When you purchased your Mac, you probably wanted the best web browser offered, whether it be Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari, or some other worthy candidate. After all, quality hardware should also contain quality software. There has been much controversy on what truly is the best browser available for a Mac. Some say that Chrome is, and always will be, the best ever.
Others believe that it’s easier to stay with the default browser because it offers more functionality to the OS. While this is true and I’m not going to attempt to change those believers’ opinions, there is more to the situation than just that. For instance, Chrome does offer more than plugins than Safari does extensions, but this doesn’t necessarily make the latter a weak and functionless application, it just makes it a bit less desirable.
If you’re interested in finding out what browser truly holds the best functionality, speed and other elements then please join in after the break for some information that should fulfill your desires.
Warning: Strong Opinions Inside
When reading the content below, keep in mind that this is an opinion piece. The viewpoints are based on personal experiences and the conclusions reached are perfectly arguable. That’s where you come in. Feel free to leave a respectful comment stating your own thoughts.
First and foremost, it seems rather fitting to take a look at the famous Apple browser: Safari. Safari, as most know, is the default browser for all of Apple’s platforms, including iOS. I absolutely love Safari for iOS because it offers very simple browsing at a fairly adequate speed.
Nearly everyone knows that Safari has a lot of great features for the Mac, some of which are exclusive to the browser. Directly below you will find a brief list of the most notable features within Apple’s browser.
- iCloud. Yes, that one word alone is worth using the browser. iCloud syncs all of your bookmarks between your Mac and iOS devices automatically. It’s extremely useful when you’re not in the mood to sync your iPad just to add some bookmarks.
- Reading List. Before the introduction of Safari 5 and OS X Lion, folks used online services such as Instapaper, Readability, Read It Later, and others to compile a list of articles that they would like to read at a later time. These were great for people who were in the middle of a task or at work and couldn’t read the important news immediately. Apple saw how often users made use of these wonderful services and integrated it into their new version of Safari that was included with Lion, their latest OS released in July of this year. The built-in browser plugin works extremely well as an alternative to the services that I previously referred to, especially since it syncs the list between all of your iOS devices, providing an easy and fast way to have something with you wherever you go. However, one thing that Reading List doesn’t offer is the offline reading capability that Instapaper apps do. Let’s hope this isn’t an intentional feature omission, but instead just a future idea that will most likely be introduced along with a new update.
- Extensions. While Safari’s expandability is minimal, several (I know, there aren’t that many, but the quantity is constantly getting bigger) of the extensions offered for the browser are actually quite good.
- User agent switcher. Here’s a helpful feature that can only be turned on by an extension in both Chrome and Firefox. Have you ever wanted to test out your website on another browser and not have to switch to it? You can do this with just a few clicks in Safari’s Develop menu.
- Web Inspector. One of the hidden gems of Safari is the integrated web inspector for developers. While this isn’t necessarily useful to the average user, web developers find it extremely helpful when trying to locate an error in their code or modifying a certain element on a page.
- Activity. Safari provides a way to monitor the resource usage of your current browser session with its built in task manager. You can find the “Activity” function within the Window menu. This feature is also available in Chrome, but not Firefox.
… And lack thereof
Yes, Apple left out a few what I would call vital features in their main Internet browser, but it’s only customary because that’s how Apple’s evolution works. Some of these excluded features include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Themes. While this is Apple and the company isn’t big on customization, theming is available in both Chrome and Firefox, leaving Safari in the dust on the customization front.
- Link hover. Most users of Chrome know what this is. I’m talking about that little feature that lets you peek at a link’s location before clicking on it. It’s located in the bottom left corner of the screen. There’s actually an extension called “Invisible Status Bar” that enables it on Safari, but I wish Apple would officially add the feature to the browser one day.
Don’t think for a minute that just because it’s Apple browser means that it doesn’t have any problems. In fact, it has quite a few of them. These aren’t mere feature omissions that I’m speaking of, but rather bugs and performance issues that actually inhibit the browser’s ability to do it’s job. I’m not going to write an entire paragraph on them because it’s easier for you to just skim over a list, so I’ll let you evaluate these aforementioned “issues” for yourself below. And don’t worry because judgement day will come for the competition as well.
- Spellcheck says “I don’t want to work right now.” At random times during the day, I experience a loss in spellcheck abilities. This is fine for people who don’t write all day, but it’s not helpful for people who type a lot at a fast speed because they tend to make mistakes. Fortunately, there is perfect solution that’s two clicks away — provided that it’s working.
