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Safari 5 vs Firefox 4 on the Mac

by: Karl Johnson | Mar 03, 2011
Categories: Products, Review

The two leading browsers on the Mac are Apple's own Safari and the Mozilla Foundation's Firefox browser. There are other browsers available for the Mac, including Google's own Chrome, but this test will be between the two market leaders.

During the testing period, Firefox 4 beta 11 and Safari 5.0.3 were used. Although Firefox 4 is still in beta, it is already better than Firefox 3, which Safari clearly beat in past competitions. This test examined eight key areas for browser performance and usability. Now it is time to compare these two browsers.

Cookie Handling: Firefox is and always has been a clear winner here with more cookie control. Firefox can be setup to delete all cookies, except those you want, when the browser quits. This gives the user more control over how sites store data in the browser. There are also several plug-ins that add more functionality for controlling cookies, even flash cookies. Winner: Firefox

Flash Player: As was shown in a previous post, Firefox has really poor performance when it is combined with the Flash Player plugin. Both Firefox and the Flash plug-in use more of the CPU than when running with Safari. Winner: Safari

JavaScript: Both Safari and Firefox seem pretty comparable. Real world testing showed little difference in speed most of the time. Winner: Tie

Performance: Similar to performance with the Flash Player, Firefox continues to lag in CPU and memory usage. Although, Firefox 4 is still in beta, previous versions have always had memory leaks and other performance problems and it looks like version 4 is no different. At one time during testing, Firefox almost reached 500MB in memory used.  Initial testing showed similar results with beta version 12, which was just released.  Winner: Safari

Stability: Surprisingly, during the testing period, Safari had more crashes than Firefox. Not sure if more sites are written for Firefox, or if Firefox is more stable. For the Beta version of Firefox, stability is pretty high. Winner: Firefox

Look and feel: Buy adding a Firefox plug-in to remove favicons from the toolbar, Firefox can look very similar to Safari. Firefox 4 has come a long way in this area. While it still is rough around the edges, it was close enough not to have made a big impact. Winner: Tie

Search: Firefox 4 has integrated the address bar and search bar into one. Now, you can search or enter an address from the same location. With the addition of a plug-in, one can even choose which search engine to use with a few key strokes. Firefox also has more search engines available, which gives it the edge here. Winner: Firefox

Video Playback: Firefox does not have built-in support for the H.264 video codec. While you can get a plug-in for it, this is still a major disadvantage for Firefox. Most sites that look to see which browser you are using can't assume Firefox can play H.264 and will use the WebM codec instead. As previous tests show, WebM is less supported and uses more resources than H.264. Winner: Safari

Firefox 3 was slow, buggy, and had multiple memory leaks on the Mac. Safari was the clear winner before, but Firefox 4 has narrowed the gap. Still, Firefox has several major hurdles to overcome. The Flash Player and overall performance really needs lots of improvement. Firefox still needs to be shut down every few hours, due to memory leaks, which can be a deal breaker. The lack of built-in H.264 support is a deal breaker for most Mac users. While Safari has less features than Firefox, it is faster and more refined. Safari is still the best Browser on the Mac.

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7 Comments

  1. David ~ March 03, 2011 14:55

    Your result for Search is a matter of opinion. To me, having a single field for search and URL is a negative. And Safari has a plugin for adding extra search engines, so that's the same as Firefox. #
  2. Geoff Strickler ~ March 03, 2011 15:22

    I also feel the integrated location/search field is a negative. In fact, it's the thing I like least about Chrome. I want the location bar to search my bookmarks first, my history second (and that should be optional), and nothing else. I don't know what sites you were visiting, but Safari 5.0.3 almost never crashes on my machine, and I only quit Safari once every 3-6 weeks when I log out or reboot. #
  3. PN ~ March 03, 2011 18:50

    Where can you get a plug-in for H.264 for Firefox on a Mac? #
  4. Karl Johnson ~ March 03, 2011 21:30

    Microsoft has made one for Firefox on the Windows side, which is just hilarious. I am not sure where to get one for the make, but I am sure someone will make one. I forgot about inquisitor, the search plugin for the Mac. I stop using it for some reason that I can't remember, thanks for reminding me. It does not require SIMBL to work, which is a big plus, since SIMBL is really buggy. I still prefer the integrated search/address, but it is a personal preference. #
  5. Mia1978 ~ April 15, 2011 14:31

    When talking about video, Firefox doesn't allow full screen with html5 and doesn't manage the "loop" attribute. It also manages css3 transitions less well than Safari. And finally, it doesn't pass the acid3 test. As for now, for me Safari is the clear winner #
  6. michael035 ~ July 25, 2011 06:04

    Best-in-Class User Interface - the way Firefox 4 resizes webpages is how all future browsers will do it. Images are now resized as well, so that the entire webpage scales up or down proportionally. #
  7. Goggle ~ October 09, 2011 15:18

    The major problem with Safari is that I've tried searching how to customise, things like startup browser in private mode and change default google.com search bar to google.co.uk and I have to delve into the bloody coding to change these features. Firefox has these and other features there for you to easily customisevia a few handy menus. #

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