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The conclusion of our three part series looking to expose each next gen browser's greatest strengths and weaknesses

In our exploration of next generation browsers we first examined the user interface, installation details, time to install, and application launch times.  We next turned our attention to CPU and memory usages, as well as comparing and contrasting the security of the various browser offerings.  Topics we haven't looked at yet include rendering comparisons, synthetic benchmarks, plug-ins, and standards support, as well as our conclusions.  We planned just one more piece, but that's a lot of ground to cover, so we've broken it up into two more pieces. 

In this first piece, we'll look at synthetic benchmarks and plug-in support.  In the next (and final) segment, we'll examine rendering performance, standards support (including performance in the Acid3 benchmark), and our conclusions on the state of the browser war and who we believe the current winner(s) is/are.

6.  Synthetic Benchmarks:


The first synthetic benchmark we ran was Celtic Kane's Javascript test.  The homepage for the test showed Safari 4 to be the leading web browser.  Our own testing indicated that it has been passed by Google's Chrome.  Safari came in second, Opera in third, Firefox in fourth, and Internet Explorer came in at a distant fifth.


The next synthetic benchmark run was the popular Sunspider Javascript test.  This test again showed Chrome 4 beating Safari 4.  This time, though, Firefox was a runner up.  Opera performed unexpectedly poorly in this test, though Opera 10 managed a bit better performance.  And Internet Explorer 8 performed the worst of all, taking nearly eight times as long as Chrome 4 to complete this test.  Combined with Celtic Kane, these tests indicate the Safari's Squirrelfish engine, Chrome's V8 to be the clear JS leaders and the JS performance of Trident, IE 8's engine, to be dismal. 


Our next synthetic benchmark was Peacekeeper, a Futuremark test suite which we recently profiled.  Our testing with the suite indicated Chrome to be in the lead, followed closely by Safari and then Firefox.  Opera 10 managed middling results.  Meanwhile, Internet Explorer was the slowest, managing a mere sixth of the score of Chrome.  The suite looks at a number of aspects, including JS performance, CSS performance, rendering, and more, so it is a good general indicator of speed.


The last synthetic benchmark we used was How-To-Create UK's CSS test.  The test loads approximately 2,500 DIVs and times how fast the load takes.  Unfortunately, WebKit browsers (Safari and Chrome) aren't supported due to how they measure time, so we could only get results for Firefox, IE 8, and Opera.  For these browsers,  Opera 10 barely led Firefox 3.6a1, while Internet Explorer 8 yet again lagged in performance.

Conclusions to be drawn from the synthtetic tests -- Chrome is the fastest browser with Safari close behind.  Opera and Firefox are just slightly behind.  And Internet Explorer 8 is the slowest browser.  Even on content heavy sites, though, this performance difference is not as great as these tests might seem to indicate.  In fact, it may only account for a couple of extra seconds of load time.  Still, it could become an annoyance on content-heavy pages like Facebook.

7.  Plug-ins

A common misconception is that Firefox is the only browser that has plug-ins, add-ons, extensions, or otherwise named optional components.  Plug-ins/add-ons/extensions are, in fact, a vital part of modern browsers.  There are a diverse variety of formats include ActiveX, NPAPI, Java, Google Gears, RSS, and Atom. 

Mozilla Firefox does arguably lead in this field, having the most enthusiastic developer community for plug-ins, and the most useful plug-ins.  Firefox 3.6a1 does not provide is support for classic Java plugins and ActiveX plug-ins. 

Looking at the other browsers, Opera (which does not support Gears, ActiveX), Chrome (also no ActiveX), and Safari (no ActiveX, Gears partial only) all offer decent plug-in support, but their developer communities are still in a fledgling state.  Internet Explorer 8, on the other hand, offers a lot of plug-ins -- in fact, plug-ins are essential to improving the browser's standards support.  Unfortunately IE 8 does not support the NPAPI extension language commonly used for Mozilla.  IE 8 plug-ins are generally more for utility rather than aesthetics.

Plug-ins are most accessible to Firefox users, as Firefox's plug-in system is friendly enough for even beginning users.  Nonetheless, if other factors make you pick another browser, it's a good idea to check out what kind of plug-ins are available for it, as there will surely be some useful ones.

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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Plug-ins
By rpsgc on 9/10/2009 9:36:43 AM , Rating: 2
I think you should point out that Opera doesn't need a lot of extensions/widgets because it already has a lot of features built-in, unlike Firefox (mouse gestures, adblocking, etc)




RE: Plug-ins
By invidious on 9/10/2009 10:03:46 AM , Rating: 2
This kind of stuff was elluded to in the first installment of this series but it mainly covered setup features. Ad blocking was the only convinience feature covered.

I do not know why Mick would do a browser run down and not compare convinience features at all, hell I would focus primarily on them. They should have their own installment.


RE: Plug-ins
By jragosta on 9/10/2009 11:43:58 AM , Rating: 1
"elluded to"????

Maybe you should take an English course before posting?


RE: Plug-ins
By anuraaga on 9/11/2009 3:25:47 AM , Rating: 2
A better explanation of what plugins actually are is probably in order...

I think it's generally excepted that plugins are a way for the user to customize the browser. While I personally feel it's important to distinguish between plugins and extensions (as popularized by Firefox) due to their separate implementations and as such, separate goals, it'd be fair to group them together. I don't see why RSS and Atom are being labeled as plugins though - they're syndication methods for transmitting news. If clicking on an RSS button to have the feed show up in your bookmark bar/RSS window is enough to being a plugin format, then all browsers support a similarly awesome plugin format, the "bookmark" which allows you to customize your browser so you can jump to certain web pages with one click.

In addition, Java and Gears are plugins, not plugin formats. Web developers use them to customize their websites, users don't use them to customize their browser. This is most easily evidenced by the fact that users don't ever install a Java applet or a Gears...javascript code segment. I don't think labeling them as plugins and putting them in the same category as NPAPI and ActiveX really makes sense here.

Finally, NPAPI is a plugin language supported by all non-IE browsers, not the extension language commonly used by Mozilla (confusing if we group plugins and extensions together unfortunately). The latter is a combination of XUL for interface and Javascript for logic, and it's this combination of easy to use web-like technologies that has resulted in the large Mozilla extension community and will likely result in a similar community for Chrome as it is also using web technologies (HTML rather than XUL which is how Firefox should have been in the first place imho) for its experimental extension system. The former is generally (maybe always?) used to provide web developers with added resources when making websites, can be used with the <object> tag and are run in sandboxed native environments.


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