Netscape? Who cares? Internet Explorer? No way. This seems to be the attitude of “Byte of the Apple” columnist, Charles Haddad, who sings (well, writes anyway) the praises of third party browsers (Opera, iCab, and OmniWeb) in a new Business Week Online column.
“The Web’s two dominant browsers have become as bloated as a tick on a hog,” Haddad says. “Their obesity reflects a simple strategy: beat competitors with an ever-ballooning set of features. But as Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator have swelled, they’ve lost agility, allowing several leaner, more nimble competitors to sneak into the market.”
Though some of the new entries in the market charge a small fee unlike the freebie “big two” browsers, they have a lot to recommend — and one is among the first new programs to be written specifically for Mac OS X, the columnist says — more on that browser in a minute.
Still in beta testing, Opera — described by its authors as “the fastest browser on earth” — will offer two options for using the browser. The user will have the choice to download a free, ad-supported version with all features and functionality enabled, or registering the browser at a charge of US$39 that removes the ads, with various discounts applying.
Some of Opera’s unique features will include the ability the surf in multiple windows simultaneously, and full keyboard navigation and graphics disabling. It’s also expected to include FTP browsing, GIF, PNG and JPEG image support, support for cascading style sheets, Extensible Markup Language (XML), Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) and proxy server support.
“Designed from the ground up to be fast and simple, [Opera] is representative of an engineering revolt against the clunky motif set by Netscape and Microsoft,” Haddad says.
iCab is the Mac Web browser that’s being touted as a faster, less resource intensive alternative to IE and Netscape. Once the browser is finished (and it’s been a long time coming), there’ll be two versions available. The “lite” version will be free. A more full-featured iCab Pro will cost $29.
iCab packs much of the same functionality as IE and Netscape, including HTML 4.0 support. The software also takes up less disk space and uses less RAM and is touted as being faster. In an attempt to lure away IE users, the developers of iCab offer a small utility that reads web archives in Microsoft’s format.
“Like Opera, iCab is small and speedy — it occupies a mere 2 megabytes of your hard disk,” Haddad says. “This browser is the brainchild of 30-year-old German programmer Alexander Clauss. His design is based on a new concept called ‘structural navigation.’ That’s engineering-speak for a greater ability to jump right to information a user is looking for on the Web. Typically, the search functions in the two big browsers take you to the homepage of a site. In contrast, iCab drills down through a site right to the information you want. With structural navigation, users spend less time wandering lost and confused around the Net.”
But the columnist’s favorite browser is Omni Group’s OmniWeb. On March 24, The Omni Group released the finished version of OmniWeb 4.0 for Mac OS X.
“It’s the first browser written from the ground up in Cocoa, the programming language of OS X,” Haddad says. “As such, unlike many other programs, OmniWeb is not just mimicking the stunning new aqua interface of Apple’s newest operating system — it truly taps the enhanced powers of OS X, including the new Quartz graphic-rendering engine that produces photo-quality images.”
However, he says the browser is more than a pretty face. Instead of adopting the current norm and using a TV metaphor, with channels and surfing, OmniGroup has revamped the whole idea of a browser by asking themselves how they could really tap the unique abilities of the Internet and Mac OS X, Haddad says.
The columnist says that OmniWeb, like any new application, has bugs. But it’s “one of the best reasons” he’s seen to upgrade to Mac OS X.