Category Archives: Software

Wi-Fi 6: is it really that much faster?


Illustrator by Alex Castro / The Verge

The next generation brings more than just faster speeds

By Jacob Kastrenakes, Reports Editor for The Verge | @jake_k |  Feb 21, 2019, 9:45am EST

 

Wi-Fi is about to get faster. That’s great news: faster internet is constantly in demand, especially as we consume more bandwidth-demanding apps, games, and videos with our laptops and phones.

But the next generation of Wi-Fi, known as Wi-Fi 6, isn’t just a simple speed boost. Its impact will be more nuanced, and we’re likely to see its benefits more and more over time.

This is less of a one-time speed increase and more of a future-facing upgrade designed to make sure our speeds don’t grind to a halt a few years down the road.

Wi-Fi 6 is just starting to arrive this year, and there’s a good chance it’ll be inside your next phone or laptop. Here’s what you should expect once it arrives.

What is Wi-Fi 6?

Wi-Fi 6 is the next generation of Wi-Fi. It’ll still do the same basic thing — connect you to the internet — just with a bunch of additional technologies to make that happen more efficiently, speeding up connections in the process.

How fast is it?

The short but incomplete answer: 9.6 Gbps. That’s up from 3.5 Gbps on Wi-Fi 5.

The real answer: both of those speeds are theoretical maximums that you’re unlikely to ever reach in real-world Wi-Fi use. And even if you could reach those speeds, it’s not clear that you’d need them. The typical download speed in the US is just 72 Mbps, or less than 1 percent of the theoretical maximum speed.

But the fact that Wi-Fi 6 has a much higher theoretical speed limit than its predecessor is still important. That 9.6 Gbps doesn’t have to go to a single computer. It can be split up across a whole network of devices. That means more potential speed for each device.

Wi-Fi 6 isn’t about top speeds

Instead of boosting the speed for individual devices, Wi-Fi 6 is all about improving the network when a bunch of devices are connected.

That’s an important goal, and it arrives at an important time: when Wi-Fi 5 came out, the average US household had about five Wi-Fi devices in it. Now, homes have nine Wi-Fi devices on average, and various firms have predicted we’ll hit 50 on average within several years.

Those added devices take a toll on your network. Your router can only communicate with so many devices at once, so the more gadgets demanding Wi-Fi, the more the network overall is going to slow down.

Wi-Fi 6 introduces some new technologies to help mitigate the issues that come with putting dozens of Wi-Fi devices on a single network. It lets routers communicate with more devices at once, lets routers send data to multiple devices in the same broadcast, and lets Wi-Fi devices schedule check-ins with the router. Together, those features should keep connections strong even as more and more devices start demanding data.

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Wi-Fi’s weird naming scheme:

Until recently, Wi-Fi generations were referred to by an arcane naming scheme that required you to understand whether 802.11n was faster than 802.11ac, and whether 802.11ac was faster than 802.11af, and whether any of those names were just made up nonsense. (Answer: sort of.)

To fix that, the Wi-Fi Alliance decided to rename Wi-Fi generations with simple version numbers. So the current generation of Wi-Fi, 802.11ac, turned into Wi-Fi 5. This new generation, previously called 802.11ax, is now Wi-Fi 6.

You probably won’t hear the Wi-Fi 5 name used very much since it’s been around for five years and just got that name in October 2018. For Wi-Fi 6, you might see the 802.11ax name here and there, but companies largely seem to be on board with using the simplified naming scheme.

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Okay, so how fast is each device?

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer here.

At first, Wi-Fi 6 connections aren’t likely to be substantially faster. A single Wi-Fi 6 laptop connected to a Wi-Fi 6 router may only be slightly faster than a single Wi-Fi 5 laptop connected to a Wi-Fi 5 router.

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The story starts to change as more and more devices get added onto your network. Where current routers might start to get overwhelmed by requests from a multitude of devices, Wi-Fi 6 routers are designed to more effectively keep all those devices up to date with the data they need.

Each of those devices’ speeds won’t necessarily be faster than what they can reach today on a high-quality network, but they’re more likely to maintain those top speeds even in busier environments. You can imagine this being useful in a home where one person is streaming Netflix, another is playing a game, someone else is video chatting, and a whole bunch of smart gadgets — a door lock, temperature sensors, light switches, and so on — are all checking in at once.

