Stuck on Chrome? Always use Safari? Time to shop for a new browser
June 12, 2018
Apple’s announcement that it will add significantly stronger privacy protections to its Safari browser should remind everybody, even people not using Apples software, that you dont have to stick with the same old browser.
That’s especially true now that Apple, Microsoft and Firefox developer Mozilla are putting renewed effort into competing with Googles Chrome the web’s dominant desktop browser with 62.9% of that market in Net Applications measurements and 66.93% in StatCounters metrics. It’s also the default browser on most Android phones.
This four-player competition leaves you with some interesting choices to make based on which desktop and mobile operating system you use and the browsers available for it.
In Windows, your top alternatives to Microsofts built-in Edge are Chrome and Firefox but not Safari (Apple stopped updating the Windows version almost six years ago).
On a Mac, you can switch from Safari to Chrome or Firefox; Microsoft has not shipped a Mac version of Edge.
On Android, your leading replacements for Chrome as the default browser are Firefox and Edge.
Sorry, iOS users; you cant set another browser as the default, and Apple requires that such third-party browsers as the iOS versions of Chrome, Firefox and Edge be built on the same framework code as Safari.
Within those constraints, if privacy is your priority, Safari is the strongest option. It already blocks a lot of third-party tracking by default, and the upcoming version arriving with iOS 12 and macOS Mojave this fall will also block the tracking done by Like and Share buttons of such social networks as Facebook.
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(Since USA TODAYs site includes those buttons as well as Facebook-based comments, expect a dialog asking if you want Facebook to track your activity here before interacting with those features.)
Firefox offers comparable tracking protection, but its not turned on by default. To activate, click or tap its three-horizontal-lines menu button, select Preferences and then Privacy & Security.
Chromes strongest selling point remains security. Google has stayed well ahead of Apple, Microsoft and Firefox in such areas as supporting stronger site encryption and allowing you to confirm a login by plugging in a U2F USB security key (an option Google added back in 2014) instead of having to grab your phone and enter a two-step verification code.
Edge was until last fall a Windows-only product and it has offered some thoughtful features like the ability to mark up a page using the cursor, your fingertip or a stylus. Microsoft has also touted Edges ability to extend a laptops battery life, although recent third-party testing suggests Chrome is closing that gap.
If your biggest complaint about the Web is the visual clutter on many Web pages, Safari, Edge and Firefox offer reader views that show just the core text and maybe some images of a page. Safaris works at more sites (for instance, USA TODAYs) and even lets you set especially-noisy sites to open automatically in Reader mode.
Chrome lacks that feature but now automatically blocks the most disruptive ad formats. Speaking of annoying formats: If a site still insists you run Adobes on-the-way-out Flash plug-in, Chrome and Edge are your safest options to view that content, since both embed a locked-down version of that software.
If you want to keep your bookmarks and browsing history in sync across multiple devices, youll have to stick to one companys browser on all your devices. Note that Chromes sync feature requires storing your browsing history with Google, although you can add a passphrase to secure that data from its ad tracking.
Some sites may require Google Chrome or work better in that browser, which is not a good thing for the overall health of the Web as an open medium. That reminds me too much of the bad old days of Internet Explorer dominating that market.
And on that note: If you still use Internet Explorer, stop. Microsoft is putting its energy into the faster, more compatible and more secure Edge; if your PC runs Windows 7 or 8 instead of Edges required Win 10, switching to Chrome or Firefox will provide vastly better security on the Web. Yes, I know the browser stats cited above show more people using IE than Edge; that doesnt make it right or smart.
Rob Pegoraro is a tech writer based out of Washington, D.C. To submit a tech question, e-mail Rob at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com