Going beyond the web
Modern browsers, however, go beyond merely surfing the web. Most come with a number of intangible benefits that you might not know about.
Perhaps you’d like your browser to serve as a BitTorrent client, for example. In the early days, you’d need to download a separate, specific program for that. Today, those capabilities can be added via plugins or addons—which most browsers offer, but not Edge, yet. (This can be more than a convenience; Edge will store your passwords, but not in an encrypted password manager like LastPass.)
If there’s one reason to use Firefox, it’s because of the plugin capability. Mozilla has a site entirely dedicated to plugins, and they’re organized by type and popularity. Installing a plugin is as easy as clicking through a couple of notifications, then restarting your browser. And given the market share of Chrome—and the plugin popularity of Firefox—you’ll find developers who will focus on those two first. A good example is OneTab, which transforms all of your open tabs into a text-based list, dramatically cutting your browser’s memory consumption. Note that the more plugins you add and enable, the more memory and CPU power your browser will consume.
Opera doesn’t appear to have nearly the number of available plugins that Firefox does, but it does have a unique twist: a “sidebar” along the left hand side that can be used for widgets, like a calculator or even your Twitter feed. Opera is also extensible via wallpaper-like themes, but they’re far less impressive.
But you’ll also notice browsers adding more and more functionality right in the app itself. Firefox includes a Firefox-to-Firefox videoconferencing service called Firefox Hello that works right in your browser, and you can save webpages to a Pocket service for later reading. And this is where Edge shines—its digital assistant, Cortana, is built right in, and there are Reading View options and a service to mark up webpages, called Web Notes. Cortana does an excellent job supplying context, and it’s certainly one of the reasons to give Edge a try.
Over time, we expect that this will be one area where Edge and Chrome will attempt to “pull away,” as it were. In a way, it’s similar to the race in office suites: a number of apps mimic functionality that Microsoft Office had a few years ago. But Microsoft has begun building intelligence into Office, and Edge, elevating them over their competition. Given that Chrome is also the front door to Google Now on the PC, we may eventually see Google try to out-Cortana Cortana on her home turf.
Chrome narrowly beats Opera
So who wins? Here’s the way we see it.
Give credit where credit is due: Edge’s performance has improved to the point that it’s competitive, though perhaps not as much as Microsoft would make it seem. Still, its lack of extensibility and proper syncing drag it down, at least until they’re added later this year. Firefox also performed admirably, until it bogged down under our real-world stress test. We also believe Opera would be a terrific choice for you, since it zips through benchmarks and real-world tests alike. Sure, it lacks the tight OS and service integration of Chrome, IE, and Edge—but some may see that as a bonus, too.
All that said, we still think Google’s Chrome is the best of the bunch.
Chrome has a well-deserved reputation for glomming on to and gobbling up any available memory, and our benchmarks prove it. But it’s stable, extensible, performs well, integrates into other services, and reveals its depths and complexity only if you actively seek it out. For that reason, Google Chrome remains our browser of choice, with Opera just behind.