Fri 23 Dec
With any luck, this post will remain relevant for just about three weeks, when, hopefully, it will be made obsolete by a concrete announcement at Macworld Expo of OmniWeb 6.0’s imminent release. As a loyal user of that Quixotic Web browser, I’ve been waiting seemingly forever for a long-promised upgrade that will move OmniWeb away from its clever but problematic customization of Apple’s WebCore foundation and over to the more stable, more easily built-upon WebKit framework available in Mac OS X. I’m crossing my fingers that this will put an end to the memory leaks, imperfect page renderings and random crashes from which OmniWeb suffers (though to be fair, the OmniGroup does an admirable and timely job of continually hunting down and sorting out bugs) — even for all of those problems, it’s still my favorite Web browser.
Even with those problems sorted out, it still won’t be the perfect Web browser, at least not for me. What I want is really an amalgam of the three browsers I use regularly on my Mac: OmniWeb, Firefox and Safari. There’s at least a few things about each that I find indispensable, which keeps me enthusiastic about all of them. But in an ideal, crazy sci-fi, OpenDoc-style world where we’re all eating freeze-dried foods and having sex with robots while flying in jet packs through our space colonies, I’d be able to pick and choose from the features I like most about each, and assemble them together into a single super-browser suited to my particular tastes.
Here, ranked in order of importance to my browsing habits, are the features I’d choose:
Safari’s General Stability In its early releases, I recall lots of crashes, but in the past year or more, Safari has become solid as a rock, and it’s the one browser I turn to when I need to accomplish tasks under deadline and without risk of the browser going haywire.
Safari’s Fit and Finish As an Apple-authored application, it’s no coincidence that Safari is the most consistently and thoroughly Mac-like in its total user experience. Forgetting its controversial brushed-metal facade, I find it’s exceedingly well designed and comfortable to use. Those are intangible and unspecific factors, but they’re a crucial part of how much affection I can muster for any application.
OmniWeb’s Visual Tabs Yes, there are extensions that bring this feature to both Safari and Firefox, but OmniWeb did it first, and they still do it best. It’s perhaps the showiest of all features, but I’ve become wedded to it.
Firefox’s Cross-platform Consistency Nothing beats Firefox for ably rendering client-side code in a predictable fashion across operating systems. It’s not perfect, but this reliability has established a gold standard for Web developers looking to create a single experience across multiple operating systems.
Safari’s Speed Browser responsiveness is a subjective metric, but in general use I find Safari the snappiest of the three browsers.
Safari’s Private Browsing A dead simple feature that turns off the History feature and cookies. For those who occasionally visit less respectable corners of the Internet, this is a great reassurance of one’s privacy… so I’ve heard.
Firefox’s Extensibility As much of a curse as it is a blessing, because any complaint I have about the core browser’s feature set is often immediately rebutted with the claim that “There’s an extension that does that.” I don’t want to have to install add-ons and modifications across every instance of Firefox I’m running. On the other hand, the fact that I can install an endless variety of add-ons and modifications also happens to be immensely cool.
OmniWeb’s Text Entry Fields These are brilliant: clicking a little plus-icon at the top of each text entry field’s scroll shaft pops up a resizable, TextEdit-like scratch pad of sorts. Ideal for writing long paragraphs of text inside insufficiently sized weblog comment forms. Absolutely ingenious feature. Totally.
OmniWeb’s Live Editing of Source Code Allows me to modify HTML from any Web page right in the View Source window, then hit update to see that change reflected immediately — all without having to manually save the code (and manually collected image and embedded files) to my hard drive. It has obvious benefits for Web developers, but has also proven unexpectedly helpful in many other instances. There’s an extension that brings this to Firefox too, I believe, but it comes standard with every installation of OmniWeb, which I like.
OmniWeb’s Site-specific Preferences and Ad Blocking Firefox’s AdBlock is great, but OmniWeb’s built-in ad features are sufficient for my needs, at least for now. Plus, with impressive good sense, they’re integrated with other, consistently useful site-specific controls like browser spoofing and font-swapping — all built right in.
So, I won’t hold my breath.