Ask anyone about the best browsers in the web browsing market and you’ll likely get the following list – IE, Chrome, Firefox. Those who are more tech-savvy might list Opera as an alternative. Those are the 4 most popular browsers on Windows, but which one is the best web browser? Perhaps none of them.
Popularity can be an indicator of quality, but it doesn’t guarantee it. Furthermore, the more recognized a browser becomes, the more bloated it gets in order to satisfy as a larger userbase with different needs. Some people actually like bloat, while others are looking for performance, or resource efficiency, or aesthetic eye candy. Which browser is best suited for you?
Is there anyone on Windows who hasn’t heard of Internet Explorer? It is the default browser, after all, though that doesn’t necessarily say anything of its quality. IE fell out of the spotlight back when Netscape was its only competitor, but it’s been gaining back some ground in recent years.
IE8 was the first to show some promise, but it pretty much failed to deliver. IE9, on the other hand, is quite strong as a browser: fast, responsive, though lacking in the addons/extensions aspect that has become so critical in browsers these days. If you’re on Windows 8, you’ll want to use IE10, which is an even better improvement.
Overall: A strong browser but not particularly awesome at anything. Great if you don’t need many features, not so great if you do.
After Google Search and Gmail, Chrome is Google’s best known product. At the time of writing this article, if you look at the 2013 browser rankings provided by TopTenReviews, you’ll see that Google Chrome is ranked in the #1 spot, beating out nearly every browser on this list. If that isn’t a strong enough endorsement, then I don’t know what is.
Chrome is known for the way it handles its tabs: separated into different processes so that a crashed tab won’t crash the whole browser. There are tons of extensions that improve the browser’s functionality. And best of all, updates are performed automatically and behind-the-scenes–I went from Chrome 15 to 24 without ever knowing! A big downside is that Chrome uses a ton of RAM resources.
Overall: Absolutely excellent if you have a powerful computer with lots of RAM. On weaker machines–like netbooks and tablets–you may run into speed and loading issues when using a lot of tabs.
I have fond memories of Firefox. I first started using it when it first came out–it was called Firebird back then–and it was an impressive alternative to IE5. But to see how far it’s come since its birth is rather depressing, mostly because Firefox just feels like it’s trying too hard these days.
With that said, Firefox has been working on cleaning up some of its issues, namely memory leaks and RAM hogging, and it has one of the largest addon libraries of all the browsers. Yet it falters when it comes to speed. I have a powerful machine but tab animations and web scrolling are still clunky.
Overall: If you want a full-featured and extensible browser that isn’t as resource-intensive as Chrome, then Firefox may be your cup of tea, but you should know that it isn’t as polished as Chrome is.
There was a period of my life where Opera reigned as king and all other browsers were mere peasants beneath it. But once my initial love faded away, I began to see some of its flaws. It’s still a great browser, no doubt, but it’s not the best web browser out there.
Opera is packed full of features. Packed. In addition to doing what all browsers are expected to do, it has a built-in mail client, built-in ad blocker, cross-computer profile syncing, mouse gestures, speed dial, as well as extensions for extensibility. Some users like this all-in-one sort of package. Others call it bloated. Surprisingly, it’s fast–but how much faster could it be without the bloat?
Overall: I like Opera. I would use it permanently if it didn’t bug out on Google’s web products like Google Docs. I’d highly recommend it if you prefer a mainstream browser other than Chrome and Firefox.
Maxthon is the first of the non-mainstream browsers on this list. It’s a full-featured browser that aims to maximize speed and performance–even going as far as to claim that it renders 200% faster than Chrome. Definitely worth a look if you haven’t heard about it until now.
As a browser, Maxthon is secure. All of the available features work well and rival the top browsers on the market. Like Opera, it might seem bloated to some since it comes with built-in luxuries like mouse gestures and screen grabbing. One cool feature is that you can click a button to mute all sounds coming from Maxthon. Want more features? Extensions.
Overall: Maxthon performs well enough that I haven’t uninstalled it yet. I like Maxthon because it’s a breath of fresh air. At the same time, it’s not very popular, so if you need help with something, the knowledge base is smaller.
Now we get to the lightweight browsers. If the mainstream browsers are growing bloated with feature creep, then Midori is the response. It’s a minimalistic browser that only has built-in features that are absolutely necessary. It uses GTK for the interface, WebKit for rendering, and it’s open source.
Though Midori does have the function to install extensions, the actual pool of available extensions is quite small. Being so lightweight, it is a niche browser, so don’t expect the community to grow much larger in the future, either. On the plus side, it uses very few resources.
Overall: If your computer is severely lacking in processing speed or RAM, then Midori is what you should use for maximum performance. I use Midori on my old netbook and it is blazingly fast compared to the other, larger browsers.
You may have heard of a browser called SlimBrowser. SlimBoat is by the same group and, in my opinion, the better of the two. If mainstream browsers are too bloated and Midori is too skinned-down for you, then SlimBoat is for you because it is the perfect compromise between features and bloat.
SlimBoat boasts fast startup times, quick rendering, top-notch security, and powerful features like: ad blocker, popup blocker, private browsing, intelligent form filler, web and text translations, and integration with popular web services. The downside? No extensibility beyond the built-in features.
Overall: If you want one of the best web browsers that comes with useful features right out of the box without being too bloaty and you don’t want to mess around with extensions, then SlimBoat is good for you. Keep note that not many people use it, so if you run into problems, the knowledge base isn’t too big.
What’s my final verdict? I use Chrome for daily browser use (mostly because I interface a lot with Google web products and Chrome works best for that). If that wasn’t an issue, I’d use Opera, though Maxthon is growing on me. For my netbook, I use Midori.
Which browser do you use? Any other browsers out there that you think should’ve been on this list? Share them in the comments and tell us why you support that browser!
Image Credit: Browser Windows Via Shutterstock
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