The top speeds of those devices won’t necessarily be boosted, but the speeds you see in typical, daily use likely will get an upgrade.

Exactly how fast that upgrade is, though, will depend on how many devices are on your network and just how demanding those devices are.

How do I get Wi-Fi 6?

You’ll need to buy new devices.

Wi-Fi generations rely on new hardware, not just software updates, so you’ll need to buy new phones, laptops, and so on to get the new version of Wi-Fi.

To be clear: this is not something you’ll want to run out to the store and buy a new laptop just to get. It’s not that game-changing of an update for any one device.

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Instead, new devices will start coming with Wi-Fi 6 by default. As you replace your phone, laptop, and game consoles over the next five years, you’ll bring home new ones that include the latest version of Wi-Fi.

There is one thing you will have to make a point of going out and buying, though: a new router. If your router doesn’t support Wi-Fi 6, you won’t see any benefits, no matter how many Wi-Fi 6 devices you bring home. (You could actually see a benefit, though, connecting Wi-Fi 5 gadgets to a Wi-Fi 6 router, because the router may be capable of communicating with more devices at once.)

Again, this isn’t something worth rushing out and buying. But if your home is packed with Wi-Fi-connected smart devices, and things start to get sluggish in a couple years, a Wi-Fi 6 router may be able to meaningfully help.

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What makes Wi-Fi 6 faster?

There are two key technologies speeding up Wi-Fi 6 connections: MU-MIMO and OFDMA.

MU-MIMO, which stands for “multi-user, multiple input, multiple output,” is already in use in modern routers and devices, but Wi-Fi 6 upgrades it.

The technology allows a router to communicate with multiple devices at the same time, rather than broadcasting to one device, and then the next, and the next. Right now, MU-MIMO allows routers to communicate with four devices at a time. Wi-Fi 6 will allow devices to communicate with up to eight.

You can think of adding MU-MIMO connections like adding delivery trucks to a fleet, says Kevin Robinson, marketing leader for the Wi-Fi Alliance, an internationally backed tech-industry group that oversees the implementation of Wi-Fi. “You can send each of those trucks in different directions to different customers,” Robinson says. “Before, you had four trucks to fill with goods and send to four customers. With Wi-Fi 6, you now have eight trucks.”

The other new technology, OFDMA, which stands for “orthogonal frequency division multiple access,” allows one transmission to deliver data to multiple devices at once.

Extending the truck metaphor, Robinson says that OFDMA essentially allows one truck to carry goods to be delivered to multiple locations. “With OFDMA, the network can look at a truck, see ‘I’m only allocating 75 percent of that truck and this other customer is kind of on the way,’” and then fill up that remaining space with a delivery for the second customer, he says.

In practice, this is all used to get more out of every transmission that carries a Wi-Fi signal from a router to your device.

Wi-Fi 6 can also improve battery life

Another new technology in Wi-Fi 6 allows devices to plan out communications with a router, reducing the amount of time they need to keep their antennas powered on to transmit and search for signals. That means less drain on batteries and improved battery life in turn.

This is all possible because of a feature called Target Wake Time, which lets routers schedule check-in times with devices.

It isn’t going to be helpful across the board, though. Your laptop needs constant internet access, so it’s unlikely to make heavy use of this feature (except, perhaps, when it moves into a sleep state).

Instead, this feature is meant more for smaller, already low-power Wi-Fi devices that just need to update their status every now and then. (Think small sensors placed around a home to monitor things like leaks or smart home devices that sit unused most of the day.)

Wi-Fi 6 also means better security

Last year, Wi-Fi started getting its biggest security update in a decade, with a new security protocol called WPA3. WPA3 makes it harder for hackers to crack passwords by constantly guessing them, and it makes some data less useful even if hackers manage to obtain it.

Current devices and routers can support WPA3, but it’s optional. For a Wi-Fi 6 device to receive certification from the Wi-Fi Alliance, WPA3 is required, so most Wi-Fi 6 devices are likely to include the stronger security once the certification program launches.

Wi-Fi 6 is just getting started

Devices supporting Wi-Fi 6 are just starting to trickle out. You can already buy Wi-Fi 6 routers, but so far, they’re expensive high-end devices. A handful of laptops include the new generation of Wi-Fi, too, but it’s not widespread just yet.

