We put the web's three best browsers head to head. So which one comes out on top?
What would the internet be without the humble browser? A database of information no one could make sense from – pretty useless really.
Browsers are the gateway to the internet. Allowing the world wide web's huge swathes of information to be accessed, just by typing a website address into the address bar, or of course using a search engine to find results.
Since the dawn of the internet in the 1990s, a few tech leaders have come out in front for developing browsers that allow people to tap into the library of information available on the internet.
But browsers aren't just reserved for typing information in either. They've evolved to harness the power of voice too, with many of the market leaders developing the technology so you can speak your searches and find the information you're looking for, whether on a computer, a mobile, a tablet, or even into a watch.
The idea of a browser was first developed by little-known company Mosaic, which launched not long after Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web. This was quickly followed by the Netscape Navigator, developed by Marc Andreessen. However, these two little-remembered tech innovations were soon overtaken by bigger tech giants and Microsoft's Internet Explorer popped up, not long after Netscape unveiled its browser software.
From there, Mozilla Foundation took on Microsoft with its open-source Firefox, which is the most widely used web browsers to date. The two became the biggest search engines available until two more famous tech names entered the fray.
In 2008, the most popular search engines of today first offered services - Apple with its Safari browser and Google with Chrome. The latter browser has now overtaken both Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Mozilla's Firefox in popularity, although Apple's browser is somewhat limited as it's only available on Apple devices.
Given the huge variety of browsers, users have to choose between today, there will always be the opportunity to switch in order to take advantage of the way these applications keep changing, whether offering easier functionality or bolstering security.
We've taken a look at the major internet browsers available to download today to see which ones will best suit your specific needs.
We've tested the top three browsers on an Acer Aspire V3-572G-7105 laptop as well as a MacBook Pro. The Acer laptop has the following specs: Intel Core i7 4510U - 2GHz Processor, 8GB RAM, Nvidia GeForce 840M (2GB), runs Windows 10 and has a 1TB hard drive.
In our benchmark tests, we substituted Microsoft Edge for Safari on the MacBook, since we couldn't install Edge.
Security and privacy
When seeking which browser to use, one of your primary concerns should be its security and how the developer is taking action against the huge swathes of security threats now doing the rounds.
Traditionally, Internet Explorer probably has the worst track record when it came to data breaches, with security holes exposed and taken advantage of regularly. Although they were often patched fast, because there was such a huge user base, the impact was usually pretty severe.
But with the introduction of Microsoft newest browser, Edge, it promises to have overcome some of its problems from the past and now Windows’ default browser ships with extras, such as authentication tool Windows Hello, that authenticates a user and the website they're trying to connect to on the fly. Microsoft has also introduced Microsoft SmartScreen to prevent phishing attempts – one of the biggest security threats of our time.
Firefox hasn't launched any fancy any tech to deal with security threats, it just has a bounty programme that relies on a huge community to uncover potential security holes. And that's why it's so widely used by security pros.
Mozilla, the company behind Firefox, has also made it clear it's committed to the security of its users, explaining in its user manifesto that "individuals security and privacy on the internet are fundamental and must not be treated as optional".
Chrome is probably the most secure browser out there, not surprising considering it's owned by the biggest internet company around, but its privacy record is pretty questionable and that's why it's not the browser market leader. Google regularly collects a huge amount of user data, including location, search history and site visits.
Want to try a quick test? Try turning on location settings on your phone for a day. Head to the Google Maps app, click on 'Timeline' on the pop-out bar on the right-hand side, and it should present you with where you have been for the day.
At Pwn2Own 2017, an event where hackers exploit devices to win prizes and show tech companies what patches they need to make, Edge came off as the least secure browser, with hackers successfully exploiting it five times. Chrome was the most secure as it wasn't hacked at all, while Firefox was beaten once. Safari was compromised 3.5 times, with judges awarding half a point for a vulnerability fixed in a beta version of the browser.
We ran each browser through a number of different tests on the Acer laptop and MacBook Pro. Here are the results for each test:
Chrome stormed ahead with a time of 114.67ms on the Acer laptop. Edge lagged way behind at 232.13ms and Firefox had a time of 182.58ms.
On the MacBook, Safari leapt ahead, finishing incredibly fast in 31.89ms, followed closely by Chrome at 50.47ms whereas Firefox had a time of 121.34ms.
Edge sought to redeem itself with a strong score of 138.79ms while Firefox and Chrome battled it out for second place with scores of 98.844ms and 98.424ms respectively.
On the MacBook, Safari was once again the winner, scoring 181.09ms. Chrome made sure to beat Firefox by a significant number this time, reaching 164.43ms compared to Firefox's 142.52ms.
Edge flexed its muscles and scored 20047 on the Acer laptop, taking the lead again. Chrome followed at 18999 and then FireFox with a score of 17691.
Chrome and Safari were neck and neck on the MacBook, with Chrome winning with a score of 29582 compared to the Safari's 29253. Firefox blazed in after with a score of 25204.
MotionMark is a graphics benchmark that measures a browser's ability to animate complex scenes at a target frame rate. For this test, the bigger the score, the better the browser has performed.