- Sorry, but it’s beach ball time. I often experience lockups and screen freezing when scrolling up or down a page. This isn’t because I have only 4 GB of RAM either, since nearly three of those are free at the time of use. I think the problem is Safari’s constant CPU and disk usage that sometimes just gets snagged. The issue here is, I experience it at least 10+ times per day and it’s not very helpful when you spend most of your day working on the Internet.
- Reader sticks to the desktop when minimized. I’ve had several issues with the integrated Reader function of Safari when it’s minimized. Check out the screenshot here to understand what I’m talking about. It’s a pretty major bug that could probably be fixed easily, but currently the only way to fix it is by pressing esc.
Next up we have Google’s famous browser of “speed.” Since its inception in 2008, the browser has been going strong with an average of 30% of the browser market share, and it’s growing rapidly. But why is it so amazing? Let’s investigate.
Chrome has a vast array of useful features that are nearly as great as the competition, but there are a few great exclusive features thrown in that make it a valuable browser — for some folks. Shall we take a look at them?
- Sync. As most know, Chrome has a built-in synchronization system that will back up nearly any of the features that you use in the browser and save them in case your computer crashes. This is also very helpful if you have a few computers and wish to sync your apps, auto-fill, bookmarks, extensions, Omnibox history, passwords, preferences, and themes between them all. The drawback is that there’s no support for mobile devices, such as an iPhone, iPad or Android device, so Apple’s browser naturally wins here with its iOS sync support — even though the mobile browser technically doesn’t have extensions and themes to sync, you get the point.
- Apps. Even though this is Apple’s biggest thing, Google took the idea of a web-based application for their browser. The Chrome Web Store has a lot of great browser apps and games available to anyone for free. Chrome web apps also help if you’re using the “new tab page” as your homepage because a lot of them are practically bookmarks on the new tab page, as opposed to the traditional bookmark bar and menu.
- Multiple profiles. This feature was just added to the Chrome stable release a few days back. It aims to give members of a large family a personalized browser so that they may have their own set of apps, bookmarks, auto-fill, etc. This feature can also be used if you have a few different emails and want to get a different browsing experience — with some extra bookmarks and other such data that may be tied to a certain account — on all of them.
- Speed. Google says that “Chrome is designed to be fast,” and when using it, you’ll definitely be able to tell the difference between something like Firefox.
- Simplicity. Chrome is supposed to be simple, but in some areas I most humbly disagree. In fact, at times the browser can get downright complicated and unusable.
- Translation. This is by far the most useful element of Chrome for me. Google has integrated their Translate service into the browser to make it easy for readers to be able to translate web pages with one click. While Google Translate is far from accurate, it’s close enough for people to get an idea of what they’re reading so that they may continue their browsing ventures. I still think that it’s annoying to see such translation issues at times, but the system will only mature with time.
- Themes. Customization is a feature that many users love, and Chrome offers themes to change the somewhat-dull default appearance of the browser. Safari does not offer this, and it’s customary because Apple would never do such a thing. Firefox and Opera also allow this feature. Opera allows it in “Skins,” however. There are many beautiful themes available for Chrome, and you can even make your own, which gives it an advantage over Safari in the customization section.
- Web Inspector. Chrome, too has a way to inspect the webpage that you’re currently visiting (Like Safari, Chrome is built on Webkit so they share several features). By right clicking the page and clicking “Inspect Element,” you will be brought to a screen where the page’s HTML code is displayed. Again, this is helpful for web developers only and traditional daily users won’t care about it.
- Extensions. Even though this wasn’t a “common” element in Safari, it is in Chrome because the only difference is the quality of browser add-ons. Chrome has a Web Store where extensions can be found, as Safari has a webpage where they can be found. There’s a ton of stuff on the Chrome Web Store though, much more than you’ll find on most lists of Safari extensions.
- Multi-touch gestures. Chrome has these, but they’re cheesy at best. In Safari, the whole page moves and it feels natural, but in Chrome it’s just an ugly transparent/white arrow that moves across the screen.
… And what’s lacking?
Chrome, sadly, does not have a “Reading List” or a built-in reading interface as Safari does, which leads me to the latter. I really love these features and use them daily, but if you don’t then there’s no big deal. I find that the other issue with Chrome is that if you want any additional features, such as the one that I just mentioned, then you’ll need to get an extension for it. This isn’t hard to do, but it does take some extra computer resources which is disruptive if you’re trying to keep the browser “simple.”
Expandability, such as the themes that I mentioned above, is good, but it’s also a resource hog at times. When you go into the Activity Monitor, it’s not welcoming to see that Chrome is using 300 MB of RAM for one single tab. Then you can head to Chrome’s own “Task Manager” to find out what is using all of these resources. This lack of speed is the reason why I left Google’s browser for Safari, among other reasons that I mentioned above.
