New Firefox makes browser war a fair fight

If you regularly read this space, you’ll notice how the Google Chrome Web browser kind of grew on me, and after my initial reservations I’ve come to love it. Something about its speed.
But now Firefox, with its new 3.6 version, has seen enough improvements to almost make it a fair fight.
Some of the benchmark tests comparing the two intrigued me. When you figure in that impossible stability+speed combination, reviewers are calling them almost neck and neck.
Now, we don’t do that benchmark stuff around here. I don’t have time to mess with all that, and I’d rather put a piece of software through its paces. I’d rather max it out, try to break it, and take note of my findings. I’m not smart enough or geeky enough to plug the whole thing to an oscilloscope or whatever it is those propellerheads do.
So, take any speed or stability tests I run with a grain of salt — or maybe even the whole shaker. Whatever test results I get depend on what mood I’m in at the time, and what I’m trying to do with the software. But I will try to max it out.
I’m one of those computer users who runs underpowered equipment (scary to think my netbook is the most muscular computer I have) and overclocks it like crazy. And to do the things I want to do, I go for lightweight, faster programs when I can. Even my usual graphical interface — Fluxbox — is really little more than a plain background, taskbar, and menus that I write myself from text files. That’s why I was so eager to get my Chrome on, because of its simple and fast interface.
Being the experimenter that I am, after reading some of the reports I had to download Firefox 3.6. I’ve always liked the ‘fox, used it even in its beta days when it was called Firebird (or was it Phoenix?), and kept going back to it after trying other browsers. But I knew 3.6 would really have to show me something to dislodge Chrome from the front line.
But I’m pleasantly surprised. I’m not sure what the developer did, but it’s a whole lot quicker than Firefox used to be. It’s not quite in the Chrome league, but this new version might be as fast as Opera.
From what I’ve noticed, Web pages don’t seem to get lost in that nether world that’s probably populated by everyone’s stray socks.
Lifehacker recently ran some tests of some of the favorite browsers available, with several versions of Chrome, Firefox, and Opera, and Safari. Sorry, Internet Explorer wasn’t in these tests, which takes away a lot of comic relief. That would have been like bringing a duck to a cockfight.
  • Boot-up and warm loading; Winner: Opera – No surprises; Opera always was a fast loader.
  • Tab Loading; Winner: Chrome Stable – I use version 4.0.249.30 for Linux, which is in beta but built from the stable version. And there’s no dispute there; it’s the fastest “name” browser I’ve seen in a while.
  • JavaScript; Winner: Opera 10.5 Pre-Alpha.
  • DOM/CSS; Winner: Chrome Developmental version.
  • Memory use, no extensions; Winner: Firefox 3.6 – This is a surprise, and certainly worth my attention.
  • Memory use with extensions; Winner: Firefox 3.6 – An even bigger surprise here. Firefox has always been fairly quick until I start loading in my extensions. Then my browsing experience was like watching paint dry. If this test holds up in real life, then Firefox just made up for a lot of lost ground in the browser battle.
  • Overall winners, in order: Google Chrome Developmental, Google Chrome Stable, Firefox 3.6, Firefox 3.5.4: Opera 10.5 Pre-Alpha, Opera 10.01, Safari 4.0.4.
Will this new Firefox become my prime browser?
It’s hard to say. I’ve always liked how you could add extensions to Firefox, but Chrome is starting to head in that modular direction too. And I like the independent tabs in Chrome; if one Web page gets stuck you only need to close that tab rather than shut down the whole browser. In Chrome I haven’t run into the memory problems I used to encounter with Firefox. There’s a lot to be said for both browsers.
Besides, it’s still too early in my test flight for me to render a decision. I haven’t broken Firefox yet. Or Chrome. Ask me then.
But if speed and memory use are your needs, it looks like this may finally be a fair fight.
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