When you first turn on a new PC or laptop, you’ll find that your only route to the internet is via Internet Explorer or, if you’ve just bought a machine running Windows 10, Microsoft’s new Edge web browser.

Update 21 July: Firefox will now start to block Flash content from August 2016, with it being a click-to-activate option come 2017. This is a major push from Mozilla, the creators of Firefox in their vision of HTML being the more dominant and secure technology.

Update 23 June: Click here to jump to reports of browsers' battery consumption.

Update 12 May: Opera has just announced a new version of its browser for Windows and MacOS which includes a new low-power mode that's said to improve battery life by 50 percent. It follows the introduction of an in-built advert blocker and completely free VPN service within the browser that offers unlimited use and supposedly decent speeds. Both features are only in the developer edition of Opera 39, but will soon come to the public version. Anyone can download the developer edition, so you can try out the features immediately. 

Another update is that Microsoft has added support for extensions for its Edge browser in the Windows store in the latest Insider build of Windows 10. This is important because previously, although Edge had support for extentions you had to install them manually, and then uninstall and reinstall if there was an update to that extension. As with Opera, the feature will come to the public version of Windows 10 later - most likely in the big Anniversary Update. You can read more about that in our Windows 10 article

Whether or not these updates will significantly improve the market share of both browsers remains to be seen, but the updates to Opera are particularly compelling. 

Here's the rest of the original article, written in February 2016:

The first thing most people do – even before downloading some up-to-date antivirus software – is to download their favourite web browser. And thanks to StatCounter’s browser stats (taken from October-December 2015), you can see which are the most popular:

Google Chrome, then, is by far the most used browser which accounts for over half of web traffic, followed by Safari in a distant second place. Internet Explorer comes in third, with Firefox fourth. (Note that Chrome is no longer supported on Windows XP and Vista. Strictly speaking, it will be supported until April 2016, but Google recommends you upgrade your OS. For more details, see Google's blog post.)

In June 2016 it was widely reported that Microsoft had conducted controlled lab tests of several web browsers, in part to promote its own Edge browser which is replacing Internet Explorer. The headlines were that Google Chrome is a battery drain, and this is evidenced by the results in the picture below.

In terms of popularity though, you can’t always believe statistics – the US government’s figures put IE in second place for the same period with 24% - but all agree that Chrome is by far the most popular.

That’s one measure of the ‘best’ web browser, but there are others too.

Previously we have reviewed the top six web browsers, benchmarking them for speed and rating them on features. The problem with that approach was that all of these browsers are updated constantly, meaning that those reviews quickly became outdated. And that’s why we’re not offering benchmark results here.

Google, Mozilla, Microsoft and Apple also add, change and remove features in those regular updates, so on the odd occasion, a feature which was a reason to use a particular browser would vanish overnight.

Even if a browser is better than its rivals because of performance, security or features, they’re all free and there’s no limit to how many you can install or run at the same time. So while many would agree when we say that Google Chrome is the ‘best’ web browser, there’s nothing stopping you from using five or six different browsers.

At PC Advisor we all use multiple browsers on a daily basis. Those of us running Windows use Chrome and Firefox most of the time with IE or Edge when necessary, while Mac users will use a blend of Safari, Chrome and Firefox.

And all of these browsers offer decent performance and compatibility. They all offer to save your passwords and aside from Internet Explorer (and to some extent Microsoft Edge) they will sync your data, favourites and tabs between multiple computers and devices so you can grab your phone and carry on reading where you left off on your laptop.

They all support extensions and add-ons so you can add specific features, shortcuts and widgets, with the exception of Edge which still doesn’t have this capability.

If a specific extension isn't available on your favourite browser, simply check and see if it for another browser. Similarly, if a website isn't displaying properly or working in one browser, try another. These are the most common reasons why we use more than one browser.

Here's a table which summarises the main features, as well as which platforms each browser supports. Chrome, Firefox and Opera are the most compatible. You might find older versions of Safari for Windows, but it's no longer kept up to date by Apple.

 

Chrome

Firefox

IE

Safari

Edge

Opera

Features

           

Cloud sync

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Download manager

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Private browsing

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Full-screen mode

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Tabs on the side

Yes

Yes (with add-on)

No

No

No

Yes

Custom extensions

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

Yes

Platforms

           

Windows

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Mac OS

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

No

Yes

Linux

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

Yes

Android

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

Yes

iOS

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

No

Yes

Windows phone

No

No

Yes

No

Yes (Windows 10)

Yes

Details

           

Engine

WebKit

Gecko

Trident

WebKit

EdgeHTML

Webkit

Javascript engine

V8

TraceMonkey

Chakra

Nitro

Chakra

Carakan

Open source

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

No

Website

google.com/...

mozilla.com

N/A

apple.com/...

microsoft.com/...

opera.com