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Which web browser is best?

We compare six leading browsers

Mozilla Firefox 10

Most Versatile

Download from: Mozilla

Pros:

  • Superb HTML 5 performance
  • Thousands of available add-ons

Cons:

  • Slow page loads
  • Too many add-ons can bog down the browser

Mozilla’s browser has been around for nearly a decade, but it’s still quite spry. In the six versions following its dramatic version 4.0 redesign in March 2011, Firefox has undergone a few chiefly cosmetic changes. The bulky toolbar is gone, replaced by a row of tabs on the top of the window, and the bookmark bar is hidden by default. You can change the default settings via the options, of course, but the simplified interface works well, especially on smaller displays where space is at a premium.

Firefox’s biggest advantage over its rivals is its vast library of add-ons, which you can use to customise your Web browsing and make Firefox infinitely more useful. Not surprisingly, the more add-ons you install, the slower Firefox will be to start up and run. And some add-ons can turn Firefox into a memory hog, slowing down even the beefiest system.

Firefox led the pack in our HTML 5 tests, and it finished third in handling Javascript, easily outperforming Opera, Internet Explorer 9, and Safari. On our test machine, Firefox was the second-slowest browser at loading Web pages, taking 9.67 seconds (on average) to fully load an image-heavy page; the fastest browsers, Chrome and Opera, took only 3.79 seconds (on average) to load the same Web page.

Mozilla Firefox 10

Firefox is a relatively full-featured browser. You can save frequently used Web services such as Pandora and Gmail as App tabs, which are permanent tabs that Firefox saves in the browser. Think of them as bookmarks in tab form. If you’re a power user who leaves tons of tabs open constantly, Firefox will allow you to collect the tabs into manageable groups, a handy feature for keeping your entertainment tabs separate from your work ones, for instance.

If you use Firefox at home and at work, Firefox Sync will synch your history, bookmarks, and preferences across computers, and will even synch with the Firefox Mobile app on Android. Firefox has a pop-up filter and supports private browsing. The browser’s malware protection will warn you if you happen to encounter a fraudulent website, and its updater ensures that your plug-ins have the latest security patches. Firefox will work with any security software that you have installed on your computer, using the software to scan downloads for malware.

RockMelt 0.9

Download from: RockMelt

Pros:

  • Makes communicating with Facebook friends easy
  • Automatic synching between computers
  • Pages and JavaScript features load quite briskly

Cons:

  • Facebook sign-in required to get the most out of this browser
  • Extensions and add-ons are relatively scarce

RockMelt was built on the Chromium browser framework, so it looks and acts a lot like Chrome; nevertheless, it’s designed to appeal to social-media fanatics. You have to sign in through Facebook to use most of its features, and RockMelt collects data on your browsing habits, though the developers say they won’t share that data with any third parties, including Google and Facebook.

RockMelt 0.9

The Facebook sign-in process enables RockMelt to synch settings and bookmarks automatically through your Facebook account among computers and other devices running RockMelt’s iOS app (no RockMelt app is available for Android yet).

What fans love about RockMelt will undoubtedly drive others crazy. A thin strip located on the right side of the browser window displays your Facebook friends’ icons, and indicates their availability to chat. By clicking a friend’s icon, you can chat in the browser window without having to switch back and forth between Facebook and your other tabs. On the left side of the browser window, you can choose 'apps' for different websites that notify you of newly posted content. If the information at the edges of the browser window becomes distracting, you can silence the visual noise by clicking the bell icon in the top-right corner.

RockMelt has some other potential drawbacks. The browser will add any link that you click in the left-hand bar (such as a link from RockMelt’s CNN app) to your Facebook timeline unless you turn the behaviour off in the browser’s preferences. Also, many extensions that work in Chrome don’t function in RockMelt. The company is working with developers of good Chrome apps to produce RockMelt-compatible versions. Currently there are about 200 extensions.

The fledgling browser outperformed Chrome at processing HTML 5, finishing third behind Firefox and IE 9. It took second place in our Javascript benchmark, only slightly behind the winning Chrome; and it was again the runner-up in loading our static, image-heavy page, with a very good time of 4.15 seconds, less than half a second behind Chrome and Opera, which tied for first place.

Next page: Internet Explorer 9 and Opera 11.61

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