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Our epic browser battle finally wraps up with our conclusions about the state of the art

We're almost at the end of our browser analysis.  We've looked at startup and install times, memory and CPU usage, and performance in synthetic benchmarks.  Along the way we've discussed numerous aspects -- security, user interface, and plug-ins, to name a few.  Now we have two final topics to look at -- how the next generation browsers fare in rendering tests and how well they support the latest web standards.

8.  Rendering Tests

For the first rendering test we measured the time it took to load all the images from a Google image search.  This test likely gave home court to Google Chrome, but this is unavoidable as running a Yahoo/Bing search could similarly favor Microsoft's IE 8.  Since Google is the most commonly used search (it currently is used for approximately 60+ percent of search traffic), we decided to use it.

We noticed that the first image search in Google consistently takes longer in most of the browsers.  So we separated this result and compared the first load for all the browsers.  For each browser we searched for the word "CO2".  The performance of Chrome 2 (the current edition) was actually only mediocre.  Chrome 4, though, managed an extremely fast load, just ahead of Firefox 3.5.  Internet Explorer performed quite well, coming in third.  Safari 4 and Opera 10 tied for fourth.

After this initial test we did two more searches, the first for "Pen" and the second for "CPU" and we averaged the results.  In this warm search, yet again Chrome 4 barely led, with Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer all obtaining relatively fast results as well.  For some reason Opera 10 performed very poorly in these subsequent searches.  It took 2.2 seconds on average, over twice as long as its nearest competitor, IE 8 (1 second).

As a final rendering test we loaded up Acid3.  Acid3 is a diverse web standards test which focuses on graphical aspects.  All of the major web browser developers have worked with the Web Standards Project on Acid3, so its somewhat of an industry standard.  Opera 10, Safari 4, and Chrome all passed the test, with a perfect score and the expected rendering.  Firefox 3.6a1 and 3.5 managed near perfect scores.  Internet Explorer 8 lagged badly behind, scoring a mere 20/100.

It appears that for simple rendering, Google Chrome and Firefox (and the Webkit/Gecko engines they are built on) are the best.  Opera and Safari both offer decent performance, as well.  IE 8 offers good performance in rendering pages based on simpler standards (like Google image search) but is badly behind in more advanced rendering, due to its lack of support for the latest standards (more on that to follow).

9.  Standards Support

Standards Summary:  Looking at graphics formats, Javascript, and web technology standards Opera is doing the best job keeping up with new web standards.  Firefox is a solid second.  Internet Explorer 8 lags considerably, though this lack can somewhat be remedied via plug-ins.

An important thing to consider, though is that better web standards support doesn't necessarily mean more pages will work for your browser.  In our experience Firefox and Internet Explorer 8 provide the best page compatibility.  In IE 8's case this is because despite the fact it doesn't support the latest standards, as the market leader, most webpage developers first tailor their pages to work with it.  Often browsers like Opera/Chrome/Safari may implement the standards near flawlessly, but web applications designed with the IE 8/Firefox duopoly in mind won't work well in these alternative browsers.

Browser Nav LINKS CSS 2.1 XHTML 1.0 XHTML 1.1 MathML Xforms Web Forms 2.0 VoiceXML/X+V DOM 1 DOM 2 DOM 3
Opera 9.6 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Partial
Opera 10.0 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Partial
Firefox 3.5 No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Partial
Firefox 3.6 No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Partial
Chrome 2 No Yes Yes Yes No No No No Yes Yes Partial
Chrome 3 No Yes Yes Yes No No No No Yes Yes Partial
Chrome 4 No Yes Yes Yes No No No No Yes Yes Partial
IE 8 No Partial No No No No No No Partial No No
Safari 3 No Yes Yes Yes No No No No Yes Yes Partial
Safari 4 No Yes Yes Yes No No No No Yes Yes Partial
Browser JPEG JPEG 2000 PNG APNG MNG TIFF SVG 2D Canvas XBM HTML 5 Support

