A beta duel is shaping up between two underdog browsers, and that means there could be some improvements in the near future for businesses that spend most of the day online.
Google released a new beta version for its Chrome browser last week, and the Norwegian company Opera released its beta for Opera 10 in July.
Neither browser has more than a 3 percent market share globally for web browsers, but both are climbing in popularity. (It helps to remember that when we are talking about web browsers the numbers are in the billions, so 2.4 percent is significant.) Also, Opera has a large following across the pond.
What sets both Opera and Chrome apart is the kind of passion people seem to have for those browsers. People who use them swear by them. Very rarely do you hear someone say, “Gosh, gee, I’m just so in love with Internet Explorer 8.” But hearing those sentiments from users of Chrome and Opera, and even to some extent from Firefox, isn’t so surprising. Many of those users have the air of a music snob who listens to bands nobody has ever heard of and judges you for listening to Kelly Clarkson.
But businesses aren’t looking for elitism. Most businesses would just be happy to have a reliable browser. Neither Chrome nor Opera offer the kind of heavy features that Firefox does. One web programmer told me recently that Firefox is the only browser for designers. But most of us don’t do web design and don’t need all the add-ons and gizmos that Firefox has. Both Opera and Chrome are lightweight, simple and business-minded browsers.
So in the showdown between the underdogs, who comes out on top? Let’s look at a few criteria and see how each measures up.
Opera: Opera claims to be three to four times faster than previous versions and says that it delivers broadband-like speed for even dial-up users. I can’t speak to the dial-up claims because I was on high-seed wireless, but as far as speed is concerned, it was fast only to a point. The more tabs I opened up with heavy Flash support needed, the slower the browser became. The Phillies homepage has streaming video, a Flash-based slideshow and a Flash-based ad scroll on the site, and with just eight tabs open, Opera loaded it as if it were suffering from arthritis. It became overloaded when I was streaming a live baseball game and a YouTube video at the same time, but, after a few initial glitches, Opera picked itself up, dusted itself off and began performing admirably for such a heavy load.
Chrome: Chrome stood up to my stress test a bit better than Opera. I did notice a real upgrade in speed from the previous version of Chrome. Google claims to have upped the speed by 30 percent, which is more conservative than Opera’s three-to-four-times-faster estimate. If I had to pick a winner in the speed category, it would be Chrome. There were fewer hiccups when I was trying to run two video streams, and it loaded heavy pages such as the Phillies site with greater alacrity than Opera. But Chrome did run into trouble when three of my tabs began refreshing at the same time. I found that Facebook and G-Chat started to slow down, and that was a bit frustrating.
Opera: Once I had opened 20 tabs, I began to worry. It stopped responding briefly, and things started getting dicey. Again, Opera stabilized and began chugging along through five more tabs. (I can’t imagine anyone needing more than 25 tabs opened. I couldn’t crash it completely.)
Chrome: Chrome is as stable as Firefox 3.5 was in that test. It slowed but never stumbled as Opera did. Running 20 tabs was a breeze and it was relatively stable through 25. No white Vista screens of death.
Opera: Here is where Opera is strongest. Just as Google Chrome does, it provides the user with hyperlinked icons of your favorite sites whenever you open a new tab. But unlike Google, this does not happen automatically. You have to manually input those icons from your bookmarks. That is an extra step, but I found it helpful. In older versions of Chrome, it would automatically update those icons based on your browsing history, and you could not manipulate them. Also, finding ways to delete unwanted icons was anything but user-friendly (maybe I’m just dumb but I had trouble finding it at first). In Opera, you can move them anywhere you want on your “Speed Dial,” as they call it. You can also have from four to 25 icons on your screen – it’s entirely in your control. And that’s the joy of Opera: It seems to give you more control over your browsing experience.
Also, you can download Opera to your mobile phone and sync your bookmarks so that you always have your favorites with you when you are using this product.
Unlike Firefox, there is not a heavy list of add-ons, but if you are having trouble with the basics, you can find Windows Media Player and other such essentials for Opera on their support page.
Chrome: Chrome is a minimalist browser, to be sure. But there are things you can do with it that make it snazzy. You can upload themes by downloading them here. (This is another beta test site, but I downloaded the baseball theme and am well pleased.)
Also, I am in love with the security feature on Chrome. All good browsers will warn you if you are entering a dangerous site, but Chrome flashes that information in bright red on your screen. You know that you are about to royally screw up your computer when Chrome flashes the red screen at you.
Chrome also has added more control over your “speed dial” feature. The icons will still do what they’ve always done with Chrome – that is, move around based on your browsing history – only now you can pin them down so they don’t move if you don’t want them to. You can click and drag your icons manually and you can get rid of an icon by clicking an “x” in the top right-hand corner. Great success.
For my money, I think Chrome is the stronger of the two browsers.
Still, in the end, both are great browsers and would suit businesses well. Of course, streaming a live baseball game and watching YouTube videos while chatting on Facebook and G-Chat is an absurd amount of work for any browser, even one as powerful as Firefox or Internet Explorer. For everyday business computing needs, these are both fabulous options, and I would even recommend them both over the industry leaders mentioned above.
So if you are looking for a light, on-the-go browser that’s ideal for web browsing at Panera or an airport lounge, these are both solid options. And you can carry with you an air of elitism when the guy next to you at the airport smoking lounge asks you, “What on earth is that web browser?” You can turn your nose up into the air and say in a slightly dismissive tone, “Oh, it’s Opera. It’s big in Europe.”
David Larter covers technology for BizSense. Please send news tips to [email protected]