Wi-Fi 6 will start arriving on high-end phones this year, though. Qualcomm’s latest flagship processor, the Snapdragon 855, includes support for Wi-Fi 6, and it’s destined for the next wave of top-of-the-line phones. The Snapdragon 855’s inclusion doesn’t guarantee that a phone will have Wi-Fi 6, but it’s a good sign: Samsung’s Galaxy S10 is one of the first phones with the new processor, and it supports the newest generation of Wi-Fi.

The inclusion of Wi-Fi 6 is likely to become even more common next year. The Wi-Fi Alliance will launch its Wi-Fi 6 certification program this fall, which guarantees compatibility across Wi-Fi devices. Devices don’t need to pass that certification, but its launch will signify that the industry is ready for Wi-Fi 6’s arrival.

Correction February 22nd, 2:10PM ET: WPA3 security is a requirement for Wi-Fi 6 certification, but it may not be included in uncertified devices.

Innovation in Energy: What Will It Look Like?

Even in this conservative industry, the latest technologies can make a huge impact.

 

Lal Karsanbhai

By Lal Karsanbhai, Executive President, Automation Solutions, Emerson for IndustryWeek  | Apr 16, 2019

 

As long as people have existed, we’ve needed to harness energy to live: fire to warm ourselves and cook food, gas to generate clean electricity. Energy is a traditional industry with roots that stretch as far back as human history. Yet even in this conservative industry, the latest technologies can make a huge impact.

Organizations that embrace digital transformation can see measurable benefits in critical industry focus areas: safety, reliability, production, emissions and overall performance. But there is always the underlying question: How do you get started?

The good news? The optimal digital strategy is different from company to company, meaning there is no single right path. The bad news? Digital transformation does not have one consistent playbook. This can be confusing for businesses trying to capitalize on the promise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). A recent Emerson survey of industry leaders responsible for digital transformation initiatives found that 90 percent felt that a clear and actionable roadmap was critical for success, yet only 20 percent of respondents said they had a vision and roadmap.

Even as companies work to find their way in the new digital transformation landscape, a few definitive trends are emerging:

1. Software will remain the backbone of making data actionable. It has long been an industry staple, but advanced software solutions are making it possible for companies to safely test new approaches to optimize productivity and efficiency without any risk to operations. Take power generation, for instance – a critical industry with no margin for error. Through “digital twin” technology, power companies can simulate a live plant that allows them to test proposed changes without impacting the actual operations. Software advances like digital twin have the potential to help the industry find game-changing improvements.

2. Cybersecurity is non-negotiable, but its implementation depends on its environment. Not everything needs to go to the cloud. There are many opportunities for remote monitoring of systems and other data analytics in the cloud, but knowing which applications are best suited for on-premise (or edge computing) versus the cloud will be key for businesses. Different cybersecurity protections are required for each, and understanding what makes the most sense will help guide many digital implementation programs. Secure remote monitoring has created a new business model that brings significant performance and financial benefits, through predictive analytics that detect maintenance problems in oil fields, refineries and chemical plants before they occur – leading to millions of dollars saved annually.

3. A clear business case and scalability are the name of the game. Sweeping initiatives won’t work; companies need solutions that account for where they are and where they want to go. Digital transformation programs must have a clear business case.  Implementing technology and hoping for a return will not deliver the significant impact that’s possible.

4. Information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) need to be on the same side of the table. IT and OT can too often speak different languages even as they develop and implement programs for the same company. Successful transformation will happen only when IT and OT come together with an integrated approach to technologies and work together to implement and optimize. We are seeing movement in this direction, as some companies are organizing integrated teams to drive digital transformation and encourage the collaboration of these complementary skillsets.

5. Technology should empower – not replace – the workforce of the future. The rise of automation is bringing with it trepidation that robots will eliminate manufacturing jobs. Done well, the influx of automation will instead evolve current manufacturing jobs. Yes, automation may replace repetitive tasks-related jobs, but it will also require new data analytics and interpretation skills that rely on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) knowledge. Technology and automation are complementary job creators.

Empowering the future workforce comes down to meeting and supporting people where they are.  This includes upskilling the current workforce, making the industrial sectors attractive to students planning their careers, and instilling a passion for math and science with young learners beginning their educational journey.

Digital transformation has the potential to change the energy industry for the better—and give companies that embrace it competitive advantage.

How does it feel to be watched at work all the time?


