Website Performance and the Modern Browser: It's complicated

2 February 2012  -   Tags: ,

Browser performance was one of the most talked-about aspects of our recent State of the Union report on page speed and web performance. In our survey of the Alexa-ranked top 2,000 e-commerce sites, we found that pages loaded 29% faster in Internet Explorer 9 than Internet Explorer 7. IE9 and Firefox 7 were each about 5% faster than Chrome. 

2012 Web Performance and Page Speed Report - Browser Performance

Browser speed is a competitive -- and contentious! -- issue, and we were not surprised to see that this finding sparked a lot of excellent debate and discussion online.

From our report, this was our take on these findings:

In the past year, speed has emerged as a highly competitive issue in browser development. Every major browser now markets speed as a key feature, from Chrome's self-described "lightning speed" to Internet Explorer 9's slogan "Fast is beautiful." We cannot claim that this study definitively answers the question of which browser offers the best performance, but we do feel that this sample size is significant enough to merit including these findings in the ongoing debate. It is encouraging to see that browser developers appear to take speed seriously. All indicators point to the fact that speed will remain a top priority.

In our tests, we simulated (using WebPagetest, an excellent third-party tool) how fast each site loads for a real user who is ostensibly viewing just that one primarily HTML-based site. What we were not able to test for:

  1. Browser performance under stress from having multiple tabs open simultaneously.
  2. Browser performance degradation over time (i.e. the longer the browser remains open, its likelihood of crashing).
  3. Browser performance when visiting sites that use HTML5 or Flash, or when watching videos.
  4. Usability. (This gets tricky, as it can often boil down to personal preference. Some people like the sleekness of Chrome, whereas others prefer Firefox's many add-ons.)

As with performance in general, browser performance is nuanced and cannot be summed up simply. As we stated in our report, our numbers are just one part of the bigger picture.

Download the free report: 2012 Annual State of the Union: E-Commerce Page Speed and Website Performance