Browser Wars: Chrome vs. IE10 vs. Firefox

9.09.2013
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Browsers just get faster, leaner, and more able to turn websites into full-blown apps. We compare not only the big three, but also Maxthon and Opera.

 

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With Internet Explorer 10 finally available to Windows 7 users, the emergence of Maxthon as unique powerhouse among web browsers, and Firefox and Chrome continually bumping up version numbers and adding new standards support and more speed, it’s high time for another round of our Browser Wars! Truth be told: Today’s major browsers are all so good that picking a winner can be tough.

So how do you pick a Web browser? The first consideration is whether the browser actually runs on your computer. For this shoot-out, we focus on Windows PCs (which is why we omit the excellent Apple Safari), but most browsers come in flavors for other operating systems. If you want to run the new Internet Explorer 10, you’ll only be able to do so if you’ve got a PC running Window 8 or Windows 7. The other main Windows options—Firefox, Chrome, Opera, and Maxthon (in order of popularity)—all run on Windows versions back to XP, and they’re all available to users of Apple Mac computers, too.

Ubuntu users will be best served by Firefox, which comes with the OS by default. Ubuntu users are likely the kind of folks who want all of Firefox’s customizability. But Chrome and Opera are also available for the open-source OS, though you’ll have to add their repositories, since they don’t show up in the default Ubuntu Software Center.

FEATURED IN THIS ROUNDUP

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Chrome 25
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Chrome Instant means your Web page is ready to read before you finish typing the address. This, its speed and minimalist design have deservedly been attracting more and more users to the browser. Leading HTML5 support means it will be ready for the future, application-like Web. Hardware acceleration adds even more speed, and though Google has implemented Do Not Track privacy protection (set to off by default), it’s probably not the best choice for privacy mavens. Read the full review ››


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Firefox 19
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Firefox versions keep coming at a fast clip, now that Mozilla hews to a Chrome-like rapid release schedule. These frequent versions haven’t brought the kind of earth-shattering changes we used to see in new full-number Firefox updates, but the development teams have tackled issues of importance to a lot of Web users—startup time, memory use, speed, and of course security. This lean, fast, customizable browser can hold its own against any competitor, and it offers graphics hardware acceleration, good HTML5 support, and the unique Panorama system for organizing lots of tabs. Read the full review ››


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Internet Explorer 10 (IE10)
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Now available for Windows 7 as well as for Windows 8 (but not for Vista or XP), Microsoft’s latest browser is faster, trimmer, far more compliant with HTML5—a major improvement over its predecessor. It also brings some unique capabilities like tab-pinning and leading hardware acceleration, and excellent privacy tools like Do Not Track enabled by default and the more-powerful Tracking Protection feature.
Read the full review ››


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Maxthon 4
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Recently re-dubbed a “Cloud Browser,” thanks to its extensive syncing service, Maxthon is the app in this roundup known and used by the fewest people. But it offers among the most in tools, and surprisingly good performance and HTML5 support. If the idea of being able to take a screen capture of a webpage, download video, or switch to a dark view for night viewing appeals to you, give Maxthon a download. Site compatibility is guaranteed, since Maxthon uses both Chrome and IE’s webpage rendering engines. The only thing missing is hardware acceleration—yet. Read the full review ››


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Opera 12
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Like the other current browsers, Opera is fast, compliant with HTML5, and spare of interface. Long an innovator, recently it’s added support for HTML5 getUserMedia, which lets webpages access your webcam (with your permission, of course). Opera’s Turbo speeds up the Web on slow connections through caching. Extension support actually followed other browsers, but Oslo still impresses with tab stacking, visual mouse gestures, a built-in Bittorrent client, and live Speed Dial tile apps. Read the full review ››

The Speed Factor
Maybe for you, choosing a browser is simply a matter of speed? If so, you’ll find that answering the question of which browser is fastest is hardly cut-and-dried, as my article, By the Numbers: the Fastest Browser illustrates. You could run a bunch of synthetic benchmarks, which do offer at least some insight into real-world performance. Here are my latest results on a few of the most often cited JavaScript benchmarks run on a mediocre 2.5GHz dual-core laptop:

