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The race for best browser tightens

Click the "e" icon at the bottom of the screen and wait while Internet Explorer cranks its way into cyberspace. A few years ago, that's all the thought and effort most people needed to put into web browsing. Only a brave few needed something more exotic than IE, which dominated the field for years, largely because it comes installed with every Windows operating system. (Until Safari's release in 2003, even Macs came with Internet Explorer.) Today, roughly 40 percent of computer users surf via Internet Explorer, despite the proliferation of competing web browsers and its shaky history with security. But IE does keep making improvements; recent reviews commend Internet Explorer 9 as the fastest and most secure version in the browser's long history.

For the last half-dozen years, Firefox has been stealing away increasingly more of the browser market from Internet Explorer and is a reviewer favorite. Reviewers say Firefox isn't the fastest browser out there, but it is plenty fast and boasts greater customization than other browsers. With over 6,000 available add-ons and plug-ins, users can do more with Firefox than any other web browser. Whatever your Internet needs, you can probably configure Firefox to meet them.

But Firefox only narrowly edges out Google's Chrome, which launched in 2008. Like Google's search engine, Chrome is simplistic in appearance and efficient in function.

Apple's Safari and Opera web browsers are less well known, but reviews reveal them to be worthy adversaries, though reviewers are not exactly in love with Safari 5, and Opera has a very small share of the market. Upstart browser RockMelt, which incorporates social networking updates from Facebook, Twitter and other sites, is also getting attention.

The most useful reviews, like those found on Tom's Hardware and Macworld, compared web browsers using benchmark tests such as Acid 3, which evaluate speed when it comes to loading JavaScript, Flash, HTML and other page elements. When it comes to the top-performing browsers, many web surfers won't notice small differences in page-load times. Therefore, reviews that evaluate other features like customization and security are just as important.

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