Logic’s Last Stand

June 17, 2008

The Quest for the Holy Browser

Filed under: Computers — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — Zurahn @ 6:19 pm

All the top browsers have been releasing their latest recently, and the performance improvements between them has begun to challenge for my attention despite K-Meleon’s customizable options to which I’ve become so accustomed.

Firefox 3 was just officially released, Opera 9.5 was released about a week ago, Safari 3.1 has been available for a while, and IE8 BETA and Safari 4 BETA are available.  It also just so happens K-Meleon 1.5 BETA is available as well.  I will give a run through Firefox 3, Opera 9.5, Safari 4, Internet Explorer 8 and K-Meleon 1.5.  These tests will be for how well a browser is fit to what I personally want, though, so mileage may vary on agreement in features.

First thing to note are my complaints with K-Meleon 1.15:
-Pop-up blocking is inadequate and circumventable.
-JavaScript speed is a bit slow
-It closes itself to reopen a tab (jumps around on the taskbar)
-Rendering engine is dated (early Gecko 1.8 – 52/100 on Acid3)
-View source sometimes reloads page without checking cookies (so you can’t see the source if you need to be logged in)

I’ve been giving K-Meleon 1.5 a go, and there are improvements:
-Pop-up blocking is fixed
-It no longer jumps around on the taskbar

However, all rendering is the same.

Here’s my hypothetical perfect browser, in order of priority:
-Tabbed
-Option to have URLs from address bar open in new tabs
-Fast and low memory
-Adblock and Flashblock
-Custom tab-size/reasonable tab size
-Option for tabs ONLY (no extra windows)
-Compactable (Forward/Back and address bar all on the File/Edit/etc. bar)
-Clear JavaScript error reporting
-Double-click to close tabs
-Firebug or similar tool
-Built-in XHTML validation or quick access thereof
-Good view source highlighting
-Can send any page to any other browser through menu / right-click

All browsers are tabbed, so that’s covered immediately.

For my testing, it’s going to be quite informal.  I’m not running benchmarks, just my personal subjective feelings on how things are going.

I’ll start through the technical tests first:

First test is the basic speed test.  Here’s the results in order:
1. Safari 4
2. Opera 9.5
3. Firefox 3
4. K-Meleon 1.5
5. Internet Explorer 8

The difference between Safari and Opera are relatively negligable.  I find Firefox seems a little slower rendering, though not bad by any stretch.  K-Meleon 1.5 actually comes across as a little slower at times than 1.1.5.  I’m not sure why.  It’s slow enough that there’s a desireable and noticeable difference between it and Safari.  Internet Explorer 8 is pathetic.  It is so incredibly slow, it’s hard to believe.  I’m really giving it a chance here, but it’s terrible.  There are constantly lag points where the browser doesn’t respond, the JavaScript performance is awful.  It’s just not good.

Evaluating the speed, I’d say Safari and Opera are big enough win to warrant an advantage in this area, while Internet Explorer is so brutally behind that it deserves severe penalty in this area.

Second is standards compliancy.  This is how accurately a browser renders a page with regard to standards set forth by the W3C.  Each will take the Acid3 test

1. Safari 4 – 100/100
2. Opera 9.5 – 83/100
3. Firefox 3 – 71/100
4. K-Meleon 1.5 – 52/100
5. Internet Explorer 8 – 18/100

The pattern continues in terms of technical prowess with Safari 4 leading the pack, followed by Opera, and IE8 giving a new name to failure.  In practice, though, Acid3 isn’t a perfect test as it doesn’t account for human direction.  Safari is so accurate in standards that I have found it is compatible with sites,  though Opera 9 (though I haven’t tested enough with 9.5, tends to have some problems on occasion).  This is due to the market mainly being a IE/Firefox market.  However, IE8 can’t even excel here because its standards introduce so many new problems that pages that worked in IE7 are broken in IE8.  At least there’s an emulate IE7 button.

Third and last in technical is memory management.  I opened 5 tabs of GG Weekly, waited for them to load then checked the RAM usage, then closed them all and opened 1 and checked.  Here was how that worked:
1. K-Meleon 1.5 (54MB/42MB)
2. Opera 9.5 (83MB/53MB)
3. Internet Explorer 8 (92MB/68MB)
4. Firefox 3 (100MB / 92MB)
5. Safari 4 (102MB / 94MB)

This has always been a big advantage for K-Meleon, which it still maintains.  Where Firefox 2 had significant memory issues, K-Meleon offered the same rendering at a lower bloat.  If you look at tech site tests, they declare Firefox 3 the winner in memory manage between it, IE, Opera and Safari, but why?  It’s due to that under heavy load, Firefox does an incredible job at maintaining the same memory useage.  So at lower use, it’s not as efficient, but high use, it is.  K-Meleon is the big winner here.

