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Friday, March 18, 2011

Finding the best browser: IE9 vs. Chrome 10 vs. Firefox 4!!!!!!!!!!!

one another to try and name the best browser. But there may not be a clear winner.

chrome-ie9-firefox-logos-togetherSo Internet Explorer 9 is finally available for download, has already been downloaded 2.35 million times, and a strong Release Candidate for FireFox 4 is out. How do they stack up with Google’s Chrome and against one another? All of the sudden, the browser wars have gotten a lot more interesting. For the first time in a while, the major browsers are almost on a level playing field when it comes to a number of important competitive categories. Which browser is best for you? Read our hands-on impressions to find out.

Installation and updates

Though Microsoft owns its own operating system, IE9 is still the most difficult of the three browsers to install, requiring a lengthier download and full system restart to get it running. This is likely due to its reported use of hardware acceleration and other features. Chrome and Firefox 4 both install relatively quickly and without a full machine reboot.

Also, if you’re a Windows XP, Mac, or Linux user, Chrome and Firefox are your best bet. IE9 does not currently support any operating systems except Windows 7 and Vista. Oddly, on 64-bit machines, two versions of IE9 also install — one 64-bit and one 32-bit. While we understand the reasons for this, in theory, many casual users may get confused when they see two separate versions of Internet Explorer in their Start menu. Hopefully Microsoft will iron out both versions and provide users with one version that’s best suited for their machine.
Finally, when it comes to updates, Chrome currently leads the pack. Google has been cranking out updates every few weeks (sometimes days) for its Chrome browser, changing and tweaking things on a consistent basis. However, unlike most update processes, the changes are very transparent, allowing users to install updates by simply restarting Chrome. There are no loading bars or lengthy downloads and re-installations. Mozilla is usually pretty good about updating Firefox and we look forward to how the final version of Firefox 4 handles patches and updates. Microsoft hasn’t yet commented on how it plans to handle updates to IE9, but we’re hoping it will adopt a model closer to Google’s. Hopefully we won’t have to wait two years before getting significant updates to Microsoft’s slick new browser.

Design & ease of use

If I didn’t know better, I’d say that the current trend in browser design is for the browser to disappear entirely. IE9, Firefox, and Chrome all attempt to be as minimal as possible, offering next to no actual text and small, monochromatic buttons that blend right into the look of operating systems like Windows 7 and OS X. Overall, all three browsers appear to achieve their goals fairly well, with different strengths and weaknesses.
Internet Explorer 9 offers the leanest tab and address bar configuration, managing to cram every feature of IE into a single thin row of icons, even combining IE8′s search and address bars into a single combined search-address bar. Unfortunately, the thin design can look a bit cramped if users open a lot of tabs and the search-address bar sometimes has as many as four small buttons inside of it, meaning those who don’t have the browser window maximized may have a difficult time viewing much of the URL of their current Web page. Some users won’t have a problem with this. Notifications are an equally mixed bag. IE9 now places them at the bottom of the browser. At times, they are almost unnoticeable. Some people will like this, others will wish notifications were more prominent in the design.
IE9′s revamped download manager is also a big step forward for the browser, as is its new “recently visited pages” roundup that opens in new tabs if there is no homepage selected (this feature is also available in Chrome). However, my favorite new feature came right at installation. I had several extensions installed in IE8. When I installed IE9, a window popped up, telling me exactly how much speed I was sacrificing for each toolbar and extension I chose to install. The advice was helpful and a clear sign that Microsoft is taking its browsing speed and experience seriously.
Chrome designs its tabs with a shape that makes them look like manilla folder tabs, opting to have a thin second row for the address/search bar, back and forward navigation, home, refresh, bookmark, and options buttons. This design works well, but the two rows make it a bit thicker than IE9′s design; those with limited headroom may prefer IE9. Google’s design, like IE9, gets cluttered quickly when users start opening dozens of tabs. Still, Chrome’s single-click bookmarking method, where you simply highlight a star (Firefox 4 also has this feature) is easier and more natural than Internet Explorer’s two-click method of bookmarking.
Firefox 4 RC1 is not a finished product, but it may as well be. The browser looks essentially identical to Opera 11, keeping things simple by placing tabs above the address bar like Chrome and IE9. However, Firefox’s achilles heel may be its decision to retain separate search and address bars. IE9 and Chrome have combined these input fields. Despite its move toward minimalism, Firefox retains a lot of the “feel” of its earlier, blocky browser versions, and I mean that in the best way possible (except where it relates to search-address unification). Mozilla’s Firefox 4 still feels like Firefox. Unlike IE9 and Chrome, which have settings on the right side of the browser, Mozilla has placed an orange “Firefox” icon in the upper left which gives access to the majority of its options. Firefox’s Tab Candy feature also looks to be promising, but isn’t fully implemented yet from what we see. If tab grouping pops up in the final version of Firefox 4, it may be the best to handle tab congestion.
Web standards compatibility
A number of major sites have performed Web Standards tests on all three major browsers. The good news: they’re all excessively compliant. Unlike every version of Internet Explorer in recent memory, Microsoft has finally decided to go the extra mile and support general Web standards. In an Acid 3 test performed by TechRadar, all three browsers scored almost perfect scores, with Chrome edging ahead, but only by a single error that Firefox and IE9 encountered. Computerworld and other sites have encountered similar results.
When it comes to HTML5 support, Microsoft has some work to do. In an HTML5 test performed by PC Mag, Chrome and Firefox handily outperformed Internet Explorer 9, more than doubling its score. However, even Chrome only scored a 288 out of 400 on the test, meaning all three browsers have a ways to go to be truly compatible with all of the goodness HTML5 has to offer. Wired also performed this test with similar results.


