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47 Web Browser Comparison
  • 22 Nov 2011 18:59:40

These days web browsers are probably one of the universally most used programs on personal computers. If you haven't tried alternative browsers to the default one(s) that may come with your operating system, you should check out some of the other options out there.

As my laptop triple boots to run Gentoo Linux, Mac OS, and Windows XP, I can claim to make a reasonable comparison between the different options that exist.

This review will only apply to PCs and not things like mobile phone browsers or game console browsers.

Google Chrome / Chromium

At present, this is my default browser in Linux.

Pros

The browser itself is very sleek, allowing the most space for the web content.

There is only one field, which can handle both web searches and direct web address input, avoiding excessive use of the tab key for changing fields with a new tab.

In the main text field, it has smart searching for webpages that have searchable content! This is genius.

Moving the arrow key on Google itself will highlight page links, so that the enter key moves to that site. Since I disdain mouse usage, this is really clever and useful for me.

The script execution speed was revolutionized by this software. On its beta release, it was beating all other browsers on benchmarks by about one order of magnitude. Of course, being open source, now a days all browsers get comparable benchmarks to Chrome.

Each tab is its own process (ie: the browser is multitasking) so one can kill faulty pages instead of the whole browser when it starts eating CPU and/or memory. Given the extremely high security risks involved in web browsing, on average after opening around ten tabs, one can expect possible need to kill nasty pages. Given the fundamental interest in the Linux community for multi-tasking, this feature is really essential for a good web experience.

Excellent page Find feature, including showing the distribution of hits in the scroll bar and auto-highlighting of matches in real-time.

The downloads are by default displaying the last few along the bottom, but can also be viewed in their own page, including a full history, timestamps, and everything. Most other programs have only one download window.

Available for basically all operating systems.

Cons

As the browser is newer, there are less plugins available. For example, I keep Firefox around specifically because of the amazing DownloadHelper plugin. Easily snatch any Adobe Flash videos and download them!

My version in Linux crashes for fullscreen video watching in most cases, and the usage with my sound card is fishy or non-functional sometimes.

There are too many version releases. I don't mind the philosophy to release early and often, but Chrome takes it a little too far. Almost any time I want to update my system, Chrome has a new version, and its compile time is not very quick!

If you open too many tabs, they will start to overflow off the screen seemingly. This is a design flaw for the minimum acceptable tab size.

The internal feeling of 'tab memory' is also bad. For instance, I very often open a new tab to do a quick Google search, find what I want, and close that tab. For example, Google is my often-used spell-checking method when I can't figure out how to spell so many English words. In Firefox, closing a new tab focuses you back on the previous tab you were using. Chrome tosses you (uselessly) at the end of the tab list...which is probably just another garbage Google search anyway. I posted on the development site about this some time ago, but I never heard any response.

Doesn't always work very well with GMail. And they are made by the same company. Something is wrong here! Although, I've heard GMail's codebase is only surpassed in spaghetti code by OpenOffice. This applies to really everything. Sometimes Chrome won't even load GMail when other browsers are more than happy to do so. Chatting can be dismal at times, but anyway I tend to prefer finch for chatting anyway.

Page refresh is too cache-heavy. Need to shift-F5, for example, to force reload. Usually, if I want to reload a page, it's because I have reason to want to suspect an update. So this is dumb and an extra keystroke.

Very few options to customize. For example, I can't see how to mask as other browsers to websites, which is sometimes useful for people who insist I use some other webbrowser. In fact, most the times I've gone in the tool bar looking to customize something, the answer is I don't know how or the feature isn't there. Lately Chrome insists that pdf is a dangerous filetype and always asks me to confirm. Okay, if you can use a pdf to hack my computer when I open it with xpdf, you can have my computer. I still didn't even figure out how to disable this stupid warning.

Mozilla Firefox

This is likely the most prominent alternative web browser.

Pros

The Mozilla foundation has greatly succeeded in making probably the most popular open source program in history for personal computers.

There are many excellent and useful plugins, because there is a large user community and the browser has existed for a long time.

Releases come at a very reasonable rate.

Netscape invented JavaScript. This is now a universal feature of all modern web browsers. Not coding much JavaScript myself, I won't comment further on the language, except to say they chose a horrible name for the language.

Available for basically all operating systems.

Cons

The web browser is not multitasking. Thus after a day or two of use, it must be restarted by hand. However, this can be added by using Flock, which explains why, for example, I'm always saying that open source software is a Pro.

Silly trademark issues with the graphics result in nonsense like IceWeasel and IceCat. In this sense, one must disdain the Mozilla foundation for not being entirely free software.

Mostly ugly default font selection.

I recall having general difficulties opening pdf files correctly whenever I begin a new system from scratch. Sorry, I forget how to fix this.

Back some years ago, tiff files could not be viewed without a plugin, which is just silly. I don't know if this has been corrected yet, but I don't recall encountering it for some time now.

Opera

An alternative proprietary web browser available for most systems.

Pros

Invented tabbed browsing, which is not only an amazingly useful feature, but nearly ubiquitous now.

Has the best tab-switching behavior I've ever encountered. Not only is is customizable, but it behaves more properly like Alt+Tab in an operating system, including a pop-up list of tabs!

Probably the fastest browser out there; they claim as much, but I've done some personal bench marks, and they tend to win. Of course, being proprietary this doesn't help other browsers, unlike the open source improvements any other browser can later implement.

Runs on basically all operating systems.

