Windows 10 already includes two browsers: Edge and Internet Explorer 11. Edge is Microsoft’s new browser and replaces Internet Explorer 11, which is only provided for backwards compatibility with websites written for IE.
Nothing stops you from installing alternatives, either as your default browser or for other purposes. For example, you can use a separate browser for Facebook and/or Gmail, to reduce cross-site tracking, or use different browsers for different Twitter accounts. However, browsers are notorious resource hogs – especially Chrome – so people may close them when they did not using them. Closing and reopening browsers is the new “reboot your PC”. Of course, it’s only viable if you set your browser to reload existing tabs on restarts. One advantage of Firefox, Vivaldi, Opera and some others is that they do “lazy loading”: they only reload a tab when you click on it. This avoids a firestorm of reloads crippling your PC, especially if you have loads of tabs.
Not just technology
There are four major web browsers, and three of them are designed to profit the companies that produce them: Apple (Safari), Google (Chrome) and Microsoft (Edge). Firefox is the only one to put the user’s interests first. Other things being equal, that’s a good reason to use it.
Firefox is also the only major browser based on open-source code. Google releases the Chromium code as open source, and there are other browsers based on Chromium. Opera and Vivaldi are examples. However, Google adds proprietary code to produce Chrome, and others may do the same.
Using multiple browsers helps maintain competition. We don’t want websites to be optimised for specific browsers (“Google works better with Chrome” etc), because that cedes too much power to whoever owns it. Ideally, we want both browsers and websites to follow agreed common standards, not company-specific quirks.
Today, all the main browsers perform well on Windows 10, and you can happily use any or all of them. However, each one has some advantages.
Chrome is the most popular browser and provides the best support for web standards, though it’s not significantly better than Vivaldi and Opera. It’s also secure, because the browser is sandboxed for extra protection. Chrome uses different threads so one bad tab can’t crash the whole browser, though it does tend to use a lot of memory and resources (add an extension, such as The Great Suspender), and it eats batteries. It struggles if you open a lot of tabs, and its interface is unable to cope: each tab shrinks to an unusably small size.
Firefox is generally as fast as Chrome but more configurable, and it’s much better at handling tabs. You can scroll through dozens of tabs with a mouse-wheel, pick them off a drop-down list, or find them by typing the site’s name into the address bar and selecting “Switch to tab”. It uses less memory than Chrome, but a bad tab can crash the browser. (In my experience, it rarely happens.) Having too many tabs can slow it down, requiring a restart, but this is fairly quick thanks to “lazy loading”.
Edge is fast, more secure, and claims to be kind to batteries, but it is still in development. It has the advantage of being plumbed into Windows 10 and integrated with Cortana – which makes it hard to avoid, even if you don’t like it. It’s already about as standards compliant as Firefox, which is a bit behind Chrome/Vivaldi/Opera but well ahead of IE11 and Safari. One of its party tricks is annotating web pages with a pen or stylus. Its main drawback is a shortage of extensions.
All browsers now offer extensions for purposes such as saving passwords safely, saving browser sessions, downloading embedded videos, and doing image searches on the fly. There’s a natural tendency to install lots of useful-looking extensions, but they can cripple browser performance.
We recommend adopting a two- or even a three-browser strategy. If you load your main browser with defensive extensions etc, it may not work correctly with some websites.
Since Windows 10 already includes Edge, you can adopt a two-browser strategy by downloading Firefox or Chrome or Vivaldi, whichever you prefer. Download two and you will have three rendering engines, which is a good thing.