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 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.
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.
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 Subtraction.com 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 And second, the outdated WebCore mangles some HTML code that the current Safari does not; I discovered this yesterday while trying to fix some pages that were displaying improperly in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.