Yowsa! Browsers!

Yes, I know, that is the worst post title ever. Sorry.

Let's move on.

I've been playing with the beta version of Firefox. I must say, it's pretty cool. Lots of nice stuff. A few bad things as well. I've compiled a list of the systemsboy-specific pros and cons. In doing so, I've gone over what it is that makes me like certain browsers over others, and started looking at some additional options. Here is a loose, and very subjective, collection of ramblings and lists about browsers.

Browsers are a mixed bag. None seems to do everything you want it to do exactly how you like it. So I tend to use multiple browsers. For general surfing. I use Safari. It's the most comfortable for me to use, and the easiest on the peepers. Firefox, however, is the most full-featured. It will load just about anything properly. I use it for editing the blog, as well as whenever a site doesn't appear properly in Safari, but it's kind of slow and clunky looking. At this moment, I am using Camino, which I'm surprised to discover, actually supports Blogger's "Compose" mode. It's pretty, and I like the key commands. And, hoo-boy, it's fast. Camino, however, is one of those eternally-beta-level (okay, technically it's "alpha," but whatever) browsers, and I'm pretty sure it won't be able to totally replace Safari or Firefox for me. Even writing this post, I had a minor glitch. But I'd love to see Camino development continue to the point where the browser is as rock-solid and feature rich as Firefox, and as pretty as Safari. That would be great.

When trying out browsers, I tend to consider a few basic parameters that determine how much I like or dislike the browser in question. These parameters vary among users and are extremely subjective. The ones that affect me the most are:

  • Functionality -- the ability to load pages, web apps, forms, etc.
  • Appearance -- how the UI looks, as well as how pages render
  • Usability -- how well key-commands and UI elements, like preference panes, function and make the browser comfortable and easy to use

Now I'd like to take a quick look at the browsers themselves, and list some of my likes and dislikes for each.

Despite everything, this is my favorite all around browser. I use it for everyday surfing and most web-related tasks. Still, there are things I've grown to hate about Safari.
The Good:

  • Safari is pretty -- the UI is nice, and pages, when they load properly, look great
  • Safari is fairly fast, at least fast enough for me
  • Safari's key commands, for whatever completely subjective reasons, make the most sense to me
  • Safari is bundled with the OS, so I can use it on any Mac I may be on (lab, client, etc.)

The Bad:

  • A recent Safari bug is the window placement problem I've blogged about that drives me nuts, where Safari resets my window placement after quitting and relaunching the app
  • Another recent Safari problem has cropped up wherein pages don't load the first time, particularly when lodaing a group of tabs
  • Safari still lacks the ability to bookmark a group of tabs, a feature I've been waiting forever and a day for
  • This frickin' scroll-wheel jump is frickin' annoying
  • Blogger's "Compose" mode is not available in Safari

Firefox 1.0.6
Firefox is the most full-featured and configurable of the Mac browsers. I like it a lot, and I use it to post to this site as it works with Blogger's "Compose" mode. It features a "Multiple Home Pages" function that I could see coming in real handy someday. It's very stable, and works almost identically on Mac, Windows and Linux.
The Good:

  • Works across platforms
  • Can load just about anything
  • Stable and secure
  • Just about anything you can dream of is configurable (except, unfortunately, key commands)
  • Firefox is skinnable, which is great if you can find a theme you like, which is hard (I'm using "Brushed" right now, which I like, but not as much as "Pinstripe," which appears to no longer work with Firefox)
  • Firefox's key-commands aren't bad once you get used to them, which doesn't take long
  • Firefox can use Amazon's A9 online bookmark manager, which helps mitigate the ongoing problem of inconsistent bookmarks across multiple computers

The Bad:

  • Firefox is kind of ugly -- not butt ugly, but clunky and silly looking, comparatively speaking
  • Firefox is slow, both at launch and loading pages
  • Clicking in the URL field selects the entire link, instead of placing the cursor at the click-point
  • Firefox has no key-command to stop page loading (that I can find, anyway)
  • Opening a URL in a new tab requires a command- or control-click and can't be done from the middle mouse button
  • The enormous list of preferences is badly displayed and hard to manage from the clunky sheet interface provided
  • The key-command for said preferences window usually doesn't work, requiring a trip to the application menu

Firefox 1.5 Beta
The new beta version of Firefox shows real promise, and addresses a lot of my issues with the previous version. It's the impetus for this post, actually. The reason I've started looking at browsers again.
The Good:

  • Clicking the URL bar no longer highlights the entire field, but rather, puts the cursor right where you just clicked
  • Clicking a link with the middle mouse button now opens the link in a new tab
  • Tabs can be rearranged, which is just so cool
  • The new, tab-based, floating preferences palatte is nicely done and easy to navigate
  • The key-command for the preferences window now works consistently
  • There is now a key-command to stop loading a page (and it's the standard "command-period")
  • In fact, most key-commands now match those found in Safari

The Bad:

  • The tab selection key-command (which used to be "control-tab") has reverted to the one used for Mozilla (which is "control-page up/down", which sucks for people, like me, who switch between a PowerBook and a Desktop, as the PowerBook version of the command requires the use of the "fn" key, and, thus is a differnt key-command than it is on a desktop machine), which was the reason I stopped using Mozilla in the first place -- this is a deal breaker for me
  • This new version placed aliases of Firefox in my sidebar and on my Desktop without even asking -- like on Windows!

Camino 1.01a Alpha
Camino has gotten steadily better in recent months and years. It looks good, it feels good, and it's snappy as Hell. If it ever becomes stable enough to get out of alpha, I think it could be a contender. Right now, it is not what I'd call dependable. In fact it crashed in the middle of this post.
The Good:

  • Camino is fast -- it feels the fastest of the browsers I've tested, though this is not a scientific assesment by any means
  • Camino is pretty -- this latest version uses the "Unified" theme, which I personally think looks swell, and is aqua throughout
  • Very configurable -- more than Safari, though not as much as Firefox
  • Camino has good, easy-to-learn key-commands

The Bad:

  • Can you say, "Crashes a lot?" That's my major beef with Camino
  • Also, as it's perpetually in "alpha", there are probably lots of pages that don't load properly in Camino, but I haven'tused it as thoroughly as the others, so this is really only a cursory examination

So that's my take on the state of browsers for the Mac. I use a range of them for various tasks, which kinda sucks for the obvious reason that my bookmarks are in a state of total disarray, a problem only partially mitigated by the availability of services like Amazon's A9, or del.icio.us. Still, between Safari and Firefox I can get my work done without too much trouble. And I'm learning to let the bookmark thing go. Too many computers, too little time, and with the greatness that is Google, bookmarks are less crucial than they once were. I have to say, though, I'd love it if Google made an online bookmark manager. Or, Hell, a cross-platform browser with integrated, online bookmark manager. C'mon. You've got to admit, that would be sweet!

Looks like there is a stable release of Camino after all. My bad. I've just been testing it. It has weird, centered, aqua tabs, and it's not nearly as fast as the alpha version. The alpha version is so fast, I get vaguely nauseous surfing with it. Dude. It's fast. But I found one other beef with Camino, and all the browsers I looked at: none of them renders text as nicely as Safari. Don't know why. All the non-Safari browsers render text slightly bolder. It makes everything look, I don't know, chunky and a little cheap, particularly on pages like MacFixit. I think this has a lot to do with my reasoning for using Safari for day-to-day surfing. It looks very nice. But if you need the speed, check out Camino 1.0a.