Reincarnating an old demon

This morning in a bout of “nothing better to do”-ness I started reading some reviews about web browsers. Again. For those of you who have been avid readers of my blog for while, you will have noticed that this has been something of a recurring theme, with several posts over the years comparing various different browsers. Today’s foray into this particularly dark and dangerous part of the cyber-woods was initiated by a post by my friend Phill, who was commenting on Opera. I have had Opera installed for some time, though I rarely use it, but prompted by Phill’s comments I felt obliged to try it out again, just in case I had misjudged it before.

It is worth pointing out at this stage why and how I use the web, as this has a direct correlation to what I see as a “good” web browser. As a web designer, I am all in favour of CSS compliance, interface design and speed. As a user of the web in my spare time I’m also interested in some degree of integration with some of the sites I use regularly, and speed. So far I’ve been using Firefox for business, using it for testing web site designs and taking advantage of some of the plugins to allow me to deconstruct sites to see how they work, and for personal use I’ve been opting for the speed and simplicity of Safari.

This post is in itself testament to my willingness to change my ways, or at least try to. I am writing this article entirely locally, using Flock’s built-in blogging tool which will upload my post once I’m done editing it. As it’s not using Javascript to generate its editor, the speed at which I can type is slightly higher – it’s possibly a limitation of my old computer, but I find using online editors such as TinyMCE adds a significant delay into the responsiveness. Flock is built on Firefox 1.5, so isn’t entirely up to date in terms of its rendering engine, but is nicely integrated with Flickr and Delicious and other online stuff, touting itself as a “social web browser” rather than an efficient powerhouse. There will undoubtedly be some page rendering issues here, though probably still less so than IE7. If I was to use Flock more often, it would be in the realms of personal web use rather than business.

Opera is pretty fast, that’s for sure. It takes a while to load up initially (on my computer anyway), but once you’re browsing it’s a dream – going back to pages you’ve already been to is lightning-fast and reliable, and appears to load the whole thing from cache rather than bothering the web for information it already knows. The fast forward and rewind buttons are pretty cool too, though a little unpredictable. Skins are applied instantly, which is more impressive than Firefox, though I’ve still not found a way to move the tab bar to underneath the address bar… just an annoyance really. Some of the skins are good, some are not, but I guess you’d find that with any skinable program. My main problem with Opera at the moment is that it sometimes gets stuck loading a page – it just stops loading as if the internet has been turned off. I was trying to load up a forum earlier, nothing complicated, and Opera stopped loading. So I loaded the forum up in Safari and it brought it up in no time at all. Opera meanwhile still hadn’t made the connection.

Firefox really is a very good browser. It’s pretty solid, very extensible, very web-compliant, and rather slow. I use it to test web sites because I trust it to know what it’s doing, but if I want to find information fast I use something else, because I can’t be bothered to wait for Firefox to catch up with me. The predictive search jobby is quite neat too (I was amazed to find that it actually knew who I was – I typed in my name and it found me before I’d finished typing!). That said, it’s a little redundant if you know what you want to search for. I guess it’s useful if you want to search for something but you’re not sure how to spell it, and it’s guesses sometimes point you in the right direction if there are several subtopics you could choose from.

Safari is fast, Safari is clean, Safari is stable, Safari is nicely integrated into the operating system. True, it’s not got all those fancy features that many people want, its tabs aren’t particularly clever, there aren’t many plugins available for it, and you can’t skin it. But for speed there’s nothing quite like it. I also think its rendering of text is actually superior to Firefox’s or Opera’s, probably because it’s taking advantage of those core bits of the OS that make Mac OS X look so tasty.

At the end of the day, I was never going to come to any sort of conclusion on this matter. I use different browsers for different things, and my needs probably aren’t going to be the same as yours. I may try Flock for a few days instead of Safari and see how I get on, but I’ll probably stick with Firefox for web development purposes, as nothing else really compares in that field. Opera is just too fiddly for my liking, and I don’t like the way it tries to do everything at once – I’d prefer it just to be a web browser and do that well.

So there you go, another pointless rant about web browsers, again without a conclusion. Such is life.

EDIT: Just published this from Flock, only to discover that it doesn’t support the <more> tag, so I’ve had to go into WordPress and add it manually after all… ah well, nice try Flock.

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