Web 2.0, with its complex sites and rich Ajax applications, is an increasingly demanding platform for a browser. In this review feature, we look at how the leading browsers measure up.
When Tim Berners-Lee presented his employer CERN with the first browser, World Wide Web, to facilitate information flow between the different departments in the European nuclear research centre in Geneva, he little suspected that it would cause a revolution in the information age. Today, the browser is probably the most widely used computer application.
Web 2.0 applications and sites place the focus firmly on browser performance. Anyone who still believes that the speed of your DSL connection is the only potential bottleneck is gravely mistaken. Key parts of Ajax applications run locally, which means that — all other things being equal — the speed of the browser will be crucial in determining the user experience. For Ajax-based business applications, the browser becomes even more important because data will be accessed from within-firewall servers rather than the internet. Companies deploying such solutions will be able to improve employee productivity by paying attention to browser performance.Test setup
Obviously the speed of the hardware platform is a crucial variable. In our browser tests under Windows Vista and Mac OS 10.5.2 Leopard, we used the following components:
|Memory||4x 1GB Aeneon Xtune DDR3-1333|
|Processor||Intel Core 2 Extreme Q9650 (3.6GHz)|
|Hard disk||Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 750GB ST3750640AS|
|Graphics card||ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT|
The seven browsers we tested load HTML and XML/CSS pages under Windows Vista at a variety of speeds. According to iBench 5.0, Safari 3.1 is the fastest browser and Opera 9.27 the slowest; the latter takes over twice as long as any other browser to load HTML pages. However, the beta version of Opera 9.5 performs significantly better, and is on a par with the middle-ranking browsers.
It should be noted that iBench 5.0's reported values for the Safari browser are underestimates of the actual timings, which we checked manually. The reason is the measuring methodology in iBench 5.0, which uses the 'onload' event to signal that a page has been loaded: most browsers load the page, decode images and run stylesheets and scripts before firing 'onload'. Safari does not do this. There's no doubt that Apple's browser is fast, but it's not as far ahead of its competitors as iBench 5.0 suggests — as our next test shows.
Timings in seconds: shorter bars are better.