Browser Shootout Shows Minor Variations In Performance – It’s Still A Matter Of Taste

The browser wars are in a tense state of suspension right now. The once-obvious advantages of one and disadvantages of another can’t be counted on as much as they could a year ago, and fast-changing standards and interaction methods have produced a sort of uneasy détente while everyone awaits the browser equivalent of the Manhattan Project to catapult them into the atomic age.

Tom’s Hardware just did a nice, thorough examination of the available browsers on Windows 7 and Ubuntu, and the findings are really mixed. It used to be that Firefox always won, and we could all make fun of IE. Then Chrome came and won all the speed benchmarks. And then there was Opera. Now it’s a mess. How do you pick the browser that’s best for you? Easy: you flip a coin.

The benchmarks are what you’d expect: standards compliance, HTML5 stuff, Javascript speed, hardware acceleration. It’s such a mixed bag of victories and losses by various parties that you can barely draw any conclusions. In the end, the winner (Firefox) is far from decisive, and is often “weak” in things at which the runner-up, Chrome, excels. And vice versa. Meanwhile Opera takes a few wins home, IE is the best at memory management (but little else), and Safari cleans up in page load times (but little else).

So why do I say you can flip a coin? Because first of all, don’t use Safari. It’s just not good enough, and unless you are compelled to use it for some purpose, it has no advantage over the rest and plenty of disadvantages. And don’t use IE (except for testing), because it still has trouble rendering properly, despite some interesting features. You can use Opera, but if you are, you’ve already made that decision and aren’t likely to go back on it any time soon. But for “regular” users who want to use popular plugins, ensure compliance with various webpages and apps that may or may not be built properly, and be sure of a very regular update schedule, Firefox and Chrome are really your only options.

And which should you choose? If you really don’t know, flip a coin. If you try to argue against it when it lands on Firefox, install Chrome. If you don’t like it, install Firefox. Or use both. The fact is right now, for the average user, it doesn’t matter much, and both browsers are great. I use Firefox for reasons that are trivial, yet nonetheless more important than performance or under the hood differences. But I wouldn’t recommend it over Chrome for anyone but myself.

Don’t get me wrong: there are differences between the browsers, and the results are worth going through if the browser is a mission-critical item for your work or you are seriously worried about a certain type of performance. Of course, in a couple months, all these positions might be reversed. So you’ll have to take that coin out again.