On to features.  URLs in the address bar to open in a new tab:
Success:
K-Meleon 1.5
Firefox 3 (with an extension)

Partial Success:
Opera 9.5 (functional work around)

Failure:
Safari 4
Internet Explorer 8

K-Meleon has this built-in, while Firefox 3 requires the Tab Mix Plus extension.  Opera 9.5 I was able to edit the keyboard shortcuts so that when I press CTRL+L to select the address bar, it also opens a new tab.  Not perfect, but very similar in function.  Safari and IE I could not find any way to have addresses open in a new tab.

Tab-size formatting:
Success:
K-Meleon 1.5
Firefox 3

Failure:
Opera 9.5 (Opera 9 skin.ini hack doesn’t work)
Safari 4
Internet Explorer 8

Another built-in function of K-Meleon.  Firefox 3 has an available adjustment in about:config, but can also be adjusted using Tab Mix Plus.  Opera 9.5 may be able to get smaller tabs via an alternate skin, but the adjustment that worked in Opoera 9.2 doesn’t appear to work here.  Safari 4 and Internet Explorer 8 don’t seem to have anything of the sort.

Tabs only:
Success:
K-Meleon 1.5
Firefox 3

Partial Success:
Opera 9.5

Failure:
Safari 4
Internet Explorer 8

For all intents and purposes, Opera is tabs only since links that are intended to open in new windows open in tabs, but technically you can always still open more than one window.  Safari and IE8 painfull always allow a new window including any target=”_blank” or “window.open()”.

Adblock and Flashblock:
Success:
K-Meleon 1.5
Firefox 3
Internet Explorer 8 (ok, I didn’t download the add-ons, but they’re out there)

Partial Success:
Opera 9.5

Failure:
Safari 4

K-Meleon has them both built-in, Firefox has the ever-popular add-ons, and IE8 has its own imitators.  Opera 9.5 has the content filter, and user-made JavaScript file tricks to get adblock and flashblock, so it works well-enough, if not bothersome to set-up.  If the extensions exist for Safari on Windows, I can’t find them while filtering through the Mac offerings.

Capactable:
Success:
K-Meleon 1.5
Firefox 3

Failure:
Opera 9.5
Safari 4
Internet Explorer 8

The usual suspects.

Double-click to close tabs:
Success:
K-Meleon 1.5
Firefox 3 (with an extension)

Failure:
Opera 9.5
Safari 4
Internet Explorer 8

Here, I actually suspect that there’s some way to do this in Opera, but I cannot find it.  And don’t think I haven’t tried.

Onto the debugging and development section.
JavaScript error reporting, HTML display:
1. Safari 4
2. Firefox 3
3. K-Meleon 1.5
4. Opera 9.5
5. Internet Explorer 8

Once I found it, Safari’s error reporting and debugging tools were very nice and clear.  Firefox 3 is also quite nice, while K-Meleon can be occasionally troublesome, and Opera’s I just find hard to read (it is rather thorough, though).  IE8 makes an error, but still gives cryptic error messages and the debugging tool just isn’t very user-friendly.

Firebug or similar tool for DOM inspection
Success:
Firefox 3
Opera 9.5
Internet Explorer 8
Safari 4

Failure:
K-Meleon 1.5

This is an area in which K-Meleon is obviously lagging behind, including the 1.5 release.

Summation:
K-Meleon in terms of options in the browser has everything built-in, which means when you install, you know you can get the features.  Improved speed and standards compliance is what it mainly needs, but certain development features are lacking while competitors are improving quickly.

Firefox’s both strength and weakness is in its extensions, as while they are good to have, if Firefox gets an upgrade, you don’t know that the extensions will keep up.  The advantage, though, of Firefox’s extensions is that there are so well organized, while for other browsers it’s all over the place.  Firefox was the only browser I could get built-in XHTML validation.

Opera’s built-in functions, particularly shortcuts, are incredibly in-depth.  Additionally, it is the only browser for which I could get an Open With option to open a page with another browser by right-clicking (K-Meleon only has the option for Internet Explorer, and I can’t get any others on there).  Opera continues to feel “almost there”.  Feature-rich, quick and good with resources, but just minor annoyances spread around.

