Web browser roundup
Part 2: What a browser costs
Opera is the only browser reviewed here that comes in both a free and a for-pay version ($39). (OmniWeb costs $30 up front and has no free version.) The free version of Opera sports little, slightly annoying advertisements at the top of the browser. When you pay for Opera, the only thing that changes is that the ad banner at the top of the application disappears; paying for Opera doesn’t gain you any features that the other browsers don’t provide.
Opera has several strange interface quirks that kept me guessing. For example, pressing Command-T brings up a new tabbed window in the other browsers, but in Opera the same key combination brings up a bookmark window. When you configure the program to block pop-up windows, it pops up its own little windows telling you when a pop-up has been blocked. Although you can turn off this preference, many such oddities that mar the browsing experience appear from time to time. On a positive note, Opera is highly configurable, even allowing you to create your own shortcuts for search sites. So typing
G(the shortcut for Google) and
hogwashin the address field will execute a Google search for hogwash and display your search results. That said, should you pay for a browser when many are available for free? When it comes to Opera, the answer is no.
OmniWeb also lets you create Workspaces, which are essentially collections of Web pages that you can open at the same time. Further, OmniWeb can save your current browsing state so all the windows open just as you had them when you closed the browser or shut down your computer.
(Click image to open full screenshot)
OmniWeb is our second-favorite browser of this bunch, providing a unique tabbed-window environment, as well as extensive options for customizing your browsing experience. Unlike the other four browsers, which place tabs at the top of the browser window, OmniWeb places a thumbnail image of each open window in a drawer on one side of the main browser window. The benefit of this thumbnail view is twofold: first, you can see each open Web page, which is a useful visual cue; second, OmniWeb constantly monitors the pages in the thumbnail view for changes, and if a change occurs, a small green check mark appears next to the thumbnail image. This approach is handy, but having several tabs open at a time requires that you scroll up and down in the drawer to see every site. And even if you change the thumbnail tabs to text, the drawer itself takes up quite a bit of space.
Dahling, you look mahvelous
Over the past several years, Web pages have moved from simple HTML that displayed text with a few images to sites that can be as beautiful and elegant as high-end magazines, and that display better animated graphics than you can see in Times Square on a Saturday night.
(Click image to open full screenshot)
To get that slick look, graphic artists and Web designers have come to rely on Cascading Style Sheets, or CSS. By using CSS, designers can be more creative with the graphical elements they use, change the organization of text on a page, and change typefaces, sizes, and styles.
The only problem with OmniWeb is that it may not be compatible with some Web sites because it’s not based on the Mozilla or the Internet Explorer engine. This can be inconvenient.
Most of the sites you visit daily, such as newspaper or magazine sites, take advantage of basic forms of CSS but still rely on older, HTML-driven techniques such as tables and frames to provide a consistent look-and-feel. As expected, all the browsers handled the test sites without a problem. And surprisingly, all the browsers handled cutting-edge CSS technology well, too. So as Web designers take greater advantage of CSS, you’ll be able to view the content on those pages without a problem and exactly as the designers intended, no matter which of these browsers you choose.
And the developers for each of these browsers are making a point of embracing powerful technologies, such as XMLHTTPRequest, that aren’t currently ubiquitous on the Web but that are certain to shape its future.
Macworld’s buying advice
Mozilla’s Firefox 1.0.6 is our browser of choice because it’s hugely customizable, compatible with the most Web sites and Web-based applications, and downright fun to use. Sure, Safari 2.0.1 is an excellent browser and has some nice new functionality with its integrated RSS news reader, but its usefulness doesn’t outweigh Firefox’s.
Are you willing to spend a few more bucks for a browser with better features than a free one can offer? The Omni Group’s OmniWeb 5.1.1 offers a significant value for $30: thumbnail-based tabs, the ability to save groups of Web pages as Workspaces, and several small but useful features.