Friday, January 30, 2009

Browser War - IE8 vs Firefox vs Chrome vs Opera

This is not a review to find out which amongst these is the best browser around. It would be unwise to do such a comparison because, eventually, it boils down to personal choices, and for the same reason, there will always be controversy and related chest thumping about how "my" browser betters "yours." Therefore, this is just a rehash of the features and drawbacks of these four mainstream browsers available as of today.

Internet Explorer 8
Let us talk about the latest release initially, the Internet Explorer 8 RC 1. While it would be difficult for power users to switch back to something as mundane as IE8, folks over at Microsoft seem to have worked hard to make the browser appealing to users who have long ago ditched it and had switched to the likes of Firefox and Opera. As to how far it has succeeded in bringing back the deserters is anybody's guess. Features like web slices, accelerators, and visual search have been added, making the browser an attractive option for the average user. IE8 with its beta version was also one of the first to debut the Private Browsing mode, which back then was unavailable on the Firefox and still not available on Opera. Safari was the first to introduce Private Browsing.

However, IE8 still suffers from inherent faults that come to the fore the moment you click download. The installation exe is a mammoth 16MB file - second only to Chrome probably, which incidentally uses an online installer. The installation procedure also involves a couple of instances of restarting the computer making the process look regressive as compared to the faster approach the others have. The installation takes a good part of 10 minutes if your system happens to be up-to-date with all available Windows Updates - you better have a uber fast PC! If you do not frequently update your PC, you might as well end up with irritating messages.

So, should or rather will the power users make the switch? No way, until Microsoft rehashes the product ground up! The browser is moving in the right direction and will definitely appeal to average users who still prefer the charm of the good ol' Internet Explorer. Those used to the likes of Firefox, Chrome, or Opera will be happy to stick to their choices now.

Firefox 3
The world's second most popular browser is continuing its march to topple the gentle giant from Microsoft and has been successfully eating into IE's market share for the past few years. Major pluses for Firefox users are the variety of add-ons that make it more of an application, rather than just a browser. The version in question here is the latest stable release - version 3.0.5. The quickness of the installation procedure is evident from the moment you update it. The installation file is just over 7MB in size, making it less than half IE8's size. An ACID3 test on the browser revealed a decent score of 71/100. Note that the latest beta version, 3.1 Beta2, has added Private Browsing and some other features as well, but we're not considering it until the final version is out.

Apart from appealing to the advanced user thanks to its customization and add-ons, what makes it the choice for average users is the fast rendering and ease of use. While it might be difficult for many to be weaned away from the default Internet Explorer, most people are hooked once they start using this browser. A vast majority of tech users are Firefox users and we did see a lot of responses praising Firefox for its simplicity, security, ease of use, and not to mention, the add ons. However, Private Browsing has still not found its way in.

Opera 9.63
Another contender for the best browser around is none other than Opera. Although the market share might tell a different story, Opera is still considered by many to be the best browser around. While Mozilla users may swear about the add-ons, Opera users counter the claim by saying that Opera manages to do what most Firefox add-ons can, out of the box. Additionally, if Firefox has add-ons, Opera does come with its widgets and, not to mention, the mouse gestures. The latest stable version managed an Acid 3 score of 85/100. Opera was also touted to be the fastest browser around for the past few years and dedicated Opera fans still swear by the browser. Opera also has features like the speed dial, skins, and an entirely new browser engine.

Google Chrome
Google created a flutter in the browser circles back in September when it announced the release of the Chrome, the company's first open source browser. Months after its launch, Chrome too has managed to garner a dedicated set of users. Chrome seems to thrive on Google's concept of simplicity, and the best thing about the browser is its rather large viewing area. It does away with unwanted toolbars taking away the screen real estate. Chrome also managed to graduate to a stable version back in December, barely three months after its beta release. One thing you might not like is the installation procedure

The browser had the Incognito mode (Private mode) right from the beta stage, and has integrated the function quite neatly. The startup and load times are also fast. While Chrome is still very crude for advanced users, its open source pedigree works in its favor. Once the browser starts supporting add-ons, there are a sizable number of people ready to make the switch. There are also some users who use Chrome for its simplicity, as a barebones browser.