The best browser for Linux, Windows and Mac isn't Google Chrome

2 months ago 17
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Jack Wallen has finally settled on a single web browser as his default across all platforms. Find out what browser that is and why he made the switch.

Web browser closeup on LCD screen with shallow focus on https padlock

Image: RobertAx, Getty Images/iStockphoto

A couple of months ago, I finally left Opera as my default browser on Linux. That was a hard sell because the Opera Workspaces feature was something I didn't think I could leave behind. And yet, the load the browser placed on my machine (especially when using Google Docs) was too big an issue to ignore. I'd be working along, minding my own business, when all of a sudden Opera would bring the desktop to a grinding halt.

SEE: 20 good habits network administrators need--and 10 habits to break (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Productivity, thy name is memory leak!

At that point, I was using two different browsers as my defaults, on Linux and macOS, and I was certain Safari would remain as the go-to on the Mac side of things. But then I continued using that default browser on Linux and, day after day, grew more impressed with its performance and simplicity. And then things took a turn for the worse on Safari. Like with Opera, when working with a longer document in Google Docs, Safari would popup a warning saying that the site was using too much memory. No matter what I did with Safari, that behavior would not stop.

Finally, two days ago, I walked away from Safari to make the same browser I used on Linux my default on macOS. This was a choice I haven't regretted for a second.

That's not to say I found myself using only one browser. Oh, no. Would that it were so simple. You see, there are still sites I must use that, for whatever reason, were designed with Chrome in mind. And that's a problem. Why?  Because Chrome has become unreliable on so many levels. On Linux, I've had Chrome lock up the desktop on too many occasions. On macOS, Chrome drains the battery faster than any other application (with the exception of Final Cut Pro, when rendering video). 

This issue is complicated. Why? First and foremost, the browser is one tool everyone uses. No matter your platform, you depend on a web browser. I would go so far as to say 90% of the work and entertainment you undertake on any computing device is via a web browser. That means those ubiquitous applications have to pull a tremendous load. For the most part, they all do it fairly well. Every web browser I've ever used renders sites well (though some better than others). So what's the problem? Why would anyone have an issue either selecting the browser that is truly best for their use case or migrating to a different browser altogether?

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In a word: Familiarity.

We all have our workflow. Many of us have tuned our workflow to a specific web browser's way of doing things. Truth be told, on the surface, the differences aren't that great. Every browser offers much of the same standard features:

  • Bookmarks
  • Tabs
  • Cookies
  • Saved data
  • Menus
  • Addons
  • Configuration options
  • Privacy features

The biggest difference is how each browser implements these features.

Of course, that's on the surface... where the users dwell. It's when you dig a bit deeper than you find those browsers do start to differ. Take, for instance, the fact that there are five active web browser rendering engines:

  • WebKit —Safari
  • Blink—Chrome and Chromium-based browsers (such as Microsoft Edge, Opera, Brave and Vivaldi)
  • Gecko—Firefox
  • Goanna—Pale Moon and Basilisk
  • Flow—Flow browser

Of all the browsers I've used, those based on the WebKit and Blink rendering engines seem to have the biggest problems with longer documents on Google Drive. And for me, that's a big issue. I work in Google Drive about seven to nine hours a day. And that the Blink rendering engine has the biggest issue with Google Drive should come as a shock, seeing as how both were created (and are maintained) by Google.

SEE: 20 good habits network administrators need--and 10 habits to break (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

But since my switch to Firefox (on Linux and macOS), I've not had a single problem with memory issues. And, much to my surprise, Firefox is no longer a battery vampire on macOS. Prior to my M1 MacBook Pro, Firefox drained the very will to live from my MacBook Pro 2016 battery. When using Firefox, I was lucky to get two to three hours of battery life. With the M1 and Firefox 89, battery life is just as good as it is when using Safari. 

Outside of performance, rendering and battery life, I absolutely love what Mozilla has done to the Firefox interface. Gone is the clutter and bloat. Now, Firefox is a sleek (almost minimalist) browser that outperforms every browser on my desktop and laptop. I've even migrated my Android default to Firefox and have found it to be just as impressive a mobile browser as it is on the desktop.

Of course, the one hiccup to my master plan is the fact that (as I mentioned earlier) there are still sites that do not function well with any browser other than Chrome. That of course, is dumbfounding. Every time I see a website refuse to function in a particular browser, I instantly assume Doc Brown has pulled up in the Delorian and has his sights set on 2001. But this is not the early 2000s, nor is it the browser wars of old. Even so, the environment does seem ripe for a headlong clash between Firefox and Chrome. And although Chrome has a massive advantage in market share (at the moment it has a 67% market share over the competition), the current state of performance doesn't reflect that popularity. If I had to take a guess, I'd say Google is just lucky the average user either doesn't like change or doesn't even realize there are alternatives available. If you happen to fall into that category, I would highly suggest you install Firefox and see if you don't find yourself setting it as the default on all of your devices and platforms.

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