Browser Wars Chrome vs IE9 vs Firefox
Posted by vincekool
Last Updated: March 10, 2012

You really can't go wrong with any Web browser choice these days. Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, and Safari, all are fast, standards compliant, and feature rich. A lot boils down to what you're comfortable with and which features are most important to you. For many people, the choice is moving to the product offered their favorite search site. The last time we compared all five major Web browsers Google Chrome had just over 12 percent of the market. That's now doubled, and it looks like Chrome's market share will pass Firefox's soon.

I'd like to think the reason for this was my awarding Chrome the PCMag Editors' Choice, but there are other possible good reasons for Chrome's rise. Foremost among them is speed. Links to download the browser on the leading search site, and bundles with PC makers doesn't hurt either. But Chrome adds a few compelling features all its own: Chrome Instant means you'll often see your page before you've even finished typing its address or title. And it's the only browser with a built-in Flash player and PDF reader.

But Chrome doesn't have a monopoly on unique features or speed. Internet Explorer 9 brought Microsoft's fading browser a need boost, with JavaScript speed comparable to Chrome, and even started its own performance improving trend—graphics hardware acceleration. Now Firefox and Chrome come along with their own graphics hardware acceleration, and other browsers will surely follow. But IE still offers some distinguishing points, most of which come from its close integration with Windows 7. (IE 9 and up will only run on Windows 7 or Vista.) Pinned sites is a big one. This lets users keep a permanent button for a site in the taskbar, which opens a browser with the site's own branding, rather than IEs.

While many browsers offer ability to sync your bookmarks, settings, and history Firefox offers perhaps the strongest, even syncing with its mobile Android version. I've often been shocked to come home to a PC, fire up the browser, and see the exact same group of tabs I'd left at work. Speaking of Tabs, Firefox offers one of the most innovative way to organize lots of tabs, with its Panorama tab-grouping feature. Lately, Firefox has made progress in startup time and memory usage, longstanding complaints.

Perhaps the most innovative browser of all over the years has been the Norwegian-made Opera. Opera introduce a good many of the standard features we take for granted—built-in search, popup blocking, and even tabs themselves. Recently, Amazon has taken a page from Opera by emulating Opera Mini and Opera Turbo's Web caching speedup. Opera's bag of tricks include Unite—which actually turns your browser into a Web server, so that you can host your photos, or even a chat. Lately, the Nordic company has added live tiles on its Speed Dial new-tab page, not unlike those to be featured in Windows 8.

And don't rule out Apple's Safari in your browser shopping. Though this browser is mostly associated with Mac OS, the stylish tech company makes a Windows version, too. Only Safari offers a Reader view, which lets you focus on the text of publication styles sites. More recently, Apple's added a Reading List feature, which saves sites you want to peruse later. Safari also sports Apple's trademark design prowess, particularly in its Top Sites gallery new-tab page and its Cover Flow view of your history and bookmarks.

Other things you'll want to take into consideration when choosing a browser include support for HTML5 and Privacy. Both of these are moving targets, with Chrome leading the pack on the first and Internet Explorer on the latter, with its Tracking Protection. In the reviews below, you'll see appraisals of how each player performs in these areas, along with several different types of speed tests and detailed feature analyses. But remember, don't be afraid to try the browsers out for yourself—they're all a free download away!

Google Chrome 15
Chrome Instant means your Web page is ready to read before you finish typing the address. This, its speed, minimalist design, and advanced support for HTML5 have deservedly been attracting more and more users to the browser. New hardware acceleration makes Chrome a speed maven at any task.


Firefox 8

Firefox 4 got Mozilla back into the game, and the versions keep coming at a much faster clip, now that Mozilla hews to a Chrome-like rapid release schedule. These frequent versions haven't brought the kind of earth-shattering changes we used to see in new full-number Firefox updates, but the development teams have tackled issues of importance to a lot of Web users—startup time, memory use, and of course security. This lean, fast, customizable browser can hold its own against any competitor, and it offers graphics hardware acceleration.


Internet Explorer 9

Microsoft's latest browser is faster, trimmer, more compliant with HTML5—a major improvement over its predecessor. It also brings some unique capabilities like tab-pinning and hardware acceleration, but only Windows 7 and Vista users need apply.


Opera 11.5

Like the other current browsers Opera is fast, compliant with HTML5, and spare of interface. Long an innovator, recently it's added unique things like Unite, which turns the browser into a server, and Turbo, which speeds up the Web on slow connections through caching. Extension support actually followed other browsers, but Oslo still innovates with tab stacking, visual mouse gestures, and live Speed Dial tiles.


Safari 5

Safari is a fast, beautiful browser, but the Reader view and Reading List makes it even more enticing. Leading support for HTML 5 features will also be important, but you can already get that in other browsers, too. Safari's gorgeous styling, strong bookmarking, RSS reader, and vivid new-tab page will also appeal to many.