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  • A Speedy Browser Update

    November 26th, 2005

    Whether Microsoft Internet Explorer for Windows has less than 90% of the browser market or around 85% depends on which survey you’re looking at. Regardless of which stats are correct, it’s certainly true that both Mac and Windows users have a generous choice of browsers. But I’ll only worry about Macs, as usual.

    First, of course, there’s Firefox, the upstart open source browser that’s taken the online world by storm. It’s rolling towards a final 1.5 release, weeks later than expected. The major improvements include automated updates, so you can be alerted when new versions are available without having to check your favorite software update site, or a news release. Other improvements include the ability to drag and drop the order of browser tabs and various and sundry performance enhancements. The version I have is RC3, so there’s work left to be done. I wasn’t able to measure much of a speed boost, but the interface has been cleaned up somewhat and is a bit more Mac like. Yes, the little things do indeed count. However, launch times are still a little on the slow side, at least for the Mac version; I haven’t had a chance to check it out on Windows.

    Firefox’s little brother (or sister), Camino, is slowly rolling towards the official 1.0 release. It’s performance level is pretty much the same as Firefox, since it’s based on the same rendering engine. But a snappier launch cycle conveys the impression of greater speed. It may not be as full featured as Firefox, but some prefer it because it conveys an appearance of being more Mac-like, and that’s a huge plus. Plus the bookmarks menu supports site icons, whereas Firefox, for some reason, doesn’t. This may be an issue of no great significance in the scheme of things, but if the appearance of an application is a strong point to you, it’s another check mark in favor of Camino. Maybe it’ll even get a real official release party some day, or just remain an underground alternative, as it is now.

    The latest Safari, version 2.0.2, which debuted in 10.4.3, has loads of improvements under-the-hood. Supposedly they add up to superior compatibility with various sites, but I found one, run by prolific author Brad Steiger and his wife Sherry, that reliably crashes Safari, at least on my Mac. Since Brad and Sherry are long-time friends, I’m disappointed, although I can get the site to work on other browsers without incident. Apple continues to boast that Safari “loads pages more quickly than any other Mac web browser.” That may be true, although some maintain that Firefox is superior. Then again, Apple’s comparison is with Firefox 1.0.2. I’m curious to see if there will be a comparison with Firefox 1.5, when the final release is out. On the other hand, like all face-offs of this sort, it depends on what sites you check. I can testify, however, that Safari launches faster than all the others, and that can easily convey the impression of better performance, even if the results may be otherwise debatable.

    I wonder how the folks at OmniGroup are doing these days with OmniWeb. Descended from the earliest browsers when it debuted on the original NeXT platform, it’s as feature-rich as they come. It uses Apple’s WebKit so should be similar to Safari in rendering pages. For some reason, however, it seems to display pages a little slower than Safari. Although it is the lone Mac browser that carries a price tag, a few days of use may convince you that it’s worth $29.95. I don’t have the space to list all the features, which would fill an entire article all by itself. You’ll cherish Workspaces and Saved Sessions, particularly if you want to recreate a complicated layout of browser windows after relaunching the application. You can easily customize ad blocking to allow you to accept pop-ups on sites that require them for proper navigation, such as the online shipping component of Federal Express, and even set specific preferences, such as font size, for a particular site. What more can you ask?

    Of course, Opera is also loaded with features. Now that it’s free, except for an optional technical support contract, you can see where many of the browser features, such as tabs, originated. The latest version, 8.51, seems a tad more Mac friendly than previous versions. Mac versions now manage to appear at around the same time as its counterparts on other platforms, which is great news. Unlike the other applications listed so far, this one has an email client. It may not be state-of-the-art, but if you want to do it all in a single application, it’ll get the job done. Although Opera Software has long boasted at having the fastest browser on the planet, that, to me, seems debatable, but you won’t complain about the speed. Over time, at least, launch times have improved. My only quibble is an occasional printer problem, where a Web page comes out blank. The same page prints fine on other browsers. Usually dumping most of the preference files, except the ones that cover bookmarks and customized toolbars, does the trick, until the next time.

    Have I missed anything? Well, Netscape continues to be developed on the Windows platform, but since there have been no new Mac versions for quite a while, I’ve removed it from my list.

    My favorite browser? Well, I continue to move among three, depending on my mood and the particular features I need. I start with Safari, jump to Firefox and Opera, and back again. If I ever make up my mind, I’ll let you know.

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