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Web Browser Grand Prix VI: Firefox 6, Chrome 13, Mac OS X Lion

Two Winners: One In Windows 7, One in OS X

We're handing out two championship prizes: one for Windows and another for Mac OS X.

Your Windows Champion

Version 13 once again earns Google Chrome the Web Browser Grand Prix championship. Chrome's sheer number of wins nearly discounts its weaknesses.

With only one weakness and the highest number of non-winning strong scores, Mozilla Firefox is once again our runner-up. A bit of trouble in CSS performance, as well as a high number of merely acceptable scores, are all that hold back Firefox from taking the gold. Although the new rapid development cycle may be hurting Firefox in our reliability benchmarks, it also allows Mozilla to keep pace with Google Chrome on the performance front. Firefox 7 is supposed to bring improvements to both JavaScript and memory usage/management, which are two key areas that might allow Firefox to pull into a first-place finish.

Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 claims third place, though it is falling further behind the more quickly updated Chrome and Firefox builds. Its scores in Flash, HTML5, and memory management are keeping IE9 on the medal stand.

Opera takes fourth place, but is still very close to unseating IE9 for third. Poor memory management, plus a lack of HTML5 hardware acceleration and WebGL support put a hurt on the Norwegien Web browser. A large number of non-standout scores isn't helping, either.

Safari crawls into last place with the least number of wins and most losses. Like Opera, no HTML5 hardware acceleration and WebGL support make it hard for Safari to compete. But Safari for Windows is barely a shell of its OS X counterpart.

Mac OS X Champion

On its native platform, Safari is definitely no slouch. In fact, the performance of Safari 5.1 in OS X Lion matches that of Firefox 6 in Windows 7.

Chrome takes second place on Lion, though its performance isn't even close to what we saw in Windows 7. A lack of HTML5 hardware acceleration, hoggish memory usage, and poor reliability hold back Google's browser here.

Opera takes third place on OS X, and its cross-platform scores are really close, earning Opera the distinction of providing a steady experience across multiple platforms. This browser suffers the same issues on OS X as in Windows 7, with the added problems of lowered JavaScript and DOM performance, as well as slower page load times.

Firefox 6 is pretty close behind Opera. Like Chrome, though, its Windows 7 build far out-paces the OS X version. Firefox's problems in OS X mirror what it suffers in Windows, with the addition of memory problems found in OS X.

Operating System Comparison

Mac OS X Lion is a beauty to behold, and its benefits aren't just skin-deep. The score for Safari 5.1 on OS X is really close to Chrome 13 running on Windows 7, and it might even beat Firefox 6 for Windows. So, if you throw Safari 5.1 for OS X into the regular Windows 7 mix, Apple takes or shares second place! It appears that your Mac friends were right afterall, so stop hassling them.

Also, remember these tests were not conducted on an actual Apple-branded Mac system. Based on what we saw in the results of WBGP2: Linux, we really didn't expect the OS X scores to get so close to the best from Windows. With such a slim margin of victory favoring Chrome in Windows (versus Safari on OS X), it is entirely within the realm of possibility that running these tests on a genuine Apple rig could tip the scales in favor of Safari (or back the other way). A more in-depth Hackintosh versus Macintosh comparison would be needed to confirm one way or the other.

As it stands, a Mac-based browser matched or beat the best score from Windows-based browsers in 10 out of 29 scored tests. In fact, even on a Hackintosh, Mac OS X is capable of providing better results than Windows 7 in Flash, HTML5, WebGL, and the ever-important page load times. Better standards compliance in Safari and Chrome for Mac even tip conformance in favor of OS X.

On the flip side, that leaves 19 tests in which a Windows 7-based browser provides the best score. For now, Redmond can still claim Web browsing supremacy on the desktop. But that edge is eroding, and you can bet Cupertino won't quit trying to usurp its competition.

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