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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.

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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.

"It looks like the iPhone 4 might be their Vista, and I'm okay with that." -- Microsoft COO Kevin Turner

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