To some people, internet browsers are the online equivalent of the schoolyard console wars of yesteryear. I can’t even count the amount of lunch breaks that I spent arguing with my friends about what was better between the SNES and the Sega Megadrive. I don’t know why I bothered, everyone knows it was the SNES, but that’s neither here nor there. These days, it seems like the browser war is the new hot thing, but that is an argument that seems to rage mostly on my PC’s.

I have four browsers installed on my PC and with the exception of Internet Explorer, I tend to switch the default browser setting over at least once a fortnight. I don’t know why, but I just can’t stick with one. There’s always something faster or more aesthetically pleasing or has the must have plugin which none of the other have. Why I can’t stick with just one is probably something to do with the way my brain works or my complete lack of patience, but I am perpetually switching between Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Opera. One day, I think the dust from the browser war will clear and I’ll be able to decide a victor and will never want to switch again, but all told, I just don’t think that’s going to happen.

Let me tell you a little story. Once upon a time, Internet Explorer was king, and then I discovered Opera. Opera was brilliant, it had mouse gestures, integrated with my email and was faster than my 56k connection could ever have thought possible. In short, I loved it, and then Opera 8 came along and ruined it all. I can’t exactly remember what it was that was so wrong with it, but I think it had something to do with none of my bookmarks carrying over and generally not liking the user interface, so I decided that I wasn’t going to use it anymore. No way in hell was I going back to Internet Explorer though, so what else was there?

Firefox

This was when I discovered a new browser from a plucky company called Mozilla. That browser was Firefox and it held me close for many, many years. Firefox was – and still remains – absolutely amazing; it combined the speed and popup-blocking ability that IE had never given me with something that was revolutionary back then: plugins. Being able to add almost any functionality I could dream of to my browser was incredible and with the job I do today, I just couldn’t do it without most of these plugins. Firefox is amazing and does everything I could possibly want it to, so why do I keep switching?

There are two main reasons for this: firstly, compared to the way the browser landscape looked back then, the competition is simply much stiffer these days. Back when I first switched to Firefox, the only real browsers out there were Netscape (stop laughing at the back there), IE and what I considered to be a broken version of Opera. Firefox was a revelation, but so was Google Chrome the first time I used it.

Secondly, it’s memory hungry and from a user interface perspective, I just find myself wanting something new. The personas in the latest versions are a nice touch, but it’s still a user interface that’s been the same for years.

Google Chrome

Chrome is the only real contender to Firefox’s ‘alterna-browser’ crown as I see it. It’s more streamlined in its UI, is really rather fast and has an array of plugins which suit almost anything I can ask of it and has a few other nice features. Google’s tool would probably stay in the coveted ‘default browser’ zone more often if the SEO Book Toolbar was available for it and if I could get rid of those nagging privacy concerns from the back of my head.

Google Chrome is definitely a browser on the rise though. More and more people think Google actually IS the internet and with the search giants releasing Chrome OS, that looks set to rise. I really like Chrome and it’s on its default browser rotation at the moment, but it often feels like a stopgap or a compromise when it comes to my side to back in the browser war.

Opera

Opera was my first foray into the alternative browser field way back when, and it was the tail end of version ten that I reconnected with it – oh, how Opera has grown. It’s still faster than anything I’ve yet used and now has a very pleasing user interface. In fact, for a while it looked like that unless I was doing some work that required actually looking into anything further than reading a site’s content, Opera was going to be the browser of choice. So what happened?

Unfortunately, I’m a bit of a workaholic. I find it difficult to even search for a CD that I want to buy without taking a look at the site in question and seeing how that particular page came up top for that term and Opera doesn’t really support that kind of functionality, even with its new array of plugins.

That seems to be the bottom line for me. When it comes to ‘pure’ browsing with email and download integration, Opera is absolutely sublime, but I seem to have been spoiled by all the plugins out there. Combine that with my workaholic tendencies and it just doesn’t really have what I need. If you’re just looking for a browser, I can’t recommend it highly enough and I’m proud to use it on my phone, but for web developers or SEO’s, it probably isn’t enough.

The tab-stacking feature in version 11 is absolutely fierce though. Give it a look.

Who Wins the Browser War?

As tragic as it is for such a wordy comparison, I just don’t know. This article could probably be used as some kind of examination of my psyche, but that’s neither here nor there.

I think the bottom line is that I stray from Firefox because I’m tired of the user interface and want something that I’ve used for so many years to stop relying on plugins and just switch it up a little bit. Eating less memory would be nice too – one of the PC’s I use audibly groans whenever I boot it up.

Maybe version 4 will give me what I want. It looks like the UI has taken some hints from Chrome and Opera and some of the stats about using the GPU to help rendering speed are certainly encouraging. Just maybe, if version four brings it, I will again be able to declare Firefox the victor in my browser war. Maybe.

What about you? What’s your weapon of choice? Leave me a comment and let me know.

*this post was uploaded with Google Chrome