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What browser is the best? We have the information you need to decide

Last week Opera 10.0 was released in its final form.  DailyTechhad covered the development process of the browser exhaustively, so some may have been surprised not to see a piece on the browser.  That's because we were working on something, special -- a complete review of not just Opera 10.0, but all next generation browsers.

We have extensively benchmarked all of the next generation browsers -- Safari 4, Opera 10.0, Firefox 3.6 alpha 1, Internet Explorer 8, and Google Chrome 3 and 4.  In this first segment we will look at basic features, install time, and browser launch times of these next gen browsers, in comparison to previous editions.  In the second segment, we will look at CPU and memory usage, and briefly look at browser security.  And in the third and final segment, we'll look at performance in CSS and Javascript benchmarks, as well as a basic rendering benchmark.

1.  User Interface and Basic Features

Let's first look at browser features:

Browser License Prompts to Make

on Install
Prompts to Make Default on Open Uninstall Shortcut Uninstall Option to Delete Personal Data Spell Checking Colorized Tabs Favorites Tiled Homepage Built In Mail Client Compression Boost
Opera 9.6 Proprietary No Yes, popup No No Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Opera 10.0 (same) Yes, Unchecked Yes, popup No No Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Firefox 3.5 MPL, MPL/GPL/
LGPL tri-license, Mozilla EUL
Yes, Unchecked Yes, popup Wizard Via Control Panel Yes Yes Via add-on only Via add-on only Via add-on only No
Firefox 3.6 (same) Yes, Unchecked Yes, popup Wizard Via Control Panel Yes Yes Via add-on only Via add-on only Via add-on only No
Chrome 2 source-
BSD Executable – Google Terms of Service
Yes, Prechecked Yes, in frame Yes Yes Yes No Yes No No
Chrome 3 (same) Yes, Prechecked Yes, in frame Yes Yes Yes No Yes No No
Chrome 4 (same) Yes, Prechecked Yes, in frame Yes Yes Yes No Yes No No
IE 8 Proprietary Yes, Unchecked Yes, popup No, and harder to reach in Control Panel No Add-On (IE-Spell) only Yes No No No
Safari 3 Engine – GNU LGPL Everything Else - Proprietary No Yes, popup No No Yes No No No No
Safari 4 (same) No Yes, popup No No Yes No Yes No No

As you can see, when it comes to the user interface, Opera arguably leads the pack, with the most built-in interface features (favorites tiled homepage, built in mail client, server-side compression, etc.).  Firefox is a close second, with the most features supported, if you install add-ons (though add-ons decrease performance and can cause compatibility issues).  This assessment does not include security, which we'll look at in a later piece.

2. Installation

Google's Chrome is the easiest to install.  Microsoft's Internet Explorer 8, on the other hand, is the hardest to install, by far, requiring a full system reset. In retrospect, the controversy over IE 8 asking at installation if you want to make it your default browser, seems rather silly.  In fact, all the browsers ask you this on startup, and Google even goes so far as to pre-check an option during the install to make Chrome the default browser. We do like how Google's post-install browser check is incorporate as a less obtrusive browser window frame, rather than the popup that the others used (all the browser allow users to permanently dismiss these inquiries).

In our first benchmark, we did a clean install of each browser and measured the time the install took, using a lightweight, hotkey-driven timer for time measurement.  As you can see from the chart to the right, Internet Explorer (as with the uninstall) was the worst, taking the most time (by-far) and requiring a full system restart. Chrome 4 was the best, taking a mere 11.4 seconds to install after double clicking the installer package (Note: Time to import bookmarks, etc. was not included in this time, just the time to complete the actual install).

3.  Application Launch Speed

Our second benchmark looks at browser launch times.  We again used the hotkey timer and this time measured the time it took for the browser window to appear after double clicking.  Page-load was not necessary, the times measured indicated the time to get the address bar to a responsive state.

In our first run, we launched the browser "cold" after a full system restart.  Averaged over three trials, Chrome by-far launched the fastest, with Chrome 4 being the fastest of the Google browsers.  In close second was Opera 10.0.  Firefox 3.5 was strangely slow, taking 10+ seconds in more than one trial, so we launched it five times (stock install, no add-ons).  We finally concluded, that this was expected and not an error.  In the end Firefox 3.5 was the slowest to launch, but Namaroka (Firefox 3.6 alpha 1) launches much faster.  IE 8 was the second slowest in the cold launch trial.

In our second run we launched the browser "warm" after having already launched it once.  As can be expected, due to caching, the browsers launched significantly faster this way.  For warm starts, Chrome was yet again the fastest, while Opera and Safari came in second, though both of these browsers curiously showed slower start times in their latest versions (Opera 10.0 and Safari 4) than in their previous versions (Opera 9.6 and Safari 3).

In the next segment we'll look at memory and CPU usage.  We'll also examine how the browsers stack up in security.

Note: Note: All benchmarks were performed in 32-bit Vista on a Sony VAIO laptop with 3 GB of RAM, a T8100 Intel Processor (2.1 GHz), and a NVIDIA 8400 GT mobile graphics chip. The number of processes was kept consistent and at a minimum to reflect stock performance.

