Note: Our best browsers round-up has been fully updated. This feature was first published in September 2013.
In the early days of the internet, browser choice was, well, limited. Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator were the big names, and everyone else trailed in their digital wake.
Fast forward 20 years and it's a very different story. Microsoft, Google, Mozilla and Opera all have their own powerful products, and there are many excellent smaller browsers around, each with their own unique set of tweaks and enhancements.
Which is best? That's a tough call, and depends very much on personal taste, so the best approach is to simply try as many as you can. And to help you get started and better focus your search, we've picked out 11 of the best web browsers around.
- Also check out our round-up of the best VR web browsers
Vivaldi is a feature-packed Chromium-based web browser, inspired by the original Opera and aimed squarely at power users.
If you always have too many tabs open, Vivaldi could be a great choice. Thumbnail previews help identify the tab you need, and a hibernate option frees up RAM while keeping tabs open. Dragging and dropping tabs into groups called 'stacks' saves space and keeps you organised, and it's easy to manually save open tabs as a Session for speedy recall later.
Side panels give you quick access to bookmarks and downloads. You can add notes as you browse, and link them to a site. It's even possible to view a second site in a side panel, perfect for side-by-side browsing.
There are speedy shortcuts for many common tasks – opening a closed tab or blocked pop-up, cycling through search results, controlling page zoom – and it's all supremely configurable.
Some users say all this extra functionality has reduced performance, and there are problems installing some Chrome extensions, but there's no doubt that Vivaldi delivers a lot for a first version. Give it a try.
Available for: Windows XP+, OS X 10.7+, Linux
Maxthon is a popular browser, highly rated by users (4.5/5 at Google Play and the App Store) and it comes with some appealing features.
The browser runs on almost every conceivable platform and can automatically sync favourites and settings across all your devices.
Maxthon uses both IE's Trident and Safari's WebKit rendering engines, giving it great compatibility with just about every site.
Adblock Plus is included with the package, and several other advanced features come as standard. It's possible to download all the media files on a page, block malicious and phishing websites, skip video ads, take screenshots of complete web pages, save and manage text notes, and that's just the start.
If you prefer lightweight browsers, this might not appeal. Maxthon is also short on extensions, with 'only' 769 when we last checked, and most of those hadn't been updated for some time.
Still, the core browser is so good that you might not care, and if you use it across multiple platforms then Maxthon could be a good choice.
Available for: Windows, Linux, OS X, Android, iOS, Windows Phone
K-Meleon is a highly configurable Gecko-based browser for experienced Windows users.
There's no dumbed-down, stripped back, over-simplified interface here. Instead K-Meleon has a stack of toolbars, menus and options, absolutely crammed with features.
There's also integration with IE's favourites (not just import – it reads the current shortcuts), mouse gestures, a powerful macro feature, easy session management, email and news reading integration, and more advanced settings and configuration options than you'll see anywhere.
It's not all good news. For starters, K-Meleon doesn't support most Firefox extensions. Also, configuration can be awkward (you have to edit text files), and development is slow, with months going by between significant releases.
This hasn't stopped K-Meleon getting an impressive 4.8/5 rating at SourceForge, though, and if you need something really customisable – and can live with the complexity – it still has a great deal to offer.
Available for: Windows XP+
Eich's Chromium-based project is still in beta, and distinctly short on features. There's no extension support, no bookmark import, a feeble bookmarks manager, lots of missing menu items, very few configuration options, and – well, you get the idea.
What you do get with Brave is integrated ad and tracker-blocking. That works so well that the browser can already outperform Chrome in some situations, which is probably why the (extremely short) page load time is prominently displayed in the address bar.
Brave will soon go even further, via an option to replace blocked content with safer, less obtrusive ads. The website gets most of the revenue, Brave takes a share, but users will get paid 15% via BitGo (a Bitcoin wallet).
Are Brave's ads really going to be better than the originals, and will your earnings make it worth the effort? We're not sure, but this is definitely one to watch.
Available for: Windows 7 64-bit+, OS X, Linux
The interface is minimalist and uncluttered, offering just the core navigation buttons. Everything works more or less as you'd expect, and you'll be navigating your favourite websites in seconds.
Midori has a few neat touches you'll notice right away: the Speed Dial site launcher screen and the Duck Duck Go default search engine. There's an RSS icon in the address bar when feeds are available, and it's handy that the tabs from your last session are reopened when you next start the program.
It doesn't take long to find the other core essentials: bookmarks, history and download management, private browsing and so on.
This is all very much basics-only. The Import Bookmarks option won't find other browsers – it imports from an XBEL or HTML file only. There are only a few preferences or settings, and extension support is extremely limited.
Midori isn't going to be the power user's choice, then, but if you're looking for something small and simple then it might be worth a try.
Available for: Windows, Linux
Cent Browser 22.214.171.124
While some browsers try to change the world, Cent Browser is a little less ambitious – it's just aiming to build on the open-source Chromium, and make it a little better.
