Next-Gen Browser Battle: IE 9 vs Chrome 10 vs Firefox 4

With Microsoft officially releasing Internet Explorer 9 tonight, Firefox 4 in release candidate stage, and Google Chrome recently updated to version 10, there’s never been a better time to surf the web. The latest versions of the big three desktop browsers provide speedy page rendering, support for the latest web standards, hardware acceleration, and unique features such as pinnable sites or cloud printing.

With so many features, the choice of which browser to use can be overwhelming. Fortunately, we’ve installed all three contenders through a no-hold-barred face-off to see which one deserves to be your default browser. 

User Interface

With the relatively low 1366 x 768 now the most common screen resolution on notebooks, every vertical pixel really counts. So the more screen real estate your browser toolbars take up, the less space for your web pages. fWhile Google recognized this need from the start, with Firefox 4 and IE 9, Microsoft and Mozilla have trimmed down their browser UIs as well. In fact, with its default settings, Internet Explorer 9 is now the most space-efficient browser on the market.

As you can see in the side-by-side image below, IE 9 uses just 54 pixels of vertical real estate, Chrome 10 uses 61, and Firefox 4 uses 64. While a delta of 7 to 10 pixels may not seem like much, it actually results in another line of text being visible above the fold and every line counts.

Of course, if you want to see more menus in any of these browsers, you can. In Firefox and IE 9, you can active traditional menu bars with File, View, Tools, and Bookmarks menus. In IE 9, you can also opt to put the list of tabs on their own line instead of in their default position next to the address bar. In Chrome, there’s no menu bar, but you can show a bar of bookmarks.

One drawback to having a thinner UI is less room for theming and user customization. IE 9 doesn’t have a theme gallery, though sites you pin to your taskbar can modify the colors of the buttons and insert their logos.

Chrome 10 allows for plenty of custom themes as shown in the screen shot below, but it doesn’t provide a good theme manager, only allowing you to switch off the current theme and return to the default look.

Firefox 4 has thousands of personas you can choose from and, in fact, has an entire site devoted to them at getpersonas.com. Better still, it Firefox gives you a persona management panel so you can switch between any number of personas you’ve installed.

Winner: Firefox 4. Although IE 9 lets you see just a little more of your web pages, Firefox has the best looking, most-customizable interface.

Application Open Time

There are few things more annoying than waiting for programs to load, particularly when that program is your web browser. Whether you need to check your work e-mail or post an update on Twitter, every second counts. So, with that in mind, we timed the application open times for all three browsers on our ASUS U36Jc and its 5,400 rpm hard drive.

Tests were conducted for both cold opens (first time opened after boot up) and warm opens (application in memory). The average results were as follows:

Browser Cold Open (sec) Warm Open (sec)
Chrome 10 1.5 0.2
IE 9 2.9 0.4
Firefox 4 3.2 0.8

As you can see, Chrome 10 blew away the competition, opening about twice as fast as IE 9 and even faster when compared to Firefox.

Winner: Chrome 10. IE 9 comes in second.

Next-Gen Browser Battle

AUTHOR BIO
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
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  1. br1 Says:

    what about webgl? :)

  2. Benz145 Says:

    Hey Avram, great comparison of browser. I’d like to suggest two sections that could be added to the performance section. Both are about standards compatibility (which IE has historically been horrible with). Try these:

    http://acid3.acidtests.org/

    and

    http://html5test.com/

  3. Raul Says:

    Chrome 10 does have the ability to pin app tabs to the far left of the browser tabs; I E 9 does too. How can you say it does not? Just right click the tab.

  4. Techy Says:

    Why didn’t you guys test out Opera?

  5. Techy Says:

    In addition, Google Chrome also has the pin tab feature, if you right-click the tab there’s an option that says “pin tab”

  6. Techy Says:

    which means if you were to revise the “tab management” portion it would give Google Chrome an extra point while Internet Explorer 9 loses a point. So in the end they are all tied, no winner

  7. justsomename Says:

    Hmm, this is a rather poor comparison, methinks.

    The IE9 Pin feature is very superficial. Desktop integration is important, sure, but in a much more productive way than this. I’ve tried this feature, and it’s basically nothing more than a glorified ‘bookmarks’ section, except on your taskbar (which is already crowded to begin with).

    IE9 is still a bucket of fail, as it has not improved its compatibility well enough to be considered a decent browser. Their CSS3 support is shoddy at best, and a long way off… Which would matter to me a lot more than any of these tests. The lack of WebGL is another large piece that is missing.

    Not worth using yet, imho- or ever for that matter. FF & Chrome have been on the right track for a good while; IE is playing catch-up. After a long-standing history of horrible security, on top of poor compatibility, it’ll be some time before anyone considers IE seriously (Not to mention, it is not platform agnostic for obvious reasons- big minus right there).

    And yes, like Techy asked: Why not test Opera? I’m all for FF & Chrome. They are excellent browsers. However in terms of security Opera trumps all.

  8. Edward Says:

    Firefox do sync your browser history and also your tabs opened, and chrome not, and this is very helpful

  9. Adam Williamson Says:

    As Edward notes, Firefox Sync does sync browser history. The first sync will take a bit of time if you have a large history, after that it’ll be fast. You can go to the special URL about:sync-log to track Sync.

    “That said, Firefox set up was a bit more complex as we also had to enable a setting on the first machine to make it sync with the second while Chrome just asked us to enter our Google account username and password.”

