Browsers are like religion. Everyone has an opinion, but only God knows which one is best, and he’s not making it too clear.
If you had to use only one browser on your Mac (or on a PC) which browser would you choose? Safari? Or, Firefox?
This battle of the browsers is not much different than the emotions stirred when comparing Macs to Windows PCs. Which is better? The obvious and easiest answer is, “it depends.”
Apple’s heritage shows all the way through Safari. Clean, simple, elegant, beautiful. Firefox’s heritage comes from Mozilla with heavy influence from Windows. That means features, features, and more features.
Is there any specific feature that Firefox lacks? A couple come to mind right away. Text rendering sucks on Firefox, Mac or Windows. After that, it just might be a matter of tastes and needs and nothing more. Or is it? Is one browser really, clearly, definitively better than the other?
At a basic level, they’re both just browsers. They render web pages, they log in to web sites, they handle RSS feeds. Both add features in the way of plug-ins or extensions. Both have followings who have bought into their respective religions.
For this comparison I’m using Firefox 220.127.116.11 for Mac and Safari 3.0.3 (build 522.12.1), so your mileage may vary. For me, I spend half my time on Mac, most of the rest on Windows, so I’m comfortable with Firefox on both platforms, and I’m convinced that Microsoft has done a better job with Internet Explorer 7.x than on any previous browser.
Sorry, Safari wins with an elegant, unencumbered design vs. the Firefox Windows-like look and feel. If you add extensions to Firefox you’ll need a road map and a Boy Scout to find them.
Safari just lets you browse, and like a Mac, usually doesn’t get in your way. Winner? Safari.
Everyone’s newest love affair is tabbed browsing, and Safari finally gets it right in version 3.0.x. Move tabs left or right, drag and drop to create a new page, or drag from one page to another.
My favorite addition is the warning dialog box when you’re about to close a Safari window that has multiple tabs.
On the other hand, Firefox has had a good tab system longer than Safari but with less flexibility. Winner? Safari.
Extensions & Plug ins
There’s no contest here. While Safari has a handful of add-on utilities to enhance the overall capability of the browser, nothing compares to Firefox.
Hundreds and hundreds of extensions exist for Firefox, many of them run on both Mac and Windows. Some are crummy, worthless, and crash prone, but many provide excellent extended usability for the geekier among us.
You may not have much need for extensions, and few Safari users will miss them, but this is Firefox territory. Winner? Firefox.
Web Page Rendering
What do we want out of a browser first and foremost? An accurate rendering of a web page.
Safari is typical Mac attitude and displays validated web pages and renders text better than any browser, Mac or PC. One can argue the differences in fonts, and colors, and adherence to standards, but, in general web pages just look better on Safari on a Mac.
Firefox is close, but probably loses this one based on text rendering, which, on small fonts, is horrid. Winner? Safari.
Web Page Compatibility
This category requires a browser to log in and use back end data systems, such as a bank’s online accounts. For whatever reason, this is an area where Safari has improved but has a long way to go.
Unfortunately, the king of web page compatibility is Microsoft’s Internet Explorer on Windows, though Firefox does a very commendable job with access to most sites. Some sites won’t even let Safari users log in.
For some Mac users, this is a critical issue. Winner? Firefox
Both Safari and Firefox offer about the same keyboard shortcuts, though not as many as Internet Explorer or Firefox for Windows.
Maybe this is a Mac vs. PC issue, with Windows users more in love with keyboard shortcuts than Mac users. I use Quicksilver and the integration with Safari of this keyboard masterpiece is marvelous and puts Firefox to shame.
That said, Firefox keyboard shortcuts are fine, though seldom used, just like Safari. Safari’s keyboard shortcuts seem to match those in other Mac applications. Winner? A tie.
Privacy concerns are a big deal with many Mac users, and not just the geekier among us. Average, everyday Mac users want some way to cover their online tracks.
Apple recognized this privacy fetish early on, and includes a Private Browsing option. Firefox is planning an enhanced private browsing option in version 3.0, though Firefox 2.x will delete some critical data as part of a manual process.
It would be nice if I didn’t have to turn on Private Browsing in Safari. It should be a simple toggle preference. Winner? Safari.
This is one of the best features ever in a browser, though Apple’s reliance on Google as the primary search engine is a limitation.
Yes, there are utilities which will add Yahoo and other search engines to Safari, but Firefox has all the pieces already there, ready to go. Winner? Firefox.
Since Microsoft owns the Swiss Cheese of browsers in Internet Explorer, Firefox pushed enhanced security as a key differentiator.
Out of the box, Apple claimed Safari was secure. Perhaps on the Mac. On the Windows side, Safari had six vulnerabilities uncovered the first day. To their credit, both Apple and Mozilla are quick to issue patches for major vulnerabilities and exploits.
Stability & Dependability
Both Safari and Firefox are mature and relatively stable, so this one closes as a tie.
The Safari version under question is a beta, and I’ve had a few problems and crashes, but not more than in Safari 2.x. Firefox is very stable on my MacBook Pro because that version doesn’t have extra extensions.
Firefox on my office Mac is loaded with a dozen extensions and that’s where the problems begin. Crashes and freezing functionality is more common. Winner? Tie.
This isn’t a fair comparison. Safari is pretty much what you see is what you get.
Add UNO to change the look and feel a bit, but Safari doesn’t come with themes and Firefox does, some of which make it look like Safari. Go figure.
Winner? Firefox, hands down, no contest.
Safari and Firefox both handle RSS, but Safari is typical Mac—elegant, simple, straightforward, minimal customization.
No other browser, Mac or Windows, makes RSS easy for the user who doesn’t know much more than how to spell RSS. The integration with NetNewsWire and Newsfire make it tough to beat. Winner? Safari.
How many bookmarks are in your browser of choice? I have a few thousand and they date back six or seven years.
According to some of my Safari buddies, managing bookmarks in Firefox is cumbersome and awkward, while Safari just does it right. I don’t agree. What’s the difference other than Safari opens bookmarks in a browser window, while Firefox has a special window with a toolbar.
Otherwise, moving bookmarks around is about the same, though the edge goes to Firefox because of the ability to add keywords to the bookmark’s Properties. Winner? Firefox.
Web Development & Standards
This is a mixed bag. On one hand Safari passes the so-called Acid2 test, and in general does a better job displaying web pages the way developers expect them to look. That’s Apple’s strong suit.
On the other hand, Safari gives developers no web page info, and doesn’t have the developer extensions so necessary to work on web pages. Safari’s View Source is just text. Firefox uses syntax highlighting. Winner? Firefox.
List of Wil’s Minor Irritations
Downloads – Safari. Firefox can’t remember file formats too well and keeps wanting to use Stuffit. Please.
Archives – Safari. Saving and managing web page archives is easy. Why isn’t there a standard format for this? Firefox will save everything, including text and graphics, but unlike the old Mozilla, now SeaMonkey, doesn’t edit web pages.
Restore After Crash – Firefox just remembers everything about where you were, what pages were open, how many tabs and recovers wonderfully from a crash. Safari doesn’t remember much of anything, including some preferences.
What’s the score? What’s the best ever browser for the Mac, Safari or Firefox? The correct answer is, “it depends.” What did I miss? What’s left out? Add your experienced viewpoint and perspective via the Comments section below.