Get on the OmniWeb Bus

OmniWeb 5For the week or so since the final release of the Omni Group’s upstart Web browser OmniWeb 5, I’ve been trying to integrate it into my workflow, using it as a replacement for my normal full-time browser, Safari. It’s been a decent experience, and generally, I remain as impressed by the aggressively innovative feature set that Omni has rolled out as I was back when I tested the beta version.

Still, the browser is a work in progress; it hasn’t the finesse of Safari, the reliability of a Mozilla browser, nor the rock solid feel of the otherwise lamentable Internet Explorer. I applaud the Omni Group for trying so hard and setting the bar so high for themselves — I was impressed enough by their effort that I paid the US$29 registration fee — but their ambition is not seamless; there are cracks in the facade and some of them are glaring. Here are some of the thoughts I’ve been collecting:

OmniWeb 5


OmniWeb is noticeably slower than Safari. On occasion, it hangs for ten seconds or more, which is frustrating. It’s also prone to crashes at least once a day, which is far, far too much.

Double Vision

When clicking on a link to a Web page from an iChat instant message window, OmniWeb will create two new tabs, loading the same URL twice. Superfluous and goofy.

Flash-less Tabs

OmniWeb’s unique interpretation of the concept of browser tabs — which represents each tab with a thumbnail of the current page vertically in a left-hand drawer — is innovative and, once you get used to it, pretty great. But for pages that are composed entirely of a large Flash movie, the thumbnails will show only a blank page (filled with the background color specified in that page’s code), which is disorienting.

Above: OmniWeb 5, mangling some of the code at the bottom of a page.

WebCore, Circa 2003

Because of an understandable lag behind Apple in development cycle, OmniWeb does not use the same open source WebCore library as does Safari. For most users, this may not be a big deal, but it was a big deal for me. First, the older WebCore does not support full keyboard access, which allows users to tab to all the widgets — pull-down menus, radio buttons, submit buttons, etc. — on a Web page. And second, the outdated WebCore mangles some HTML code that the current Safari does not; I discovered this yesterday while trying to fix some pages that were displaying improperly in Internet Explorer. As soon as I put in a workaround for IE that seemed to work in Safari, I realized that OmniWeb choked on it. Maddening.


The beauty of the user interface leaves a lot to be desired; when an open source project like Firefox can produce an elegant interface, it makes commercially developed browsers like OmniWeb look tepid by comparison. For the browser’s next major revision, I hope the Omni Group implements some kind of simple method for changing skins, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

All this is said at the risk of giving the impression that I’m disappointed with OmniWeb 5, which is not the case at all. It’s a brave and incredibly plucky piece of engineering by a group of developers who obviously have a tremendous faith in the Mac OS platform and in their ability to produce truly amazing software. I just hope they have it in them to see the fight all the way through; it’s an almost thanklessly unkind battle they’ve chosen for themselves. For what it’s worth, I’m rooting for them.



  1. Going through the website, I get the impression of Opera features combined with Firefox marketing. “one of the biggest software hits”? Please.

  2. The Omniweb 5 final is rock solid for me. What I’d recommend is cleaning out all of the files Omniweb installs, as you probably have something corrupted from a previous beta version which is causing the slow down and crashes.

    The stuff to delete is:

    Folder (make sure to back up the bookmark.html and Favorite.html files first!)
    ~/Library/Application Support/Omniweb5



    That should make things better, hopefully. Oh, and Omnigroup is putting out Omniweb 5.1 quite soon which will have the latest version of Webcore (in Safari 1.2.3) integrated… and they’re also planning to release some kind of skinning mechanism soon – keep an eye on the Omniweb 5 extras page:

  3. I’m a fellow OmniWeb 5 user and I haven’t ever encountered the iChat double-tab problem you’ve mentioned, so it could very well be detritus from older installs. Thanks for the tip Neil, I’ll do likewise and see if I get any improvement.

    By the way Khoi, great site! I love the flow of imformation!

  4. Neil, thanks for the tips. I’m definitely going to try that. I’m looking forward to OmniWeb 5 with the latest WebCore integration. But a response to a bug report sent to me by Omni Group engineers suggested that OW 5.1 will take at least a little while before it’s ready for release. I’m going to be patient, though.

    Tim, thanks for the kind comments! Also, I didn’t realize it until I tested it, but I only get the double-tab production problem on my machine at the office, not here at home. So maybe Neil’s deletions will help.

  5. Also advised when moving between versions of OW 5 is “Flush Cache” under the application menu. I found that many nasty crashes in new versions of OW 5 disappeared upon flushing the cache.

  6. Just wanted to add another vote that OW 5.0 is perfectly stable for me. I’ve been using the final since release heavily and haven’t experienced a crash or severe slowdowns. As mentioned above I’m guessing old config files and the cache are at fault.

    The ‘theme changer’ is definitely coming soon as is 5.1 with new WebCore. I’d guess end of September at the latest.

  7. I’ve trashed the config and cache files and OmniWeb 5 does seem more stable. However, I still get double-tabbing weirdness when clicking on a link from iChat, and this afternoon I had an odd experience wherein my tab drawer disappeared and wouldn’t re-appear (the little tab drawer button in the menu became unclickable, too) until I restarted OmniWeb. Still, I’m using it every day…

  8. OmniWeb isn’t that nice to me as Camino and Safari. I’m fine with the tabbing method, and while typing this and watching it underline my incorrect words in OmniWeb, I see the big advantage over Camino… spell check. Oh well, OmniWeb is still coming off my harddrive… too bad really, it’s actually quite nice but not worth the 30 dollars they want, with that 30 dollars you might as well get the better and well equipped Opera browser.

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