Browser wars

I am currently sitting on the horns of a dilemma (well, actually a trilemma, but let’s not get into that again). The source of my troubles is the choice of which browser to use for my day-to-day browsing needs.


Firefox logoYou might have heard of a little browser called Firefox: word has it that it’s fairly popular. What Firefox seems to have that recommends it over the other two browser is that

  1. It’s free, and
  2. Extensions

I shall assume for the moment that most of you know how useful Firefox extensions are, so I shan’t talk about them at great length. I shall merely point out that the Web Developer extension is invaluable for development work and, while I haven’t tried it yet, Greasemonkey looks very exciting.

So what’s wrong with Firefox? Sadly, as with the majority of open-source software, its main problem seems to lie in usability: not to anything like the same extent as some of the worst offenders (as previously discussed) it does lack some of the Mac Polish that I’ve come to know and love.


Ok, on to the next option: Safari. What makes Safari good?

  1. It’s polished
  2. It’s free (at least in practical terms: strictly speaking its price is included in the price of the operating system)

So far, so good. Unfortunately, what really lets Safari down for the power user is that it’s pretty lightweight on features. Want type-ahead find? Nope, sorry. Site-specific preferences? Ain’t gonna happen. That said, Pimp My Safari looks very interesting: I shall have to give it a more thorough look soon.


Omniweb iconNow on to the third browser: OmniWeb. The bad news first: it ain’t free. The good news: it’s got some lovely Mac Polish, integrates nicely with the Mac UI and has features coming out the wazoo (or would do if there weren’t remarkably few software-based wazoo implemenations). The tab drawer (complete with itty-bitty thumbnails) is lovely, the workspaces (think saved, switchable browser sessions) are lovely, the whole thing is lovely.

Sadly, the whole thing also has a number of performance problems and guzzles memory faster than a cry of “Who’s for shots?”. Even worse, there are a number of stability problems causing the browser to occasionally crash, which is awfully annoying (although, due to the browser’s ability to remember your session details, not devastating to productivity). I think, however, it should be taken as a Sign that any browser which repeatedly crashes when visiting Weebl’s Stuff has no sense of humour.


What, therefore, is my conclusion? My conclusion is that I have no conclusion. The problem appears to be “Feature-filled, polished, free and stable: pick two (where free and stable are a single item)”. Granted, it’s not the snappiest of posers, but never mind. I’m thinking my current plan is to see whether I can get Safari up to scratch on the extension front and, if so, stick with that. Failing that, I reckon Firefox is probably the way to go. Sorry OmniWeb, but the stability and performance problems really kill you off pretty quickly.

Addendum: looks like Jon “All-Round Web Design God” Hicks has been having similar thoughts and even done a little survey of which browsers people use. He also mentions Camino, which I haven’t talked about here because I’ve never tried it. Yet.

3 Responses to “Browser wars”

    •  Gravatar for Ben
    • From Ben
    • Wednesday 24 August 2005 at 13:42

    Currently I’m a Safari man – without any pimped up extensions. I’ve not really missed Firefox’s extensions on the Mac, probably because it’s not my primary development machine. My theory is that should I need the Web Dev toolbar, I can launch Firefox for it.

    It’s worth noting that many of the Firefox Mac integration bugs should be fixed in Fx1.5 in September, assuming Josh Aas is successful in his work at Mozilla. Camino already has native widgets, it’s just a case of fixing some bugs and enabling them in Firefox.

    Safari, on the whole, does a pretty good job. However, the absence of find-as-you-type is a pain. Also annoying is the way in which the ‘Zoom’ button doesn’t cope well with CSS layout. resizing the window to optimal size is all very well, but it has no awareness of whether a CSS layout is overlapping or not (it will only widen the window if there’s a horizontal scrollbar). Yes, sites suffering from this should have a min-width declared, but they don’t.

    Do try Camino – get the latest 0.9 nightly. It’s pretty stable and has important enhancements over 0.8. The Mac integration is good, it is extremely similar to Safari’s niche (but has find-as-you-type). Sadly they’ve not got the system-wide spell checking integrated yet, which remains the reason I use Safari.

    One of the benefits I have with the Mac as my second machine, is that I am less dependent on my browser. I don’t have a lot of customised settings in any of my browsers that I miss if I launch Camino rather than Safari. I also have all my del.icio.us bookmarks imported into Spotlight and Quicksilver, so have no bookmarks at all in any browser (bar the Del.icio.us bookmarklets).

    Viva choice!

    •  Gravatar for A troll ^_^
    • From A troll ^_^
    • Wednesday 24 August 2005 at 16:05

    Of course you could always switch back to a Wintel platform and use Internet Explorer 6.0. Not only is it the most popular browser out there (all those people can’t be wrong!) it has the advantage of 100% site compatibility, support for ActiveX applications, and none of these confusing inconsistencies such as tabbed browsing.

  1. Just… no.