Choose The Best Browser--Can It Really Be Done?

The browser wars are far from over, and might just be heating up again soon.

Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 logo
Last week, Microsoft announced a full-on coming out party for Internet Explorer 9's beta release, scheduled for September.

Almost simultaneously, Google released the newest beta version of its browser, Chrome, featuring faster speeds and its Autofill functionality. (Chrome Beta 6: Simple, Speedy and Full of Add-Ons)

The browser market, once a stronghold of Microsoft dominance, has seen significant changes recently. Earlier this year, IE's market share dropped below 60% for the first time. As IE was slipping, Chrome was moving upward, passing Apple's Safari as the number three ranked browser, trailing only IE and Mozilla's Firefox.

As Microsoft turns to IE 9 to try and right the ship, Google continues its upward push and, for the first time, stagnant Firefox is in its sights.

Fans of Chrome, Firefox, and the other non-IE browsers cite multiple reasons why the once dominant browser has slipped. Slower speeds, less security, and heavy bloat are among the chief complaints of IE's opponents.

IE's supporters simply point to the facts: It's still the number one ranked browser, it's ubiquitous on desktops and laptops, and it remains the most preferred browser among enterprise users.

With so many competing points of view, the decision of which browser is best often comes down to personal choice. But what should you even be considering?

Speed: One thing both sides agree on is that speed is vital. With so many sites running JavaScript, the quicker a browser is, the better.

Which is the fastest?

That depends on where you look.

TopTenReviews ranked all three of the top browsers--IE, Firefox, and Chrome--the same in terms of speed. Yet, earlier this year, Computerworld tests showed Chrome was the fastest of the three, with IE the slowest. Firefox remains steady, but is overshadowed by IE and Chrome.

Speed though, can be deceiving. What a user actually does with a browser, the hardware it's installed on, Internet traffic, and the performance and reliability of an Internet connection all affect the speed of any browser.

Perhaps the best test is to try it yourself. As Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols wrote of Chrome in May: "All you have to do is use it, and you'll see that it blows other browsers away."

Of course, if Chrome is so much faster, than shouldn't it already be the number one ranked browser?

IE maintains that title, despite its recent drops, in large part because of it's superiority in another category:

Ease And Standards: IE remains the number one browser of choice for business and enterprise customers because it is the standard. Unlike Chrome and Firefox, IE comes standard on virtually all PCs and laptops and has been an integrated part of business for years.

Because of that, and IE's direct integration into Windows, it's a simple matter for businesses to control it. IE is also the common denominator among Internet browsers - even those who don't like it, know how to use it.

That level of widespread understanding makes a huge difference in a browser's usefulness to an enterprise customer.It takes little or no effort to get IE up and running across an entire network.

As of yet, Firefox and Chrome can't say that.

Security: Recently, Internet security company McAfee reported that over ten million pieces of malware were cataloged in the first half of this year.

With so much malicious code running loose, the security of a browser is most users' top priority. Yet, as with speed, determining which browser is the most secure can be tricky.

In January, Gregg Keizer wrote of one researcher who declared that Chrome was the security model all browsers should follow. However, Google's recent problems with privacy breaches have left a bad taste in some user's mouths.

Microsoft recently released a record number of security patches for its products, including IE. But, the ability to include Windows domain security adds to IE's security for business.

Firefox, which has had its share of patches as well, recently added additional support for the https protocol, through the HTTPS Everywhere add on. Through this add on, users are automatically directed to a more secure https URL whenever one is present.

Certainly, this is significant step for Firefox, both in increasing its security profile, and taking away some of the concerns over browsing.

In the end though, any browser is only as secure as users allow it to be. Internet security software, user behavior, and surfing habits all directly affect the security of a browser.

So, which browser is best?

Each has its own benefits. IE is the standard and offers familiarity and comfort.Chrome is faster, more streamlined, and has an expanding array of extensions. Firefox combines speed close to Chrome's, a level of familiarity that approximates IE's, and the widest selection of extensions available. (Browser Wars Enter a New Round)

Browsers, like computers themselves, need to be evaluated and experienced.That's the only way to make a truly smart choice about which is the best for you.

David A. Milman, Founder and CEO of Rescuecom, writes The Computer Repair blog for Computerworld.

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