Ultimately, determining which web browser is best for Mac business users requires an impartial judge to consider several factors, including usability, performance, security, and support. Having used Apple computers dating all the way to 1983 and running a consultancy supporting commercial clients across a wide array of industries, I can gauge these characteristics for the Chrome, Firefox, and Safari browsers. And since I'm not a stakeholder in any of the firms producing those browsers, I'm impartial. So, let's take a closer look at this question.
When technical professionals speak of a browser's usability, they're essentially referring to how easy it is to navigate the browser's menus and perform common actions. All three browsers — Chrome, Firefox, and Safari — are intuitive and easy to configure. Bookmarking a site is also a cinch in all three, and so is enabling everything from private browsing to reviewing search histories and configuring common add-ons.
Safari possesses a significant advantage, however, in that it integrates with iCloud. As a result, Mac business users will find they can more easily share bookmarks natively across multiple devices without having to configure another sharing account outside iCloud, which is likely already used for other purposes, anyway.
Safari's iCloud integration boasts other advantages, as well. In addition to being able to pick up reading where they left off on web sites, thanks to iCloud Tabs, users can leverage iCloud connectivity to access, store, and share iCloud Keychain passwords on Macs, iPhones, and iPads.
Typically, it's unfair to compare performance between a browser installed with the operating system — such as Safari with OS X and Internet Explorer within Windows — and a third-party browser, but performance is important. How quickly does a browser open? How fast can it access web sites? Business users increasingly spend time navigating internet sites and accessing web-based cloud services, so performance metrics are critical.
My experiences using Safari on multiple iMacs, MacBooks, and MacBook Pros suggests Safari opens marginally more quickly and accesses web sites — cached or not — as fast or even faster than Chrome and Firefox. Performing several tests opening the browsers and surfing both cached and uncached web sites demonstrates a slight Safari advantage.
The web can be dangerous, and no browser is perfectly secure. It's impossible to properly safeguard a web browser from every possible internet destination, when each destination itself is subject to attack and compromise 24x7.
That said, all three browsers regularly receive security updates. All three also possess basic and advanced security capabilities, including phishing and malware detection.
In the end, compelling arguments can be made for any one of the three browsers being more secure than the others. Here's how those arguments could go:
Safari benefits because Apple's developers receive automated OS bug and application error and bug reports and can push patches through the OS update cycle.
Chrome benefits because Google aggressively updates its code and observes industry best practices to help protect the browser from compromise.
Mozilla benefits from its long, browser-focused history. Its programmers aren't likely to be distracted by other projects and can pour their energies simply into building the best, most secure browser.
At the end of the day, all three have suffered from vulnerabilities and will continue to be vulnerable as new holes and weaknesses are discovered and publicized. The real question is, "Whom do you trust to be the fastest at patching known issues: Apple, Google, or Mozilla?" My money, in my business, is on Apple, which also owns the OS.
What happens when your browser doesn't work? Where do you go for help?
Apple's support forums are robust. Because Apple treats Safari as a critical business line application (it is, after all, included within the flagship OS), the browser receives priority. If worse comes to worse, business users possessing AppleCare warranties know they can receive Safari support directly from Apple, while other Mac customers can also leverage in-store technical support, when necessary. While only likely to be used by micro- or smaller-businesses, such Safari support is available.
Firefox? Those users better like web-based forums, because that's likely going to prove the best source for assistance. The same is also true for Google Chrome users, although many businesses might already possess a paid Google Apps account, which means Chrome support via telephone is available, especially if the problem in question corresponds to using paid Google Apps.
Which browser is best?
From my experience, business users will find it hard to go wrong using Safari. The browser is baked into the OS, performs respectably, benefits from iCloud-connected services and features, and receives the weight of Apple support. Sometimes, however, businesses will encounter a web service incompatibility or other issue. In those cases, Chrome and Firefox serve as competent alternatives.
Which browser do you prefer for Mac and other Apple devices? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.