome, Opera, and Safari, all take perfect marks. Firefox also does well, scoring a 97.

HTML5 Test

HTML5 Test

The HTML5 test does exactly what its name says it does. It checks to see how compliant the Web browser is with the HTML 5 Web page standard. Take these results with a grain of salt though. HTML5 is still a standard in the making.

When it comes to HTML 5, no browser is close to perfect. Ironically, IE, for all of Microsoft's HTML 5 claims, is actually, as Mozilla "evangelist" Paul Rouget claimed, not even a modern Web browser at all. Of all the browsers, IE came in a distant, dead last with a score of 130 out of 400.

Mind you, if you're using HTML 5 compliance as your benchmark, Firefox (with a score of 255) still comes in behind Chrome (at 288). The others, Opera at 234 and Safari at 228, do reasonably well. Still, none even comes close to a perfect 500.

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