Opera 9.6 Yes No Yes Yes No No Partial Yes Yes Moderate

Opera 10.0 Yes No Yes Yes No No Partial Yes Yes Good

Firefox 3.5 Yes No Yes Yes No No Partial Yes Yes Good

Firefox 3.6 Yes No Yes Yes No No Partial Yes Yes Good

Chrome 2 Yes No Yes No No No Partial Yes Yes Moderate

Chrome 3 Yes No Yes No No No Partial Yes Yes Moderate

Chrome 4 Yes No Yes No No No Partial Yes Yes Moderate

IE 8 Partial No Partial No No No No No No Poor

Safari 3 Yes Yes Yes No No Yes Partial Yes Yes Moderate

Safari 4 Yes Yes Yes No No Yes Partial Yes Yes Moderate

10. Conclusions

After extensively using, benchmarking, and testing the next generation browsers, the only clear take home message is that they each have unique strengths and weaknesses.  Chrome is rather secure and is the fastest browser, but it lacks the broad selection of plug-ins Firefox has.  Firefox has good compatibility with most pages, a broad array of plug-ins and is relatively fast.

Internet Explorer 8 isn't as fast as the other next gen offerings and lacks standards support, but it is still compatible with more pages, in our experience.  It also is very secure, which is good for beginning users.  Opera 10 features a full-featured user interface, leading standards support, and decent speed.  However it lacks plug-ins and still trails in security.  Safari doesn't really stand out in any one category, but Safari 4 was frequently the second fastest browser in testing.  For fans of Apple products, its a solid selection.

Really, what we suggest is downloading two or more of these alternative next generation browsers and trying them out for yourself.  Opera 10, Firefox 3.6a1, Safari 4, IE 8, and Chrome 4 are all exciting, well crafted products.

Comments     Threshold

This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

By Spivonious on 9/11/2009 12:41:39 PM , Rating: 4
"In conclusion, after typing up a lot of gibberish and making graphs, I recommend you download all of them and pick the one you like the best."

RE: Pointless
By forever4now on 9/11/2009 1:21:43 PM , Rating: 5
Why Pointless? The writer:

1. Provided detailed test results, for each browser.
2. Highlighted the strong points, of each browser.

Now, it's up to the readers to analyze the data, try the different browsers and make their own decision.

RE: Pointless
By Oregonian2 on 9/11/2009 3:41:48 PM , Rating: 5
I basically agree except that I'll go further to say that I conclude that the vast majority of the individual test results are pragmatically irrelevant.

It's more obvious for things like "install times". Something that's done once over a long period of time so even if one is twice as long as another, it doesn't really matter.

Likewise if some numerical test is 10% (or even a lot more) different, the question is: will it be even discernible in actual use (plus, how often is "that" used).

There has to be a strong weighting of individual things having to do with frequency of use and importance/detectability. Most would have a near zero weighting (IMO) while others would have very strong weights (like being able to use things like the recipiefox plugin for functionality not available in all of the other browsers). As an example.

RE: Pointless
By michael67 on 9/11/2009 7:10:40 PM , Rating: 2
Not totally pointless, but if you write a 4 part article on browsers then at least imho you could write a better summery on the pro's and con's of eats of them.

Yeah i can figure out whits is the best for me, but not every one, and most of us also don't know witch of all the standards are really important and whit what we can live whit out, Chrome is here a good example for, as Chrome is most secure and is the fastest browser but lagging whit plug-ins and supporting less standards

RE: Pointless
By Aloonatic on 9/13/2009 3:13:54 AM , Rating: 2
I think you're giving the guy too much of a hard time.

This is a free site after all, it's hardly professional (although add revenues may not be too shabby, but you get my point) with most articles little more than re-hashed press releases and blogs. If you want something more in-depth, got to Anand, you wont be disappointed.

Most people here either know the standards, are aware of them at least and almost certainly have the ability to off and do a little research themselves.

Personally, I=this is one of those articles which I have enjoyed more for the comments than the actualarticles themselves. We've all tried most of the browser ourselves and made an informed decision already anyway. What is really amusing is the stream of butt-hurt MS fanboys squealing and crying foul when any chart or graph dared to show any shot comings with their beloved (for some reason???) IE.

