I make it a point to search for a new browser around this time each year. It isn’t because I’m particularly fickle about my software choices, but because the major browsers out there are constantly shifting positions in the leader boards.
I’ve used Opera, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, and more recently Google Chrome as a primary browser over the past ten years. Each year, one browser promises to support more Web standards than any other only to be surpassed by others the next day. Google Chrome has been the most consistent browser in terms of standard support and I’ve been using it since it first became available.
Unfortunately, I’ve found it to be a bit of a resource hog lately. A dozen or so processes, each taking up more RAM than Firefox or Opera is a bit concerning. Chrome has also become a bit unstable for me since I moved to Windows 8. That might say more about Windows 8 than it does about Chrome, but a solid alternative had to be found.
The above screenshot was taken after a series of benchmark tests run through Futuremark’s Peacekeeper service. All of these benchmarks were run on Windows 8 Pro from a system I presently use as a primary production machine. It’s important to note that these are simply speed tests run to check the capabilities and power of the browser. Every browser in this list performed at levels far higher than any mobile browser run from any tablet computer or smartphone. It’s indicative of the hardware and the requirements of the particular test.
Below you’ll see my initial response after having tested each of these browsers. Each opinion is just that, an opinion based on my experience with the software. Please feel free to weigh in with your experiences in the comments area below.
Internet Explorer 10
Internet Explorer 10 is an impressive effort on Microsoft’s part. I found the browser itself to be a little clunky and cluttered. Perhaps I was used to the clean UI on Google Chrome, but IE feels like an attempt to put too much on the front page.
It almost tied Firefox for last place on the benchmark test. This doesn’t mean it’s the slowest (or nearly the slowest) browser in the pack for all situations, but I found there were some pages that just didn’t load the way I wanted them to. This is a shame, because IE has always been the one browser that didn’t play nicely with new Web standards. Microsoft tried to make it compatible with HTML5, and for that it’s certainly a big step in the right direction.
Firefox is like an old friend. It’s still a leading browser in terms of available plug-ins and quite capable of doing almost anything someone would need from a browser. Unlike other recent versions, I’ve found Firefox 16 to be less of a RAM hog.
I put it through the Microsoft Fishbowl HTML5 test and was able to render 2,000 fish at a frame rate of 60 FPS. Meanwhile, Google Chrome struggled at somewhere between 19 and 26 FPS. The only problem was that it wouldn’t render the water layer, which is something Google Chrome and IE10 did with ease.
In many ways, I’ve found Firefox 16 to be the first version of the browser to tempt me to switch away from Google Chrome in the past few years. This is despite its apparent shortcomings in some (but not all) benchmark tests.
Maxthon is a browser you really don’t hear much about. It isn’t one of the top four browsers tech sites all over the world are benchmarking on a regular basis or theorizing about its imminent demise at the hands of Google Chrome. Truth be told, I hadn’t even heard about it prior to seeing it at the very top of HTML5test.com‘s list for most standard compliant browsers.
Maxthon is a Chinese browser which was originally conceived from Internet Explorer. It’s evolved quite a bit since then and it currently supports WebKit and Trident rendering engines.
Maxthon is fast and capable, though it isn’t currently supported by most third-party extensions.
Google Chrome 23 and Canary
Google Chrome is Google’s flagship browser. Development of Google Chrome has expanded to a major open source project, and even a stand-alone operating system currently being paired with inexpensive laptops to create the Chromebook product. Chrome is fast, standard compliant, and extraordinary easy to sync across multiple desktop and mobile operating systems.
Chrome Canary is an excellent way to test out the latest and greatest Chrome has to offer. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the buggier ways to experience the browser. Canary is where the testing is done. Chromium (an open source derivative of Google Chrome) is another great option for folks that want to experience the most updated version of the browser without waiting for official releases.
For primary Google Chrome users, the Chrome browser offers excellent speed and performance, but at a cost of RAM. Each tab and plug-in runs as an independent process and this means there is quite a lot of bloat going on if you aren’t using an absolute stock build of Chrome. I’ve experienced some recent sluggishness which I could easily write-off as being the result of an upgrade to Windows 8, but this appears to go away when I use other browsers on this list (at least for now).
Opera is an outstanding browser. I truly believe that Opera would be one of the top two third-party browsers in circulation if it wasn’t for an early attempt to monetize it. It’s because of that many people turned away from Opera and embraced earlier versions of Firefox and other third-party alternatives.
With that said, Opera continues to push the boundaries of performance. It is routinely updated to meet current standards and often is the first browser to do so.
What about you? What is your favorite Windows browser?