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What’s the best web browser out there?

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It’s been a long time since the majority of Internet users were logging onto the web with the same browser, and in the time since Mozilla’s Firefox browser first broke the hold of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer on the market there has been a significant proliferation of options. Firefox may have been the first popular alternative when it arrived in the late 1990s, but since then Google has introduced its highly reliable browser, Chrome, Apple has brought us Safari and Opera web browser has maintained a small but loyal following. One surprising offering that’s on the rise is the Chinese-made UC Browser, which is increasingly popular with mobile users in emerging economies. As the desktop and laptop have given way to the smartphone, the major alternative browsers have also found themselves joining the app ecosystem.

Today, the best web browser is expected to handle a lot of jobs. Beyond being a basic gateway to the world’s information, these browsers now offer features such as synchronization across a number of popular devices. Page rendering issues are largely a thing of the past, especially with the widespread adoption of high-speed Internet by end users, but performance is still a critical measure of quality. JavaScript performance is more critical than ever, as more websites begin to utilize dynamic on-page content to provide a more robust and interesting experience.

Google Chrome

Google Chrome benefits immensely from the search giant’s commitment to keeping it updated. Chrome is designed to update quietly in the background while the end user continues to browse, blissfully unaware of the process. Chrome also has a reputation for faithful rendering of websites, and it provides top-notch performance in testing for JavaScript speed.

Google was one of the first companies to introduce synchronization of its web browser with other tools. Bookmarks and history between Chrome versions running on a desktop computer and a smartphone can be keep in sync effortlessly, allowing users to always have their information at their fingertips. To get the most out of Chrome, a Google account is essential; this will allow you to sync your open tabs, favourites, history, and any stored passwords. Chrome is also built to leverage other Google products, such as Google Drive, so users can readily keep track of and share files across desktops, phones, laptops and tablets by simply logging into their primary Google accounts. This also provides a simple way to back up any information, permitting users to easily recover their bookmarks and browsing histories following any type of catastrophic failures.

google chrome screenshot

google chrome incognito

Chrome comes with a useful ‘Incognito’ feature for private browsing.

Google’s browser was originally built on top of the popular WebKit engine, although Google has since forked WebKit into it’s own rendering engine called “Blink.” WebKit offers developers and web page designers access to a number of debugging tools that can be handy when creating apps or sites.

The interface is clean and uncluttered, and the universal search and address bar at the top makes for an effortless navigation and search experience. It’s also fast, and while not as light as it used to be, it’s still pretty light. The Chrome web store is chock-a-block with tools and plugins to extend the browser’s functionality, everything from Evernote to Pinterest, ad-blockers to Chromecast.
Google Chrome is considered the most popular web browser on the market as of the end of 2014. Most major surveys indicate that Chrome is being used by between 40- and 45-percent of Internet surfers worldwide. It is the mostly heavily used web browser in every major English-speaking country on the planet, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Mozilla Firefox

firefox screenshot
Firefox is the granddaddy of the alternative web browsers, and after a slow few years it is beginning to show signs of a rebirth. Firefox now deploys updates almost as seamlessly in the background as Chrome. Firefox also works well on mobile devices, and it handles synchronization of bookmarks across platforms as well as any browser available today.

Firefox gained a reputation around the beginning of this decade for being a memory-hog, which it undoubtedly was, but recent updates have made it much faster and less memory sapping.

Firefox has always been the extensions king, so if you like to tinker and play around with your browser’s functionality it might be the one for you.

If you don’t want to use Google as your default search engine in the search box at the top of the browser, you can simply toggle to a different one like DuckDuckGo. Firefox is one of the last browsers to have separate search and address boxes, which is good for those concerned about privacy, as, with a single search and address box, everything you type into the address bar gets sent to your search provider, which you might not want.

If you’re a fiend for opening lots of tabs, Firefox has the answer with its ‘Panorama’ function. This will group tabs for you to make them more manageable.
Firefox runs on the Gecko rendering engine. Its built-in debugging capabilities have long made it popular with website developers. In most surveys, Firefox is ranked somewhere between the third and fifth most popular browser on the planet.

Firefox also benefits from being fully open source. This means that anyone inclined can dive into its code to see exactly how it works. This is particularly important in the post-Snowden revelations era of diminished privacy that we find ourselves living in. As claimed by Mozilla CTO, Brendan Eich, government spy code could be lurking in any Browser that is not open source.

Opera

Despite always receiving high praise from reviewers, Opera has remained a bit of an also-ran in the browser market, typically showing single-digit market shares in most surveys. The WebKit-based browser maintains a small but fiercely loyal following, especially in parts of the world where Internet speeds and connection issues remain problematic thanks to its impressive Turbo mode. Turbo passes your connection through Opera’s servers, compressing images and other page elements as it goes. Over slow connections, this means faster loading times, though obviously image quality will suffer. Because of its super performance over slow connections, Opera is hands-down the most popular web browser throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa, where the quality of local ISPs and mobile providers leaves a great deal to be desired.

UC Browser

Largely unknown in the developed world, UC Browser is proving to be a popular choice among web users in emerging economies. Despite having a history that pre-dates the modern smartphone, UC Browser’s popularity is tied to the number of mobile-only users in places like China and India. It is a WebKit-based system that employs a combination of cloud-based technologies and data compression to deliver a high-speed experience in places where Internet and 3G/4G connectivity are spotty at best. It’s based on Google Chromium, which means it’s compatible with many Chrome extensions UC Browser owns the distinction of being the most popular web surfing platform in India.

The rest of the pack

It can seem a bit shocking to think of the second-most popular browser on the planet as an also-ran, but Internet Explorer largely maintains its market share by being the default browser installed on desktops and laptops that run the Windows operating system. It retains a 15% market share in most surveys, although that’s a massive decline from its nearly 90-percent share during the late 1990s. Worse, Microsoft has already said that it intends to retire IE entirely when Windows 10 goes public, replacing it with the fruits of its Project Spartan.

Like Internet Explorer, Apple’s Safari is bundled with Apple iOS devices and OSX computers, and it maintains a market share between 5% and 15% in most surveys. While versions of Safari are available for non-Apple platforms, few web users ever elect to download them. Apple discontinued support for Windows as of version 5.1.17. Safari is extremely easy on your computer’s memory, so is a good choice for older systems with less memory available to them. Performance is decent, and it’s a competent, easy to use browser.

What’s the best web browser out there?

For users who have few concerns about the quality of their Internet connections, Google Chrome is likely to be seen as the best web browser on the market. In terms of total features, especially synchronization of bookmarks and data across platforms, Chrome performs very well. It also tends to be a top performer in graphics rendering, debugging capabilities and JavaScript interpretation.

In parts of the world where users have limited access and bandwidth, it’s probably a toss-up between Opera and UC Browser, with the decision largely hinging on whether a user is on a more traditional desktop or laptop versus a smartphone. Smartphone users may find UC Browser to be more appealing than Opera. With so many great options on the market, however, there’s no reason for users to settle for a browser that doesn’t meet all of their needs.

Main image: Spencer E Holtaway