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User Interface and Basic Features
By rpsgc on 9/8/2009 9:31:35 AM , Rating: 3
"Uninstall Option No"

What do you mean, no uninstall option?

"Uninstall Option to Delete Personal Data No"

You can do that from within the browser though.

RE: User Interface and Basic Features
By JasonMick on 9/8/09, Rating: -1
RE: User Interface and Basic Features
By glennpratt on 9/8/2009 12:11:48 PM , Rating: 5
I don't see how an uninstall shortcut is useful, it's just old fashioned clutter. I really do not like it and I would be surprised if many users find it useful. At the very least it should be an install time option, so I don't have to delete a bunch of unneeded shortcuts. Windows has used the Control Panel for uninstall since 1995, why change now?

Also, these shortcuts can screw up Vista's Start Search bar. For example, with old versions of WinSCP if you typed Win Key + WinSCP + Enter, you would launch the uninstall shortcut. Useless.

By adiposity on 9/8/2009 3:09:49 PM , Rating: 2
Uses Windows Uninstall System instead of third party shortcut:

Chrome: no
Firefox: yes

RE: User Interface and Basic Features
By adiposity on 9/8/2009 3:23:16 PM , Rating: 2
Your personal opinions about what features are positive and which are not, is just that. Have you done a poll to determine which features users care about? No, you have arbitrarily picked features and listed whether or not each browser has them as if your checklist is some sort of authority on quality.

Second, you ignore the fact that firefox not having features by default can be considered a good thing--or, it can be considered a bad thing (depending mostly, on whether you personally want that feature...colored tabs, are you fscking kidding me?). But these are not things that determine whether a browser is good or not, especially in the case that the extension is easily added.

The speed benchmarks are more useful, however you have failed to include IE6/IE7, I assume because you only care about the latest browser...except for Chrome...? Firefox 3.0 should probably be included as well, as there is not an automatic update to 3.5.

Each browser has its positive and negative points. However, you manage to pretty much miss all of them with your article. Therefore, your statement that you "have the information [we] need to decide " is totally false.


RE: User Interface and Basic Features
By foolsgambit11 on 9/9/2009 2:46:43 AM , Rating: 2
Chrome has a convoluted release system. Chrome 2 came out around the same time as IE8, putting it in the same generation, and thus worthy of inclusion in the review. IE7 came out in 2006, so it really doesn't qualify to be part of a 'next-gen browser wars' review.

The development process for Chrome has been incredibly fast-paced, with 3 being polished while 4 has already hit developer channels. Seeing as they are available for testing (and keeping in mind they aren't full release versions), it is valuable to include them in the review, as well.

The decision criteria seems to be, "include the most recent official release of the major browsers, and include any upcoming releases, if available for testing." That's not too complicated.

I do agree with you that determining what is a feature and what is a defect can be a very subjective, very personal issues. So why don't we all just read the facts presented and make up our own minds as to whether specific traits of these browsers are right for us. If you feel that a feature of your favorite browser was left off, when it should have been included in this portion of the review, then by all means, post a testimonial. But don't assume that the readers here will lack the critical reading skills necessary to make up their own minds given the facts presented.

Again, this review is being conducted in a few parts, and this is just the first of them. So if the browser characteristics you consider most valuable (see how you fell for the same thing you were complaining about? You assume your personal opinion about what is important in a browser is correct, while others might feel different traits are more important) weren't covered, maybe you should wait and see what Jason has to say in the following articles before getting on his case about what facts he did and didn't include in this one.

By adiposity on 9/9/2009 2:13:05 PM , Rating: 2
The point is, he is not listing all features, just a few features he has decided are "important," like an "uninstall link" and other fairly trivial things. Granted, that's my opinion as to what is important and what isn't. So, if I were to do such a "feature table," in an article, I wouldn't list my favorite features, but rather would ask the readership to determine which features are an issue. Then, I would compare how the browsers stack up.

So if the browser characteristics you consider most valuable (see how you fell for the same thing you were complaining about?

I did not "fall for" anything; I am not writing an objective article on the the merits of each browser. I'm just saying, no attempt was made to determine what features are important to the average user. The features seem almost picked at random. I posted my opinion that one of the features (colored tabs) was not a particularly important feature. But if that were determined to be important to the average user, I would not complain if it were included...


RE: User Interface and Basic Features
By teohhanhui on 9/8/2009 9:46:21 AM , Rating: 4
The chart is pretty inaccurate.

"Prompts to Make Default on Open"
Firefox has a "Use Firefox as my default web browser" option in the installer which is checked by default.

"Uninstall Option"
Uninstallation via Control Panel is the norm. What's wrong with that?

"Uninstall Option to Delete Personal Data"
Firefox has that. Look carefully in the uninstaller.

By teohhanhui on 9/8/2009 9:50:13 AM , Rating: 2
My bad for not noticing the second column...

"I'd be pissed too, but you didn't have to go all Minority Report on his ass!" -- Jon Stewart on police raiding Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home
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