Linux browser smackdown!


Innovative and fast, Opera has carved out a niche in the mobile space.

You have to feel sorry for Opera, the web browser from chilly northern Europe. It's been first with many of the innovations we now take for granted (tabbed browsing and user CSS styling), but its market share – excluding mobile iterations – has yet to crack 1 per cent.

For our tests, we downloaded version 9.5 from the Opera website. The package, a mere 8MB, took a couple of seconds to download. A new entry was added to the Internet part of our Applications menu and we were up and running shortly after.

That was an omen of things to come, because Opera is fast. Its launch speed is blistering, it keeps up admirably with Firefox in rendering pages and it's unsurpassed in CSS tests (at least for this week). Opera is also good with memory, using about 10MB less than Firefox when running the same number of tabs.

What's perhaps most remarkable about Opera and its diminutive memory usages is that it's more than just a browser – the package contains a fully fledged email and chat client, a note-taking function, a BitTorrent client for speedy downloads and a slew of OS X Dashboard-style widgets. Using all of these increases the footprint of the software significantly, but not more than having additional applications open.

In fact, the only real problem we encountered with Opera 9.5 occurred when using Flash/Flex applications such as Photoshop Express and Sprout Builder. These ranged from outright crashes to unsupported browser notifications, but they did affect our confidence in the software.

There were also occasional glitches when saving to a Google Docs project, and this too made us feel more wary about using the software for our longer browsing sessions.

Finally, while most pages rendered quickly, big video-streaming sites like the BBC's iPlayer and YouTube took a long time to appear. The audio played well, but video tended to be a little choppy. While this may have been a connection issue, we didn't experience the same problems with Firefox.

Verdict: A good application in use, but a few stability issues make it hard to recommend wholeheartedly. 7/10


Another re-spin of Mozilla, this time for the Gnome desktop.

Epiphany is an odd fish. It's a Gecko-based browser that integrates well with Gnome, but seems not to follow the Gnome guidelines of simplicity overall as well as Firefox does.

The reason it looks a little ancient is to do with the setup of the toolbars; Epiphany's design results in a lot of wasted space on the right, especially on a widescreen monitor, and less vertical space for the content. These are small issues, but it's only when you see them compared that it becomes clear how much better other browsers are at getting out of the way of what you're viewing.

With all of our test pages and web applications Epiphany didn't exhibit any significant problems. The missing search bar is rectified by being able to access search through the address bar, but changing the default search provider involves messing about with Smart Bookmarks. There aren't enough configuration options available either, especially when defining default behaviour.

In most other respects, browsing with Epiphany is much the same as browsing with Firefox version 2, except that you can't install and use Firefox extensions and themes in Epiphany. To this end, the browser ships with an extensions package which offers things like ad blocking, bookmark synchronisation and even a version of Greasemonkey. But, while these are useful, they don't really compensate for the loss of the thousands of offerings Firefox can access.