The battle between Firefox and Internet Explorer has been waged for years. For geeks, a web browser is like a jacket; it isn’t just something you use, but also something that identifies you. When I went to college, I was incredibly proud that my selected institution had almost immediately adopted Firefox as the default web browser on all lab computers. Their decision to use Firefox helped me feel at home.
Today, the battle continues. Both Internet Explorer and Firefox have had major new releases this month. Since its release, Firefox has chipped away at Internet Explorer’s popularity. Can IE9 turn things around for team Microsoft?
Looks & Interface
While this review is about Firefox 4 and IE9, it’s impossible not to briefly mention Chrome. When Chrome launched, its minimalist interface was a breath of fresh air, and both of these new browsers take design tips from Google.
Visually, IE9 wins the first impression. The icon-only interface looks more modern and takes up very little space. On small displays, it’s great. Firefox’s approach is more functional on larger displays, however, as tabs have their own space at the very top of the window.
Firefox has a much better bookmarks toolbar. While both browsers let you add bookmarks via drag-and-drop, Firefox feels smoother. IE9 does strike back with a better bookmark organizer, however. On Firefox it opens in a separate window, but IE9 opens it quickly as part of the browser interface when you click on the star icon.
Firefox steals the gold in this category with the Firefox button and its associated menu, which includes such wonderful features as the add-on browser. IE9 is still using the clunky “Internet Option” menu, which at this point feels like an artifact of Windows XP.
Winner: Firefox 4
To begin my performance testing, I threw both browsers into the Peacekeeper benchmark using a Sony Vaio Y series netbook with AMD’s new E-350 APU. In this matchup, Firefox 4 edged ahead slightly with a score of 1955 vs. IE9’s score of 1906.
However, IE9 nudged in front of Firefox 4 when I tested YouTube’s 720p playback on the same system. The same video ran at an average framerate of 30.34 on IE9, while Firefox 4 resulted in a framerate of 29.23.
The results on both of these tests are within the margin of error, however. I’m sure that, given a slightly different system, you could see the leads change slightly. Besides, a framerate difference of just over 1 frame per second isn’t noticeable without FRAPS running in the background.
Subjectively, I found Internet Explorer 9 was smoother at times. While Firefox 4 takes a few seconds to load on my system, IE9 appears instantly. I also felt some slight lag in Firefox 4 when opening new tabs, while IE9 opened them within the blink of an eye. However, I’m nit-picking a bit by noticing these minor delays – if you’re not paying very close attention to how each browser is loading pages, you’ll never know the difference.
Web Rendering & Standards Compliance
The first place I headed to test the capability of each browser in this arena was the infamous Acid 3 web standards test. Previous versions of Internet Explorer have bombed this in spectacular fashion. How would IE9 do?
Actually, it did well, rendering a score 95/100 within seconds. Firefox 4 scored just slightly better, rendering a score of 97/100 with similar speed. From this benchmark, the difference between these browsers is so small as to be nearly irrelevant.
In my subjective testing, this virtual tie was usually reinforced. Both browsers render text in near identical fashion, although I noticed that Firefox 4 sometimes managed to cram an extra word in while IE9 moved on to another line. I also noticed some difference in table sizes. For some reason, Firefox 4 and Internet Explorer 9 didn’t seem to render them the same size. Sometimes FireFox 4 was larger, while at other times IE9 exaggerated them.
Neither of these browsers should give you any problems while you browse the web.
In the past, Internet Explorer has lagged significantly behind in this area. Microsoft seemed somehow blind-sided by the popularity of add-ons, but the hearts of developers were also certainly a factor. Firefox is David. Internet Explorer is Goliath. And geeks like to support the underdog.
The launch of a new browser version is the opportunity to hit the reset button, as many older add-ons end up broken or partially functional. Yet if anything, Firefox has increased its lead in this area. While Internet Explorer 9 still has clunky management and lacks focus, Mozilla’s add-on site is thriving, and the improved add-on manager built into the browser puts everyone’s other browser to shame.
Winner: Firefox 4
Having considered these new browsers from a number of different angles, there is really no doubt which browser emerges victorious. Firefox 4, long the browser of choice among geeks worldwide, continues to reign supreme.
Internet Explorer 9 does deserve a “most improved” achievement pin, because the difference between IE8 and IE9 is substantial, almost shocking. The new browser is an admission by Microsoft that it is behind the curve, and the company is doing everything it can to catch up.
Microsoft still has work to do. Internet Explorer 9 is a browser that I don’t mind using, but it’s not my first choice. Maybe Internet Explorer will claw its way back to my taskbar with IE10.