Internet Explorer 9
• Fast HTML 5 processing
• Good security features
• No themes or automated bookmark syncing
• Managing tabs can be difficult
Internet Explorer has long lagged behind other browsers in features and ease of use. But the ninth version of Microsoft's browser offers a few functions that are at least as good as what the competition offers.
Especially noteworthy are some great new privacy features, including the ability to block sites from cataloguing your browsing habits. IE 9 permits you to block sites individually or to rely on a Microsoft-assembled list of sites that have a history of tracking visitors after they leave the page.
Microsoft also embedded its Application Reputation app in IE 9 to scan downloads and to warn you if a downloaded file is dangerous. And the browser offers built-in cross-site scripting protection, which scans websites for certain types of malicious code, and stops such scripts before they can damage your computer.
The general appearance of Internet Explorer 9 is much improved over earlier versions. At long last you can move tabs between different browser windows, and the settings and favorites tabs are easier to find. IE 9 still doesn't have a native feature for syncing bookmarks, but you can import and export favorites as usual. With no themes and no in-browser spelling-check feature, IE 9 isn't the most festive or work-friendly browser available, but at least you can install an extension that provides the in-browser spelling check.
• Pages load very quickly
• Unique browsing experience with widgets
• Not HTML 5–friendly
• Fewer security options than other browsers offer
For Internet users who prize speed above everything else, Opera Software's Opera should be the browser of choice. The user interface looks like a more polished version of Internet Explorer 9: The tabs rest at the top of the browser window, with the bookmarks and other buttons tucked away inside a pop-out menu. The interface takes some getting used to, and it isn't as customizable as, for example, Firefox's is.
Opera makes a few extensions and add-ons available to users, in the form of widgets--light applications that you can download from Opera's Web store and run on your desktop as separate programs. Opera doesn't have to be open in order for the widgets to work, but they won't start up unless you have Opera installed on your computer. Widgets range from simple games to RSS feeds, and Opera's staff reviews all widgets that users can download from Opera's store to ensure that they're safe.
Another neat tool is Opera Turbo. It uses Opera's servers to compress Web pages to only a few bytes, enabling people with slow connections to browse the Internet more easily. This feature is also convenient for people whose broadband service imposes monthly caps on their bandwidth usage, though it will automatically disable itself if you happen to be on a faster connection.
Opera supports private browsing, and it will warn you when you attempt to visit a website that it suspects is fraudulent. Opera also lets you control which cookies you accept from Web pages, though the process for making your preferences known is messy and may be too complicated for many users to bother with. In comparison to the other Web browsers in this roundup, Opera is the most lacking in security options.
Apple Safari 5.1.2
• Solid security network
• Mobile syncing is a cinch if you use an iOS device
Safari is an adequate and fairly intuitive browser, but you can do better, especially if you use a Windows machine. Safari didn't score well on any of our speed benchmarks; and though its security has always been top-notch, organizing Safari can be troublesome, especially if you're not already using iCloud, Apple's cloud-storage service replacement for MobileMe.
Safari does have solid security features, and Apple has long been a proponent of default pop-up blocking, which dramatically improves any browsing experience. Also, similarly to most other browsers these days, Safari lets you open a private browsing window so that you can block all cookies and essentially search the Web unseen with the click of a button; just go to Settings and select Private Browsing. Since Apple's browser comes preloaded on all Macs and iOS products, syncing browser settings can be quite easy with iCloud if you have an iPhone. And with Apple's new Lion OS, the latest version of Safari has a number of of new security tools and more options for reading on the Web. Another safety measure: Apple recently integrated browser sandboxing into versions of Safari on Lion, so websites bearing malicious code never have access to your computer system.