Browser battles: IE vs. Firefox vs. Chrome vs. Opera vs. Safari

We run-down the latest versions of all the main browsers in a head-to-head comparison to sort out where each browser scores well or offers something unique that makes them a must-use proposition. Should you make a switch?

A good browser does what you want, when you want it to. At a basic level, any browser you choose will do the basics — page display, secure websites for matters such as online commerce and banking — to a standardised level. So what marks out one browser from another?

We've taken a look at the latest and greatest from Microsoft, Apple, Opera, Google and Mozilla to sort out where each browser scores well or offers something unique that makes them a must-use proposition. Most users tend to use one browser and stick to it as a familiar kind of playground, but are they missing out on the best the web can offer as a result?

We're well past the point where you have to pay for a browser, and with the exception of Internet Explorer, everything we're looking at works across multiple computing platforms. These aren't benchmarks or reviews per se; we're just using the currently most up-to-date browsers to point out where it might be worth switching browsers.

The biggest players get to go first. So up first, we've got Internet Explorer 9.

(Credit: Microsoft)

Internet Explorer 9 Beta

Where to get it:

There was a time when Internet Explorer was the internet for most folks, with market share that was fast approaching 100 per cent. That time has passed, but IE still holds a commanding market share, and its status as default Windows browser makes it the standard choice for a lot of web users.

Still in beta at the time of writing, most of Internet Explorer 9's big new features are under the hood and promise speed jumps over previous versions of Internet Explorer. To put it kindly, previous versions could often tend to be rather keen on using up as much memory as possible, but our sampling of IE9 suggests it's been slimmed down extensively. Likewise, the user interface finally drops the toolbar-heavy approach for a slimmed down interface that draws obvious comparisons with Google's Chrome. There's no shame in utilising a good idea, however, and that's what the slick Internet Explorer 9 interface does, right down to integrated search in the URL bar. Bing is not surprisingly the default, but you can easily add other search engines.

Speed is always a very relative thing to test, but in our use of Internet Explorer 9, we couldn't call it sluggish the way one could so easily do with previous versions. HTML5 is natively supported, the underlying JavaScript engine has been rewritten, and there's support for hardware-accelerated text rendering, depending on the power of your underlying system. All of these things add up to a browser that, for Internet Explorer, is refreshingly fast and lean.

In terms of tweaked features, the two standouts are pinned tabs and the very nifty way that IE manages your add-ons. Pinned sites can be dragged down to the Windows Taskbar where they act like an individual program application instance. You can launch the sites of your choice automatically, and if the site developer enables it, right-click to launch site jump-lists. One-click site launching is very cool, and one of the first things we did with IE9 was add to our Windows Taskbar. We'll wait while you do the same.

As for Add-On management, the very first time you start up IE9, it'll search out your add-ons and tell you how much time they add to the program start time, with the option to disable them individually or all at once. So if you enable an add-on and IE9 starts dragging its feet, it's easy to find the culprit and lop its head off in just a couple of clicks with no confusion.

And finally — and it's taken long enough, Microsoft — Internet Explorer has a download manager. Quite why we had to wait so long for such a basic feature will no doubt go down as one of history's great mysteries.

If you're still using Windows XP, however, there'll be no Internet Explorer 9 for you. The minimum requirements call for Vista SP2 or better. If you're stuck on XP for a specific reason, we'd suggest switching camps to Chrome or Firefox rather than sticking with an older and potentially less secure IE version, especially as its market penetration make it a favourite of hackers.

In terms of browsers, the current "Fords vs. Holdens" analogy would have to be Internet Explorer vs. Firefox. Over to all things Mozilla we head...

Featured Video