Safari gets its foot in the door with top-notch standards compliancy and lightning fast JavaScript execution and speedy HTML parsing.  Its development tools, and generally just the touches it adds to page, visually look great, and the tools very functional.  After that, though, things quickly go downhill.  The features just aren’t there, and neither is the customizability.

Internet Explorer 8 finally gives some kind of an effort in terms of JavaScript error reporting, and the Firebug clone is nice.  The best thing to developers in IE8 is IE7 emulation, and in Developer Tools, Quirks Mode (I believe IE5.5 emulation, either that or IE6).  The world still uses Internet Explorer heavily, so there are add-ons also, but far more dubious in terms of malware than anywhere else.  In terms of browsing speed and features, IE continues to fall flat on its face.

Verdict: Inconclusive.
Opera’s improved compatibility and Firefox’s improved performance combined with Tab Mix Plus both give a run at K-Meleon.  More time is needed to settle on what I’ll use most, but it seems hard to go wrong between them.  Safari in performance delivers, but little elsewhere.  Internet Explorer 8 does nothing to improve its standing, and by standing still, loses ground to the ever-improving competition.

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8 Comments »

  1. Comparing Safari 4 in alpha to stable browsers seem a bit unfair. Why not use at least FFox 3.1pre?

    Comment by Lars Gunther — June 18, 2008 @ 3:58 pm

  2. I compared Safari 4 because after I installed it, Safari 3.1 didn’t seem to want to run. Aside from that, I had a newer version of Web-Kit installed than comes with Safari 3, so that wouldn’t have been a direct comparison either (and this being rather informal, I wasn’t planning on reinstalling for the sake of it). I should have explained the similarity between Safari 4 and 3.1, though. Honestly, they’re almost indistinguishable.

    I do agree with the notion of it being early to pass any judgment on future development of Safari 4. The same applies to IE8, which is still in early BETA, and hopefully the rendering will improve.

    Comment by zurahn — June 18, 2008 @ 5:43 pm

  3. What did Stephen King say to the XML-impaired clown?

    Tag! you’re .

    Comment by yarcofin — June 18, 2008 @ 6:21 pm

  4. Well that just ruined my joke, didn’t it.

    [ it ]

    Comment by yarcofin — June 18, 2008 @ 6:21 pm

  5. judging by the date.. k-meleon 1.5 tested was either beta or even alpha.. you should try the final 1.5 released 2 days ago.

    as for linking external applications to urls.. it’s quite easy with a little knowledge of script langage, and at the k-meleon’s forums you will probably find ready-made macos and extensions to accomodate your needs.. most of them are not included within the official release mainly to keep the setup binary within a reasonable size and to keep the browser lightweight(which is the developers main policy)

    as for the acid tests.. though their importance is debatable, it’s simply impossible for firefox to outperform k-meleon since the use the same rendering engine(gecko!).. which brings us back to my previous remark..the version tested was either the beta or alpha using a pre gecko engine(buggy) compared to the one ff3 is running.

    as for ”speed”.. from my own tests, opera clearly lags behind k-meleon 1.5 when it comes to page rendering.. so again; i suggest you test with k-meleon 1.5 stable release.

    regular users don’t understand the real difference between k-meleon or firefox.. or the usual phrase”unbloated firefox”; k-meleon can not be compared to firefox, while it uses the same gecko rendering engine, k-meleon’s interface is wrapped around windows own api.. unlike firefox which relies on xul.. hence firefox is platform independant while k-meleon is windows exclusive(though very successful on linux through wine), what does that mean? k-meleon uses far less memory than firefox..even compared to early firebird releases.. simply put; it just runs like any other windows-based application.

    Comment by betatester — August 9, 2008 @ 4:24 pm

  6. K-meleon 1.5 tested was BETA as specified in the second paragraph. Firefox 3 outperforms K-meleon in Acid3 tests because K-Meleon uses Gecko engine 1.8 while Firefox 3 uses 1.9.

    Comment by zurahn — August 9, 2008 @ 5:24 pm

  7. That comment seems like it was written by someone at K-Meleon… way too much support and defense of one browser.

    “at the k-meleon’s forums you will probably find ready-made macos and extensions to accomodate your needs”

    Comment by yarcofin — August 11, 2008 @ 6:50 pm

  8. might as well throw chrome, opera 9.52, and the latest webkit nightlies passing the acid3 test into the mix now. things are changing very, very quickly…

    i still like to use k-meleon 1.50 and opera. they feel light and quick to me.

    Comment by dr — September 27, 2008 @ 11:05 pm


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