March 4, 2015 by Bill Johnson
In the biggest shakeup in the browser industry since Microsoft was forced to uncouple Internet Explorer from Windows, Google’s Chrome burst on the scene in 2008, forcing new standards in browser speed, streamlined design, and rapidly iterating software, forcing all the other players to overhaul their own sluggish software as they played catch up to the nimble newcomer. Chrome spent several years as PCMag Editor’s Choice, but it’s been surpassed in speed and features, and it has sunk to a three-way tie for second place as former favorite Firefox has reasserted its lead. With a beautifully redesigned interface, excellent performance, thrifty memory use, helpful browsing tools, and leading customizability, the independent open-source browser has reclaimed PCMag.com’s Editors’ Choice for browsers.
While Firefox is our favorite browser of the moment, there are still other excellent choices that, depending on your priorities, will server your Web browsing needs admirably, including Internet Explorer, Opera, and Maxthon. All of the browsers now provide more-than-adequate support for the new HTML5 standard for website coding—even Internet Explorer has been acknowledged by Google as now being among the ranks of “modern” Web browsers. The search kingpin did this when it withdrew its Chrome Frame product, which inserted Chrome’s page renderer inside IE.
Beyond standards support and page-rendering speed, factors to consider when choosing a browser include extension support, customizability, startup times, browsing helps like bookmark and tab managers, privacy, and security. For a deep dive into what each of today’s main browser choices offer on all of those scores, read the in-depth, tested reviews linked below. For some background on how PCMag.com tests Web browsers, read How We Test Web Browsers.
Firefox recently benefitted from a major interface redesign, and has made huge strides in memory consumption and startup speed. It’s also a leader in new standards support and evolution. But Firefox’s customization possibilities are what have endeared the browser to millions of users over the years, and the latest version is more easily customizable than ever. Its Customize mode lets you configure the browser toolbars, Personas let you change its appearance, and as always, a raft of extension can do more to make the browser your own than any other browser. To top everything off, Firefox is the leader in security and privacy.
Internet Explorer 11 (IE11)
Now available for Windows 7 as well as for Windows 8 (but not for Vista or XP), Microsoft’s latest browser is faster, trimmer, far more compliant with HTML5—a major improvement over its predecessor. IE even now supports WebGL and SPDY, but not WebRTC. The browser brings some unique capabilities such as tab-pinning and leading hardware acceleration. Its excellent privacy tools include Do Not Track enabled by default and the more-powerful Tracking Protection feature.
Maxthon Cloud Browser 4.4
Maxthon is the app in this roundup known and used by the fewest people, but it offers among the most in tools, and surprisingly good performance and HTML5 support. If the idea of being able to skip through video ads, take a screen capture of a webpage, download video, or switch to a dark view for night viewing appeals to you, give Maxthon a download. Site compatibility is pretty much guaranteed, since Maxthon uses both Chrome and IE’s webpage rendering engines. Rich cloud services let you push sites to other devices and store downloads up in the cloud, but Maxthon trails in graphics hardware acceleration.