So most of the browsers are compatible with Web standards, but how do they rank in speed? Well, pretty close, actually. A casual user probably won’t notice a difference in the Web page rendering speed of Chrome, IE9, and Firefox 4. We performed our own tests and found that Chrome edged out IE9 which edged out Firefox 4 most of the time, but not by much. All three browsers are much faster and leaner than browsers even a few years ago.
In a multitude of tests performed by ZDnet, Chrome and IE9 (32 bit version) edged out Firefox and other browsers like Safari and Opera 11. Their only complaint: IE9 64-bit. According to the site, the 64-bit version of Internet Explorer 9 suffers performance issues in most tests. So stick with the 32-bit version for now, kids. Computerworldperformed SunSpider tests as well and found that IE9 performed better than Chrome and Firefox, but again, not by much. All three browsers are solid contenders.


Each browser does have its own slate of differentiating features.
With IE9, we really like its heavy integration with Windows 7. Many functions, like turning tabs into new windows are much easier with Microsoft’s new browser. It has some unique features as well, like individual tab previewing from the task bar and a new feature called tab pinning, which lets you ‘pin’ a Web site to the Windows 7 task bar. However, unlike an ordinary taskbar shortcut, pinned Web sites can offer customized “right click” menus. For example, pinning the Facebook toolbar will let you right click and auto browse to different sections of the Facebook site like News, Messages, Events, and Friends. In addition, when you open a pinned site, the IE9 browser customizes itself to resemble the site your viewing. Currently, this means an icon in the upper left and new colors for the back and forward buttons, but we like the idea.
Chrome differentiates itself through its constant updates, but also through its extensive Web Apps Store, which offers apps that blur the line between Web and local apps in some unique ways. Much of this philosophy comes from Chrome OS, Google’s desktop operating system based on the Chrome browser. Still, we like the idea. If Web apps are important to you, check out what Google has to offer.
Finally, Firefox has a strong slate of extensions that back it up. Developers will have to retool many of these to support Firefox 4, but one colleague of mine refuses to leave Firefox solely because it offers unique extensions that have become essential to his browsing experience. Most other browsers support add-ons, but Firefox may have a lead in mindshare here. We look forward to seeing more Firefox 4 extensions.

Which browser is best?

Good question. It may come down to preference. Each browser has strengths and weaknesses. Most of us here at Digital Trends are Google Chrome users, mostly because, until Firefox 4 and IE9, it was undoubtedly the fastest browser of the bunch. Now, we don’t know what we’ll do. Chrome still probably offers the fastest and leanest overall browsing experience, but IE9 and Firefox have narrowed its lead significantly, each offering new features that many users will find helpful and time-saving. Still, for those who like the bleeding edge, Google’s fast and frequent browser updates are hard to pass up.
For the first time in a long time we can’t claim a strong victor here. All three major browsers offer a solid browsing experience with few downsides. Things are heating up in the browser world.


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