Fastest Browser Fight Is Pointless

Who cares how fast a browser is? Only the makers, because they don’t have any other objective comparisons to make between the programs, says Jim Rapozo

According to a recent series of tests done by Microsoft, Internet Explorer 8 is the fastest browser available today. Of course, it doesn’t take a lot of searching to find similar studies claiming that Google Chrome or Firefox or Safari or Opera or WebKit is the fastest browser available today.

So what do I think about all of these “fastest browser” tests? Which do I think is the most valid? Well, in the immortal words of Bill Murray in Meatballs, “It just doesn’t matter!”

That’s right. When it comes to the modern Web and modern Web browsers, the last thing that most people should care about when choosing a browser is its speed.

Sure, browser performance used to matter. When I did browser comparisons in the 1990s, I did more than my fair share of performance tests.

But when I did those tests I used a stopwatch and saw differences in performance that sometimes reached minutes!

In these modern series of Web browser speed tests, the differences in performance are often measured in milliseconds. That literally means that if you blink you’ll miss the difference in speed between one browser and the next.

Face it, right now all browsers are more than fast enough. And if you’re running into slow performance on the Web, you should probably check about 100 other things (ISP performance, site problems, etc.) before you start wondering about browser speed.

So why is every single browser maker spending so much time and resources trying to gain the mantle of fastest Web browser? I think it’s because performance is the only non-subjective criteria that they can hang their hat on.

Most people choose a browser because they like how it works, they like the feature set or the UI or the extensibility or that they are just comfortable with it. But while it’s hard to tell a developer to make a browser that people will like, it’s much easier to tell them to come up with some way that they can say that their browser is faster than the competition.

But right now this is all a waste of time and resources. We would all be much better off if browser makers were spending these resources on important tasks like making browsers more secure.

Sure, someday performance might matter in browsers, especially when it comes to JavaScript performance. We may see applications that are so big and complex that these millisecond speed differences will become longer and more noticeable.

But right now we are just measuring the differences between browsers that are fast and others that are also fast. And it just doesn’t matter.