There is a wrong and right way to carry out workplace surveillance – Getty Images

By Padraig Belton, Technology of Business reporter for BBC.com – 12 April 2019

Is workplace surveillance about improving productivity or simply a way to control staff and weed out poor performers?

 

Courtney Hagen Ford, 34, left her job working as a bank teller because she found the surveillance she was under was “dehumanising”.

Her employer logged her keystrokes and used software to monitor how many of the customers she helped went on to take out loans and fee-paying accounts.

“The sales pressure was relentless,” she recalls. “The totality was horrible.”

She decided selling fast food would be better, but ironically, left the bank to do a doctorate in surveillance technology.

Courtney is not alone in her dislike of this kind of surveillance, but it’s on the rise around the world as firms look to squeeze more productivity from their workers and become more efficient.


Image copyright Courtney Hagen Ford
Courtney Hagen Ford says having her every move monitored was “dehumanising”

More than half of companies with over $750m (£574m) in annual revenue used “non-traditional” monitoring techniques on staff last year, says Brian Kropp, vice-president of research firm Gartner.

These include tools to analyse e-mails, conversations, computer usage, and employee movements around the office. Some firms are also monitoring heart rates and sleep patterns to see how these affect performance.

In 2015, 30% used such tools. Next year, Mr Kropp expects 80% will.

And workforce analytics will be a $1.87bn industry by 2025, says San Francisco’s Grand Review Research.

So why is business so keen?

Ben Waber, chief executive of Humanyze, a Boston workplace analytics company, says it gives firms the ability to assess how their staff are performing and interacting, which can be good for the firm but also good for employees themselves.


Image copyright Robin Lubbock
Humanyze’s Ben Waber thinks firms need to find our more about how they function

His company gathers “data exhaust” left by employees’ email and instant messaging apps, and uses name badges equipped with radio-frequency identification (RFID) devices and microphones.

These can check how much time you spend talking, your volume and tone of voice, even if you dominate conversations. While this may sound intrusive – not to say creepy – proponents argue that it can also protect employees against bullying and sexual harassment.

Humanyze calls these badges “Fitbit for your career”.

Some of this data analysis can produce unexpected results, says Mr Waber. For example, one large tech client discovered that coders who sat at 12-person lunch tables tended to outperform those who regularly sat at four-person tables.

The larger tables led to more interaction with staff from other parts of the company, he says, and this improved idea sharing.

Larger lunch tables were “driving more than a 10% difference in performances”. A fact that would probably have gone undetected without such data analysis.


The chip allows employees to open doors and use the photocopier without a traditional pass card

Over the last few years a Stockholm co-working space called Epicenter has gone much further and holds popular “chipping parties”, where people can have RFID-enabled rice-sized microchips implanted in their hands.

They can use the implants to access electronically controlled doors, swap contacts, or monitor how typing speed correlates with heart rate, says Epicenter’s Hannes Sjöblad, who has an implant himself.

The implant “cannot transmit any data unless you put it within a centimetre of a reader, so the person with the implant controls when it can be read”, he says.

Embedded chips may seem extreme, but it is a relatively small step from ID cards and biometrics to such devices, says Prof Jeffrey Stanton, a University of Syracuse academic who researches work-related stress.

As long as such schemes are voluntary, “there will probably be a growing number of convenience-oriented uses such that a substantial number of workers would opt to have a chip implanted”, he believes.

But if embedded chips are used to reduce slack time or rest breaks, “we are probably in the bad zone”, he says. And if surveillance tools “take away autonomy”, that’s when they prove most unpopular.


Image copyright Gartner  
Gartner’s Brian Kropp says bad communication can scupper monitoring projects

A lot depends on how such monitoring initiatives are communicated, Gartner’s Mr Kropp argues.

In 2016, Britain’s Telegraph newspaper installed heat and motion monitoring devices under employees’ desks. While management said it was to find out which desks were occupied for energy management purposes, staff thought they were being spied on and staged a revolt.

The devices were removed after 24 hours.

If bosses don’t communicate effectively, employees assume the worst, Mr Kropp says. But if they’re open about the information they’re collecting – and what they’re doing with it – 46% of employees are “generally okay with it”.

Although many such monitoring schemes use anonymised data and participation is voluntary, many staff remain sceptical and fear an erosion of their civil liberties. In less liberal countries, workers are not given any choice at all.

But for some, the benefits are obvious.


