Web & communication software

The Best Web Browser: Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, or Safari?

The battle of the Web browsers: Opera 10.60

For a long time, Opera's main selling point was raw speed. The company was proud of how its browser rendered a page faster than any other. This domination continues. Opera version 10.60 on Windows got the fastest results in the SunSpider JavaScript benchmarks of any of the browsers I tested. All of the browser developers are reporting big gains in SunSpider and similar benchmarks, but Opera still seems to be leading.

I'm not sure if this is a critical point for users because the main bottleneck seems to be the speed of the Internet itself. However, JavaScript execution speed may become more important when people start using their browsers to do large amounts of data manipulation and raw computation. The SunSpider benchmark includes many computationally complex operations, like AES encryption and searching for prime numbers with a sieve. Still, much of the work handled by JavaScript today is rendering some XML data or changing some background color.

Opera the company, though, is not focused strictly on the browser. It continues to offer smart, out-of-the-box software that rethinks the current model. Opera Turbo, for instance, is a layer of proxy servers on fast Internet lines. Opera Turbo will fetch the pages for you, then compress them to save bandwidth. This may not be a big win for people with fast lines to their desk, but it should be valuable to mobile browsers with slower network connections and -- this is important -- tight limits on the amount of data that can be consumed each month.

Another neat solution is Opera's widgets, little Web applications that run on your Windows, Mac, or Linux desktop. I'm not sure I would go so far as to call them "native applications," as some documentation does, because the widgets are written in Web languages (HTML, CSS, JavaScript) and run in some Opera sandbox. But somewhere in the stack there's some x86 code, right? These are structurally pretty similar to the widgets that are part of Mac OS X. Opera also has a few tools that make it relatively easy for anyone with a hint of programming ability to create a widget.

Indeed, it's almost unfair to focus too much on the desktop version of Opera browser because the company is tightly connected with the mobile market. It continues to innovate and surprise me more than any of the other teams.

Best for: Raw speed and innovation.

Worst for: People who can't imagine straying from the pack.

The battle of the Web browsers: Apple Safari 5.0

Apple took the old Konqueror browser from the Linux world and injected a large amount of development talent to produce a very nice browser for Mac and Windows. Safari's WebKit engine is also the heart of the browsers in the iPhone and the iPad.

Safari is a very good option. The speed is competitive, the controls are simple yet comprehensive, and the developer tools are nice. Apple is just opening up an extensions gallery to the general public, and some developers have already ported popular extensions from Chrome and Firefox. There's nothing missing from Safari that a user might want, but on the other hand there's little to make Safari unique or irresistible.

The biggest interest in Safari on the desktop may come from the Web developers who want to target the iOS world of the iPhone and iPad. Creating customized Web pages is simple to do with a few extra tags, and the result often runs like a native app developed for the platform. Plus, Safari isn't the only browser built on WebKit. Google also uses the WebKit rendering engine for its Android phones, and the iOS and Android browsers behave similarly in many but not all cases. When RIM's BlackBerry team releases its own WebKit browser, WebKit's dominance of the mobile Web will be even greater.

Apple is pushing HTML5 as part of its skirmish with Adobe over Flash. Safari already offers many of the most important HTML5 features, and it will almost certainly get more of them quickly.

Best for: Web developers who want to support WebKit phones.

Worst for: Lovers of extensions and add-ons.

Also on InfoWorld:

First look: Firefox 4 Beta 1 Sure, Firefox 4's new Chrome-like UI is nice, but the real story is under the hood

How to use HTML5 on your website today Don't wait for the Flash-iPhone war to end: InfoWorld's hands-on guide tells you how to get your websites ready for HTML5 now

How HTML5 will change the Web HTML5 will spawn richer, more sophisticated websites while also easing development. Here are nine ways the impact of HTML5 will be felt

What to expect from HTML5 Support for the next generation of HTML is already appearing in today's browsers and Web pages. Are you ready to take advantage?

HTML5 vs. Flash: The case for Flash Seven reasons Web designers will remain loyal to Flash for rich Web content

Apple vs. Flash: The InfoWorld peace plan Wars like the conflict between Apple and Adobe over Flash seldom yield a productive outcome. InfoWorld proposes a way forward

This story, "The best Web browser: Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, or Safari?," was originally published atInfoWorld.com. Follow the latest news in software development, languages and standards, HTML, and applications at InfoWorld.com.

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