The search for the best browser

What is the best browser? Since the birth of the World Wide Web, this question has been the subject of debate among internet users the world over. In the 1990s, a fiercely competitive battle broke out between Microsoft and Netscape over their respective products. Microsoft eventually won the first “browser war” in 1998. For many of the following years, Microsoft continued to monopolize the browser market, until Mozilla Firefox and later Google Chrome eventually overshadowed the Microsoft browser. But the question remains: Do user numbers really decide which browser is best?

What makes a good browser?

Definition

A web browser or simply a browser is a software that can be used to look up and display websites online or more generally documents and data such as images or PDF documents.

As the main gateway to browsing the internet, a browser can make a difference to the surfing experience. What criteria should you consider when looking for a great browser?

  • End device: Web browsers differ depending on the type of end device. If you use a desktop or laptop, you can choose between Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera, Edge, and many other browsers. For smartphones and tablets there specially adapted versions or apps of the desktop browsers are available.
     
  • Operating system: Not every browser is available for every operating system. Many work for the most common operating systems, such as Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge, or Opera. However, if you own an iPhone (iOS), for example, you cannot install browsers that are designed for Android devices only. Similarly, it is not a good idea to use Apple's Safari browser on Windows operating systems, because the security requirements and support are only optimized for Apple operating systems.
     
  • Speed: In terms of the loading speed of search results, the most commonly available browsers hardly differ. Chrome is leading the field, followed by Opera, Firefox, and Edge. However, the operating system and the end device also play a major role in the speed of a browser.
     
  • Security: When it comes to the security of web browsers, you should pay attention to providers who regularly update their browsers. Google, for example, updates its Chrome browser every two weeks. Integrated phishing- and malware-detection can also be a wise investment. Microsoft Edge has a lot to offer here. However, when surfing safely, the browser is just as important as user behavior. Ensure you use secure passwords, visit trustworthy websites, and do not download suspicious programs.
     
  • Data protection: A secure browser should store as little user data as possible and offer options to adapt data protection settings to personal requirements. Mozilla Firefox leads the way, while Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge are doing their best to catch up.

What browsers are there?

The first web browser, known as WorldWideWeb (later Nexus), was developed by the creator of HTML, Tim Berners-Lee, in 1989. Just two years later, he published this pioneering browser in combination with the lite Line Mode Browser. This could only display text, but graphics could be opened via the WorldWideWeb with a simple click. In 1993, NCSA Mosaic appeared – the first web browser with a graphical user interface. A year later, the Netscape Navigator revolutionized the market forever.

What followed as a browser war with Microsoft and Internet Explorer. After a long period of market domination, Microsoft’s global spread left it a prominent target of cyber criminals. Reports of vulnerabilities and the emergence of Mozilla Firefox in 2004 put a swift end to Internet Explorer’s dominance. The final nail in the coffin for Internet Explorer was Google’s entry to the market in 2008 with its Chrome browser. In just a few years, Chrome was able to make it to the top of the browser market, which you can see from the infographic below on the desktop market shares.

Chrome is also in the lead among mobile browsers, although Safari has secured second place here due to the market of iPhones and iPads.

Comparing the best browsers

Google Chrome

In 2008, Google published its very own web browser Chrome, setting new functionality standards in the process. While the plugin system was taken from Firefox, the search engine giant has come up with several innovations that have helped Chrome to quickly become a global player. Chrome has very fast loading times and has perfected its cross-browser synchronization. Not only can users sync their settings and favorites between devices, they can also sync plugins and stored passwords. Chrome is also the first browser to start each tab as a new, independent process, making it very unlikely for the software to experience a crash. Chrome is available for Windows, OS X, Linux, Android, and iOS. Characteristics which make Chrome stand out from the crowd are following:

  • Suitable for desktop, laptop, and mobile devices
  • Available for Windows, OS X, Linux, Android, and iOS
  • Fast loading times
  • Very secure thanks to regular updates
  • Wide range of plug-ins and extensions
  • Pre-installed with Ad Blocker against particularly annoying advertising

Pros

Cons

Fast and reliable

Not the best data protection

Synchronization of data

Strain on the main memory when many tabs are open

Good options for function expansion

 

Mozilla Firefox

Mozilla’s free web browser was first released in 2002 under the name Phoenix. This was followed by Mozilla Firebird – until the release of the first Firefox version in 2004. Alongside solid security standards, the advantages of this Netscape successor are its huge range of simple extensions as well as its compatibility with numerous operating systems, like Windows, Linux, and OS X. Firefox Mobile is also available as an app for Android and iOS devices. Thanks to the cross-platform synchronization function, settings and favorites can be carried across all devices. The browser supports 85 languages and is particularly popular across Europe. The desktop version can be downloaded from the official Mozilla homepage. Firefox Mobile can be downloaded from the App Store and Google Play. Features which make it a great choice for a browser are:

