Some of you have been around long enough to remember the browser wars of the late 1990s. This was a time when Microsoft declared war on the dominant browser of the time, Netscape Navigator. Microsoft was able to catch and eventually pass Netscape in terms of browser share, but it was merely the first wave. Other browsers would follow, but few would make a dent in browser market share until Google released Chrome in 2008.
This begs with the question: Does it matter what browser you use in 2015?
This week I want to take a look at the two of the most popular browsers: Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome. I would normally include Microsoft IE, but IE is being phased out for a new browser called Edge, that ships with Windows 10 this summer. I’ve tried it, but it still feels like a work-in-progress, and I’d rather hold off reviewing it until it’s finished. I’m not including Safari either because Apple no longer releases new versions on Windows.
Personally, I’ve used Google Chrome for the past five years because it integrates well with Google’s services and syncs between all my devices. But lately, it’s become a bit of a resource hog, and I’m beginning to wonder if there’s a better solution.
Mozilla Firefox (Windows Version 37.0.2)
Mozilla Firefox is a free and open-source browser that’s available on Windows, OS X, and Android. Firefox market share peaked around 2009 with about 47%, but has slowly declined to around 20% today, with most of its defectors fleeing to Chrome.
Over the past several versions, Firefox has tried to emulate Chrome’s clean, spartan look to the point that one must look closely to tell the two apart. Browsers today have reached feature parity. They all include tabbed browsing, bookmarks, integrated search engine, saved states and password and download managers. Selecting a favorite browser often comes down to personal preference.
One area that’s always been a strong suit of Firefox is the number of available extensions. Extensions add additional features to your browsing experience such as ad-blockers and URL shorteners. Firefox also supports themes that allow the user to customize the look of the browser. If having the greatest number of extensions and/or themes matters to you, then you’ll love Firefox. Firefox does the best job at organizing extensions as well, making it easy to add or remove them.
Firefox Sync allows the user to sync bookmarks, history, passwords, open tabs and installed add-ons across all your devices.
Google Chrome (Windows version 44.0.2391.0)
Google arrived late to the browser party, releasing its first version to the public in 2008. At a time when competing browsers were including features such as email clients and HTML editors, Chrome took the opposite approach by providing a clean and streamlined browsing experience. I recall how fast it felt the first time I began using it. And while it didn’t include as many features or have as many developers creating extensions for it, that didn’t to matter to savvy users who appreciated Chrome’s blazing performance above everything else.
Chrome’s popularity has continued to climb, and it controls about 51% of browser market today. Chrome’s growth has been accelerated by Android users who need a way to sync bookmarks and history across their phone and desktop PC running Windows, OS X or Linux. While Firefox has included a similar feature, no other browser reliably synchronizes your content as well as Chrome does.
One feature that keeps me on Chrome today is the omnibox which shows search results inline as I type. This level of integration with Google’s dominant search engine is another example of how difficult it is to switch browsers.
If you are a fan of Google’s services (Gmail, Maps, YouTube, G+) you’ll appreciate the integration of those service with Chrome. Google also offers a number of extensions that bring additional features to the browser too, although not quite as many as Firefox offers.
Recently, I’ve noticed Chrome doesn’t feel quite as fast as it did before, and decided to compare memory usage with Firefox.
With both browsers loaded on my Windows PC, I launched the same website in both browsers and then checked the memory usage in Task Manager. I disabled all extensions in both browsers.
I should also point out here that I’m running the 64-bit version of Chrome and the 32-bit version of Firefox. I know there’s a 64-bit developer version of Firefox, but I decided to install the version both companies recommended I install because that’s what most users will do.
As you can see, Firefox consumed 3 to 4 times the amount of memory compared to Chrome. I visited more sites than I included here and experienced similar usage. This makes me believe the recent sluggishness I’ve seen in Chrome is being caused by an extension with a memory leak.
So which browser deserves your attention today?
Well, I’m sticking with Chrome for now. I work across three Windows PCs, a MacBook and several iOS devices, and Chrome syncs wonderfully between them all. With that said, it’s worth downloading the one you don’t use today and taking it for a test drive.