Battle of the Web browsers

Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, and Safari square off on speed, features, and HTML5 compatibility

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There are other more intriguing ideas. Microsoft, for instance, is pushing something it calls IE9 Enhanced, an edition of the browser that comes bundled with a slightly tighter connection to Bing and MSN. This isn't as revolutionary as it sounds. Netscape once made a big chunk of money from owning its start page, and Mozilla continues to pay the bills with hefty checks from Google for sending along searches. Microsoft's packaging, though, seems to suggest more bundling and more enhancements are to come.

These enhancements aren't limited to Microsoft sites. IE9 offers a way to "pin" a URL, which is like a bookmark but with a site menu attached that Microsoft calls a "jump list." Website operators can build this menu into their site's meta tags by adding the type "msapplication-task."

The worst new feature is Safari's reader function, a tool that strips out the ads from a page and presents the content in a box that floats above the regular page. What? You don't like the ads? Tough. As a writer who gets income from attaching ads to content provided free of charge, it's impossible for me to be unbiased about this terrible shiv stuck in the back of the free and open Web. The ad blockers are bad enough, but they're not included in each browser -- and arguably only the angriest ad-haters go out of their way to download them.

The best Web browser
Is there a best choice? No, and choosing is harder than ever. The teams are adept at copying each other's best features, and the competition must be brutal. For us users, though, the torture is like trying to pick one chocolate from a sampler. The browsers don't come with calories, so we can choose all five and use them for different tasks. It won't make you fat, but it may consume all of your RAM.

I routinely switch among all five browsers these days. Although Firefox seemed to slip behind Chrome for a bit, it is now faster and more able. IE9 is also rising, and I'm impressed by the ideas coming out of the IE team. It's thinking hard about new problems like video card integration and power consumption, not just how fast JavaScript runs through an endless loop.

Porting Safari to the PC was an odd move several years ago, but now I'm glad it's there. I routinely find myself using Safari on my PC just because it's a WebKit browser, close kin to the browsers that dominate the smartphone. That influence may be changing, though, because both Firefox and Opera are pushing into the domain, no doubt because they're certain that mobile browsing will end up ruling the Web.

As more and more of our work migrates to tablets and smartphones, and the differences among the browsers continue to narrow, choosing the best desktop browser may soon take a backseat to choosing the best mobile browser. We may even become content to use whichever desktop browser the IT drones have installed for us.

Web browsers at a glance

Chrome 10.0
  • Opens each page in a separate process
  • Growing extension marketplace
Firefox 4.0
  • New, faster JavaScript engine puts it back in the game
  • Richest ecosystem of extensions and plug-ins
Internet Explorer 9.0
  • High-speed frame rates for animation
  • Has caught up with important HTML5 specs
  • Pinnable URLs and "jump lists"
Safari 5.0
  • Great for debugging mobile Web apps
  • Late to the extension game but gaining ground
Opera 11.10
  • Clever new options like Opera Turbo (server-side page compression trims downloads, increases speed)
  • Mail integrated into the browser

This story, "Battle of the Web browsers," was originally published at Follow the latest news in Web browsers, applications and HTML5 at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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