There was a time, back in the dark ages of the mid-1990s, when Netscape was the only real browser. Microsoft felt threatened, launched Internet Explorer, and squashed the competition. The browser wars ended.
The browser landscape, Mac or Windows was pitiful for years, until Apple launched Safari and Mozilla launched Firefox, both better and faster than Microsoft’s anemic offering. Now, Google’s Chrome claims the title as fastest browser on the planet. Is it?
If you’re a Mac user, chances are you’re using Safari. The latest version of Safari maintains Apple’s discipline of minimal features, but adds an important element to what is arguably the best page rendering engine in a browser—speed.
Whatever the benchmark, Safari 4 is fast, especially so if you have a fast broadband internet connection. For more than a few years, Mozilla and Apple have had a symbiotic competition. Speed was one element. Firefox was once faster than Safari at whatever test you chose.
That’s no longer the case. And it’s no longer the case that the browser wars, Mac or Windows, feature only Safari and Firefox against Microsoft’s behemoth, Internet Explorer 8. A new player entered in the past year. Chromium from Google.
Chrome has been on Windows for quite awhile. True to Google’s reputation of substance over style, Chrome is a bare bones browser. The rendering engine is based on WebKit, which fires Safari and other browsers, so Chrome is fast, but not loaded with features.
As Internet Explorer’s market share of browser usage continues to drop, Safari, Firefox, and now Chrome continue to gain among both Mac and Windows users. Google, according to CNET, takes the crown for browser speed. What kind of speed?
If you have some experience with multiple browsers, you’d probably agree that Safari is fast and minimalist; typical Apple. You’d also agree that Firefox is fast and feature laden, typical Mozilla. Google Chrome is whatever is lower than minimalist—spartan, perhaps. It’s also not ready for prime time.
Google Chrome on Windows is out. It’s fast, but won’t carry it’s own weight in a feature war against any major platform browser. Chrome on the Mac is in worse shape, still alpha, or pre-alpha, according to some reports (though Google tends to run ‘beta’ for years), and still buggy. Caveat emptor.
You can download Google Chrome from this link and compare it to Firefox and Safari on your Mac.
Chrome has improved in recent months. Version 4.0 runs Adobe Flash, but, in my tests, not very well, so not ready for prime time, indeed. Chrome crashes frequently, and sucks up a lot of my Mac’s horsepower, but web pages do render quickly. When they render.
After enduring Netscape Navigator’s slow death, and Microsoft’s inattention to a browser with substance, the somewhat friendly browser wars between Mozilla and Apple are a breath of fresh air, providing both Mac and Windows users with a classy browsing experience.
Google aims to extend those wars with a different approach, of course. Speed is important. As is security. Chrome is built in such a way that a web page that would crash the whole browser now only crashes the tab window. That’s progress.
What of Opera? Amazingly, despite all the intense competition, Opera is still there, still being used, though nominally when compared to IE, Firefox, Safari, and now Chrome. Opera isn’t as fast as the aforementioned trio, but has a loyal following.
Most of my browsing is done in Safari, Mac or Windows. Internet Explorer 8 is a nominal improvement over IE 7 which was a nominal improvement over IE 6, which replaced the horrid IE 5 series. What else is new? My preference for browsing is Safari, but I love the add on utilities in Firefox.
Does speed matter? Yes. Despite broadband speeds approaching double digit megabits, pages still take time to render once they’re downloaded. For now, Chrome, despite the speed crown, isn’t much of a threat to either Safari or Firefox. It’s an interesting sidebar in the browser wars, but may hold the future and Google’s plans for cloud computing.