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 18 November 2013
Most Mac users are familiar with Safari, 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, preinstalled on all Macs. (It's 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. It's 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.
New features in Safari for Mavericks include iCloud Keychain, Shared Links and a sidebar; 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. 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). 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. 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 reminds me of those speed demons: It lacks the fit and finish of Apple’s Safari, but man, does it ever burn (virtual) rubber. The browser fully supports Lion's Full Screen mode - which coexists somewhat awkwardly with Chrome’s own, functionally identical Presentation Mode.
Also, despite Google’s stated intention last year to ditch H.264 video support in favor of its own WebM codec, Chrome still appears to play both types of HTML5 video. Another key feature of Chrome is that it has a built-in Flash renderer, so you don't need to install Adobe Flash to render video.
Chrome also has widespread support and a huge range of add-ons and extensions used by developers. On the whole it's 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. It's 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 17. And while it's not as well known as Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer, it's a terrific web browser that's well worth a look.
Among other advantages Opera 17 offers 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.
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 (in fact, there's no bookmarks bar at all), which may be offputting
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: it's also fast (the quickest in our web test), offers a user-friendly interface and broad site compatibility, and has Off Road mode.
Read more: Opera 17 Review
Which is the most popular Mac browser?
What's the most popular internet browser for Mac among Macworld readers? In April 2013 the top 5 Mac 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 it's 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 it's a good browser with a number of unique features for Apple users.
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 more than half the overall market in April 2013.
What is more surprising is that Internet Explorer pips Firefox into third place. However, it is a standard installation on many office machines, so we put this down to Windows users reading about Macs (wishful thinking) or Apple fans being forced to use Windows machines in a work environment.
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.
OmniWeb: Mac-only, side-tabbed browser with some neat features, include simple site-specific ad blocking.
[Edit: since we original wrote this article, several of the more interesting options available to Mac web browsers have sadly closed down. You may be interested to read about the following browsers and the forward-thinking innovations that may be taken up by other browsers in future, but they're no longer a going concern. Sorry about that.]
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).