Tons of features, including an integrated and very nice email reader. If I didn't use GMail all the time now, I would use Opera for my email.

Cons

The ad banner they used to run for the free (as in beer) version a number of years ago is still seared on my retinas.

Proprietary software.

The icon is ugly, and the name is stupid.

Being rather monolithic and proprietary, sometimes there are too many bells and whistles, and it doesn't feel sleek enough.

Maybe ten years ago, I updated Opera and they changed the structure of those emails. For a long time I saved my more than 300 MB of emails saved in Opera format, but discarded them before discovering oldversion.com. I think after that I had a vendetta against Opera and stopped using it much, since the lack of backwards compatibility was very infuriating.

Konqueror

Konqueror is the web browser developed by the KDE project.

Pros

Runs on most operating systems.

Open source software.

Released KHTML, which has now been forked and integrated into Chrome and Safari as WebKit.

Has many features besides simply web browsing, including file management and viewing various kinds of images and documents. In this sense, it integrates wonderfully into KDE.

Cons

The only web browser I tested that cannot render my website properly.

Horrible default font selection as of KDE 3.5. (I stopped using KDE after 4 was released, since KDE 4 is far too demanding on a graphics card.)

Very bad zoom settings, and I could not find a way to save my preferred zoom level (the default makes everything much too large).

Does not (or did not) render my website correctly. Boo! (Their table rendering is rather quantized and fishy.)

I was basically unable to functionally use this browser, so I can't say if I'd find more problems from more experience.

Safari

Safari is Apple's default web browser, which has been, more recently, made available also for Microsoft Windows.

Pros

Integration with Mac OS X is (obviously) very sleek.

Fonts and colors appear in top rate fashion, second to none, particularly on an Apple machine in Mac OS.

Above average Find function.

Cons

Horrible selection of default features, and very cumbersome to customize. For example, see a nice list of how to change unwanted Safari behavior, which was most notable after many new features were added to Safari 4, most of which I personally hate, including Top Site, relocation of the tab bar, etc.

Proprietary software.

Fork of WebKit from KHTML, splitting a more unified community of coding.

Slow to incorporate standard features. For instance the default Safari in 10.4 in 2007 still didn't have tabbed web browsing. This is old hat now, but Opera invented tabbed browsing before 2000 I think, so 7 years is a pretty long time to catch up.

As a feature incorporated with Mac OS, it makes your computer much more vulnerable to penetration or cracking. On one hand, it is often claimed there are "no viruses for Mac OS" (which is a total urban legend, but anyway, this is believed widely). On the other hand, in some recent cracking contests, Mac OS was the only one cracked, and it was because of Safari. (Of course Safari was patched before that vulnerability was made public from the rules of the game.) The point here is that in fact, the "pro" that it integrates well with Mac OS visually and functionally is just about as equally a "con" at least in Mac OS, because the host structure is well known for any viral problem.

Internet Explorer

Microsoft's web browser, available only for proprietary operating systems. I won't say very much here, since if you are reading this site, you are not interested in my discussion of this browser.

Pros

The most widely used web browser.

Introduction of favicon (the little icon that is associated with a webpage...the goatface for my site).

Cons

Too many security bugs.

Proprietary software and closed source.

links, elinks, and lynx

These are command line web-browsers available for most Unix-like systems.

For the general case of these methods...

Pros

Lightning fast and simple, so very useful for slow connections.

Extremely safe and reliable.

Absolutely amazing for shell scripting purposes, like fetching website source code to parse.

A useful way to see how, for instance, your webpage may feel to a visually impaired person who uses a program to read a website to them.

Cons

Of somewhat limited use if you're after video watching, looking at images, and this sort of thing.

Being command-line oriented, the use is less intuitive for the mouse-loving generation.

lynx versus elinks

I tend to like interactively using elinks best because of transparent backgrounds and more sane default configurations. elinks is included with more binary distributions of Linux, so it's often the only choice on servers which I don't own or control; but in poor design, for example, Ubuntu has a symlink for links to elinks, which can be really confusing! Over time I hope to expand this into three sections.

If you google this, probably you will get a rather dated, and generally uninformative stackoverflow result. The top answer basically favors Elinks for reasons of human-computer interaction, which I will agree with for those cases.

But being more realistic, mostly if I am using these programs, it is for scripting applications. Elinks is just dismal for this application! Lynx wins every single time for scripting, except that it is less frequently installed on servers. Just look at the man pages or help options and how much more lynx can do automatically! Lynx can be scripted, using the -cmd_log and -cmd_script options, which inside a shell script you can even dynamically create things like the saving file locations (use a trick with fold or awk, for instance). It also has the -base option which sometimes I cannot live without when dumping pages.

Since I'm rarely using a command line browser interactively, I rather have to say that lynx is vastly superior from all the command line options, scriptability, and better dumps.

Although Elinks is sadly included on more systems which are servers, Lynx actually has less dependencies and can be installed locally without superuser access. For example, Elinks depends on spidermonkey, which is not a small or simple package. Of course, that means Elinks can be a better browsing experience, but that means it's even harder to install server-side.

Given that Lynx is faster than Elinks, easier to install, and has more command line options, it seems to me like a superior command line browser. If you want a good browsing experience, go use a GUI. If you want to pass command line options, use Lynx.

Also, my elinks-0.12_pre5-r1 is segmentation faulting. Okay, I won't get on the statistically irrelevant bandwagon.

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