A Browser Back from the Brink

OmniWeb 5.5The 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.

Long Road for a Small Browser

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.

  1. Seems like a nice update. I can’t seem to use anything other than FF because of firebug and the web developer tools.

    I’m curious Khoi, are you simply reviewing OmniWeb or do you plan to use it full time or just outside of the office?

  2. I also really want to like Omniweb. 5.5 seems fast at first, but it seems to tie up so many resources that when I use other applications and switch back to Omniweb, I have to wait a minute while it loads itself from the cache back into memory. Try as I might, I can’t stand those app-switching delays, so I always end up with Safari again.

  3. I’ve been using it all throught he sneaky peak and beta periords. So glad to have a final version now. There are still just a couple things that annoy me about the interface though:

    1. Can’t type a URL in the address bar and hold down “option” while hitting enter to download the selected URL instead of going to the address.

    2. In html select drop down boxes, you can only use the keyboard to navigate after you have dropped the list down. In safari, you can simply just type an it will give you the closest match…. very important for commonly used things like “country” and “state.”

    3. No support for an external rss reader. This is pretty common in almost every browser out there. Feels like they are just trying to push you to use their own.

    4. Ad blocking has a grey background. I’d rather it just be transparent and not see that anything was there in the first place. Even with the light grey, it still uglifies the web pages.

    5. When dragging and image to the desktop to save the image, it only works if the image is not a link. If it is a link, it instead creates a link snippet to the linked page. This is pretty retarded as I’m guessing the people dragging images to the desktop are 9 times out of 10 wanting the image and not a link to the page. This behavior is correct in Safari.

    Other than that it is a fantastic browser… the tabs are just gorgeous.

  4. Joshua: those are very good points, and I probably could add a few to them. For instance, it annoys me that any search term I type into the search box in the top right carries over from tab to tab. I prefer Safari’s approach, where each tab essentially has its own search box.

    Greg: It’s not just a review (well, it was so short, it was barely even a review!), because I’m using OmniWeb as my main browser for the foreseeable future.

  5. I’ve been using OW 5.5 for over a month now as my main browser. I’ve experienced no more than 5 crashes in that time, and it’s compatible with just about every site that works with the latest Safari.

    Using OmniWeb is all about the perks, like when it crashes, I don’t lose anything, everything is saved, window positions and all, and I can create separate sets of workspaces for browsing. I have two workspaces, one has all my news reading pages opened from NewsFire, and the other workspace is just a clean page, OW by default lets me switch between these two with F1 and F2.

    Site specific prefs are another very nice perk.

    I love omniweb for what it is, and I’m a registered user. But if Safari saved state before quitting, no need for a fancy WorkSpaces feature, just save what is happening before quit, and upon relaunch bring back the exact same windows and tabs.

  6. I’ve been an OmniWeb user since 5.0 and I’ve really fallen in love with this browser. The decision to switch to WebKit for 5.0 was a good one.

    OmniWeb has so many features that work so stinking well it’s hard to live without them. Workspaces make switching contexts a breeze. The vertical tabs (with preview) can make finding switching between pages so easy. And the fine-grained site preferences rock; I can white-list everything from javascript to cookies to popups.

    I recall being originally appalled at the notion of paying for a browser, but OmniWeb has been one of the most enjoyable purchases I’ve made.

  7. I tried downloading and using it. It doesn’t launch. I’ve checked system requirements, permissions, proper installation, etc. No dice. Well, it looks cool, but if it doesn’t launch, not much point in it.

  8. Omniweb has been my browser of choice for some time now and the latest release is all the better with it’s speed and consistent rendering via webkit. The only thing bettering the experience are Mr. Hick’s omniweb themes available here.

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