Apple Safari vs. Mozilla Firefox

Both browsers have strengths and weaknesses

An image of a Macbook with a browser open showing the Google homepage.

Prykhodov / Getty Images 

If you're a Mac user, two of the most powerful web browsers are available to you: Apple Safari and Mozilla Firefox. Both are free of charge, and each has distinct advantages.

These features were tested on Safari 13 and Firefox 67 in macOS Catalina, but they are generally applicable to all recent versions across macOS and Windows desktop platforms.

Overall Findings

Safari
  • Integrated with most macOS programs and devices.

  • Faster page loading.

Firefox
  • More extensions available than for Safari.

  • Open-source platform.

  • Available on more devices, both Mac and otherwise.

Apple's Safari browser, now a key piece of macOS, is seamlessly integrated into some of your main applications, including Apple Mail and Photos. This is one of the obvious advantages of Apple developing its own browser in-house.

Mozilla's Firefox is a very popular substitute for Safari. Although it may not be as fast, the difference does not seem to be enough to warrant totally discounting Mozilla's product as your browser of choice. Although Safari's speed and integration with the operating system may give it a leg up at first glance, Firefox has its own interesting features that provide appeal.

Availability: Safari Is Mainly an Apple Thing

Safari
  • Developed primarily for Apple devices.

  • Also available for Windows.

Firefox
  • Available for macOS, iOS, iPadOS, Android, Windows, and Linux.

Because Safari is Apple's proprietary web browser, it mainly exists on Apple products. It comes pre-installed on Macs, iPads, and iPhones. You also can download it for Windows machines, but it doesn't have an official release for Android phones.

Firefox wasn't originally available on iOS devices, but it's now available in the App Store for iPhone and iPad. It's also available for Android and Linux machines, so if you regularly use a lot of different platforms, Firefox works for all of them.

Page Load Speed: Safari Is Faster

Safari
  • 1.4 times faster page loading than Firefox.

Firefox
  • Slower page loading than Safari.

The developers at Apple did not rush the planning of Safari's infrastructure. This attention becomes clear when you first launch the application and notice how quickly the main window and your home page load. Apple has publicly benchmarked Safari as having HTML page load speeds at 1.4 times that of its Firefox counterpart.

Add-Ons: Firefox Offers More Extensions

Safari
  • Smaller selection of extensions.

  • Built-in parental controls.

Firefox
  • Thousands of extensions available from third-party developers.

  • Parental controls.

Along with all of the features you probably expect in a modern browser, such as tabbed browsing and privacy settings, Safari offers a great deal of additional functionality.

Safari features parental control settings that are easy to customize, allowing you to facilitate a child-safe environment. In other browsers, these controls are not easily configurable and usually require third-party downloads. If you use Safari on a Mac, parental controls are set in Settings > Screen Time.

Screen time parental controls in Catalina

Apple exerts the same control over Safari as it does over its other software, so it isn't open-source like Firefox. However, it does offer a section in its App Store that allows developers to create plug-ins and add-ons to enrich your browsing experience further.

Like Safari, Firefox provides a platform that allows developers to create powerful add-ons and extensions. Firefox's selection is much greater than Safari's, however, and developers have added a wealth of new functionality to the browser.

The home page of the Firefox Add-ons Gallery

Final Verdict

These browsers have a lot of similar features, as well as some unique functions. When choosing between the two, here are some factors to consider:

  • If you use Apple Mail as your email client and you would like to perform several email tasks from within your browser, Safari may be your best choice.
  • If you would like to use Automator for common browsing tasks, Safari may be right for you.
  • If you search sites such as eBay, Answers.com, and Amazon often, Firefox may make more sense as your primary browser.
  • If you would like to take advantage of thousands of add-ons and extensions to customize and supercharge your browser, give Firefox a try.
  • If you have children who use your computer and you need to enforce parental controls, Safari is probably your best bet.
  • If the only thing you really care about is speed, go with Safari.

If none of these features really stand out, your choice might be a toss-up. In this case, simply try both for a couple days. You can install and run Firefox and Safari at the same time without conflict. Eventually, you will discover that one is more comfortable than the other for you.