A bit on the side

Further to my rant about web browsers a few days ago, I have been downloading and trying out a variety of different web browsers available for the Mac, most of which I guess most people won’t have heard of. The standard ones I have permanently in my dock are Firefox, Camino, Safari, Internet Explorer and Opera. I also have lying around OmniWeb, Flock and Shiira. Interestingly each have their own quirks and attractions.

OmniWeb is the only browser that is not free – I’m currently using it on a 30 day trial period. The interface is nice and tidy, and everything is pretty clear right from the word go. I’m not sure what rendering engine it uses (possibly its own?…), but it passes the Acid2 test with flying colours. It’s party trick, however, is the sidebar which optionally slides out and shows you a live preview of your open web pages – instead of having tabs lined up at the top of the window, you get to see what’s on the page instead, with all your tabs lined up vertically in the panel. This is pretty neat, and once you get used to the idea of moving your mouse left instead of up when you want to switch tabs, it’s actually quite effective. But, and there is a but, it’s not free. I know it’s not expensive, but I see little point in paying for a product that isn’t significantly better than something I could get for nothing. And I don’t like the purple bookmark icons.

Flock is available for PC and Mac, and comes at web browsing from a completely different direction. The Flock idea is that looking at web pages is only one part of your web experience, and gives you instant and seemless access to news feeds, blogs, pictures you have stored on the internet. It’s effectively Firefox under a different name, and gives you a few handy extras to make sharing your life with other people easier – there’s even a menu item called “Upload photo”, although it doesn’t appear to be working at the moment. It’s a good effort though, with a good clean look and a very user-friendly ambience.

Shiira is, I believe, a Japanese browser. It too has a useful sidebar, although it doesn’t have quite such useful information there. It shows in tabs your bookmarks, history, a download manager, a list of RSS feeds, and something it calls a “Page holder”, which effectively copies the page you’re viewing into the sidebar for quick access. I’m not quite sure why you’d want this, but I guess someone must have found it useful! Overall the interface is ok, generally helped by the use of standard Mac OS X elements, but it’s not particularly imaginative, the buttons are something and nothing, and it just doesn’t give the impression that it’s robust enough to be used on a daily basis. Customizing the browser is very limited, and extensions don’t appear to have been considered at all.

Opera is a well-established browser, and is both robust and extensible. I particularly like the way it automatically remembers the last page you were looking at and loads that up when you start the program. I’m not so fond of the interface though – I just can’t get used to the tabs being above the navigation controls! You can download skins, some of which are quite cool, but for my liking it doesn’t fit into my Mac desktop quite so comfortably.

Internet Explorer is utter rubbish. That’s to be expected though, since Microsoft stopped supporting IE for the Mac several years ago, so we’re still left with version 5, which was truely appalling. Yes, IE for Mac was the first browser to completely implement CSS1, but because it hasn’t been developed since then it misses out on a lot of useful CSS2 functionality that is becoming ever more popular.

Safari is a pretty good browser from Apple, and is fairly fast in processing web pages. And of course because it’s made by Apple it’s pretty much incorruptible, and visually sits nicely on the Mac desktop. I particularly like the RSS feed display, which is smooth and easy to use. It does have its problems though – although it handles most CSS reasonably well, it does not support many of the online tools I use regularly, such as FCKEditor, and although WordPress and GoogleMail appear to work, you don’t see any of the text editing buttons.

Camino is effectively Firefox with a different look. In terms of performance it’s slightly cleaner, and certainly in terms of looks it’s far more pleasing to the eye as standard. The problem with Camino though is that although it uses the gecko rendering engine it doesn’t make provision for extensions or themes, so you have to use it as-is. This isn’t normally a problem though, as most things you’d want are already there.

Firefox is the only one I haven’t covered yet, even though it’s been indirectly referred to several times. Although it doesn’t completely pass the Acid2 test, it’s a very robust browser, and has an enormous user base and hundreds of themes and extensions. One I’m particularly enjoying using at the moment is Tab Sidebar, which does the same as the sidebar in OmniWeb, possibly slightly better too. It completely replaces the tabs and shows you live previews of each page, even giving you a few useful navitation buttons on each preview, so you can refresh a page from the sidebar without actually having to view it properly.

So that’s my little review of web browsers. At the moment I’m settling with Firefox, mainly because of the fun sidebar extension, but that may well change if I find something better!

4 thoughts on “A bit on the side

  1. You should submit your little browser review to the folks at MacUser and MacWorld magazine. They’re usually keen to have feedback and comments from users out here in Mac Land. Give them a link to your blog – you might get invited to write for them regularly. £££££!

  2. Hey Matt,

    Yep, Flock is built on top of Firefox – which incidentally means it’s also available on Linux. The photo uploader should be working fine, we have lots of folks using it right now. If you need any help, feel free to email me.

    Cheers,

    Will Pate
    Community Ambassador, Flock

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