Imagine if the browser wars were a horse race. Safari's owner is a bit up himself, but the horse is young, sleek and hungry. Chrome is probably still a little bit too young, but he's fast and full of potential. Firefox turns up late as always, but it's the bookies' and the public's favourite. And Internet Explorer is a donkey.

We've spent the last few days benchmarking the latest big browsers, and IE8 hasn't excelled in a single area. It's the ugliest browser by far, the one demanding the most memory, and the one with the poorest JavaScript performance. The benchmarks were bad enough on a high spec PC, but on a netbook they were positively embarrassing: as IE moaned and groaned its way through the Sunspider JavaScript benchmarks, we actually felt sorry for it - and for the team who have to persuade the rest of us that their donkey is really a racehorse.

The IE team are a decent bunch of very smart people, but they've been given an impossible job. On the one hand they have to build a standards compliant browser that will excite and delight everybody online, but on the other they've got to support the mess Microsoft made with IE6. With IE6, Microsoft decided that people should build for the Microsoft Web, not the World Wide Web, and its army of corporate customers did just that.

New plan needed

That means the IE team simply can't do its job. It can't switch to a better rendering engine such as Webkit (Safari and Chrome), Presto (Opera) or Gecko (Firefox), or develop its own, because that would break all those corporate intranets and browser-based forms - not to mention the software programs that use IE's engine to display content, such as media players and help systems. It can't embrace web standards properly for the same reason. And it can't just say "sod this for a game of soldiers" and forget about IE altogether. Microsoft promoting open source, Apple or Google browsers? It'll be a cold day in Hell before that happens.

Microsoft's problem has always been backwards compatibility: with so many old applications to support, it can't just throw away Windows' codebase and start from scratch like Apple did with OS X. But what Microsoft can and should do is put Internet Explorer on death row, just like it does with versions of Windows it no longer wants to support. Pick a date for the execution, tell everyone when it's going to happen, and go and build a proper browser instead.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

To read our browser comparison see Tested: Chrome vs IE8 vs Firefox 3.1 vs Safari 4

Sign up for the free weekly TechRadar newsletter
Get tech news delivered straight to your inbox. Register for the free TechRadar newsletter and stay on top of the week's biggest stories and product releases. Sign up at http://www.techradar.com/register

Follow TechRadar on Twitter