RE: Pointless
By cochy on 9/11/2009 1:53:30 PM , Rating: 2
From reading the articles is seems pretty clear, to me at least, that Firefox 3.5 is the clear overall winner if you average everything out.

RE: Pointless
By Sazar on 9/11/2009 2:29:36 PM , Rating: 1
If by Firefox 3.5 you mean Chrome 4.0 than yes, Firefox 3.5 is the clear overall winner.

RE: Pointless
By Pirks on 9/11/2009 2:39:36 PM , Rating: 3
Nah, he meant Opera 10, I'm pretty positive on that ;)

RE: Pointless
By Souka on 9/11/2009 7:20:00 PM , Rating: 2
Opera 10? Chrome? soo slow....

wanna fast browers? Try one of these

Mosaic, Cello, Lynx 2.0, Arena, AMosaic 1.0


RE: Pointless
By The0ne on 9/11/09, Rating: -1
RE: Pointless
By ebakke on 9/11/2009 3:23:48 PM , Rating: 5
I want the seconds back that I wasted reading your post.

RE: Pointless
By The0ne on 9/11/2009 5:49:08 PM , Rating: 2
That's too bad, cause you've wasted more by replying to mine. Now waste a few more, thanks.

To Hell with these benchmarks
By cyriene on 9/11/2009 12:24:43 PM , Rating: 5
To hell with browser benchmarks! I just use the browsers that feel the best to me and give me the best user experience.

RE: To Hell with these benchmarks
By ksherman on 9/11/2009 1:15:17 PM , Rating: 3
Which is what the writer said in his conclusion pretty much...

By MrPoletski on 9/14/2009 3:47:58 AM , Rating: 2
I think what we should all take from this article is 'to hell with IE' then go check out some browsers we wanna try ;)

Browsers in general
By croc on 9/11/2009 8:12:24 PM , Rating: 2
I have tried all of the above browsers over several revisions. My results?

Firefox: Too klutzy, need to find multiple downloads for add-ins, etc. Security? So-so, better in the latest iterations. The UI just feels kluged together, to me.

Safari: Honestly, never really gave it a shot. Crapple apps always seem to sneak in another crapple app when they install, aand some are rather difficult to uninstall. So I've always given it a miss.

Chrome: Seems a nice, secure browser, fairly fast, etc. Now if they'd just fix the UI, I might be happy with it.

Opera: Love the UI, it does almost everything I ask of it. I don't need a single add-in, it is fairly secure, does a good (not perfect) job blocking pop-ups, etc. Currently my favourite browser.

IE8: My browser of last resort. If a website seems to have a problem, I try it in IE for a second opinion... Plus, my bank codes their secure website for only IE, and it is their security policy that they will continue to do so. Sorry crapple fans, use a different bank.

These are just personal opinions, but they are MY personal opinions. And on MY pc, that's the only opinion that counts!

RE: Browsers in general
By BlendMe on 9/11/2009 10:06:04 PM , Rating: 2
I actually really like the chrome UI and find the Opera UI kinda dated. As in your case "MY personal opinions".

Opera definitely need more love from the masses, they really deserve it. I think they've packed more innovations into a browser than anyone else. Many just copied (or were inspired by :)).

RE: Browsers in general
By BlendMe on 9/11/2009 10:10:37 PM , Rating: 2
I've also tested the major releases of these browser with some of the benchmarks mentioned in the series. In my results Safari 4 was the fastest with Chrome coming in 2nd. IE8 was always the slowest.

As for standard compliance, I had similar result in the acid3 test, but as dailytech mentioned, most sites are coded for FF or IE. Which is enough work already for a web developer(thx MS).

So here are my 2 cents:

Chrome: This is my default browser, because it loads very fast, remains stable even when a (flash) plugin crashes, the UI is clean, the "url/search bar" works great, the "most viewed" start page is cool. It lacks the FF plug-ins, but I only use those for debugging websites (i.e. Firebug) and Chrome has an "Inspector" and a task manager which handle the job quite well.

Safari: Well I don't really use Safari on a Windows PC, only on Macs where it is the default browser and I leave it that way. It is a good and fast browser, but on Windows I have many alternatives and the Safari UI doesn't really fit in to a MS environment. It is pretty fast though.

