Updated Web Browsers: Which One Works Best?

For a sample performance test, I ran clean browsers (ones with no add-ons or plug-ins) through the SunSpider Javascript benchmark site. Webkit.org provides both the test and the open-source core for Safari and other browsers, but the test is applicable to all browsers. Safari 3.1 completed the battery in just over 4 seconds, which was significantly faster than its current competitors, Firefox 2 and Internet Explorer 7 (read on for a Firefox 3 performance surprise in this category).

To gauge memory use, I loaded four sites--CNN, Netvibes, PC World, and Yahoo Mail--and to check for possible memory leaks, I left the pages up for an hour. Safari used 94MB to start with, and the figure had grown to 95MB an hour later. Those are good numbers, but not as good as the ones that the new Firefox posted.

Safari comes up short on security features. Most notably, its lack of an antiphishing filter (standard in both Firefox 2 and Internet Explorer 7) led PayPal CEO Michael Barrett to advise PayPal users not to conduct transactions with Safari. Safari doesn't support extended validation (EV) certificates either; EV certificates provide better site identification than the regular certificates that encrypted sites use. Finally a small, easy-to-miss padlock in the upper right corner is the only visual indicator (aside from the https:// at the beginning of the URL) Safari offers that you are on a secure Web page.

Another drawback: Apple continues to adhere to its closed-shop mentality for Safari--the browser doesn't allow third-party themes or add-ons.

Firefox 3 Packs It In

In version 3 of its Firefox, Mozilla hasn't changed much about the browser's basic look, but many usability changes make themselves known quickly.

Start with typing Web addresses into the address bar. As you type, Firefox 3 searches your bookmarks and browsing history for matches based on how often and how recently you visited a given site.

To see the most important upgrade, open either the history window or the bookmarks window. Both now live in an SQL database that displays them together. You can tag bookmarks and drag a URL from your browsing history directly into a bookmarks folder. And a new Smart Bookmarks folder catalogs your most frequently visited, recently bookmarked, and recently tagged sites.

A star icon to the right of the URL in the address bar enables you to add a new bookmark with one click--but this method unhelpfully sequesters them in an unfiled category whose contents are visible only in the full bookmarks window. If you click the star a second time, however, you can choose a particular destination folder and add tags.

Mozilla says that it has fundamentally improved Firefox's memory management and speed. And indeed, with four test sites (CNN, Netvibes, PC World, and Yahoo Mail) loaded, version 3 used less memory than Safari 3.1 did: 81MB to start and 85MB after an hour, versus 94MB and 95MB for Safari 3. It also rocked the SunSpider Javascript test, with a score of 3.61 seconds; Safari 3.1 failed to break the 4-second bariier on this test.

Firefox 3 passes the Acid2 test, and the beta 5 release scored 71 out of 100 on Acid3, a scant four points behind Safari 3.1. The current beta does have some known problems in dealing with sites such as Gmail and Windows Live Mail, but those issues should be resolved in the final release.

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