Chrome vs Opera – two browsers enter, one leaves

They’re browsers Jim, but not as we know it

[EDITORS NOTE: This article was written in June 2010; Both browsers have evolved since then, making them both *excellent* options.  A future article will update the opinion discussed here]

Until recently the browser colours you wore were limited to a few – for example Windows users tended to go for Internet Explorer or Firefox. However these times are a-changin’ and with the introduction of Google Chrome where the focus was on speed, the current contenders are having to take note. How this is shaping up could change the browser landscape forever.

[EDITORS NOTE: Since writing this entry, myself and many of my friends have switched to Google Chrome as our primary browser, however Firefox still reigns supreme as a developer’s browser].

Which one are you?

Browsers tend to have two distinct camps; regular users and power users (tend to be developers or similar). In the case of the former, it’s typically all about how it performs as a utility, providing good user experience (e.g. bookmark management), speed and customisation (e.g. browser skins).

Power users look for the same thing but then need extensions and add-ons such as Firebug which allow them to delve into the depths of what the browser is up to (e.g. javascript debugging) or GreaseMonkey (intercepting the page render to manipulate javascripting).

Browser Pros Cons
Internet Explorer
  • None to speak of
  • Slow rendering
  • Browser security concerns
  • LOTS of extensions
  • Good level of security
  • Well supported and developed
  • Good user experience
  • Not the fastest rendering engine
  • Can get memory hungry
  • Fast rendering engine
  • Well supported
  • Modern User Interface
  • Graceful recovery from rare crashes
  • Good security
  • User experience a little quirky in areas
  • Reasonably good rendering speed
  • Good user experience
  • Good security
  • Locking you into the “Apple” experience
  • Some of the UI aspects can be clunky as per Chrome
  • Best rendering speed
  • Lightweight
  • Portable versions available
  • Mobile versions available
  • Good security
  • Low browser share
  • Not a popular choice for most users

What might shock you is that Opera’s latest alpha version of their browser trounces over every other browser in terms of rendering / javascript engine speed – check out CNet’s breakdown – and in doing so should (in theory) start to become a popular contender… after all, this is one of the things Google pushed for its’ own browser.

It’s all about perception

Sometimes, even if the product is in some way superior, perception is reality. Google has been the master at holding its’ brand in a certain light (“Don’t be evil“) and that brand placement helps push its’ products out even more than vendors such as Opera who don’t have the same marketing budget, so as a consequence they just need to do better than most and be seen as “cool” to maintain and even build their market share, whereas Opera will have to fight tooth and nail and promote from their own advocates as well as marketing themselves through the various channels.

Having been involved in several browser share discussions, here’s my prediction for the next months:

Prediction of browser market share

IE’s days of dominance are due to end, if they haven’t already with Firefox being seen as the new “leader”. Apple’s foray into the Windows browser world has been a little hit and miss – it’s not offensive but they’re really still playing to their strength of their Mac user base.

Chrome, the up and coming rising star continues to grow and take it’s slice of the pie, bit by bit, however Opera’s growth, if things stay reasonable “as is”, will be organic and gradual.

What if…

What if Opera targeted the mobile and other niche markets (even consoles?!). Could that be the answer to increase their dominance? Arguably if you’re using Opera on your HTC or other mobile device, surely you’d want a similar experience with your desktop / laptop?

While this may turn out to be true, it also depends on what tools you give developers, your bread and butter for pushing a browser popularity. Right now that market is captured by Firefox and its’ burgeoning extension community, however the likes of Google recognise this and are creating the same type of environment to allow developers. Opera does have a suite of developer tools and also set of cool looking widgets but the reality when reviewing these is they are limited and some are just gimmicky.

And the winner is….

Yet to be decided, but it’s looking like Firefox will dominate 2010, but 2011 looks to be a scorcher – Google clearly intends to dominate the web market (see Google Chrome OS) and with it’s mighty spending power will surely go out of its’ way to make sure this happens.

I truly hope Opera’s efforts are rewarded unfortunately they need to improve their brand as well as the product itself.


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