Most of us use the humble web browser more than any other program. These ubiquitous apps act as portals to the Internet, and because we use them daily, we want them to be reliable and easy to use, as well as secure. By far the most popular browsers on Windows are Chrome (with 57.1 percent of the market in November 2016) and Firefox (with 11.1 percent). Microsoft’s Internet Explorer has fallen from grace, but the software giant is pushing its new browser, Edge, in Windows 10, in a bid to gain its lost market share. There are other browsers, such as Opera, but we’re looking at the three major players, to see which is best.
Installing Chrome or Firefox is simple — head to their websites, and click “Download.” Edge has an advantage, as it is preinstalled in Win 10. The interface of all three is very similar. You have an address bar at the top, and they all double as a search box, with Chrome and Firefox defaulting to Google, while Edge uses the less popular Bing. Firefox also includes a search box, which feels redundant. Firefox drops the forward button, yet maintains the back button, while Chrome and Edge feature both forward and back buttons. The interfaces of Firefox and Chrome can be altered with extensions and themes, unlike Edge. All three have a cloud sync feature that lets you synchronize your bookmarks, history, and passwords over many devices. However, Edge is only available on Windows 10 machines, while Firefox and Chrome are available over a wide range of platforms and devices.
Winner: Tie between Chrome and Firefox
Extensions (aka add-ons) can expand the functionality of your browser, giving you quick access to your most-used services (such as Google Drive), or improving your experience (such as ad-blockers that make sites load faster, while ditching ads). Chrome’s popularity gives it a huge advantage, as pretty much all add-on developers build an extension for Chrome before other browsers. Google apps and services are very well served in Chrome, and the addon store — plus the installation process — is straightforward. Firefox also has a robust addon store that makes it easy to find and install the add-ons you need. Firefox’s popularity means that most major addons are available. Edge is the least flexible, as it has only recently started to support extensions. Unlike Firefox or Chrome, it’s not open source, so we can’t see Edge add-ons taking off in the same way as those of its competitors.
You don’t want to come across a site that uses a standard or language that your browser doesn’t support. Chrome has been built from the ground up to support as many standards as possible, and it shows. In particular, Chrome is known for its HTML5 compliance, and in the HTML5 compliance benchmark it scored 502 —
with 555 being perfect. Firefox scored 466, with Edge scoring 453. Chrome is based on the WebKit engine, which is renowned for passing all the Acid3 web standards tests (try your browser at http://acid3.acidtests.org). Firefox also scored 100/100 for Acid3, as did Edge. This might not be an exciting result, but it means that no matter which of the three browsers you use, you won’t find their standards support lacking. A shout-out must go to Chrome’s WebKit engine, while Microsoft has also been making moves to ensure that Edge’s support is cutting edge.
Resource use focuses on the amount of RAM and other resources that a browser commands. If a browser is too RAM-hungry, it can slow down your entire computer, even when the browser’s not in use. Chrome is notorious for loading processes. You can see this in Windows Task Manager. We opened 10 pages in Chrome, which launched 16 processes, and gobbled up 512MB of RAM. On less powerful devices, you’ll see a real drop in performance. CPU usage when on sites with animated images peaked at 80 percent. Firefox was more restrained, with three loaded processes, a memory usage of 270MB, and a CPU peak of 62 percent. Edge brought up 12 processes, using 420MB of memory, with CPU usage peaking at 40 percent. No web browser excelled here, though Firefox was the most efficient. However, some lesser-known browsers pride themselves on keeping resource usage low.
It’s a sad fact of life that if you’re on the Internet, at some point you’re likely to be subjected to malicious code, so security and privacy features of web browsers are welcome additions. Chrome and Firefox both use the Google Safe Browsing API, which identifies potentially malicious sites, and warns you about accessing them. Both Firefox and Chrome also have a number of addons from security companies such as Kaspersky, which can add another layer of protection when you’re surfing. Chrome can also scan files you download, and warn you if you have any infected files. Edge isn’t as robust, as it doesn’t feature those add-ons, though it does use the SmartScreen Filter from Microsoft, which can help identify potentially dangerous websites or files. Edge has also ditched support for third-party toolbars, which were big security threats in its predecessor, Internet Explorer.
And the Winner Is…
It appears that Chrome’s popularity has a reason, because in our tests, Chrome came out on top — or near the top — in almost every aspect. This is a robust and feature-rich web browser that makes surfing the Internet a joy, thanks to its speed, standards support, cloud sync features, and huge selection of extensions. The only area it falters in is resource use — this can be a demanding browser, especially if you add loads of extensions and open up tons of tabs when browsing. However, Firefox is still a very compelling alternative, and if you love Mozilla’s web browser, we recommend sticking with it, because you’re not missing out on much. Finally, Edge has a lot of improvements over Internet Explorer (not particularly difficult), and while this browser is still a relative newcomer on the block, it shows potential, especially since the Windows 10 Anniversary Update.