Updated April 2014
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The race for best browser tightens

Web browsers aren't just about navigation anymore. A decade ago, Internet Explorer was pretty much the only game in town and browsers were simply a way of getting around the World Wide Web, as it was called. Today, a web browser is much more than that; it's a center for your most crucial information and day-to-day activities. You can store your passwords, shop, catch up on the news, share links (with your other devices or friends) and download (or upload) your essential files. Used on our phones, tablets, laptops and desktops, our choice of web browser is critical to our daily lives -- and, increasingly our privacy.

The good news is that browsers are faster, boast more features and are safer than ever before. Internet Explorer was the first major browser to hit the market (remember the little "e" icon in every PC and Mac?). After losing market share to rivals like Firefox and Chrome, it has seen a resurgence of positive reviews in recent years thanks to its stellar privacy and security settings. For the past several years IE has captured well over 99 percent of malware, blowing away its competitors. Internet Explorer 11 is commended as having the fastest and most secure version in the browser's long history.

For the last several years, Firefox has been stealing away increasingly more of the browser market and is a reviewer favorite. Reviewers say Firefox isn't the fastest browser out there (that title usually goes to Chrome), but it is a great performer and boasts better customization options than other browsers.

New focus on mobile

Google Chrome, launched in 2008, is Firefox's main competitor. Like Google's search engine, Chrome is simplistic in appearance and efficient in function, but the browser has made serious strides in features and performance. Despite concerns about Google's respect for privacy, most reviewers say Chrome is now the best browser on the market.

Apple's Safari and Opera web browsers are less well known, but reviews reveal them to be somewhat worthy adversaries. Aside from Apple enthusiasts, however, reviewers are not exactly in love with Safari, and Opera has a very small share of the market. Social networking browsers like Rock Melt (which Yahoo bought and sunsetted) seem to be a thing of the past, with more and more focus being placed on mobile browsers for smartphones and tablets.

When it comes to the top-performing browsers, many Internet users won't notice small differences in page-load times, but speed is still a major factor in choosing the best browser. Not surprisingly, features like customization, tabbing, security and privacy -- and of course design and user interface -- are just as important as performance.

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