Firefox: Firefox has something no other browser has: a lot of plug-ins. Some very useful, some less. If you want to get the most out of a browser, this is the way to go. What really bugs me is when one of these plug-ins (flash) crashes it kills the whole browser. It does give you the option to restore your previous session after a crash. In my experience it takes much longer to load than other browsers.

Opera: This is the browser I respect the most. Except for the UI, which seems is a bit dated, only with modern-looking icons/toolbars. Opera is the most feature packed offering out there, with an e-mail client, bit torrent client, notes, widgets, etc. It can also manage sessions. It's pretty fast, has great zoom functionality, and scrolling is the fastest and smoothest of all (at least in my experience). Opera Unite is also an interesting little feature.

IE8: Hmmm... I hear it is supposed to be quite secure... Haven't used it since Windows Update became a stand alone application. Maybe someone else can fill you in...

So that was my quick round up. Hope it helps.


RE: Browsers in general
By Roffles on 9/13/2009 1:48:09 PM , Rating: 2
Nail on the head! Except Firefox is my go-to browser for anything that won't load in Opera. My days of using IE8 are behind me when browsing at home.

By damianrobertjones on 9/11/2009 3:44:45 PM , Rating: 2
Come on Microsoft, you're flagging behind in a BIG way.

ie9 better be something great. I bet they skip nine and for for ie10 instead.

By forever4now on 9/11/2009 5:16:35 PM , Rating: 2
You're betting on the wrong horse, if you're betting on IE for a web browser:

1. IE can't pass the basic Acid3 test.

2. IE has shown little progress, in terms of HTML5 support (unlike the other major browsers).

3. IE is not likely to support WebGL & O3D. Check out the demo videos on this site, to see the kind of 3D stuff you can do in a browser these days:

Microsoft appears to be betting the house on their proprietary Silverlight technology, instead of open web standards. They want to move from desktop lock-in to web lock-in.

By BlendMe on 9/11/2009 10:13:03 PM , Rating: 2
you mean MS IE X ??

I'm convinced
By DarkElfa on 9/11/2009 2:39:50 PM , Rating: 3
Well, this article finally made me try Opera and I'm convinced. I've been an avid Firefox user for 6 years and for some reason after they moved us to Firefox 3.5 Flash stopped wanting to work right and pages like JoBlo were really slow and if they had an embedded video player it was nightmare slow. Opera just chews through it like it wasn't even there. Sure, Firefox has all the cool plugins and stuff but it beats sitting around waiting for my pages to load for 45 seconds. So, I'm finally sold on Opera.

RE: I'm convinced
By PAPutzback on 9/11/2009 3:15:06 PM , Rating: 2
I downloaded opera also and it does work pretty well. But I think my portable roboform is only compatible with IE8. So for any banking or anytime I know I'll be logging in I use IE8.

For general browsing Chrome 4 is a win for me. It is noticeable faster and doesn't mess with fonts and frames like FF. Now Opera seems to mess with them a bit but it is in a positve way.

Interesting you didn't mention this Mick
By Sazar on 9/11/2009 12:48:17 PM , Rating: 2
Yesterday, there were several reports from the dev channel for chromium talking about add-ons and the platform being established for Chrome.

I am definitely interested to see how open the add-on's program will be :)

By foolsgambit11 on 9/12/2009 12:06:29 AM , Rating: 2
However open they make the official add-on website, add-ons themselves will be completely open. They're written in Javascript, HTML, and CSS, and can be packaged from inside Chrome (though they don't have to be packaged at all, it's just easier to distribute them that way).

I'm currently using AdSweep for Chrome, which I got from AdSweep's page - (looked over the script and packaged it myself, for security reasons - I'd trust an official Chrome Website version, but not Joe Schmoe's website). It works pretty well - I haven't noticed any ads during my browsing. Too bad the programmer abandoned the project.

Oh, yeah, and Chrome can also use NPAPI-based extensions.