  • Suitable for desktop, laptop, and mobile devices
  • Available for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS
  • Good security and excellent data protection
  • Browser is highly customizable
  • Easy operation and synchronization of data and passwords
  • Download and hardware accelerator

Pros

Cons

Many add-ons

Occasionally puts a strain on hardware

High level of data protection

Higher risk of crashing

Good password management

 

Microsoft Edge

Since Windows 95, Internet Explorer (IE) has been an integral part of all Microsoft operating systems and was also temporarily compatible with Mac OS as well as Unix derivatives, like Solaris. It was characterized by its close connection to the operating system, particularly when it came to displaying HTML content in other programs – IE was the default technology used here, and all IE updates were controlled via the general Windows update. As a result of increasing safety deficiencies and the general reputation of being an outdated browser, development was stopped and an official successor, Microsoft Edge, was published along with the release of Windows 10. Edge’s features include the ability to use annotation tools on websites and to hide unwanted elements in its reading mode. It supports the Microsoft language assistant, Cortana. Edge’s main features are:

  • Suitable for desktop, laptop, and mobile devices
  • Available for Windows, macOS X, Xbox One, Android, and iOS
  • Smart Screen Filter protects against malware and phishing attacks
  • Full HD resolution when playing videos
  • Read mode and reading list

Pros

Cons

Malware and phishing protection

Fewer add-ons and extensions

Personalized homepage

Poor data protection

Notes can be added to websites

 

Safari

Safari is Apple’s own web browser and the counterpart to Microsoft's Edge. Consequently, it is also included in the software package of the portable Apple devices with iOS. Its advantages include:

  • Suitable for desktop, laptop, and mobile devices
  • Only available for macOS and iOS
  • Good data protection, because Apple does not record any user data
  • Optimized for Apple devices and iCloud storage

Pros

Cons

Good performance and reliable for Apple devices

No Windows or Android support

Very good data protection

Lack of security, as updates are launched only slowly

 

Fewer add-ons than many other browsers

Opera

Opera is a browser that has been about since 1996 and is especially popular in Africa. With over 100 million installations worldwide, Opera Mini is one of the most popular browsers for mobile devices. Additionally, Opera has the monopoly for browsers in the current Nintendo game consoles. Its main features are:

  • Suitable for desktop, laptop, and mobile devices
  • Available for Windows, macOS, Linux, and Android
  • Automatic clearing of the cache
  • Turbo mode for slow Internet connections
  • Convenient sidebar displays messenger and bookmarks

Pros

Cons

Expandable with add-ons

Not pre-installed, must be downloaded and installed

Very safe

 

Good synchronization of desktop and mobile devices

 

UC Browser

The freeware UC browser was first released in 2004. It uses cloud acceleration and data compression technologies and is the most popular browser for mobile devices in China and India. Over 500 million users worldwide use the web browser, which is compatible with Android, iOS, and Windows Phone, as well as other devices. Its defining features are:

  • Only suitable for mobile devices
  • Available for macOS, Android, Windows Phone, J2ME, MTK, Tizen, Bada, and BREW
  • Fast loading of web pages thanks to data compression technology
  • Simultaneous download is possible
  • Minimized memory usage

Pros

Cons

Fast access to mobile websites

Not very safe

Optimized for slow Internet connections

Lack of good data protection

Samsung Internet

Samsung Internet is relatively new among web browsers. It was developed especially for Galaxy series devices and was introduced in 2015. Samsung Internet is a mobile web browser for devices with Android or Tizen operating systems.

  • Only suitable for mobile devices
  • Available for Android and Tizen
  • Ad Blocker and Tracking Blocker pre-installed
  • Synchronization with chrome bookmarks possible
  • Fast and easy to operate

Pros

Cons

Secure mobile surfing and good data protection thanks to Tracking Blocker

Not suitable for iOS

Optimized handling for Android and Tizen

Read mode works only on selected web pages

Supports add-ons

 

All browsers in comparison

 

Google Chrome

Mozilla Firefox

Apple Safari

Microsoft Edge

Opera

UC Browser

Samsung Internet

Free?

Windows

no

no

no

macOS

no

no

Android

no

iOS

no

no

Password manager

Automated cache clearing?

no

no

no

no

no

Private browsing

Extension/add-on selection?

 

 

Bookmarks

Synchronization with other end-devices

There are many alternatives to the common browsers, but it is questionable whether these are absolutely necessary. However, if you have special needs, they may be worth a look. For example, the Tor Browser is suitable for users who value increased security and want to surf as anonymously as possible. Vivaldi is a good alternative for more experienced users who want to customize the appearance of the web.

Fine details make the difference when it comes to browser comparisons, with no representative being able to outdo the competition in all areas. In the end, the best browser is the one that allows you to surf the web the way you want to.


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