Saturday, August 05, 2006

Browser comparison: IE7 vs FF vs Opera

Unscramble the word: llan mi eous sce

As a follow up to my previous post I have decided to do a comprehensive comparison of the main browsers today. Before the arrival of IE7 this was hardly worth doing as the answer was relatively obvious. The three browsers I have chosen are IE7, Firefox (with reference to FF2) and Opera 9.

Comparison table:
Internet Explorer 7Firefox 9
Website support (not really a fair test, but an important consideration nonetheless)(3) Full, with IE's high market share webmasters cannot afford to ignore this browser(2) Good. Most sites will function perfectly, although occasionally certain websites will not work e.g. or In joint second with Firefox.
Standards support (This category is a far more accurate reflection of the browsers performance)(1) Still poor. As with IE6 Microsoft has cut corners and this in many regards is limiting the development of the internet.(3) Although it does not fully pass the Acid 2 Test, Mozilla is a great advocate for standards and makes great contributions towards them.(3) Despite being closed-source, Opera also advocates standards and is the first of these browsers to pass the Acid 2 Test fully.
Add-ons(1) Very limited. Although Microsoft claims to have achieved this it hasn't! The addon site is very weak and mostly lists plugins and full programs.(3) First place for Firefox. Its open source and has a full system developed for extending the browser. Extensions are created by the community and provide truly useful extras such as Adblocking and Feed reading.(2) Opera has Widgets which are somewhere in between. They can't do everything Extensions can, but they are certainly better than Microsoft's offering.
Ablocking(1) Nonexistent(2) Automatic pop-up blocking. However the extension "Adblock" allows all adverts to be blocked. Because this functionality is not built Firefox only gets second place.(2) Opera also has popup blocking and a built in facility to remove content, however this is not always effective at removing all adverts and is not as good as Adblock or Remove It Permanently for Firefox.
User interface (Unfortunately I have given all the browsers second place here. Read why.)(2) IE7 looks quite good out of the box but that is really it. IE7 has little else to give. I also feel they may have sacrificed functionality in their quest to maximise the webpage viewing area.(2) Firefox comes looking grey and boring and somewhat outdated, although it is more practicle. Luckily its possible to customise most aspects of the interface and download additional themes. When I tried this at the main firefox add-on site however most themes would not install and I'm using, the current stable release. Perhaps there is a hack to get the themes working, but an average user would not know about that.(2) Opera has a (reasonably) customisable interface and several themes. Yet when you first install Opera the interface is incredibly cluttered and it took me about ten minutes to get it looking how I wanted it.
Privacy and Security(1) Microsoft's big failing. IE always gets targetted by hackers and this will probably occur again. Their new phising site detection is quite a weak offering. Will the list be maintained? Based on IE6 levels of unpatched security holes I'd be a little cautious about trusting microsoft entirely. At least they are providing an open beta this time however.(3) Firefox's security is excellent and the available extensions make it even better. The best part is the options are useful and easy to adjust such as the options to handle cookies: Accept? Original site only? Unless previously removed? How long do I keep them? Very good. Only 3 unpatched vulnerabilities and these aren't critical(3) Opera also is fantastic at keeping its users secure. 0 unpatched security problems. Like Firefox, Opera does a good job at keeping you secure and deservedly gets joint first place.

There are several other criteria I could have used to compare the browsers and the ones you assign greatest weight to will depend on your needs. My final tally is:

-Last Place: Internet Explorer: 9
-Second Place: Opera: 14
-First Place: Firefox: 15

As you can see the scores are rather close and I think if Opera keeps on innovating it may soon overtake Firefox. Deciding which one is my favourite may take a long time...

Answer: Miscellaneous



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