    It’s worth noting that this is because Firefox’s Sync is designed much better, from a security and privacy perspective, than Google’s. Firefox Sync does not actually require the backend to be Mozilla’s servers, and it encrypts _all_ data on the client end, so the server never sees anything but encrypted data. This is why the setup is slightly more complicated. They’ve actually done a heroic job of simplifying things as much as possible without taking out the privacy; if you used earlier versions you’ll have had the fun of thinking up and entering, onto each system you wanted to sync, both a server password and an encryption passphrase.

  10. Johannes Says:

    What about mentionning that only Firefox and Chrome are cross-platform, and that Firefox is free software?
    IE9 belongs to Microsoft, Chrome to Google (Chromium is free sotware), but Firefox belongs to you and me, to humanity.

  11. siavash Says:

    recomment :Why didn’t you guys test out Opera?

  12. mzarate Says:

    I agree with Ben.

    As browsers become more powerful they in turn empower web developers to put more powerful and desirable web apps in front of users. However, that’s not possible, or at a minimum becomes frustrating and problematic, when browsers fail to prioritize inter-operable mark up needs along w/standards compliance. That reason alone is why web developers and browser vendors (aside from MS, of course) fail to recognize IE as a worthy platform for web development.

    Another important thing to consider is the rate of change browser vendors get new standards and features to market, another area IE lacks in horribly. Chrome obviously leads the pack in that area w/their aggressive release cycles, but Firefox certainly can’t be overlooked either (despite the slower than anticipated time to market for Firefox 4).

    Overall I love the competition between browsers, but IMO IE has done too much damage to the web’s ecosystem for me to take IE 9 seriously right out of the gate. Web developers still have IE 7 and IE 8 to deal with for years to come, which is very unfortunate.

  13. Michael Says:

    I agree with Benz that html5 and acid tests would have been very useful — much more important than the milliseconds measured in JavaScript benchmarks in my opinion.

    Also, I strongly disagree with your assessment of the user interface. IE9 crams the tabs and address bar onto the same line, which doesn’t really leave sufficient room for either. In doing this, they only managed to save 7-10px (which definitely isn’t another full line of text)! Just from looking at your screenshot, you can see that IE9 has a huge amount of empty, wasted space at the top of the window.

    Other than those two points, I definitely enjoyed reading your assessment. It will be interesting to see where things are a year from now. Well, IE9 will probably be in the same place, but there should be several new releases of Chrome and Firefox by then. :-p

  14. Sid Says:

    1) Firefox is cross platform. They don’t have any business on which they can use our browsing data to capitalize on.

    2) Opera is a really good browser and its verdict should have been given.

    Where did the add-ons part go? Firefox offers tons of them.

    I have written a quick review on all the browsers on my blog at http://hacktivist.tumblr.com/

    Follow me on @crazywebs.

    Firefox 4 on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/pages/Firefox-4/101547596592952

  15. Gary Says:

    I see a custom jumplist in Chrome, but you say it’s unique to IE9? And, the tab panorama feature sounds a lot like the Quick Tabs feature that IE7 introduced. Does IE9 no longer have that?

  16. Gus Says:

    The best thing today is the most important browser are all designed to be good for the developers AND users. Even IE, after such a long history of fail, is now trying to restore some dignity (and let´s be frank: it may be not the best choice, it is no more the joke it used to be). I really missed the Opera in this review, and I only used it for barely a week. Also, I missed a category about external customization (addons, plugins and the like), but this is excusable, given that though Chrome has a good share of them, and Opera is still too new (promising, true, but new), Firefox still doesn’t has much of a competition in that area. A fair analysis though, despite the aforementioned details.

  17. Gecko Says:

    @Sid Wrong. Firefox is open-source. Type about:rights on your firefox and you will see.

  18. G. Love Says:

    Really unfortunate that Opera 11 was not included in this.

  19. McRoberts Says:

    A battery-life or power-usage test with each browser would be nice.

  20. Crupted Says:

    Snip from the 2009 Mozilla Foundation audited accounts (Note 9) “The Corporation has a contract with a search engine provider for royalties which expires November 2011. Approximately 86% and 91% of royalty revenue for 2009 and 2008 respectively was derived from this contract.” In the same document it reports royalties of $101m in 2009 and $83.6m in 2008. It does not mention the “search engine provider” by name, but it is pretty unlikley it is Bing. It is probably the one on the default home page of FF. So we have 3 browsers here (where is Opera btw?), one is from Microsoft and the other two? – maybe one is built by Google and the other one funded by Google? I am not sure how that makes FF “belongs to you me, to humanity” Johannes, I have got a feeling they are loyal to the mouth that feeds them.

  21. Vineeth Says:

    very incomprehensive

  22. Chris Says:

    IE9 is still a epic failure in my opinion. Even there was the overhaul on the interface itself, it does still shows the almost exactly the same flaws on the IE8.

  23. Alex Says:

    You award IE 9 some points because it has the “unique” feature of displaying your most visited websites when opening a new tab? Have you ever used Chrome and opened a new tab? You get your most visited, recently closed, and a small link to the app store.

  24. Darren Says:

    Amazing how you claim some browsers don’t have other features that other browsers have, when they do… Please at-least use the browsers you are comparing before saying they don’t do certain things.

    Terrible comparison.

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