What’s the best web browser for Mac? We review the best web browser software for Mac users, and offer advice to help various types of Mac owner find the right internet browser for them – the best browser for coding, for instance, or the best for browsing speed.
Most Mac users are familiar with Apple’s distinctive Safari web browser, especially if they use both iOS and Mac OS X (both of which use Safari as the main way to interact with the web). But Safari isn’t the only web browser for Mac, and it’s not necessarily the best. Your chosen web browser – the software that interprets the code of each website you visit and presents it for your enjoyment – can make a serious difference to your experience of your favourite websites, starting of course with Macworld.
In this feature we look at the pros and cons of the major Mac internet browsers – along with the most important minor ones, and a few weird and obscure options – and explain what situation or user type each browser is best for. (It may be that, like us, you decide to maintain a ‘zoo’ of browsers in your Dock, choosing a different browser for various scenarios.)
Safari: Best Mac browser for Apple fans, as well as for visuals and overall balance
Safari is Mac OS X’s default web browser, pre installed on all Macs. (Safari is also the default for iPads and iPhones.) Superficially it does the same job as other web browsers (you type in URLs or search terms) and it serves up web addresses. Safari is the default web browser for the Mac so a lot of applications and services in Mac OS X Mavericks are designed to be compatible with Safari – which User is the browser’s first advantage.
Over time Apple has included features that were once the preserve of other browsers such as extensions and add-ons, and steadily tried to ensure that it remains one of the fastest browsers on the market (speed is probably the essence of most web browsers).
Safari is also – unsurprisingly for an Apple product – one of the most visually pleasing browsers on the market. With its restrained grey interface, clean menu system, rounded buttons, and unobtrusive styling it makes browsing the web a pleasurable experience. It also has some great features like iCloud Tabs, Offline Reading List, and syncs bookmarks between iOS and Mac OS X devices.
Firefox: Best Mac browser for customisation/tweaking
Firefox is the most open browser, and is the one with the most add-ons and developer tools (it is a particular favourite amongst web developers). Behind the scenes a new Social API developed by Mozilla promises to deeply integrate the browser with social media services. This could make new extensions with more powerful social media functionality possible.
In other ways Firefox seems a little old fashioned. It still has a separate URL and Search box, unlike Safari’s Unified Smart Search and Chrome’s Omnibox (both of which combine URL with online and local search). Despite a cleaner interface it still feels cluttered compared to Chrome, and not as modern as Safari.
Firefox still seems more interested in testing out new bells and whistles than smoking its rivals with raw speed and power. It lands pleasantly between Safari’s slick design sense and Chrome’s quickness. And there are a wealth of unique extensions and tools for committed tinkerers to try out. Anyone not enamoured with either of those browsers should definitely give Firefox a try.
Google Chrome: Best for developers
Google’s Chrome is a speed demon: It lacks the fit and finish of Apple’s Safari, but man, does it ever burn (virtual) rubber. The browser fully supports Mac OS X Full Screen mode – which coexists with Chrome’s own, functionally identical Presentation Mode.
The latest update, Chrome 32, has a number of unique new features. Small icons in Tabs now display if a web page is playing audio or accessing a webcam. The audio indicator is useful if you find yourself with dozens of web pages open and one of them starts playing a video.
Chrome also introduces a few features from Google’s Chrome OS. There are a range of Google Chrome apps that can work offline, and there’s an App Shelf and App Launcher that enables you to quickly open apps.
Chrome also has widespread support and a huge range of add-ons and extensions used by developers. On the whole Chrome is generally considered the developer and tech savvy choice.
Opera: Best web browser for speed, innovation and blocked sites
Opera has long been a niche alternative to the mainstream browsers (its worldwide market share is between 1 and 3 percent), and is now in version 19. And while Opera is not as well known as Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer, it’s a terrific web browser that’s well worth a look.
The last two version updates to Opera haven’t introduced a tremendous amount of new features, but it has reintroduced the bookmarks bar (which was oddly removed in version 19). It also has now has a wider range of extensions.
Among other advantages, Opera has Off Road mode, a clever feature designed to improve speed. Rather than accessing sites themselves, this mode makes Opera check first for an optimised version of a site stored on Opera’s own servers. (If it isn’t stored there, your browsing experience will proceed as normal.)
This has the side effect of often allowing you to access sites that have been blocked by ISPs in the UK, such the Pirate Bay. Other browsers, like Chrome, have extensions (Unblock The Pirate Bay) that enable you to bypass the block (using proxies) but Opera is by far the cleanest and easiest way we’ve found of bypassing the Pirate Bay blockade. It will be interesting to see how Opera fares when UK ISP’s implement the filters the UK government has requested. Opera could well be onto something with its Off Road mode.
Off Road aside, Opera is fast (the fastest of all the main browsers, indeed, in our tests) and has a great user interface.
These are the best four browsers in my list. How about yours? Feel free to share yours on our site and read more posts here.