Convenient touches include the ability to set a minimum width for tabs, to prevent them getting too small (you can scroll the tab bar using the mouse wheel to find what you need).
There's also a QR code generator, a 'Boss' key, a pin feature to protect tabs from being closed, and a right-click option to search for selected text in your favourite search engine.
New navigation features include configurable mouse gestures, and additional memory optimisations might ease the load on your system.
This doesn't always work quite as you'd expect, and there's not much documentation to help point you in the right direction. But overall Cent is a likeable browser with some convenient enhancements and extras.
Available for: Windows
First released back in 1996, Opera has a strong record of innovation, and many of the features we take for granted in other browsers – tabs, mouse gestures, Speed Dial's thumbnail site launcher – were perfected in Opera first.
Opera's move to Chromium in 2013 means the browser isn't as distinctive as it was, but there's still plenty to explore.
Visual bookmarks with customisable thumbnails help you organise and find your favourite sites.
Opera Turbo compresses web pages to improve performance. The technology doesn't work with HTTPS pages, which limits its usefulness, but it can still be handy in some situations.
Well-implemented mouse gestures expand your navigation options. There's also optional syncing of all your browsing data (bookmarks, open tabs, passwords, and typed history), and all this is packaged in a super-streamlined, minimalist interface.
Opera's big problem has always been a distinct shortage of extensions (there's only a fraction of the number available for Chrome or Firefox), but a new ability to load Chrome extensions gives users many more options.
Put it all together and Opera is still an excellent all-round browser. If you've not checked it out for a while, download a copy immediately.
Available for: Windows, OS X, Linux, Android, iOS, Windows Phone
Chromium is the open-source browser which powers Google Chrome, Opera, Vivaldi, and many other applications.
The program looks and feels just like Chrome – it boasts a familiar interface, essentially the same menu options, plus you can even browse and install Chrome extensions.
Most of the differences are under the hood. Some may cause problems (no built-in PDF reader, Flash player, reduced media codec support), but there are pluses, too: less of Google's tracking and reporting code, the ability to install extensions outside of Google's store, plus of course you'll get new features a little quicker.
For most people these aren't going to be compelling reasons to change. If you're worried about Google 'spying' on you, just spending a moment tweaking Chrome's privacy settings will make a real difference.
Still, if you really don't need all that Google integration then Chromium is a likeable browser. If nothing else, keep a portable copy around and you'll be able to check out new features as they arrive.
Available for: Windows, OS X, Linux, Android, iOS
The interface is simple – a single toolbar with just a few buttons. Even a total computer novice will be up-to-speed quickly.
There are one or two potentially useful extras. Web Notes allows you to add notes to a web page and share them with others, there are thumbnail previews for tabs, and Reading View reformats pages to remove distractions and make them easier to read (unfortunately it doesn't work with many sites yet).
What you don't get, unfortunately, is support for any extensions. They are in preview builds of the browser already, though, and due to launch with the Anniversary Update of Windows 10 later this summer.
There are also very few configuration options. If you like to tweak and customise your browser, this isn't the package for you.
Edge's simplicity, lightweight design and promising future mean it just scrapes into this list – and it's noticeably faster than IE, too – but if you need to do anything faintly advanced then it's best to look elsewhere.
Available for: Windows 10
What makes a good browser interface? Everyone has their own ideas, but we think Firefox mostly gets it right – it's good-looking, easy-to-use, yet with plenty of powerful functionality just a click or two away.
Better still, and unlike most of the competition, you don't have to live with Mozilla's design choices. There are hundreds of free themes which do everything from tweaking a few colours and graphics, to giving the browser a brand new look and feel.
The core browsing experience is good, too – we like the scrolling tab bar – and handy extras include the likes of Firefox Hello (video chat and screen sharing), and Pocket integration (save content from web pages and view it later on any device).
Firefox doesn't deliver the best performance, memory usage can still be an issue (though it's much better than it was), and while there are plenty of extensions available, Chrome has many more.
Despite that, Firefox remains a great browser, and major improvements – including the possibility of running Chrome extensions – are on the way. Sounds good to us.
Available for: Windows, OS X, Linux, Android, iOS
It's only been around for eight years, but Chrome's appealing mix of features, speed and usability has seen it leave most of the competition behind.
The browser's streamlined interface takes up the minimum amount of screen space, but there's plenty of functionality when you need it: excellent tab handling, syncing of browser data across all your devices, convenient tab muting, a task manager to monitor resource use, simple parental controls via 'supervised users', and a host of tweaks, settings and configuration options.
If you need more, that's not a problem, either – Chrome has the largest and best selection of extensions around.
There are issues, however. Chrome can be a resource hog, slow to start, using multiple processes and grabbing much more RAM than the lightweight Opera or Edge.
There are also privacy concerns over the various ways Chrome can pass your data to Google. And benchmarks show it's no longer the clear leader for browsing performance.
Factor in Opera and maybe Firefox's upcoming ability to run Chrome extensions, and rivals are clearly catching up. The browser wars aren't over just yet.
Available for: Windows, OS X, Linux, Android, iOS