Image copyright Jessica Johnson    
Jessica Johnson says her workplace tracking software helps her cope with narcolepsy

“I’ve got a condition called narcolepsy,” explains Jessica Johnson, 34, from Canberra, Australia.

She falls asleep for short periods during the day, then is disorientated when she wakes.

This “impacts my memory, my ability to focus and concentrate,” she says.

She worked with an insurance company where employees used a programme called Timely to track billable hours. It helped her quickly find what she had been doing before she fell asleep, and pick up where she left off.

“You install it on your phone, and then on your computer, and that’s how you get all the raw data,” says Mathias Mikkelsen, Timely’s Norwegian chief executive.

“Machine learning algorithms analyse all the data, and create beautiful charts,” he says.

You can then see how much time you’re wasting in unproductive meetings, say, or replying to e-mails.

You could show managers you were “spending so much time on stuff that’s not what you were hired to do,” says Mr Mikkelsen.

So workplace surveillance could be empowering for staff and useful for companies looking to become more efficient and profitable.

But implemented in the wrong way, it could also become an unpopular tool of oppression that proves counterproductive.

The Newfound Power of Tech Workers


Former Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter lauded workers who took action to support their beliefs.
Credit: Mike Cohen for The New York Times

By Talya Minsberg, Senior Staff Editor at The New York Times  March 2, 2019

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. — Ashton B. Carter, the former secretary of defense, understands why employees of technology companies have opposed partnerships and contracts with the United States government when it comes to artificial intelligence.

“My first reaction was ‘good on you’ because you are thinking morally and you are thinking about whether what you are doing is right or wrong,” Mr. Carter said at The New York Times New Work Summit in Half Moon Bay, Calif.

The sentiment comes at a time of strained relationships between Silicon Valley technology behemoths and the United States government.


The former defense secretary Ashton B. Carter, speaking at The New York Times’s New Work Summit/Leading in the Age of A.I., said it was essential for humans to take ultimate responsibility for A.I.’s decision making, especially in matters of life and death.
Credit: Mike Cohen for The New York Times

When Mr. Carter was secretary of defense in the Obama administration, he was often considered a bridge builder between the Beltway and the Valley, founding agencies that brought together technologists and policymakers.

He notably issued a directive that stands today. “In any application of machine-assisted weaponry that involves the use of lethal force, there shall be a human being involved in the decision-making,” he said.

But those partnerships have been tested in the past year as protests, pushback and petitions have circulated widely among employees of technology companies.

Last July, Microsoft employees presented their chief executive, Satya Nadella, with a petition signed by more than 300,000 people that called on the company to cancel its contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Last June, Google declined to renew its contract with Project Maven at the Pentagon after extensive pushback from employees. The project used Google’s artificial intelligence software to improve the sorting and analysis of imagery from drones.

Microsoft workers presented their bosses last year with a petition opposing a government contract.                                       
Credit: Swayne B. Hall/Associated Press

And in October, Google executives declined to even bid on another artificial intelligence project at the Pentagon valued at as much as $10 billion.

These protests speak to the newfound power of employees, said Pedro Domingos, a professor of computer science at the University of Washington and the author of “The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World.”

“Employees of tech companies, like Google and Microsoft, have an extraordinary amount of power, which is much different than it was 50 years ago,” he said, adding that technology companies were major players in both World War II and the Cold War. “Often companies want to do things, but then they have to backtrack because they don’t want to displace employees.”

Mr. Carter was supportive of that kind of employee involvement in his conversation with Kevin Roose, a reporter for The Times. “It’s a fair thing to challenge your leaders,” Mr. Carter said. “That’s true for troops, and it’s true for employees at a tech company.”

But, he said, “I find a lot of things more objectionable than helping your country protect you.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by the president of Microsoft, Brad Smith. In October, Mr. Smith wrote his employees a public note on the Microsoft blog regarding defense projects and collaboration with the United States government.

“First, we believe in the strong defense of the United States, and we want the people who defend it to have access to the nation’s best technology, including from Microsoft,” he wrote. “We are not going to withdraw from the future. In the most positive way possible, we are going to work to help shape it.”

But at the New Work Summit, he also shared some instances in which he was uncomfortable working with the government when he had ethical and technological misgivings.

“We’re very excited about facial recognition technology, but we also have concerns,” he said, referencing a partnership he declined to enter with a local police force. “This is a space where there’s been well-documented cases of bias, invasion of privacy and the potential for fundamental democratic freedoms to be placed at risk.”