This could be my favorite section (and yours), because it’s a place where I have the opportunity to bash Chrome, but I’m not going to do that. Instead, I will point out the obvious and most prominent issues within Google’s browser. Please note that I am not using the beta or developer versions of the browser, but instead just the stable build. When venturing into the testing path, I warn you that it may be filled with a bit of crashing and constant lock-ups.
- Known issues. Every browser has these, but Google actually has a public page to tell you what they are. The issues range from installing the browser to the usual crashes. The thing that I notice most with my evaluation of Chrome is the frequent crashing that I experience. I wouldn’t say that it happens every day, but it does occur more than I’d like to see it. So far, Safari has only crashed about once in my three months of use — which is pretty good, even though there is the somewhat-frequent somewhat-not appearance of the beach ball.
- Chrome occasionally wants to join in on the beach ball game. Yes, this is also a prominent issue, but it occurs just about as much as it does in Safari.
- Images decide to stay on their own servers. Many people have experienced image loading issues with certain web pages in Chrome.
- Full screen glitches. If you use Chrome on a daily basis with Lion, then you’ll notice a few glitches in full screen mode, such as the bookmarks bar disappearing or the dock getting stuck on the bottom of the screen. Google just has to work out some of these kinks over time, but Safari is working perfect in Lion since it was practically built for the OS.
- “Aw, Snap!” Seen that? I have. In fact, quite a few web pages tend to crash randomly and won’t ever work. I’ve tried restarting Chrome, restarting my Mac and even reinstalling Chrome … All to no avail. For some reason, the browser has some major issues with some websites. However, there are a lot of sites that Safari isn’t fully compatible with as well, so this is technically a tie.
Now here’s one of the legends. It’s surprising that anyone even uses Mozilla’s once-famous browser anymore. I’ve found that it’s extremely sluggish and just doesn’t measure up to the competition these days, but some people still tend to stay with their ways. Below you will find out what’s so valuable about this browser, followed by the issues with it.
The classic browser is mostly composed of common features that are shared between all browsers, but there are still a few exclusive ones in it. Check them out below.
- “100,000s of Ways to Customize.” Mozilla claims that there are hundreds of thousands of ways to customize their browser, ranging from theming to the many add-ons available. Firefox really stands out in this area, both the themes and the available extensions are stellar.
- “High Performance.” Even though I’ve never had a good “fast” experience with Firefox, the developer claims that it is supposed to be fast. I find that it has a lag on some pages, while others completely slow down my computer. There’s no excuse for this except for the obvious fact that it’s not polished. When I have a fairly speedy Internet connection (1 Mbps+), I’ve found that Safari, Chrome and even Internet Explorer are much swifter at loading web pages than Mozilla’s browser is. (Obviously IE is on a Windows machine, but it has nearly the same specs as my Mac.)
- Sync. Firefox, too, offers a synchronization solution for mobile users. The nice thing is they actually have an iOS app, which allows you to sync all of your bookmarks with your mobile iOS device — that is, providing that you use their browser and not Safari’s, which is not exactly helpful since the app is very underdeveloped and needs some feature enhancements.
Again, what are the lacking ingredients here?
I could go on forever about what Firefox is lacking, but I do not wish to bore you. I personally don’t think that the browser is very polished, nor has it kept up with Mac OS X’s development very well. Firefox isn’t optimized for Lion, which means there’s no multi-touch gestures, full-screen mode, Lion scrollbars, or smooth bounce-back scrolling that you find in Safari and Chrome. It’s a shame too, because the browser could actually score better if it were more modern. With every update of an entire version (+1.0), Mozilla just adds a few performance improvements and bug fixes with no exclusive features, which pushes their browser to the bottom of the wanted list.
Firefox isn’t saturated with issues as some of the more feature-inhabited browsers are, but that’s merely because it lacks the features mentioned above. I suppose it’s suitable for people who don’t mind some sluggishness and prefer a simpler browser with less menu items, but for me it just lacks too many things.
There are a few additional alternatives to Safari out there, but I prefer to stick with the basic and most popular solutions. For instance, Opera has served me well, but the interface is ugly and the browser is not compatible with certain websites that I visit daily. If you’re in the market for something else, check out these 10 Amazing Web Browsers That Aren’t Safari.
So there you have it! As you can probably tell, I personally prefer Safari since it has the most usability and offers the best features on a Mac. Not to mention it’s developed by Apple and has some integration into the OS which other browsers just can’t match. On a Windows PC, I would recommend Chrome any day. I leave the decision of what you should use to yourself because I’ve shown every pro and con (that I could find) of each browser. Hopefully this was both informative and entertaining. If you have a favorite browser, then please share it with us in the comments and tell us why it has been so good to you.