Thu 07 Sep
The latest version of OmniWeb, which is perhaps best described as ‘the Macintosh browser you pay for,’ is out on the streets, just now emergent from its long beta gestation period. Version 5.5 finally brings us a third-party browser based on Apple’s now open source WebKit framework, which puts it nicely in line with Safari with regard to rendering fidelity and Macintosh fit and finish. On top of that, it faithfully re-creates virtually all of OmniWeb 5’s winning features: visual tabs, page source editing with instant previews, expandable text-entry boxes, etc.
As a big fan of OmniWeb, I’d been waiting for this browser so long that I forgot all about it. Due to the pressures of maintaining a software product that was beholden to Apple’s development cycle for its WebCore framework, OmniWeb’s past few iterations have been akin to commendably well-imagined concept cars that broke down consistently, or drove poorly. For the past eighteen months, anyway, it was buggy and unreliable — more a browser you could love than a browser you could use day in and day out. After a while of trying really hard to use it as my main browser — mostly because I enjoyed its feature set so much — I gave up many months ago.
The browser’s publisher, OmniGroup, gets points for sheer pluck though, as they’ve been dogged in their devotion to improving this product when they could have easily abandoned the market to the numerous free alternatives out there. Moving from WebCore to WebKit has been a nontrivial task, to say the least, and they deserve plaudits for investing the resources in doing it and doing it well. It’s just taken a long, long time, is all. I had basically forgotten when, exactly, they had even started down this road, so I was almost shocked when Virginia mentioned to me over instant messenger that it was finally out of beta.
It was a pleasant surprise though, and after a few hours of working with this latest version, it’s been a pleasant experience running it, too. Aside from a modest amount of sprucing up, OmniWeb 5.5’s user interface is almost identical to its prior incarnations, which is fine by me; I was always comfortable with it. Mostly, though, this latest version feels fast and stable, something you couldn’t say about its immediate predecessors. In fact, it reminds me how much I really liked this browser in the first place. It’s nice now that it’s usable, too.