The way forward has to be in the hands of technology companies like Microsoft and Google and of the United States government, Mr. Carter said. But collaboration is more important now than ever.

“Technology and public purpose is the issue of our time,” he said.

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A version of this article appears in print on , on Page F3 of the New York edition with the headline: Employees’ Newfound Power. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Best web browser: Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Opera go head-to-head (Updated)


By Ian Paul, Independent Contributor, PCWorld | February 11, 2019 05:00 AM PT
 

We take a look at the performance and features of the big four internet browsers to see which one will serve you best.

The web browser is by far the most important piece of software on your PC—at least for most users. Unless you’re at a workstation crunching numbers or editing the next Star Wars you probably spend the majority of your computer time staring at a web app or a website.

That’s why it’s important to make sure you’ve always got the best tool for the job. In 2019 that does not include Internet Explorer. If you still want the built-in option for Windows, that would be Edge, though not for much longer as Microsoft plans to replace Edge (or at least its underlying technology) with a Chromium-based browser. Whatever happens with Edge there are so many other options out there including Google’s Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera.

Let’s take a look at the four major browsers (including Edge) to see how they stack up in early 2019. You might be surprised to find that our favorite overall this year is Opera. Read on to find out why.

(If none of these internet browsers strike your fancy, head over to PCWorld’s roundup of 10 intriguing alternative browsers.)

Browsers in brief

Chrome

chromelogo
Google

A perennial favorite, Google Chrome tops the metrics charts of both StatCounter and NetMarketShare by a huge margin. Google’s browser has built a dedicated fan base thanks to its massive extensions library, and the fact that it just gets out of your way to put the focus on web content, not the browser’s trimmings.

Chrome isn’t quite as simplistic as it once was, but it’s still very easy to use. There isn’t much to Chrome except a huge URL bar—known as the OmniBar—plus a space for extensions, a bookmarking icon, tabs, and that’s it.

Yet Google still finds a way to hide all kinds of features inside the browser, including deep integration with Google’s services. This allows you to sync your bookmarks, passwords, open tabs, and more across devices. Chrome also has multi-account support if you need it on a family machine, a built-in PDF viewer, built-in Google Translate functionality, a task manager, and the always handy Paste and go context menu item.

If there’s one complaint people have about Chrome it’s that the browser eats up available memory. Our browser testing in 2015 showed that Chrome was definitely a memory beast, but a few years later it fared pretty well in our tests.

Firefox

mozilla firefox logo
Mozilla

For users who love extensibility but want greater privacy than a Google-made browser can provide, the open-source Mozilla Firefox is a great choice. Firefox paved the way for other browsers to become extensible, and Firefox’s relatively new extensions architecture will hopefully help its catalog match Chrome’s Web Store one day. Firefox also has a sync feature to see your open and recent tabs, browsing history, and bookmarks across all your devices.

Firefox 64 continues the strong efforts to update Mozilla’s browser that we saw with Firefox 57, which brought a new and updated design with refreshed icons, and a new library section that houses your history, pocket reading list, downloads, and synced tabs. Firefox 64 adds to that with a new task manager, and the ability to use Windows 10’s native sharing tool—personally, I think the old copy-and-paste method is still superior.

Where Firefox has really stood out in recent years is with the browser’s incognito mode. All browsers have a private mode that lets you browse without any of your activity being logged in your saved history. But most of the time these private modes still allow websites to track your activity for that specific session. Firefox does away with this by including ad and tracker blockers when using incognito mode.

Opera

operabrowser
Opera

Before Chrome, Opera was a popular choice among power users—a position former Opera CEO Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner is trying to take back with Vivaldi. Opera today is really one of the more under-rated browsers around. It’s based on the same core technologies as Chrome (the Blink rendering engine and the JavaScript V8 engine), which means it can run many Chrome extensions—there’s even an extension for installing extensions from the Chrome Web Store.

Opera’s also got a few unusual features like Turbo, which saves on load times and bandwidth by compressing webpages on Opera’s servers. It’s also got a nice security feature called domain highlighting that hides most of the URL so that users can see easily and clearly if they’re on Google.com or google.com.scam.com—with scam.com being the actual website.

