Browsers Wars on Like Donkey Kong

Image from Saint Michael's BlogI saw this post about how to provoke an argument with a geek from Wired on Digg, just as I was formulating this post about the escalating browser wars.

Good timing, since debating which browser is best will undoubtedly start an argument.

Anyway, the release of a developer version of Chrome for the Mac has definitely got me excited for the impending GA of Chrome on my platform of choice. Even better for me, that don’t-download-it-yet release of Chrome has been followed in suspiciously quick succession by a development preview of Firefox 3.5 and the release of a GA version of Safari 4.

The browser wars are back with a vengeance, and I’m stoked because “war” means competition will push all three of these browsers to innovate and create a more awesome ‘tubes experience.

I’ve never liked having only one browsing option, so having two-five browsers installed at any given time means I can take early releases, even if they’re not yet ready for primetime, because I always have a stable release installed somewhere.I’m sure you’ll see tons of detailed comparisons and tests, and there may be many like it, but this one is mine. So, here are my impressions of these recent releases.

Chrome for Mac
Since Chrome debuted back in September 2008, I’ve heard lots of good things from Rich and others. However, since I don’t run Windows, my usage had been sparse, only on a VM. The Mac version has been loudly demanded, apparently by Sergey Brin as well, from the get-go.

I dabbled with the Chromium builds on Ubuntu and Mac, but they were sorely lacking in standard browser functionality like tabs, preferences, proxy settings, etc. Rich tells me that Google open-sourced the code, sans these features, so the developers had to build them from scratch.

Yikes. This makes me worry about what the open source version of Google Wave will include, or not.

Anyway, Chromium is awesome fast, especially with Javascript-heavy pages, but without the standard stuff. Chromium’s a no-fly for me.

The developer build of Chrome has a lot more, and I’ve been using it happily since its release.

It’s insanely fast with Google apps like Reader, Gmail, and Docs, natch. In fact, one reason I jumped to Chrome was to avoid the poor JS performance in Firefox 3.5 beta 4, which routinely used more than 90% CPU and 400 MB of memory when I browsed Reader with a Gmail tab or two open at the same time.

However, there are some missing pieces in the developer release, like Flash. Some people, like John, think this is a feature, but like it or not, Flash is a big part of the modern ‘tubes. Without it, you lose YouTube, Hulu and other video sites.

There are other oddities too, e.g. expanding the post editor in WordPress works backwards, which is kinda funny, and because it’s a developer release, you expect that stuff.

Overall, I’m geeked to get a production build, and I will probably jump to Chrome as my primary Google app browser because of the JS improvements.

Firefox 3.5
I love Firefox. You should know that by now.

The 3.5 betas were solid, and my only lingering issue is how big a resource pig Firefox is. As I mentioned, I jumped from beta 4 to Chrome specifically to avoid the JS issues I saw with Google apps.

Then, they dropped the preview release, and I started seeing cool stuff like how Firefox 3.5 uses HTML 5 to treat a video like a web page. If you have 3.5, I highly recommend checking out the preview video; this is very cool stuff. I also recommend you follow the Upgrade the Web in 35 days series on hacks.mozilla.org. They will be discussing and demoing all the sweet features in Firefox 3.5 up to the GA release. Exciting stuff.

I’m working with 3.5 now, and I have to say this version seems to use less resources than beta 4 did. However, all my JS-heavy apps are open in Chrome.

There are some weird issues that I didn’t see in beta 4, e.g. the WordPress lightbox for managing media opens full-page with no way to get back to the post, and the tags box floats off into infinity. Not a big deal, except these are regressions.

Safari 4
I was using Safari 4 as my compliment to Firefox 3.5 beta 4 due to its speedy JS handling. Since it shares the WebKit guts with Chrome, it runs just as fast. I know they quibble about which is really faster, but honestly, I can’t tell a difference. Both are really fast and faster the Firefox.

I read recently that Safari, at least the beta version, stores tons of data, even when you use private browsing. Apparently, using Top Sites secretly creates XML files each time it refreshes, and the OS X Quick Look feature generates webpage previews that are never deleted and stored in an arcane location.

Beyond the annoying, undocumented disk space pilfering, this feels like Apple spying on you as you browse, and I wonder about the security implications of using Safari 4 for work.

For instance, say you use Safari 4 to browse inside the corporate firewall, and your laptop is stolen or lost. A savvy black hat could quickly get a full picture of sensitive corporate information, based on the sites you visit. Not good at all.

Until they fix this issue, how can anyone use Safari with any level of confidence.

Anyway, those are my impressions. I doubt any single browser will be able to rise above the others for me, but choice is good.

Oh, in case you were wondering about IE8, this video with Dean Cain is the latest I’ve heard about it.

So, what are your thoughts about the browser wars?

Find the comments.

AboutJake

a.k.a.:jkuramot

2 comments

  1. Haha. same with me, I like installed several browsers in my PC.Now I have firefox 9.0.1 ,chrome 17 and Avant 2012 and IE9. Chrome release a Mac version? That’s great. but I don’t have a Mac PC.I will be glad if  safari release a windows version.

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