Photo: iStockphoto
Photo: iStockphoto

Gateway to the world wide web

Is Google Chrome slowing down your computer? Are you still stuck with the Internet Explorer? Perhaps it is time to start afresh

The Web browser, that simple app you use on your PC and phone to access the World Wide Web, isn’t as simple as you might think. Every Web browser has a different set of features which may or may not be relevant for you, in the same way that gadgets and apps that work for one person may not necessarily work for another.

On 7 April, Jon von Tetzchner, a former chief executive officer of Opera, a company that makes Web browsers, launched the Vivaldi Web browser, focused on enhancing productivity. Microsoft is constantly adding to the Edge browser, the latest being Skype plug-in support. Mozilla has announced that it is starting Project Tofino as it struggles to make more headway with the current-generation Firefox browser. Google’s Chrome, which has released its 50th version, remains the undisputed leader globally.

We take you through the highlights of the five major Web browsers for Windows and Mac OS X devices. The results may surprise you, and even help you make a smarter switch to a Web browser that suits your usage better.

Google Chrome

Windows 10/8.1/8/7, Mac OS X 10.9 or later, Linux

Even after 50 versions, Chrome retains its easy-to-use interface, and in terms of website rendering performance, it’s still faster than Firefox and Opera—only the Microsoft Edge is ahead in some aspects. A Sync feature for bookmarks, passwords and browsing history across all your devices is very helpful. Chrome still has no competition when it comes to extensions—add-on apps that can be bolted on to the browser—and they make certain tasks extremely convenient, such as accessing notes, tasks and saving Web pages to read later.

Over the years, however, the addition of new features has seen Chrome gain weight. That has resulted in a bigger resource footprint—it consumes more RAM than any other Web browser while running exactly the same websites, and can slow down the performance of computers that don’t have the latest specifications.

Despite this, a lot of users are still sticking to Chrome just because of the wide range of add-ons and extensions. But rivals are now beginning to offer similar add-on features, and this will diminish Chrome’s uniqueness.

Alternative: Vivaldi or Opera


Vivaldi

Windows 10/8.1/8/7, Mac OS X 10.7 or later, Linux

What stands out is the clean design and the amount of space given to Web content. The Stack Tabs feature lets you merge tabs—useful if you have multiple tabs of the same website open. It also has the Hibernate Tab feature, which turns off features such as auto-refresh to save system resources as well as battery life on laptops and hybrids.

Vivaldi has added a very important feature to the side panel—Notes. This is extremely handy if you have to copy text from sites for reference, jot down notes, even add screenshots and links.

You can also add specific websites to open from the sidebar as a smaller tab within the same window and share the same screen space with other website tabs—this is the killer feature for us, because it means you can keep your mails or Twitter open all the time while skipping through other tabs. Vivaldi is our new favourite Web browser.

Alternative: Opera

Microsoft Edge

Windows 10

Edge’s interface, quite slick and minimal, is tuned to the overall design language of the Windows 10 operating system. Features and settings can be accessed from the sidebars, which makes it relevant for touch-screen computing devices. In terms of performance, this is much better than the Internet Explorer browser it succeeds. Those who load their browsers with extensions might want to look away now, because Edge doesn’t have any. But what you can do is scribble or write directly on a Web page and share that note with friends or colleagues. The only problem is that Edge is only available on Windows 10 devices, since it is made on Microsoft’s Universal Apps platform—but you might be in luck if you have a newer and adequately powerful PC that is eligible for the free Windows 10 upgrade.

Alternative: Vivaldi or Chrome

Opera

Windows 10/8.1/8/7, Mac OS X 10.9 or later, Linux

The layout of the browser, with its compact sidebars, crisp icons and straight lines, is a blend of the design and layout of Google’s Chrome and Microsoft’s Edge browsers. In terms of sheer performance, Opera is better than Firefox, but still cannot match the outright speed of Chrome or the optimized memory use of Vivaldi. Opera can also support Google Chrome extensions, which is great news for both productivity as well as functionality. It is also easier to reopen a tab you may have closed by mistake, and Opera can be configured to show you the latest news on the home page itself.

This is now the world’s first Web browser to offer native Virtual Private Network (VPN) support, which will be extremely useful for enterprise users who need to access the company’s network through a secure connection while working remotely.

Alternative: Vivaldi

Mozilla Firefox

Windows 10/8.1/8/7, Mac OS X 10.9 or later, Linux

The Firefox browser is at a crossroads. What users demand of a Web browser, and how Web content looks across websites, has changed a great deal, and Firefox has been unable to provide a compelling reason to switch to it. So Mozilla is now embarking on a project called Tofino, which will most likely be built on Google Chrome’s open-source software, called Chromium.

At present, Firefox remains firmly behind Chrome in terms of Web page rendering speeds and performance, and in some cases, Vivaldi and Opera also pip it in performance test scores. What makes it stand apart is the customization possibilities, with themes and extensions—the Firefox browser will also be able to run Chrome extensions. For the moment, however, Firefox isn’t really the browser you should switch to, or stick with.

Alternative: Just about anything else!

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