Browser wars, 2011

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

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Chrome 10.0.648.205

Microsoft recently announced that it would release IE 10 in spring 2012. In the meantime, Google keeps pushing Chrome along at an ever faster rate. By the time IE 10 shows up, I imagine Chrome 12 will be out.

I've liked Chrome since it first appeared in 2008. Today, I still love it.

Why? Because, besides doing well on the benchmarks, I've found Chrome 10 to be amazingly fast. Its Crankshaft V8 JavaScript engine is great. In addition, if you use Chrome with Google's own Web sites, such as Google Docs, you'll get an even greater speed advantage. That's because Google is using a Web-based technology called SPDY, pronounced speedy, that greatly speeds up SPDY-equipped Web pages when used with Chrome. Eventually, SPDY may be speeding up everyone's Web pages, but for now it only works with Google Web sites and Chrome.

If it were speed alone, it would be a close race, but while Chrome 10's pure speed is impressive, it's not the whole story.

Chrome now places its setting in its own tab. This makes it both easier to get at them and to work with them. It didn't sound like much of an improvement to me, but after a few hours of tinkering with Chrome 10, I actually found it quite useful. If you're not sure where the right setting is, Chrome's built-in search mechanism can quickly find it for you.

The new Chrome also gives you the power to sync Web browser bookmarks and passwords between all your PCs using Chrome no matter whether you're running Chrome on Linux, Mac OS X, or Windows. You can get this feature in Xmarks, which is still, to the best of my knowledge, the only browser extension that lets you share bookmarks and passwords across Web browsers, and I love seeing this functionality built into Chrome.

Chrome, which has always scored well in security, has extended its sandbox security style to its built-in Adobe Flash Player. What this means is that even if something tries to use Flash to put malware on your computer, the misbehaving program is stuck inside a virtual sandbox where it can't get to the rest of your PC.

The only thing that some people will object to is that Chrome 10 no longer supports H.264 video. I don't see this as a huge problem because, like it or lump it, the default video standard for the Web is Adobe Flash. While Web video standards are a big deal, Google not supporting H.264 in this version of Chrome isn't a big deal.

Firefox 4.0

Firefox 4, like Chrome and Opera, will run on pretty much any desktop operating system. What Firefox has that the others don't have is a gigantic family of browser extensions.

If there's anything you want to do with a browser, but it's not built-in, there's almost certainly a way to do it with a Firefox extension. I found that most of the extensions I use every day with Firefox, such as the newest versions of the LastPass password manager; XMarks; and the Google toolbar work just fine with Firefox 4.

Not all add-ons will work so smoothly though. There have been many changes in how Firefox handles extensions. I know some extensions will fail until they've been updated. I was also annoyed to find that I had to close and restart Firefox to get most extensions to work.

Thanks to the J├Ągermonkey JavaScript Engine Firefox runs faster than its earlier versions and is comparable with the other modern browsers. It also finally seems to have licked its memory leak problems.

The net result is that Firefox feels faster and more stable than it has in years. It also worked well with every Web page I threw at it (except for those miserable IE 6-only Web pages).

There are a lot of features to like in Firefox 4. A very short list of the ones I like includes:

Firefox Sync. If it could work across browsers, it might replace my current bookmark and password favorites: Xmarks and LastPass. If you don't change browsers though, Firefox Sync might be all you need.

Tab grouping. Just like the name says, tab grouping enables you to group tabs together. It's perfect for keeping tab 'families,' like say one group for "social networking" and another for work.

Turn Web pages into pinned "applications". All you need to do to turn Web pages into pinned "applications" is right click on a tab and the page will always be available when you start your browser -- at least until you change your mind. This is ideal for pages such as Gmail that you know you'll be opening over and over again.

My only problem with Firefox is that it's too little, too late. Chrome is faster and just as feature packed. That said, Mozilla, Firefox's parent company, intends on pushing out new versions of Firefox almost as fast as Chrome does. If it can keep up the pace and keep improving performance and adding features, Firefox may continue to make a three browser race of it along with Chrome and IE.

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