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Which web browser is best?

We compare six leading browsers

Internet Explorer 9

Best Security

Download from: Microsoft

Pros:

  • Fast HTML 5 processing
  • Good security features

Cons:

  • No themes or automated bookmark synching
  • Managing tabs can be difficult

Internet Explorer (IE) has long lagged behind other browsers in features and ease of use. But the ninth version of Microsoft’s browser offers a few functions that are at least as good as what the competition offers.

Especially noteworthy are some great new privacy features, including the ability to block sites from cataloguing your browsing habits. IE9 permits you to block sites individually or to rely on a Microsoft-assembled list of sites that have a history of tracking visitors after they leave the page.

Microsoft also embedded its Application Reputation app in IE9 to scan downloads and to warn you if a downloaded file is dangerous. And the browser offers built-in cross-site scripting protection, which scans websites for certain types of malicious code, and stops such scripts before they can damage your computer.

Internet Explorer 9

IE9 finished second in our HTML 5 benchmark test and, as more websites move toward that graphics-friendly Web standard, Microsoft’s browser will look even better. It didn’t do as well on our other performance tests, however. It finished last in processing Javascript and also took the most time to complete our static-page load tests (with an average time of 11.21 seconds).

The general appearance of IE9 is much improved over earlier versions. At long last you can move tabs between different browser windows, and the settings and favourites tabs are easier to find. There's still no native feature for synching bookmarks, but you can import and export favourites as usual. With no themes and no in-browser spelling-check feature, Internet Explorer 9 isn’t the most fun nor work-friendly browser available, but at least you can install an extension that provides the spelling check.

Opera 11.61

Download from: Opera

Pros:

  • Pages load very quickly
  • Unique browsing experience with widgets

Cons:

  • Not HTML 5–friendly
  • Fewer security options than other browsers offer

For Internet users who prize speed above everything else, Opera Software’s Opera should be the browser of choice. The user interface looks like a more polished version of Internet Explorer 9: The tabs rest at the top of the browser window, with the bookmarks and other buttons tucked away inside a pop-out menu. The interface takes some getting used to, and it isn’t as customisable as Firefox’s.

Opera 11.61

Opera tied with Chrome as the fastest browser in our page-load test; it loaded a static, image-heavy page in 3.79 seconds. Opera also handled our Javascript tests reasonably well, earning the fourth-best score. But it struggled in our HTML 5 tests, finishing behind all of its rivals except Safari. One HTML 5 site that we visited ended up crashing the browser. The second time we visited the site, the page did load—but several elements were broken. Ironically, Opera Software was the browser maker that originally proposed HTML 5 as an Internet technology.

Opera makes a few extensions and add-ons available to users in the form of widgets. These are tiny applications that you can download from Opera’s Web store and run on your desktop as separate programs. Opera doesn’t have to be open in order for the widgets to work, but they won’t start up unless you have Opera installed. Widgets range from simple games to RSS feeds, and Opera’s staff reviews all widgets that users can download from Opera’s store to ensure that they’re safe.

Another neat tool is Opera Turbo. It uses Opera’s servers to compress Web pages to only a few bytes, enabling people with slow connections to browse the Internet more easily. This feature is also convenient for people whose broadband service imposes monthly caps on their bandwidth usage, though it will automatically disable itself if you happen to be on a faster connection.

Opera supports private browsing, and it will warn you when you attempt to visit a website that it suspects is fraudulent. Opera also lets you control which cookies you accept from Web pages, though the process for making your preferences known is messy and may be too complicated for many users to bother with. In comparison to the other Web browsers in this roundup, Opera is the most lacking in security options.

Next page: Safari 5.1.2

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