Update: See the latest benchmark results including Firefox, Opera, Safari results here.
On the day after Labor Day I got a browser surprise. During my Windows XP updates (I always select user customized over the default because Redmond gives me stuff I don’t want unlike on my Linux notebook), Microsoft offered me a chance to try the IE8 beta. But to my surprise (and no control) the updater ripped out IE7 and replaced it with the IE8 beta. Now I didn’t want this because I use IE as a compatibility test browser and I wanted both IE7 and IE8 beta for that purpose. Now I had to scrounge around and find a latest copy of IE7 that doesn’t want to takeover the IE world on my machine. So that is what I spent too much of the weekend trying to do. Thanks Redmond.
Google Chrome beta browser versus Microsoft IE8 beta browser
Surprise 2, Google announced on September 2 their Chrome browser. Oh … Google is no longer working with Mozilla? But still funding them until 2011. In fact the Chrome browser uses Apple’s Webkit not Mozilla’s Gecko display engine. Hmmm. And there is no support for add-ons including notably Adobe’s Flash player. Hmmm. And it runs in only one language – English. And it runs in only one major operating system – Windows XP and Vista. And Chrome lacks a full set of utilities like add-ons, plugins, themes, bookmark management, etc. hmmm, Hmmm, and HMMM.
CSS Browser Tests
So I thought one of the best ways to test the new browsers would be to see how well the two did on the CSS tests suites provided by W3C. As the IT world moves to the Cloud, conformance to these and other Web standards are becoming crucial. A lot of development software from vendors large and small from IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, Salesforce, Sun and many others depend on compliance with W3C and other Web Standards. In addition end user organizations like Amazon, eBay, Fedex, SEC, UPS, WalMart and hundreds of others are now using the Internet Cloud as primary IT resources. They too are looking for rock solid Web standards adherence by browser suppliers. Besides this CSS Test Suite would be a good exercise because IE8 has had 10 years to meet CSS standards (most of the tests are at least 2-4 years old) compared to Googles first kick at the browser cat.
Other tests show decided speed, expandability, usability advantages to Chrome ( and Firefox in many cases):
TechRadar – says Chrome and Firefox easily surpass IE8 latest beta, giving nod to Firefox.
MSNBC – rates Chrome faster than IE8, gives Chrome good UI marks as well.
LifeHacker – gives top marks to Firefox, Chrome, Firefox for speed, CSS times, and Memory usage – IE8 trails
Scalar Motion – does install, import settings, speed, and usability tests and ranks Firefox, Chrome and IE8 trailing
Slashdot – has its 728 comments and they are rated from good to worse.
Now here are the results from one of over a dozen test suites on CSS in various contexts provided by W3C. This first suite tests selectors and cascading rules conformance at the very heart of CSS usability with 176 different test pages. Chrome failed on 16 or 9% of the 176 tests while IE8 failed on 77 or 44% of the tests. In addition during the tests I discovered that Chrome does the mouse wheel backwards to all other browsers while IE8 was notably slower (about 3 times longer wait than Chrome) for about 15-25% of the tests. I then tried some of the alternative test harneses (9 in total) provided by W3C including XHTML, XLINK, and HTML iFrame. The results were substantially the same except for XLINK where IE8 failed nearly every test.
So what can we conclude from these tests. First, that Chrome indeed is very fast – close to the same as Firefox 3, the fastest browser now available. Chrome also dominated CSS compliance being faster and four times more likely to get the Web page right than IE8. As CSS and other standards get pushed to the limits by Web developers it is good to know that there will be at least 4 browser vendors that take these standards seriously. The travesty is that 10 years later, Microsoft still does not.
Microsoft on Web Standards
Here is sampling of Microsoft statements on Web Standards:
April 2000 commitment to Web Standards – “most standards-compliant browsing technology shipping today”
December 2006 interview prior to Mix07 and IE7 Booster show – Bill Gates “We’ve done the Mea Culpa . . . that yes, we should have kept the browser innovation curve to be a more continuous curve. Believe me, we wish that we’d done that differently. Dean’s group is getting more resources, and so you’ll actually see us not only going back to the state of what we were innovating before but actually innovating at faster speeds than we were before. A lot of that has to do with implementing standards. It also has to do with doing user interface things that make our browser a cool browser and ultimately preferable for people to use.”
December 2007 Dean Hachamovitch, IE8 project leader, pats himself and IE8 on the back for ACID2 test compliance – this is a small target, red herring test; not near the rigor of the W3C CSS tests.
If IE8 were a competitors product, Microsoft executives, PR, and domain experts would be absolutely savaging it. They would be as dismissive of IE8 as they were of OS/2. They would be telling the IT community that “after 10 years of trying, this IE8 browser still has not made the grade”.And that would not be the worst of it. For Microsoft development tools and applications have an even worse record of Web standards support where proprietary extensions and exclusive Windows/Microsoft process/routines are the norm.
Hence Chrome may not be the browser you want to upgrade to(see security bugs here). Firefox, Opera and Safari are still better and more feature complete; so make Google deliver on its vague promises. But Chrome certainly does show exactly how deficient Microsoft is on delivering Web standards. On Googles first try, they get Web standards 4 times better than Microsoft. And the problem is not just Redmonds errant support for Web standards but in the long run, Microsoft’s negativity towards the Web Platform in general. CTO Ray Ozzie may be there in Redmond to advocate for the Web, but he is outvoted by CSO Craig Mundie and CEO Steve Ballmer and of course, the Chairman, who really sees the Web as an incursion on his dominant desktop monopolies and his company’s ability to create an IT client-server hegemony.