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. Updated 31 January 2014
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 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.
Safari 7 was released alongside Mac OS X Mavericks and includes iCloud Keychain, Shared Links and a Sidebar. The Sidebar is the biggest interface change, offering a single place for Bookmarks, Reading List and Shared Links. It’s a particularly nice touch, although it takes up a lot of screen estate it collects most of you web activity in one place. Check our review for more details.
Pros: Twitter integration, offline reading list, and Tab View are all useful; iCloud Tab share is interesting; Smart Search is more straightforward to use
Cons: Bookmarks and email features are too well hidden for our liking; developers aren't impressed with Developer Tools
Best Mac browser for: Apple fans. If you own both a Mac and iOS device you'll especially enjoy the linked features such as Reading List, iCloud Keychain and Shared Links. Safari is also popular with web developers looking to create mobile websites, due to its mobile simulator and sharing the same engine as Mobile Safari (used on iOS 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.
Pros: Terrific set of developer tools; Encrypted Google searches; Support for fullscreen mode
Cons: Not especially fast at loading pages
Firefox is the best Mac browser for those who like to tinker. It has a huge range of add-ons and features that you can play with to your heart's content.
Read more: Firefox Review
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.
Cons: Relatively bare-bones interface
Google Chrome is the fastest web browser, so there's little surprise that it's also the most popular. Chrome is also good for developers with a range of add-ons and extensions, and working in the most popular browser is good for ensuring website accessibility.
Read more: Chrome Review
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.
Pros: Attractive, user-friendly interface; Wide variety of features; Continues to strive for innovation; Off Road mode
Cons: Packed with superfluous abilities; Syncing can be an issue; Bookmarks are handled differently to most browsers
Opera is the best browser if you like to download content from sites that are blocked in the UK. But its appeal doesn't end there: Opera is also fast, offers a user-friendly interface and broad site compatibility, and has Off Road mode.
Read more: Opera 17 Review
OmniWeb: Best for control freaks
Omniweb is, remarkably considering the weight of its competition, still around and has a lot of fans.
In some ways the latest edition, OmniWeb 5, has a rather retro look and feel. With its separate URL and Search window and old icon graphics it feels quite old sitting next to Chrome and Safari. And unlike Firefox if you enter a search term into the uRL bar it doesn’t perform revert to performing a search.
OmniWeb 5 has a tab drawer, that slides out from the left-hand side of screens. This displays small previews of web pages. While OmniWeb offers a more visual alternative to traditional tabs, the tab drawer is not as space efficient as a bookmarks bar.
The real advantage of OmniWeb is the way it enables you almost complete control over the look and feel of websites on a site-by-site basis. The Site Preferences Inspector enables you to change the font style, text zoom and page colours, and you can override page defaults. You can choose hjw images load, and even attach your own CSS style sheet to a website (if you really know what you’re doing).
One interesting touch ist hat OmniWeb has a built in Ad Blocker. It offers granular control over what adverts are blocked, but for our money isn’t as good an automated solution as using Ad Block in Chrome or Safari.
We think OmniWeb’s built in ad blocker and Page Inspector give it a unique angle on the other browsers on test here. While the rest of the app is somewhat clunky it is worth trying if you find some websites hard to read.
Which is the most popular browser accessing Macworld?
What's the most popular internet browser among Macworld readers? In April 2013 the top 5 browsers - according to our own web statistics - were.
- Internet Explorer
- Safari iOS
It's worth noting that more than 50 per cent of our readers use Safari, so Safari by far the most popular choice among fellow Mac users. But maybe that's not so surprising: Safari is the default installation on a Mac, after all, and Safari is a good browser with a number of unique features for Apple users. As for those Internet Explorer users, that just demonstrates that some of our readers are on a PC.
Chrome's second place finish isn't a surprise either. Google Chrome is the world's most popular browser overall, and according to web analytics W3Schools, Google Chrome had over 55 per cent of the market in December 2013.
- Chrome 55.8%
- Firefox 26.8%
- Internet Explorer 9.0 %
- Safari 3.8 %
- Opera 1.9 %
The last time we checked Internet Explorer was in second place, but it seems that Firefox and Chrome are finally knocking it down the list. We presume as more workplaces move to secure older machines.
You don’t really need to take too much from any of this though. All of the web browsers have enough share, and many people stick with the default browser or the one that is installed on their work machine. So pick the right one for you.
We think Safari or Chrome are probably the most obvious choices for most Mac users. Safari because it’s the default system, and has deep integration with the Mac. But we do like the new features, in particular Shared Links and iCloud Keychain. Firefox is good for developers, coders and people who really like to tinker around with their computer. It’ll be interesting to see what comes of its Social API. Chrome is this writer’s browser of choice, mostly because of the integration with Google Drive, Google Docs and apps. Opera is worth picking up as second browser in case you ever want to access a site that’s being filtered by your ISP.
Other Mac web browsers worth a try: What's the best alternative to Safari, Chrome and so on?
If you fancy taking a stroll off the beaten path, there are some little-known web browser alternatives to Safari, Chrome and so on that offer unique features. Some of these offer a focus on specific online aspects, such as social media or web page development, so while they're not as widely popular as Safari or Chrome, they may be worth a look.
- Torch Browser: All-in-one browser and media player. Interesting to people who download a lot of torrents.
- Sunrise: Interesting browser for developers with a range of information about how websites load.
Changing the default browser in Mac OS X
When you install a new browser in Mac OS X it won't become the web browser by default. When you click on links in Mac OS X applications they will still open in Safari. Some browsers enable you to switch to using it as the default upon installation, but you choose between default browsers using Safari.
Open Safari, choose Safari > Preferences and select the General tab. The first menu option is 'Default Web browser' and can be used to choose your preferred browser. This will be the app that launches and opens links clicked in Mac OS X apps (Mail, Twitter, and so on).