SunSpider 0.9.1
Browser Score in ms
(lower is better)
Internet Explorer 10 180
Google Chrome 25 238
Internet Explorer 9 260
Firefox 19 277
Opera 12 302
Maxthon 4 328
Google V8 (v.7)
Browser Score
(higher is better)
Google Chrome 25 10111
Maxthon 4 9703
Firefox 19 6817
Internet Explorer 10 4525
Opera 12 3840
Internet Explorer 9 2048
Mozilla Kraken 1.1
Browser Score in ms
(lower is better)
Google Chrome 25 2660
Maxthon 4 3156
Firefox 19 3247
Internet Explorer 10 8829
Opera 12 12336
Internet Explorer 9 16794

A few takeaways from all this: IE10 is vastly faster than IE9, so if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool IE user, definitely upgrade to version 10. Chrome users get automatically updated to the latest version, and that browser perennially yields top showings on browser benchmarks, though Maxthon is nipping at its heels on some of the tests. Firefox consistently posts respectable results in the middle of the pack.

Alternatively, you could just see how fast pages load in each browser, but that’s completely dependent on your internet connection. One thing that you can test with some authority is the time it takes for the browser to start up. Here are my results for that one using a mediocre 2.5GHz dual-core laptop:

Startup Time
Browser Cold Startup Time (seconds) Warm Startup Time (seconds)
Internet Explorer 10 2.5 0.9
Internet Explorer 9 3.0 1.3
Chrome 25 3.1 0.8
Firefox 19 3.3 1.1
Maxthon 4 4.3 1.5
Opera 12 10.1 2.9

Again, pretty close, aside from Opera’s poor initial startup time, though its restarts are fast enough. This is clearly not the main differentiator among browsers anymore, and if you have a reasonably new PC, you won’t notice a significant delay in startup.

Another overriding criterion is the browsers’ standards compliance. You certainly want the program to be able to correctly display the sites you visit. Though HTML5 isn’t yet an official standard of the Web’s governing body, the W3C, it’s being used by more and more sites, and support is increasing in the browsers. One test of this new support is the HTML5Test.com site, which reports a score based on supported HTML5 features out of a possible 500 points, along with bonus points for extra capabilities not technically part of HTML5. Here’s how the current crop of browsers pan out on this one:

HTML5Test.com
Browser Score (higher is better) Bonus Points
Maxthon 4 464 15
Chrome 25 463 13
Opera 12 419 9
Firefox 19 393 10
Internet Explorer 10 320 6
Internet Explorer 9 138 5

Here you can see that IE10 finally gets in the 300s, a vast improvement over its predecessor, though a significant amount of ground still remains between it and the leaders, Maxthon and Chrome.

The Beauty of the Browser
Since they’re all fast and all will play all but the most obscure of today’s websites, another valid way of picking a web browser is just by how it looks. Once again, the browsers have converged here, all offering a minimalist window that gets out of the way of the website being viewed. Chrome and IE in particular have pared their browser windows to near minimum. Firefox, Maxthon, and Opera all offer some unique interface twists that deserve winning over converts. Firefox’s Panorama view gives users a neat way to organize tons of tabs in groups. And Opera offers a unique Live Speed Dial new-tab page with tiles that update based on the site they reference.

Security and Privacy
The last thing you want your web browsing to do is render your PC inoperable. I’ve had plenty a non-technical acquaintance come to me with a PC that’s been hobbled by malware, which no doubt found its way onto the system via the web browser. While total security from malicious exploits isn’t possible with any browser, as the recent Pwn2Own event in Vancouver showed, where every major browser was compromised by hacker participants. Of some comfort is the fact that these exploits have gotten much harder for the hackers to pull off, taking months.

Nevertheless, you can inform your security decision based on what protections the browser comes with and how effective they are. All of the browsers include mechanisms for blocking known malicious sites and protections from running code outside of the browser. Chrome features a “sandboxed” architecture that isolates any code run by the browser or its plugins. But a bigger threat is often you the user yourself. When you download and run something you shouldn’t. Longtime users may be surprised that Internet Explorer gets top marks in this area for its download protection, and comes in second to Opera in blocking malware sites, according to AV-Comparatives:

Opera 94.2%
Browser Percent Phishing Scams Blocked
Internet Explorer 82.0%
Chrome 72.4%
Firefox 54.8%

Privacy is a topic that floats to the top of tech headlines regularly. If it’s a real concern of yours, you’ll want to know about the Do Not Track initiative. This is an option in all the major browsers these days that tells sites you don’t wish to be tracked by third-party ad networks—marketing sites you never intentionally visited. Two browsers have Do Not Track enabled by default (much to the umbrage of the ad companies): Internet Explorer 10 and Maxthon. But there really hasn’t been evidence of the ad sites respecting the request this setting sends. For this case, you can turn to the Tracking Protection feature in Internet Explorer (both 9 and 10), or to a plugin such as Ghostery, which is available for all the browsers except Maxthon. A similar tool for Firefox, Chrome, and Opera is AdBlock Plus.

