It looks to me that the battle has already been won anyway, with Google Chrome having snagged nearly 60% of market share, leaving most of the other browsers literally in the dust. But is that the whole picture and does it really matter? Your choice of browser is a very personal decision and for most people, it’s a choice they generally stick to for a long time, regardless of privacy issues. In fact, I would wager that the majority of people would put familiarity and ease of use over personal privacy every single time, in spite of greater awareness of security issues today. Alternatively and in my experience at least, many will use the browser that’s thrust before them on a new machine, be that Internet Explorer, Edge or Safari and stick with it.
From a personal point of view, I started my early Internet browsing with Internet Explorer 5, dabbled with Netscape occasionally, switched to Firefox somewhere between Windows XP and Windows 7 and eventually settled on Google Chrome when everyone started talking about it as the ‘next big thing‘. In fact, I’ve pretty much stuck doggedly to Chrome ever since, whilst playing around with numerous other browsers, including the various incarnations of Internet Explorer which, like a faithful old dog, refuses to go away.
The features I like the most in a browser
- Most visited tab
- Easy to find bookmarks and favourites
- The browser works ‘out of the box’
- An up to date dictionary
- Adblocking support
- Easy to navigate settings menu
- Sync history, bookmarks etc. across all my devices
In these respects Google Chrome exceeds my expectations, although personalising the most visited tab is limited to only eight sites with the only available option being to delete thumbnails which will then be replaced by another most often visited site, so its customisation is very limited. Firefox on the other hand, allows up to 15 most visited thumbnails and those can be customised, although the process is a little long winded, where a simple PLUS sign would suffice.
On the other hand, both Vivaldi and Opera have pretty much nailed it and allow for an unlimited amount of top sites thumbnails with their Speed Dial features, whilst also allowing you to create groups of top sites. In my book, that’s pretty neat and I’m surprised Chrome’s very limited top sites tab doesn’t include such customisation, especially since the top sites tab is populated with so much white space.
There’s no faulting the dictionary options in Chrome and since Vivaldi is a Chromium based browser, the spell checking is practically identical and recognises most, but not all of the words I type. In fact, I’m writing this article using six different browsers (IE 11, Firefox, Chrome, Edge, Opera and Vivaldi) and the experience is very similar across the board. However, the general browsing experience, customisation and navigation are all very different. Internet Explorer 11 and Edge are just dull, dull, dull; they do the job and nothing else and although Edge tries its best to be clutter free and minimalist, like it’s older brother IE11, it makes no effort to push customisation in any meaningful and useful way. Here’s a composite of both of their top/frequent sites tab, which shows zero customisation options for most frequently visited sites.
Neither Edge nor IE11 offer any Frequent Site customisation whatsoever and I can only presume, since it’s not actually mentioned anywhere in either browser, that the thumbnails will populate over time in direct relation to my browsing, which is about as useful as a chocolate teapot. In fact, Edge only offers suggestions based on Microsoft’s own agenda and allows for no personal choice at all. Clearly this is a personal preference, because when I open a browser first thing in the morning, which is always on my PC by the way, I want to see a big selection of my favourite websites, just like this:
It’s fair to say that we’re spoilt for choice nowadays and, depending on your priorities, there are browsers available for the more security conscious; those wanting a more visual experience and those who want a bit of both, although it’s worth pointing out that Chrome, Firefox, IE11 and other popular browsers can be tweaked for privacy, but that is not the same as the belt and braces approach of VPN or Tor for example.
For the security minded
Other popular browsers
Over the last few months I’ve played with most of the above browsers with varying levels of enthusiasm. I would only use the privacy orientated browsers such as Epic and Tor for specific reasons, such as being IP banned somewhere or I needed to completely hide my identity for other reasons. Other than that, they don’t suit me for everyday browsing.
On the other hand, Vivaldi and Opera are superior alternatives to Chrome in many ways, not least their customisation features and they are less resource hungry, particularly on a laptop where power is a major factor.
Vivaldi and Opera appear to use far less resources and I will probably make the jump to one or the other after finishing this article. The deal breaker for Vivaldi though, is the lack of synchronisation across devices and, according to the Vivaldi forums, there’s no projected release date for syncing data. Opera, like Chrome, Firefox and to a lesser extent IE 11 and Edge, will sync your browsing activity, which is a feature I have used the most over the years when starting from scratch with a new Windows installation. Opera’s latest version also has built-in Ad-blocking, so there’s no need to download an extension.
Chrome may be fast, but for me anyway, the lack of customisation, particularly with frequently visited sites, makes the jump to Opera a painless decision.
Say Hello to Opera Neon Concept!
The very words concept and beta can have people running for the hills, but in this case, Opera Neon is definitely worth taking for a test drive. Its interface is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before in a browser and the developers should be applauded for their radical thinking. The first thing that struck me was how the new browser uses your desktop background, which gives the impression of a seamless desktop browsing experience, with each bubble being a live notification for email and social media. Neon is very much a live experience; minimise a music video tab and play the sound in the background by using the mini-player in the top left, is one cool feature, as well as snapping parts of web pages as screenshots. Remember though, it’s a concept browser, just like that Back to the Future car you saw in Paris and it’s not very stable. I attempted to send an eMail, post on Facebook and even write a DCT article with Neon, but it crashed at every input level, so use with caution.
Here’s a short video of what Opera Neon Concept looks like in action.
Like any saturated marketplace, competition is good for the consumer and even though we don’t pay for browsers, we do have a multitude of choices and, like trying on a new outfit or taking a different brand of car for a test drive, the results can often be pleasantly surprising.