On the Acer laptop, Edge came first with a score of 151.23 followed by Chrome at 147.55. Firefox lagged behind since it received a score of 94.26.
On the Macbook the scores were noticeably higher, but this time Safari was ahead with a score of 455.20. It was followed by Chrome at 324.86 and then Firefox at 107.76.
Responsiveness of web applications
Finally, we carried out the Speedometer benchmark that measures the responsiveness of web applications. It does its best to replay a typical workload and simulates adding, completing and removing to-do items.
Chrome was way ahead of the other two with a score of 81.4 runs a minute on the Acer laptop. Firefox just crept ahead of Edge with a score of 34.6 runs per minute, versus the Microsoft browser's 32.33.
On the MacBook Pro, Safari beat Chrome with a score of 130 runs a minute compared to 116. Firefox, surprisingly, was way behind at 47.4.
Although in principle, the three browsers we've looked at are pretty similar in design (how much can a tool used for viewing website vary that much?), there are some substantial differences between the three.
Chrome is probably the most uncluttered, with a minimalist design and pale colour scheme. Tabs along the top are light grey and the search or URL bar itself is pleasingly curved, making it feel softer. Although Chrome wasn't the first to introduce the concept of tabbed browsing, it's one of the most effective, with a refined UI. Thanks to the Omnibox feature, it's much easier to search for what you're looking for too.
Firefox is the most similar to Chrome, but with a more "angular" and classic design. Tabs are darker and squarer as are the search and URL bars, but that doesn't mean it's worse or less aesthetically pleasing. Nor does it mean the function is limited in any way. What we do like about Firefox is that it can be very easily customised and takes security seriously with stringent privacy features.
Microsoft's Edge alternative has seen a significant revamp to make it look better, but it still doesn't keep up with its competitors. It utilises much larger, squarer tabs, with some distracting features that can sometimes get in the way of standard browsing.
All three browsers mentioned here are available on mobile devices and they sync perfectly with their desktop counterparts. So if you have Edge, Chrome or Firefox installed on your iOS or Android devices, all your bookmarks will be transferred across both desktop and mobile.
To sync your Chrome accounts up, you just need to make sure you're signed into your Gmail account on both your desktop and your smartphone and everything will transfer - bookmarks, preferences and any other info you may have set up.
It's a similar story with Firefox, although you'll need to set up an account if you want to use the same settings across devices. You'll just need to head to the settings menu on either desktop or mobile, then sync and enter your details if you have an account or create one if you don't.
Microsoft Edge was the last of the three browsers to move to mobile, but that doesn't mean it's lagging behind. Of course, Edge isn't available on Macs, so it's likely only Windows 10 users will want to install the app on their iPhone or Android phone, but it still provides a solid experience, allowing you to carry on browsing the pages you were using on desktop, right from your mobile.
If we had to choose one mobile winner, it would have to be Chrome, with its lightning-fast experience. Firefox tends to crash more often (especially on Android), while Edge is limited by the fact it's only handy for those using the browser on Windows 10 if synching across devices is your main motivator.
It's important to take a quick look at what else a browser offer besides the specs. Some features are universal; all the browsers support tabbed browsing and searching from the address bar, for example.
With Edge's Windows 10 Anniversary Update, Microsoft gave its flagship browser some much-needed new features. These include support for more extensions, to bring the number to 44 in total including AdBlock, Ghostery and LastPass. Syncing user data to the cloud has also been improved, which makes it easier to switch between computers, and its voice assistant, Cortana, has now been integrated. With the Creators Update, Edge introduced the incredibly useful feature of allowing users to create tab groups, which can be saved between browsing sessions.
Chrome is known for its raft of third-party extensions, many of which are essential. It's also unmatched in first-party integration as the way Google services is easy to access from Chrome is extremely easy. Users can look at their Gmail, Calendar, Drive and more within two clicks once you open a new tab.
Firefox has a number of add-ons too which it has been improving, although it doesn't have the same amount as Chrome. Despite this, it presents the add-ons in a much simpler way - just hover over the one you're interested in and it will present you with essential information, such as what it does and with which version of the browser it is compatible with.
Unfortunately, Edge is lagging behind in the number of extensions it offers so if you want to install a wide variety it's best to go for Chrome or Firefox.
In the benchmark tests, Edge generally performed the best on our Acer laptop, but Chrome performed better across both the Acer and our MacBook. Firefox, unfortunately, didn't come first in any of the benchmark tests, but placed second three times. On the MacBook, Safari absolutely blew it out of the water, winning four tests but losing to Chrome in one of them. Sadly Mozilla's Firefox disappointed, finishing last in all of the MacBook tests.
Chrome has a solid performance across the board and even impressed us by clinching a win from the power crazy Safari on the MacBook. It's convenient, fluid and makes life easier for us by being super fast, as we saw in the tests. It's got plenty of support, is fairly secure and has won our heart.
It's probably best to try out all three browsers yourself, or even use at least two of them for different tasks; you could carry out day to day tasks on Chrome but watch videos utilising Edge's graphics capabilities. If you're worried about privacy and like to burn the evidence, but still want a good experience, then Firefox is the one for you. Oh, and judging by our tests, if you have a MacBook Pro you might want to check out Safari.