What Browser for Ubuntu? (Firefox vs Chrome vs Opera)

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Recently I made a small, informal post on Firefox vs Chrome on Ubuntu. This post was mainly inspired by the rumors that using the Windows Firefox in Wine is faster than running the native version on Ubuntu. (more info here) I haven’t tested a Windows version of any browser and I don’t like the idea of using an emulated software when there is a decent native alternative. So here I simply want to compare three browsers:

In fact I used the either the versions from the main Ubuntu channels or from the main websites. No Beta’s or Alpha’s are used. Right from the start, all three browsers are excellent products, no random freezing or problems.

look & feel

from the start the main difference is that firefox still uses one global addressbar, tabs below the addressbar, where for opera and chrome the addressbar is within each tab. from any point of view this makes much more sense to have the tabs above the addressbar. the height of the browser interface is important as most people have a small pixel height. The interface height (with window border) for the browsers are

  1. Chrome: 92 pixel
  2. Opera: 92 pixel
  3. Firefox: 158 pixel

The difference is quite huge and 60px on a 800px height of the display makes a difference. Firefox are going to move the addressbar within the tab in the upcoming release 4. (here) firefox integrates well into the gtk desktop of ubuntu and for chrome it is possible to set the theme such that it fits perfectly into the default ubuntu desktop. whereas personally, I think that opera does not fit that well into the ubuntu environment(using its own icon for the menus,…), but this is only a personal impression. however opera is the best looking browser. Opera is the only browser having tab preview by default installed, whereas it is available as plugins or extension for chrome and firefox. a new tab appears empty or shows a selected site for firefox, where opera and chrome have a nice view of most visited sites.

Comparison of Address Bar Height for Chrome, Opera and Firefox

Opening a new Tab in Opera, very similar in Chrome

browsing & speed

Startup time is important for modern browsers, as I often want to quickly check a site, news, a wikipedia article or look up a word in an online dictionary. The startup times (without plugins, under the same conditions and 3 tabs to load) I found on my system

  1. chrome: 1.1 secs
  2. firefox: 2.7 secs
  3. opera: 3.2 secs

chrome is still the speedy browser, very fast to open. firefox made some big improvements from the last version I tested (firefox 3.5.7: 4.7 secs). opera comes in last, but opera has the option to reduce the browser to the notification area, such that it can be opened instantly if it is loaded once (and never exited).

Important for a browser is how fast it handles sites and how correctly it displays them. there are tests around where you can test your browser on your system. I test with peacekeeper, tests are run in a browser instance with no other open tabs or windows, and I didn’t touch the window during the tests:

  1. chrome: 3877 pts
  2. opera: 3300 pts
  3. firefox: 1413 pts

for the acid 3 test,  verifying how browsers display websites, the more points a browsers scores, in general, the more correct it displays the site. both opera and chrome score 100/100pts, whereas firefox only comes close to 96/100pts.

processor & memory usage

to find the memory & processor usage of each browser I used the command line tool top. each browser has at least two processes running, one for the browser and one for the plugins. chrome has a process for for each open tab. with 2 open tabs, wordpress site, youtube video and cnn.com, chrome has 6 processes, opera and firefox have 2 processes running. the memory usage of a process is difficult to measure, as a process has a virtual allocated memory space and a reserved memory space. i took the values of the virtual memory

  1. opera: 329 mb
  2. firefox: 580mb
  3. chrome: 983mb

the memory usage of the browsers today depends a lot on the user’s installed extensions and add-ons. but a great difference is visible for the virtual memory of the three browsers, opera being quite in the lead position here. For the processor usage of all browser there I could not distinguish a major difference, the only interesting note is that often the processes for the plugins (opera and firefox) have a constant usage of 4-5% of the processor. again the plugins seems to be in need for the processor time, whereas the browser itself is quite optimized and only shows some load when doing some heavy JS or flash.

security

who needs security? well all browsers pass the security check here. using any of these browsers, you should be safe as regular updates are guaranteed by Mozilla, Google and Opera. together with linux or ubuntu, there shouldn’t be too much trouble right now, however the most insecure part in a system is often the user, so don’t get too lazy!

integration & extensions

for all browsers there are many add-ons or extensions, the most common exists for all three (delicious, feed reader, …) chrome integrates pretty good into the dark ubuntu desktop. firefox integrates to 100% with the ubuntu theme and also other gnome or ubuntu applications. you can sync your firefox bookmarks with ubuntu one for example. many other applications like gnome-do, always start with plugins for firefox. opera pretty much goes its own way for the integration. you clearly notice that opera does not follow the look of ubuntu, it is dark, but yet it feels as an alien. opera has pretty cool features, i like. for example their widgets allows to have a clock in your browsers on top of the websites and also if you want on top of your desktop. the unite features allows to share files, messages, music…which is working great, except that I don’t have any friends using it, but all this feature in a browser..wow!

Conclusion

opera and chrome definitely feels more responsive and faster than firefox, however firefox is the more complete solution as there are many extensions available, I guess it has the largest base of extensions. however having the tab-bar beneath the address bar is an old-style browser habit, opera and chrome have them on top and firefox beta 4 will do the same. choose firefox if you need the extensions, otherwise go for chrome or opera since they are faster for displaying websites with JS. I use chorme as I come to like it very much, fast for displaying websites and yet it feels small. if you go for opera let me know to test out unite.! all of them are very easy to install on ubuntu, just go to their homepage.

Comments

  1. vladeram says

    hi…. definitely correct. however, it was left out that if you have minimal memory (let’s say, around 2 GB), and you are running other programs, Chrome would cause you to consume all of your available RAM, that may result in other running applications crashing, or experience slowdown.

    but then again, observations are correct. these days speed is important and the fastest one delivering same quality results wins.

  2. bella lovely says

    I prefer a small browser called Avant browser which is my default browser. Every dog has his day, right? Today chrome or its open-source cousin, Chromium, is likely to replace firefox as the default browser in Linux. Maybe one day Avant browser or other small browsers like maxthon slim browser also have the chance Once they get the linux versions.(although they haven’t develop the Linux version).Just a thought, you know.

  3. Fausto says

    Chrome now has adblock extension made by the same Firefox Adblock author. It is not more excuse for not use it.

  4. JP Klebba says

    I tried both Chrome and Firefox on my laptop running Ubuntu 10.10. I ultimately settled on Firefox because of its ability to filter embedded ads with the Adblock Plus add-on. I couldn't find a similar capability on Chrome, and I suspect never will since Google makes much of its money from ads.

  5. Tony Bean says

    Thank you very much for this comprehensive review. I've been an Ubuntu user for a couple of years (since switching from SUSE) and I've always been somewhat frustrated by Firefox. I'm going now to load Chrome and give it a whirl. I'll also look into Arch Linux… (always poking around)

    Thanks again

    Tony (W1SVU)

  6. says

    I ditched Ubuntu for Arch Linux in my Acer Aspire One a few weeks ago (got fed up of Ubuntu, Arch looks more responsive than Ubuntu felt) and I just switched to Chrome both in the netbook and in my MacBook (where I am writing this). The difference in the Mac is awesome, more responsive and without lock moments when you just watch that spinning wheel.

    In the netbook it also feels better, but it already did after the switch from Ubuntu to Arch, thus I am not feeling a real improvement by now.

    Of course, I haven't done any CPU/RAM intensive operation since then, and haven't checked memory usage. Subjectively, I feel like it takes less RAM in the Mac (when Firefox was opened everything was slower, now nothing is…).

    Just my two cents from going from Firefox to Chrome. Chrome won :)

    Ruben

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