Internet browsing has become an essential part of our day-to-day lives, but a lot of the time, we take for granted the software that we use to do it. Web browsers can have a huge impact on the way we perceive the internet, so choosing the right one is vital.
If you’re overwhelmed by the amount of choice on offer, don’t worry. We’ve collated the best options, and assessed them on all the most important criteria.
Note: We tested these browsers on a Windows 7 laptop with 4GB of RAM and an Intel Core-i5 CPU. We’ve also left Safari off this list, as Apple has discontinued Windows support for the browser.
Microsoft’s once-mighty Internet Explorer has finally been put out to pasture. While it’s still included with Windows 10, the venerable old browser has been taken out back and given the ‘Old Yeller’ treatment, replaced as the built-in default by the snazzy new Microsoft Edge.
It’s really rather superb, too; an attractive redesign, streamlined functionality and just enough new features to be exciting have made Edge a genuine competitor with Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.
We haven’t put it through our full suite of benchmarks and stress tests yet, but if you’re interested in exactly how is stacks up against its predecessor, here’s our head-to-head: Internet Explorer vs Microsoft Edge.
Sluggish web browsers can be one of the biggest irritations when you’re busy, so we put them through their paces to work out which one fires up the fastest. We used Passmark’s Apptimer software, opening each browser five times and then averaging out the results.
Chrome has a reputation for speed, and rightly so – it averaged a very nippy opening time of 0.05s. Interestingly enough, however, although Chrome was the fastest, Internet Explorer was hot on its heels, coming in just 0.002s slower. Firefox brought up the rear, with a time of 0.07s.
In practice, we’d defy anyone to notice a substantial difference between them. All of our browsers fired up almost instantly, with no significant lag when switching between pages; they’re basically identical in terms of speed.
Security and privacy
Considering that we live our lives, in many cases, almost entirely online, security is not something that can be ignored. Internet Explorer has possibly the worst track record with breaches, and various flaws in its code have led to repeated vulnerabilities.
However, it has spent a long time improving and has now reached the point where it is no longer the security liability it once was. Microsoft has made continual improvements, and it’s now a reasonably secure bet.
Firefox has a proven commitment to security, with highly-paid bug bounty programmes and reputation as the browser of choice for many infosec professionals. It’s also highlighted data protection as a key issue, stating in their corporate manifesto that “individuals’ security and privacy on the Internet are fundamental and must not be treated as optional”.
Security-wise, Chrome is among the best browsers out there – the fact that Flash is built-in and automatically updated means that vulnerabilities are kept to a minimum. Unfortunately, its record falls down considerably when it comes to privacy.
It’s no secret that Google is something of a hoarder when it comes to users’ information, and it makes full use of Chrome to gather as many details as possible. For example, if you have the Omnibox’s automatic suggestions turned on, anything you type in will be registered and stored by Google, whether you hit enter or not.
There are options to turn tracking and data collection off, but they’re buried in the options, and a more cynical soul might assume that Google doesn’t want you to find them at all. If you’re prepared to sacrifice your personal data on the altar of convenience, it won’t be an issue, but more privacy-conscious users might want to avoid Google chrome.
Update: Google has revealed that it will no longer support web certificates issued by Symantec following an investigation revealing the company improperly issued over 30,000 certificates over the past few years.
In a scathing report by Google’s development team, Symantec was found to have repeatedly failed to properly validate certificates, which could potentially allow hackers to snoop on financial transactions or force systems to accept malware laden updates.
“Over the course of this investigation, the explanations provided by Symantec have revealed a continually increasing scope of misissuance with each set of questions from members of the Google Chrome team; an initial set of reportedly 127 certificates has expanded to include at least 30,000 certificates, issued over a period spanning several years,” said Ryan Sleevi, a software engineer at Google, writing in a blog post.
When approached with evidence of its failure to abide by Google’s standards, Symantec “failed to disclose such information in a timely manner or to identify the significance of the issues reported to them”, according to the post. The company also failed to provide timely updates to its community, and despite having full knowledge of the problem, failed to publicly disclose the issue, the post states.
This is a big deal, as Symantec holds over 30% of the entire certification volume online, and a drop of support for these certificates will create a substantial challenge for some website operators in finding alternative solutions.
Google “no longer has the confidence” to grant Symantec certificates “extended validation”, the highest level of trust an authority can receive, and has also proposed a gradual distrust of all Symantec issue certificates, which will need to be replaced over time. To do this, Google will reduce the maximum age a Symantec certificate can have over the course of a number of Chrome builds, limiting their validity period.
|Chrome Version||Validity Period|
|Chrome 59 (Dev, Beta, Stable)||33 months validity (1023 days)|
|Chrome 60 (Dev, Beta, Stable)||27 months validity (837 days)|
|Chrome 61 (Dev, Beta, Stable)||21 months validity (651 days)|
|Chrome 62 (Dev, Beta, Stable)||15 months validity (465 days)|
|Chrome 63 (Dev, Beta)||9 months validity (279 days)|
|Chrome 63 (Stable)||15 months validity (465 days)|
|Chrome 64 (Dev, Beta, Stable)||9 months validity (279 days)|
The development team will avoid making changes to the stable build of Chrome 63, as this would clash with a holiday production freeze that many companies undergo.
Google is also reducing the maximum validity period for all certificates issued by authorities to nine months, to help limit the impact of improperly issued certificates in the future. Google also believes the new schedule will make web developers aware of the distrust of Symantec certificates, but allow for their continued use if necessary.