Still bemused.
By Mattus27 on 9/11/2009 6:59:18 PM , Rating: 1
I pity anybody who chooses a browser based on this batch of tests, which is full of naive and mindless inaccuracies. This time, you're suggesting that Firefox 3.6 takes several times longer to do an image search than 3.5.

Do you think the difference lies in the Firefox code, seeing as 3.5 and 3.6 are extremely similar? Or do you think the tests might have been influenced by network conditions?

Furthermore, I can assure you that Chrome 3 is certainly not a backward step from Chrome 2 in terms of Acid3 score. This would mean using an older version of the WebKit rendering engine, which is not going to be the case.

None of this is complicated stuff. I can't believe you've been allowed to publish this 'review' with such glaring blunders.

RE: Still bemused.
By forever4now on 9/13/2009 1:25:42 PM , Rating: 2
I think one of the most important benefits of this comparison is that it makes people realize that there really are differences between the browsers & that they should take some time to look at the different alternatives more closely.

Browser optimisations?!?
By slyadams on 9/11/2009 1:16:17 PM , Rating: 2
This test likely gave home court to Google Chrome, but this is unavoidable as running a Yahoo/Bing search could similarly favor Microsoft's IE 8.

I doubt very much that Google has put code in to optimise the rendering of their own pages. It would likely complicate the codebase not in-considerably for a tiny gain.

Small implied error regarding Webkit
By sebmel on 9/11/2009 3:46:09 PM , Rating: 2
"It appears that for simple rendering, Google Chrome and Firefox (and the Webkit/Gecko engines they are built on) are the best. Opera and Safari both offer decent performance, as well."

Safari is based on Webkit, too.

Should have read:

It appears that for simple rendering, Google Chrome, Safari and Firefox (the browsers with Webkit/Gecko engines) are the best.

Acid 3 Results
By jonup on 9/11/2009 5:17:26 PM , Rating: 2
I just ran Acid3 on my Chrome and I got 100/100. What version of Chrome 3 did you use?
BTW, I love the way Safari 4 looks, especially the "Top Sites", but for some reason it runs slower than my Chrome 3 and IE8. Chrome 3 is fast but I prefer using IE8. Screw u M$ for conditioning my like that.

By InternetGeek on 9/11/2009 5:34:38 PM , Rating: 2
I the standards table in regard of ie8 is wrong in some cases. IE8 supports css 2.1 in full, same as xhtml 1.1 and 1.0.

A common practice to avoid many hours of tailoring pages for several browsers is to use xhtml 1.0/1.1 strict. This avois at least 75% of multi-browser problems, including IE6-8. I do Web Development for a living.

DOM1 and DOM2 are also supported except for the events model. IE in general doesn't use the same model as other browsers.

What about battery life?
By clx12 on 9/12/2009 10:36:13 PM , Rating: 2
Anandtech made a review about browsers regarding battery life under light and heavy (flash + javascript) browsing and found some interesting conclusions.

Perhaps redoing the tests using Vista, Windows 7, OSX on notebook PCs and Macs with the different browsers could be a real good way to compare them.

Browsers vs OS vs Computer

Analise the behavior of the same browser across hardware and OS, battery life, performance, resource usage.

By kmmatney on 9/13/2009 12:27:30 PM , Rating: 2
Well, I guess I'm in the minority here - I use IE8 most of the time, and use Chrome if there is a problem. On one occasion I was trying to upload a single photo to facebook, and IE8 and Google both kept crashing. I actually had to download Safari just to upload a stupid picture. Other than that, IE8 works great.

Wait wait wait
By Malak on 9/16/2009 11:03:47 PM , Rating: 2
Internet Explorer 8 isn't as fast as the other next gen offerings and lacks standards support, but it is still compatible with more pages, in our experience. It also is very secure, which is good for beginning users. Opera 10 features a full-featured user interface, leading standards support, and decent speed. However it lacks plug-ins and still trails in security.

IE8 has great security and Opera, who has lead security for over a decade, is trailing? Something is wrong here.

"Intel is investing heavily (think gazillions of dollars and bazillions of engineering man hours) in resources to create an Intel host controllers spec in order to speed time to market of the USB 3.0 technology." -- Intel blogger Nick Knupffer

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