Web Browser Weigh-In: Chrome 10 vs Firefox 4 vs IE9

By Matthew Braga

We've had some time to test the latest Firefox, Chrome and Internet Explorer releases. How do these next-generation browsers compare?

We like to think of today's browsing landscape as something of a battle — but that's not entirely true. A battle implies some sort of fierce clash between opponents, of which one must reign supreme. But the truth is, we've finally reached a point at which most modern browsers — yes, even Internet Explorer — are actually rather good. Choosing the best is now much less clear.


 

Speed 

Until Chrome came along, Firefox was king in this regard — especially compared to the then-insufferable experience of Internet Explorer. However, that reign wouldn't last long, for Mozilla's once-nimble browser to suffer from. Now, Firefox 4 is looking for a return to form. 
 
Kevin Purdy of  Lifehacker's own tests completed shortly after Firefox 4's release. And not to be forgotten, of course, is Internet Explorer 9's new Chakra JavaScript renderer, which has, impressively, been found to perform similar to Firefox in many cases.
  
But while Firefox 4 may be fast — especially compared to previous revisions — it still can't compete with Google's insanely fast Chrome. A quick comparison of the V8 benchmark on both browsers revealed Chrome to be almost twice as Mozilla's newest release, with a difference of 8874 versus 4504 (larger is better). Internet Explorer 9 took up the rear, with a respectable showing of 2939. The folks at Life hacker too found similar results in their JavaScript tests.
   
 WebGL is supported by both Firefox and Chrome. IE9 is unlikely to ever support the standard due to Microsoft's support of alternate technologies, such as DirectX instead.


User interface




 
However, if there's one place where Firefox 4 comes out on top, it's in how the browser handles tabs. It's often you hear users practically brag about the number of tabs they have open at one time, and while 62 open websites is an impressive feat, it's not entirely smart from an organizational standpoint. By now, you've no doubt seen Firefox's Tab Panorama mode, which essentially acts like Spaces for your browser. But for Windows users, the real boon is how those tabs are displayed in the taskbar. Each tab actually gets its own preview — updated in real time, too — which can make for a handy, visual way with which to sift through your myriad of open websites.
   

Add-Ons and Extensions 

Traditionally, the realm of extensibility has been ruled by Mozilla — something that's rapidly changed in the past year. The increasing popularity of Chrome means that many of Firefox's once-flagship add-ons, including AdBlock Plus and Greasemonkey scripts, are now available on Google's browser, though some notable exceptions still remain (we're looking at you, DownThemAll). For the most part, you can't quite go wrong either either browser — and Google's Chrome Web Apps might arguably sweeten the deal. 
 
Internet Explorer 9, however, can't come close to what both Mozilla and Google now offer. Microsoft does offer so-called add-ons and extensions, but they rarely perform similar tasks and functions to what you've probably come to expect. Part of the problem is that Microsoft appears to approach add-ons as a way to personalize, not modify, the browsing experience. Thus, deep browser modifications are nowhere to be found, and most of IE9's limited add-on and extension catalog seems to consist primarily of widgets, or so-called "web slices" that act as glorified RSS feeds or aggregates. There are exceptions — things like Xmarks, notably — but for the most part, extension support on IE9 is a sadly lacking affair. 

Under the hood  

OH GOD WHY HAS THIS LOOKED THE SAME FOR LIKE A DECADE. 
about:config and userChrome.css are the holy grails of browser customization, allowing users to modify nearly every GUI element and variable imaginable — to the point where you can actually break your browser in the process. This is the same place where we showed you how to enable things like OpenGL rendering for WebGL content on Windows, and customize multi-touch gestures.
 
Chrome, of course, has a similar, albeit more limited setup, found in about:flags. However, many of the customizations found here are experimental options not quite ready for prime time — and quite frankly, you'd be better off grabbing one of the nightly or Canary builds in the developer channel instead if you're looking to play around.
 
Microsoft, unfortunately, still doesn't seem to get it — which is a shame, considering how promising the rest of IE9 looks. Head over to the browser's options panel, and you're greeted with a familiar sight — one that looks eerily reminiscent to what we had in IE6. In fact, some of the tabs are near identical. All of the remotely juicy options are hidden away in the Advanced tab, which is really just an overwhelming list of check-boxes. In truth, we probably shouldn't be surprised; Microsoft is looking to make the IE9 experience as easy as possible, and giving users more things to play around with — or more specifically, break — probably isn't part of that plan.
 
This is by no means an exhaustive list of changes or features — which is why we want to know what you think. Have new releases of Firefox, Internet Explorer or even Chrome taken up residence as your default browser? And what do you love and hate about each? Let us know in the comments.