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firefox vs explorerThe 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.

firefox vs explorer

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 5 Tools to Harvest the Potential of Your Firefox Bookmarks 5 Tools to Harvest the Potential of Your Firefox Bookmarks Read More 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


firefox vs internet explorer

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 How To Benchmark & Troubleshoot Game Performance Using Fraps How To Benchmark & Troubleshoot Game Performance Using Fraps Read More 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.

Winner: Tie

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?

firefox vs internet explorer

firefox vs explorer

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.

Winner: Tie


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.

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  1. Stentorianmuse
    June 25, 2011 at 11:46 pm

    Opera is proprietary.

  2. Malba
    June 7, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Why wasn't security a topic in your article?

  3. Jagan TheBestFrnd
    May 10, 2011 at 5:22 am

    great article! I had been using firefox for 8 months. When i came 2 know about ie9, i just thought to try it once and now I am in love with ie9. It is 1000 times better than ie8. I can say, ie9 is more flexible and simple than firefox. Only problem here is the add-on feature. But you know, more the add-ons, more slower the browser!

  4. Davidr
    April 10, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    Opera has its own issues: not very compatible, not very user friendly. The fact that it always has 1% or 2% share says something, right?

  5. deamonlord
    April 9, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    Opera is also a very nice browser. I wonder why people dont use it

  6. Aaron Couch
    April 9, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    I'm an avid Chrome and Firefox user, but I just thought I'd mention that it was interesting that they gave Chrome credit for features taken, but the Opera browser was the first to implement the "menu button." Correct me if I'm wrong.

  7. virt
    April 9, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    Obviously we have some haters. FF4 crashing on your computer is your issue. None of my computers/friends have issues with FF4 also chrome doesn't have the lead. Opera has been the best for along time.Download opera & FF4 look at the interface, look familiar? Ya, FF4 copied opera.

    April 9, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    I like the Firefox 4 feature where it crashes all the time. If I'm really lucky it takes the whole OS down with it.

  9. Srivatsan Venkatesh
    April 9, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    See that home button in IE 9? Ripped straight from Chrome.

  10. Shle896
    April 9, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    They're both just posers. Chrome is leading the way when it comes to performance and innovation and all the others have spent the last couple of years playing catch up.

    • ANON Admin
      June 27, 2011 at 12:38 pm

      Is that before or after it installs itself with out administrator requirements on a windows system.  As a Network administrator I hate chrome on principle alone.  the fact that its layout is useless to me helps too.  Firefox is the cream of the crop and IE9 would be great if it were not for the integrated URL/Search bar.  It really hampers with my productivity when i cant research issues as fast having to retype my searches or go to the search engine first then retype my searches.  Not a fan. 

      • M.S. Smith
        July 1, 2011 at 1:07 am

        What's this issue with admin requirements, again? I'm not a network admin, so I'm not clear about how this translates to a security issue for an administrator. Is this a potential way for an outsider to hijack a PC with admin-level privileges? 

  11. deamonlord
    April 9, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    Opera is also a very nice browser. I wonder why people dont use it

  12. Aaron Couch
    April 9, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    I'm an avid Chrome and Firefox user, but I just thought I'd mention that it was interesting that they gave Chrome credit for features taken, but the Opera browser was the first to implement the "menu button." Correct me if I'm wrong.

  13. virt
    April 9, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    Obviously we have some haters. FF4 crashing on your computer is your issue. None of my computers/friends have issues with FF4 also chrome doesn't have the lead. Opera has been the best for along time.

  14. Henry_dias
    April 6, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    Great article. Another point that is import to mention is security! There is a dangerous high level of integration between IE and windows that makes easier for threats to spread and to be more dangerous. Also nice job from the Firefox team to be able to build a fast browser without this integration benefit.

  15. Chrisranthony
    April 6, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    Having been a beta tester for both Firefox and IE9, I can say that I prefer Firefox.

  16. Girish Mony
    April 6, 2011 at 2:59 am

    A good comparison between Firefox 4 and IE9. You missed another important point. Firefox 4 has good tab management via panorama while IE don't

  17. Thais
    April 6, 2011 at 2:41 am

    Go ahead IE9 .. But u're still under the shadow of Firefox, coz of your selfish .... LOL

  18. UUUnicorn
    April 6, 2011 at 2:35 am

    1st favourite: SRWare Iron (current version)
    2nd favourite: Google Chrome (current version)
    3rd favourite: Opera (current version)

  19. Carlytoo
    April 5, 2011 at 10:24 pm

    Was a Firefox lover but am having a problem with it and they are of no help whatsoever so have moved to Chrome.

  20. markaz aqiqoh
    April 5, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    from the first firefox and internet explorer always compete. and I just know there is a great way to measure the ability of both browsers above. aqiqah surabaya

  21. Capjtkirk
    April 5, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    I use Firefox primarily but I also use Safari and IE sometimes. However, I am disappointed that they didn't make IE9 for WinXP. I've never used Chrome.

    Firefox 4 is much better and faster than 3.5.x. I was starting to get frustrated at how slow 3.5.x was becoming and was ready to dump it.

    It would be nice to see a comparison of Firefox to Safari to Chrome to IE - all current versions and see how they compare.

  22. David Valdez
    April 5, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    I prefer Chrome.

  23. Tina
    April 5, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    Great article! I hope you're going to write a follow-up comparing Chrome and Firefox.

  24. Ronj E
    April 5, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    I think even before you started your tests and all you already had Firefox ahead in your mind. Your first paragraph says it all and your end result confirmed it.

    • M.S. Smith
      April 5, 2011 at 6:38 pm

      Firefox has historically been ahead of IE, so it was and is up to Microsoft to prove they can compete.