8 of the best web browsers for Linux

But which is the best Linux web browser of all?

Google Chrome

It isn't without flaws, but is it close enough to awesome?

Let's be clear – it is not surprising that Chrome is fast. Almost all the development effort on Chrome since it was first launched has focused on this, from endless tweaks to the JavaScript engine to adding new technologies like pre-fetching DNS.

Chrome

Sometimes these are not all-round benefits – pre-fetching DNS is a good example. In this case, the browser sees what links are on the page and pops out a process to request a DNS lookup. When you come to click on such a link, it means that the result should already be in the cache. No lookups is good, but it also results in a bit of wasted internet traffic and bandwidth. Generally though, most users aren't worried about this, or just don't know that it's happening.

Anyone who has had 250 tabs open and had Firefox crash on the very last one will know how painful it is to get everything back. That's why Chrome spawns a new process for each tab, so when something goes wrong, you don't lose everything. It's a system that works well, and avoids catastrophes when it does struggle.

Chrome is not the greatest ever browser. There are times when tabs seem to fail for no adequate reason. There are issues with ease of use. The scope of plugins is not as vast as Firefox, and you could argue that it is wasteful with resources.

It does deliver on being a slick, fast, secure and usable browsing tool. And when we say fast, we mean very fast. It may have been optimised to do well in most of the tests, but in everyday use, it is also very, very fast.

The minimalist interface maximises your useable web viewing area, and while it does take a bit of getting used to – with the menus being many times more fiddly to deal with – that's a fair compromise for many users.

Verdict

Google Chrome
Version: 5.0.375.55 beta
Website: www.google.com/chrome

It isn't perfect, but it is moving towards it.

Rating: 10/10

SeaMonkey

The idea that just wouldn't lie down and die.

The original Netscape browser was an 'internet suite', which combined the functions of web browser, mail client and HTML editor. SeaMonkey continues that ambition, and adds more in the form of IRC chat, news reader, feed reader and additional development tools.

SeaMonkey

As it's built largely from the Mozilla codebase, it does benefit from the same technical and performance advances. As with Flock, there is a theoretical compatibility with Firefox for extensions, but the same limitations apply – many extensions target specific Firefox functionality or UI features that SeaMonkey doesn't have.

SeaMonkey's performance results should be viewed with the caveat that, as we write this, a 2.1 version is nearing release, which is likely to include more up-to-date Mozilla code, with increases in speed and compatibility.

The user interface is chunky, but very workable, and all the features are easy to find. In some ways it's like stepping back a few generations in terms of design, but many people liked the easy-to-understand large icons and the simplicity of tab handling, so that may not be a disadvantage.

The strategy behind SeaMonkey does seem to be sound, though. For many people, using the internet is a functional thing rather than a form of entertainment. Gluing together all the tools you'll need in one package is actually a pretty good idea.

The email component is good, and while the page composer may lack some of the more helpful tools of a standalone editor, it is simple to use and works well enough. For web developers it also has the JavaScript console and debugger.

Verdict

SeaMonkey
Version: 2.0.4
Website: www.seamonkey-project.org

A great all-rounder – looks dated, but works fine.

Rating: 8/10

The best Linux web browser is...

Chrome: 10/10

Like most software categories, there will never be any one browser that suits absolutely everyone. Some may demand the flexibility of Konqueror and its excellent KIO system. Some will no doubt prefer something simple, like Midori and Epiphany, while others will want something all-inclusive, like SeaMonkey.

Winner - chrome

Opera has been running on Linux since version 4.0 back in 2000. It's probably the most different of the browsers on test simply because it has been in closed development since then. There was a time when Opera offered the best browser experience, but the Linux versions lag behind a little, which makes it hard for it to compete.

Firefox is obviously a great browser and still the most popular choice for Linux users. If you're completely happy with Firefox and would find it a wrench to leave all your favourite add-ons, then there is no great need to change.

The outright winner has to be Chrome. Not only did it blitz everything else in the speed tests, but it holds up in the compatibility stakes too. Although we were amazed by the speed of Chrome, we shouldn't forget the wonderful array of developer tools that are also embedded.

They may not be a sellable feature to mainstream users, but for anyone developing complex websites, the timing graphs and profiling tools are a real help. The really interesting thing will be, considering the Chromium project is open source, whether any of these technologies will be assimilated into other projects.

What we have seen in the last few years is that the battle of the browsers is probably more intense now than it has been for a few years. With the transition to HTML5 and the explosive appearance of Chrome on the scene with its aggressive speed increases, the pace of innovation and change in browser technology won't be slowing down any time soon.

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First published in Linux Format Issue 134

Liked this? Then check out 10 best Linux distros for 2010

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