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Browsers: Good, fast or secure

When it comes to browsers, it seems that the main vendors are locked in the old design adage, but with a browser-oriented twist. They can release browsers that are good, fast or secure, but they can only pick one. And Google and Microsoft this week illustrated the point nicely.

Google released a beta version of its Chrome 2.0 that it touted as up to 35% faster than previous versions. And since Chrome has pretty much owned the speed category for browsers, the claim has merit.

Microsoft, with its launch of IE8, tried hard to claim the speed mantle, but with less-than-stellar results. Current independent SunSpider benchmarks show IE8 running about five times slower than its competitors. But Microsoft rolled out a video along with IE8 that purports to show it handily beats Chrome and Firefox in real-world scenarios. The problem? Some observers, like Ars Technica, point out that the testing was performed by Microsoft itself (hardly independent).

But Microsoft's real thrust with IE8 was the new version's strong security features, including a Smart Screen Filter to detect phishing attacks, private browsing and a technology to prevent clickjacking. Focusing on security is a wise move for Microsoft, considering its enterprise footprint and the poor security showings of its competitors. For example, a recent test conducted by NSS Labs showed that IE8 had a 69% catch rate against malware, while Firefox–the nearest competitor–caught just 30%, and Chrome caught just 16%.

So Chrome is fast, but not so secure. And IE8 is secure but not so fast. And when it comes to good, it's pretty much a toss-up. Chrome is based on open source technology, making it one of the most standards-compliant browsers around. Microsoft, on the other hand, is just now seeing the merits of standards-compliance, adding support for Cascading Style Sheets 2.1 and other Web standards for the first time in IE8. And IE is usually the browser of choice when it comes to successfully dealing with internal enterprise applications (Network World's content management system is a case in point), while many sites still don't recognize Chrome as a “real” browser, oftentimes warning users that they are using an old browser and should upgrade for best results.

So when it comes to Microsoft or Google browsers, you can have good, fast or secure, but can pick only one (so far). Maybe a wiser course of action is to look at the middle ground: Firefox. It's staked out a sort of goldilocks zone for browsers–not too slow, not too insecure, and relatively good (standards-compliant, plug-in friendly, etc.).

Perhaps that's why Firefox's overall marketshare has grown. It's figured out how to be just good enough at all three.

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