|Volume 1, Issue #10 July 2012|
A huge number of people simply use the browser that comes with their computer: Internet Explorer on Windows, Safari on the Mac, and Firefox on Linux. If you're one of the few, proud Chromebook users, your only choice will be Google's Chrome, and if you're using an iPad or other iOS device, you won't be able to choose any browser other than Safari. But desktop and laptop users still have choice when it comes to their most-frequently-used app.
On what is still the most-widely used operating system, Microsoft Windows, you have a choice of five major players: The Company’s own Internet Explorer, Apple's Safari, Google's Chrome, Mozilla's Firefox, or Opera Software's chock-full-of-features Opera browser. Platforms other than Windows can't use Internet Explorer. Three of the browsers are available on all three major platforms: Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.
And if you're adventurous, there are a few lesser-known options that bring their own special twists: RockMelt integrates social networking buttons and notifications; LunaScape incorporates the underlying page-rendering engines from all three of the major browsers. Maxthon is a fast, highly customizable option that includes its own cloud storage and screen-capture tool.
So how do you choose? These days, the default OS browsers are all fast, have clean interfaces and helpful features like bookmarking. And they're all compatible with nearly any site you'd care to visit. The biggest differences are in support for the forward-looking HTML5 Web markup standard, hardware acceleration, and privacy tools.
Hardware acceleration, which uses your PC's graphics processor to speed up many browser actions, was introduced by Internet Explorer 9, and Microsoft's demo Web applications at IETestDrive.com graphically show the effects of this turbocharging technique. Subsequently, Firefox and Chrome have implemented hardware acceleration, but in Chrome, I've only seen a performance boost with particular graphics cards. Safari has hardware acceleration only in the Mac version of the browser, while with Opera we won't see any till version 12 ships.
Here are my latest results for one of Microsoft's hardware acceleration tests, Psychedelic Browsing, using a 3.4GHz quad-core desktop with an ATI Radeon HD4290 graphics card:
First was Internet Explorer, with its Tracking Protection. This allows users to subscribe to block lists, which simply won't give access to ad networks that try to exchange data about your browsing habits. Then Firefox came up with the Do Not Track header tag. This would be analogous to the phone-based Do Not Call lists—indicating your preference to the advertiser. But in testing, I found that IE9's method block interactions with third-party advertisers on sites I visited, while Firefox's didn't, even though I'd turned on its Do Not Track option. Chrome, Opera, and Safari have yet to implement any tracking protection.
Syncing has become another differentiator. This feature lets you synchronize your bookmarks, passwords, browsing history, and more on any computers or mobile devices you've install the browser on. Opera pioneered this (as it did many a browser feature, including tabs and built-in search) with its Opera Link, but Firefox and Chrome have gone on to equal it, with their ability to sync tabs and even browser add-ons. Safari started offering bookmark and "reading list" syncing, while Internet Explorer can only be synced via third party software.
Internet Explorer 9
Apple Safari 5.1.2
Let me know if you have any comments, questions, or suggestions.
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