More recently, Opera introduced its own take on the social sidebar with one-click access to services such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Telegram. Like Chrome and Firefox, Opera also has its own cross-device syncing feature.

Microsoft Edge

microsotedge
Microsoft

Microsoft Edge has always been a work in progress and is about to be abandoned in its current form. Microsoft announced in December that Edge would become a Chromium-based browser. Once the switch happens, Edge will have similar underpinnings to Chrome and Opera. It’s not clear exactly when this transition will occur, but it’s expected before the end of 2019 or perhaps early 2020.

You’ll see below that performance for the current version of Edge is pretty good in some respects, but speed is just one important factor for a browser in 2019. The Edge extensions library is small and will likely stagnate now that its underlying technology is going away. Edge’s sync functionality is still restricted to favorites and the reading list, and the browser doesn’t get updates nearly fast enough. All of these issues should improve once Edge becomes a Chromium-based browser.

Despite its current shortcomings, Edge has several helpful features that will appeal to some users. Edge is deeply integrated with Windows 10’s inking capabilities, as well as with OneNote, making it easy to clip a webpage, annotate it, and save it to a notebook. Cortana is also a big part of Edge. You can use Microsoft’s digital assistant to quickly search for information, compare prices, or get a quick calculation.

Like Chrome, Edge has a casting feature. It also has a nifty set-aside tabs feature to stash a collection of websites. Other plusses included the ability to read and annotate ebooks (great for tablets) and PDFs, easily pin websites to the taskbar, edit URLs in your favorites list, browse in full screen, see and manage website permissions, and “read aloud” web content. Perhaps the best recent feature, however, is the “Continue on PC” option that lets you push webpages to your PC from your phone with the appropriate apps installed.

In the April 2018 Update, Edge got some small but significant feature boosts including the ability to mute tabs and automatic form fill, an updated flyout menu, and clutter-free printing that carves out all the web ads and other detritus you really don’t need on the printed page. Edge also boosted the ebook reading experience with support for narration in EPUB files and improved note taking.

The more recent October 2018 Update brought a minor improvement with the addition of blocking autoplaying videos on websites. For more on the current state of Edge check out our Windows 10 April 2018 Update Review and our look at the October 2018 Update.

Read on for our benchmark results and our pick for best browser.

Benchmarks

With the overview of our four contestants out of the way, let’s get down to business. To see which browser is worthy of your bandwidth in 2019 we used a variety of testing

tools. For judging JavaScript we used JetStream and the now-unsupported Octane 2.0 and SunSpider 1.0.2 benchmarking tools. Then we turned to WebXPRT 2015 and Speedometer to test the browsers under simulated web app workloads.

Finally, we took a look at CPU and RAM usage by loading a set of 20 websites in a single window in quick succession. Once all tabs began loading, we waited 45 seconds, and then checked the CPU and RAM usage. The idea was to see the amount of system resources the browser would use during a heavy workload.

For this test we ignored the Flash settings and left each browser in its default state. In recent years, most browser makers have de-emphasized Flash, enabling it as “click-to-play” and blocking nonessential website elements that use Flash. Since Flash is on its way out (and most users are unlikely to mess with Flash settings in the first place) we decided to leave everything as is. During the tests there are no extensions running, account sign-ups, or deliberate tinkering with settings: Just raw browser action.

Our test rig was an Acer Aspire E 15-575-33BM laptop loaded with Windows 10 Home. The October 2018 update hadn’t rolled out to this machine yet so it’s still rocking the April 2018 Update. The laptop also has a 1TB hard drive, 4GB RAM, and an Intel Core i3-7100U. Each browser was tested over an ethernet connection.

The performance picture

Looking at both JetStream and SunSpider, Edge 17 won top marks again just like in May 2018, and again by a wide margin. SunSpider has been deprecated for some time and is no longer supported, but the result was expected based on previous tests.

sunspider

Katherine Stevenson / IDG

Firefox’s JetStream score (higher is better) keeps getting worse, dropping from 125.43 in November 2017 to 120.31 in May 2018 to 112.39 in January 2019. Its SunSpider score stayed within the margin of error at 331 in January compared to 330.4 last May. Lower is better for SunSpider, and Firefox’s recent scores are much worse compared to the 290 it scored in November 2017.

jetstream
Katherine Stevenson / IDG

For Octane 2.0, which is also no longer supported, Firefox won the top spot this go-round, followed closely by Chrome and and then Opera, with Edge coming in at the bottom. That’s quite a difference from May 2018 when Opera was in the top spot with Firefox taking third place.

