Monday, February 19, 2007


There has been numerous arguments as to which is the best browser, Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox or Opera. All three have their own strong points, making it very difficult to decide as to which is the best browser. Added to that are the differing philosophies behind the creation of each browser: Firefox has a simple default install and gives the owner the freedom to customize the browser to his or her choice. Opera, on the other hand, gives a feature packed default install to make browsing as powerful as possible. Also coming into the question is the open-source proprietary debate. As a result of all these, this article will try to assess subjectively which the best browser is. Perhaps the question cannot be answered at all, and in the end, just show the writers perception and needs. Therefore, what follows is the authors two paise on the browsers.
For this article, the different browsers will be judged according to the following criteria:
1.Page rendering and viewability-40%
2.Web standards compliance -10%
Of these, page rendering and viewability is the most important fiunction. A person uses a browser to view web pages and check web mail. Therefore it is given the greatest weightage. However, many browsers suffer because many web pages are not standards compliant and have been optimised for a single browser. Standards are extremely important and adherence to these standards show, to an extent, the social responsibility of the browser manufacturers. Therefore, an additional 10% have been given for web standards compliance. The standards compliance have been tested using the acid2test and another web page showing the extent of standards compliance of the browsers.
Security is extremely critical, and the data extracted from has been used for measuring this component. What has been seen are the number of reported vulnerabilities, the time taken to patch the critical (and not so critical) vulnerabilities and the number as well as the severity of unpatched vulnerabilities.
Comparison of features is difficult to measure. It is extremely difficult to give a number to useful features. Therefore, this portion will be the most subjective of the various assesments. What complicates the matter further is that Opera has more installed features, while Firefox gives the user the choice to extend his browsing capabilities. Therefore, what this will intend to measure is the features that an User may wish to install, whether or not that comes with the default installation.
Speed is the fifth component of this comparison. I felt that this is not as important an component as features or security, and therefore gave it the least weightage. Now , on to the comparison:

Page rendering and viewability: There is no question about who the winner in this category will be. Due to its immense market share, only a foolish web page maker will make a page not correctly viewable in Internet Explorer. Therefore, almost all the webpages are viewable in IE7. Moreover, the presence of ActiveX allows some thing not possible in other browsers, e.g: Online malware scanning. Firefox comes near, but there are still a few pages which do not show well in it. The loser in this category is Opera. Many pages are optimised for IE or Firefox. Even though the Mask as Firefox or Mask as Internet Explorer feature does an admirable job,and perhaps more than 99% of the pages render perfectly, some pages are broken (though functional).Also, it is a pain trying to use online office suites in Opera. ( I know it is not Opera's fault, but this analysis was done keeping the end users in mind, and Opera, having a low market share, has to suffer). The marks given are:
IE7 40
Firefox- 38
Opera 34

Web standards compliance: There is again very little doubt about the winner in this category. Opera is the only browser among the three to pass the Acid2test. Furthermore a look at the standards compliance shows Opera to be ahead in most of the important features. Internet Explorer has a pathetic compliance for standards, and though Firefox is good, it could be better. Of course development builds of Firefox (the Gran Paradiso) have passed the Acid2test and will lessen the gap in the coming months.
IE 3
Firefox 7.5
Opera 9

Security: Again, there is little doubt as to the winner in this category. Opera has no unpatched vulnerabilities, and took very little time to patch those as well. Firefox has done well, patching the critical vulnerabilities fast and leaving no critical vulnerability unpatched. IE also has unpatched vulnerabilities. It has to be mentioned here that Firefox has more reported vulnerabilities than IE, but this should not be a criterion for marking. The nature of Open Source is such that more vulnerabilities will be reported because they have more eyes scanning them. What is really important is the promptness with which the vulnerabilities are repaired. Now two of the unpatched vulnerabilities in Firefox are relatively long standing ( June and November 2006) and blots its security record. Opera is almost perfect, but they could have been more open about the patches. As Asa Dotzler pointed out (even though “Asa is a troll”), they did not inform the users about the patches to the critical vulnerabilities. This is an extremely lax attitude and offsets some of their almost perfect record, and 10% of the total points have been docked. Still, they are the runaway winners in this category.IE also has 1.5 points docked for not acknowlwdging security flaws reporting to them and keeping them unpatched.
IE 6
Firefox 13
Opera 18

Features: This was difficult, mind you. On one hand, the numerous extensions of Firefox gave the user an almost unbelievable power. However, extensions have an effect on the memory footprint and speed (and to come anywhere near the functionality of Opera, you need to have more than 40 extensions installed). Opera, had an amazingly feature packed default install and can do many of the things by default that the most popular Firefox extensions do. Furthermore, being a full featured internet suite, it has an inbuilt mail client, news feed reader and chat client, with the former two (I believe) adding much more functionality than any extension. Besides that online presentations can be prepared with Opera. That along with MDI closes the huge gap in functionality that the extensions in Firefox seem to have built up. Internet Explorer had Active X and first and third party add ons, (in fact, it haa entire browsers browser-Maxthon, Avant as add ons). Therefore, the marks given in this category is extremely subjective and prone to debate.
IE 14
Firefox 18
Opera 14

Speed: Opera is a hands down winner in this category. It renders pages faster, loads very fast and makes the other browsers seem dead slow. There have been different articles showing that Opera is indeed the fastest, and by a large margin. And for the ones needing text really fast, it can run in text mode.
IE 7
Firefox 7
Opera 9

Final marks: IE 71
                       Firefox 83.5
                       Opera 84

And the winner is: Opera (though by a small margin). However, the small margin of victory has emphasised that there will be plenty of users (especially those for whom customisability is important) for whom Firefox will be the browser of choice. Also, as web page makers build good pages, Opera should gain more users. A fairer assessment should perhaps be that Opera and Firefox are both Winners. For me, however, inspite of being a supporter of the open source philosophy, Opera rules.