Syncing and Other Goodies
All of the browsers besides Internet Explorer now offer syncing capability, which lets you keep multiple installations—whether they’re on your computers or smart phones—up to date with the same bookmarks, passwords, settings, browsing history, and even open tabs. For even more in the way of extra goodies, take a look at the lesser-used Maxthon and Opera. Maxthon offers a wealth of tools, such as a media sniffer and downloader to get you all those photos, videos, and sounds from pages you visit. Opera offers built-in mail, IRC chat, and BitTorrent clients, live updated tiles on its Speed Dial page, and a Turbo feature that speeds up slow connections using server caching.

All the browsers also have add-on, or extension capabilities, but Firefox is the strongest contender in this area. Firefox extensions are able to modify the browser and its behavior more than any other product, and it’s long been a top feature Firefox users have pointed to as swaying their browser choice.

So Which One?
They’re all 100 percent free, so nothing is stopping you from dabbling with each of these browsers to see which suits you best, and I totally recommend your doing so: Web browsing takes up the majority of everyone’s computer usage these days, so you may as well choose the most comfortable and capable vehicle. When taking speed, standards compatibility, security, and features into account, Chrome is PCMag’s Editors’ Choice, but just by a nose. I recommend you dig into the reviews linked below to see which browser best suits your taste.

FEATURED IN THIS ROUNDUP

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Chrome 25
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Chrome Instant means your Web page is ready to read before you finish typing the address. This, its speed and minimalist design have deservedly been attracting more and more users to the browser. Leading HTML5 support means it will be ready for the future, application-like Web. Hardware acceleration adds even more speed, and though Google has implemented Do Not Track privacy protection (set to off by default), it’s probably not the best choice for privacy mavens. Read the full review ››


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Firefox 19
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Firefox versions keep coming at a fast clip, now that Mozilla hews to a Chrome-like rapid release schedule. These frequent versions haven’t brought the kind of earth-shattering changes we used to see in new full-number Firefox updates, but the development teams have tackled issues of importance to a lot of Web users—startup time, memory use, speed, and of course security. This lean, fast, customizable browser can hold its own against any competitor, and it offers graphics hardware acceleration, good HTML5 support, and the unique Panorama system for organizing lots of tabs. Read the full review ››


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Internet Explorer 10 (IE10)
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Now available for Windows 7 as well as for Windows 8 (but not for Vista or XP), Microsoft’s latest browser is faster, trimmer, far more compliant with HTML5—a major improvement over its predecessor. It also brings some unique capabilities like tab-pinning and leading hardware acceleration, and excellent privacy tools like Do Not Track enabled by default and the more-powerful Tracking Protection feature.
Read the full review ››


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Maxthon 4
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Recently re-dubbed a “Cloud Browser,” thanks to its extensive syncing service, Maxthon is the app in this roundup known and used by the fewest people. But it offers among the most in tools, and surprisingly good performance and HTML5 support. If the idea of being able to take a screen capture of a webpage, download video, or switch to a dark view for night viewing appeals to you, give Maxthon a download. Site compatibility is guaranteed, since Maxthon uses both Chrome and IE’s webpage rendering engines. The only thing missing is hardware acceleration—yet. Read the full review ››


clip_image010[7]

Opera 12
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Like the other current browsers, Opera is fast, compliant with HTML5, and spare of interface. Long an innovator, recently it’s added support for HTML5 getUserMedia, which lets webpages access your webcam (with your permission, of course). Opera’s Turbo speeds up the Web on slow connections through caching. Extension support actually followed other browsers, but Oslo still impresses with tab stacking, visual mouse gestures, a built-in Bittorrent client, and live Speed Dial tile apps. Read the full review ››

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