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As noted on Macworld (and about a million other pages, I’m sure), the Camino browser recently went to version 1.0. This is great to see, especially given the long gestation period for the product. I’ve used Camino off and on over the years, and it’s always had a spot on my hard drive. But now, with the 1.0 release, it’s giving my usual browsing pair ( Firefox and Safari ) a run for the top spot on my machine.

If you’ve never tried Camino, now’s a great time to give it a look-see. It uses the Firefox rendering engine, but then wraps it all in a very nice Cocoa-based interface. The Camino FAQ explains all of this in much more detail. What this means, though, is that Camino really looks and acts like a standard OS X Macintosh application, which Firefox (despite very good efforts on their part) still does not. For many users, Safari is their preferred browser because it looks “more Mac like” than Firefox. Well, Camino tries to give the best of both worlds—the goodness of the Gecko rendering engine coupled with a native Cocoa front-end. The end results are impressive.

The first thing about Camino that I noticed is that it’s fast. Really fast. Especially when opening large numbers of tabbed pages at the same time. This is something I do every morning to post hints—I open up the Submissions queue, and then command-click on anywhere from 10 to 15 hint submissions. In Safari, this often gets me a spinning beach ball until all of the tabs have fully loaded. Today, I posted all the hints using Camino, and I saw no such thing. Even when I asked Camino to open a collection of 15 bookmarked sites all at once, it just did it. No complaints, and the pages were very quick to load.

Other aspects of the UI feel just as fast. Individual pages load amazingly quickly, and things like opening prefs, switching to the bookmarks view, and scrolling up and down a page. All feel amazingly quick, especially compared to Firefox (which I still love, despite the UI flaws). Beyond just the speed, though, Camino has some nice interface touches. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Sortable bookmarks (come on, Apple, is it that hard to give us this option in Safari?).
  • Icon-only shortcuts in the bookmarks bar, as seen in the screenshot. From the left, that’s the Macworld forums, Macintouch, CNN, and a local news station. On the far right is Apple’s homepage. While you clearly don’t want every site to be icon-only, this is a great way to save space for often-visited sites with easily recognizable favicons. (To remove the name of the bookmark, control-click on it, choose Get Info, and erase the Title field.)
  • Flexible cookie-accepting options. I have it set to only accept cookies from sites I visit (same as Safari), but then to also ask me before accepting any cookies. I like to know what cookies sites are setting on my machine.
  • Variable history length. Using the prefs, retain as many days’ history as you like. And unlike Safari, at least in my experience thus far, Camino doesn’t seem to slow down as the history file fills with entries.
  • Close the Downloads window automatically. You can set this via an option in Camino’s preferences. Hey Apple, we’d love to see this option in Safari, too.
  • Play animated images one time only. For those sites that insist on using animated GIFs as a substitute for content, you can force the animations to only be shown one time.

Of course, Camino isn’t yet a perfect replacement for Safari or Firefox. Firefox extensions, for instance, don’t work with Camino. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t Camino plug-ins available. Over on Jon Hicks’ journal, he pointed out two of the best: CamiScript and CamiTools. Between these two, you’ll gain a bunch of new features. Instead of repeating them here, though, just visit the above links for the details. Of the two, I find the tweaks installed by CamiTools to be the most useful; you gain a new section in Preferences just for handling the various CamiTools options. (CamiTools also doesn’t require any third-party software to work; CamiScript relies on SIMBL, which some people have an issue with.)

In addition, Camino won’t auto-complete bookmark entries, though it will auto-complete entries in the history file. Also, you can’t presently spell check text fields, though this is planned for a future release. Also planned is an RSS detection tool, which will pass on RSS URLs to your chosen news reader. But for me, these are minor oversights—I edit text in an external editor, and I use NetNewsWire to read RSS feeds, so I just control-click to copy a RSS URL, then switch to NetNewsWire to subscribe.

Camino is put together by a very small team, and they’ve done a great job. I love the speed, I love the GUI, and I love the feature set. It needs a few more bells and whistles to fully replace Safari and Firefox, but it’s now clearly well up on my list of preferred browsers.

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