octane

Katherine Stevenson / IDG

Moving on to the more modern Speedometer test, which quickly iterates through a bunch of HTML 5-based to-do lists, Chrome came out on top, with Google’s Blink-based cousin Opera a close second, the same as we saw in May 2018; however, the numbers were noticeably worse in this test for all browsers. Last time Chrome and Opera scored 110 and 106.7, respectively, while this time around the scores were 51.5 and 50.2. Firefox took third place at 42.8 and Edge was in the bottom at 30.2.

speedometer

Katherine Stevenson / IDG

The numbers were much closer for WebXPRT 2015, and once again things stayed about the same as May 2018. WebXPRT 2015 uses a wide number of web apps, from photo collections to online note-taking to data sets. This test is kind of like a PCMark for browsers, and to my mind, one of the most significant tests. Firefox came out on top here, with Chrome and Opera quite close to each other, followed by a trailing Edge. Again, higher is better.

webxprt

Katherine Stevenson / IDG

Finally, we come to the memory and CPU tests. Slamming an average PC with 20 tabs of mostly media-rich sites all at once is going to chew up a good chunk of CPU and memory. Most of these browsers did not disappoint in that respect. That said, most of the browsers scored better than just a few months ago in terms of CPU usage, and memory use was about the same. The exception to memory would be Chrome, which had an unusually low memory score in May 2018 but returned to its memory-munching antics in January.

Opera was the best performer in terms of CPU usage by quite a bit, with Chrome coming in second, followed by Edge, while Firefox was the biggest hog of them all this time around. That’s not to say that Firefox got worse. In fact, its CPU percentage isn’t that far off from the 86 percent it had in June 2018. All the other browsers, however, made noticeable improvements over their previous scores.

cpu

Katherine Stevenson / IDG

Second place went to Chrome, followed by Edge, and Firefox a little further out in the CPU stratosphere.

The results were a little different for memory. This time around Edge was kicking butt with the lowest score yet for Microsoft’s browser of death. Don’t get too excited, however, as Edge’s scores are always a little tricky to get. We had similar problems to last time, where the PC often froze from overloaded system resources once the tabs were loading. We managed to get the task manager front and center quick enough to jot down the scores, but the screenshot we took didn’t go off for a noticeably long time. The bottom line here is that power users with multiple tabs open in Edge are still going to feel some serious pain trying to get work done. The next lowest memory hog was Opera, followed closely by Chrome, with Firefox at the back, but with results not that far off from Opera and Chrome.

memory2

Katherine Stevenson / IDG

And the winner is…

So who wins? Here’s the way we see it.

Opera wins our top spot for a good showing in the stress test and winning out in a few other key measures.

Chrome earns second place this time. It performed well in the live stress test, and was close to Opera in many respects. Many people love Chrome, and don’t get us wrong, it’s a great browser. But if you want to get away from Chrome without losing all of its advantages, Opera is a great choice since it can support nearly all the same conveniences Chrome can. Plus the social sidebar is a unique feature that you won’t find in the other browsers.

As in May 2018, we had to give Mozilla’s browser the bronze. Performance scores for Firefox 64 weren’t all that different from last time, while the others had noticeable improvements. The new Quantum versions of Firefox are dramatically better than their predecessors, but the goods just weren’t there to move up in the rankings. The fact that Firefox is a top performer in WebXPRT is a great sign, and if the stress test had gone better it might have taken the top spot or at least second place.

As for Microsoft’s browser…well, this time around Edge doesn’t even get an honorable mention. These days Edge is more of a “well, who cares?” It has always been the lesser browser and while we’ve seen some performance improvements, they’re really unimportant at this point. Edge is serviceable at best as a day-to-day browser, and it’s doubtful anything will change now that Edge as we know it is headed for the dustbin. That’s the bad news. The good news is that Microsoft Edge (assuming the name stays the same) should be a dramatically different beast before the end of the year.

To sum up: Give Opera a try and see if it performs as well for you as it did for us. If you love Chrome too much to give it up, then stick with it. Firefox, meanwhile, is still a solid option if you want something that isn’t built with Chrome DNA. That’s no small matter either, because once Edge gets its overhaul in the coming months, a non-Chromium browser will be a rare thing to find.

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