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My favorite browser

Tiger boxQuite a few people seem interested in knowing which browser is “my favorite.” I wish I had a simple answer for that question, but as of now, there’s not just one. Before I get to my favorite browser(s), the macosxhints site has done some tracking of browser usage via the occasional poll. I’ve run a total of five polls regarding favored browsers since I launched the site. Below are the results for each, showing the top three in each poll, along with the percentage share for the winner.

  • Feb 2001: OmniWeb (41%), Internet Explorer, iCab. Note that the site was *very* young at this point, and the results were skewed as most of the readers were early OS X adaptors — hence we all used the only (and best!) native browser of the day.
  • Jul 2002: Internet Explorer (40%), Mozilla, OmniWeb. The site has grown some now, and more typical users are visiting. IE takes the lead.
  • Feb 2003: Safari (59%), Chimera (nee Camino), Internet Explorer. Safari shipped in January, and by early February, it already had nearly 60% of the Hints readership.
  • Feb 2004: Safari (82%), Mozilla, Camino. Total dominance now. IE has vanished, with less than 2% reporting they use it.
  • Oct 2004: Safari (65%), Firefox, Camino. Firefox has emerged and made a pretty serious dent in Safari’s domination (Firefox garnered 18% of the votes, which is basically what Safari lost from the prior poll). IE has dropped to 0.9% usage.

I should probably run another shortly; it’s been over six months, and it would be interesting to see if Firefox has eaten away at more of Safari’s lead. So enough of the history lesson … which browser is my favorite?

There are actually three browsers in my “rotation” at the moment. Here’s a blurb on why I use each of them, listed in order of least to most usage:

  1. OmniWeb: Omni’s browser, now built using Apple’s open source WebKit, is fast, powerful, and has tons of cool features. I really like it’s View Source mode, which lets you reformat the displayed code, highlights errors, and make changes that can be reflected on the page. I use it a lot to debug pages and test out changes. The bookmark and history modules are also very well done, with tons of flexibility. Flexible is probably the best descriptor for OmniWeb; it’s got tons of features, and is well worth the purchase price.

    OmniWeb would probably be my main browser, but for one thing: as much as I’ve tried, I just cannot get used to the vertical “iconized” version of tabs that they use. Even in list mode, I find the vertical orientation of the tabs just too difficult to use.

  2. Firefox: In 10.3, Firefox was my main browser. It’s speed is amazing, and it handles nearly every page out there with ease. But what I really like it for are its extensions and themes. Themes are necessary because the standard Firefox GUI used to be really ugly (it’s gotten much, much better on the Mac). But the real power lies with the extensions. There are literally hundreds, and each adds additional features to the base browser. You could go crazy, of course, and install dozens. But I have just five that I rely on. In alphabetical order, they are:

    • Adblock: A flexible, powerful ad blocker. I’m not one of those who blocks every ad on every site — but Adblock makes it easy to get rid of the highly offensive stuff with a couple of clicks.
    • Download Statusbar: Probably the most-used extension in my install. Instead of using the Downloads window to manage downloads, this extension shows everything you need to see directly in the status bar. You get a progress meter for each download, and a contextual menu offers further information and option. When you’re done, you can clear the downloads via a simple contextual menu. This extension makes downloading stuff via Firefox a snap.
    • Flashblock: This handy extension turns all Flash content into “click to play” buttons. Instead of being accosted with sound and motion when you visit a site, you get a “Click to play” button. Click it to see the Flash; don’t, and it just sits there while you browse. Perfect.
    • Google Pagerank Status: OK, so I don’t really rely on this one, but it’s kind of fun. Google’s Pagerank is a bit of a black art that they use to evaluate how much weight to give a page in their search results. The higher the number, the more weight you get — the max is 10. This extension shows the currently active site’s Pagerank in the status bar at the bottom of the screen.
    • Web Developer: I’ve discussed this one on macosxhints before, so not a ton of detail here. If you develop web pages, or just want to know more about them, get this extension.

    All of the above extensions are completely free, and there are many, many more useful ones you can browse on the above-linked Extensions page.

  3. Safari: With the release of 10.4, Safari took a huge step forward in terms of performance. Before, if I tried to use it for my daily hints updates, I could bring it to its knees. When I’m updating hints, I open one window showing the submission queue, and then command-click on anywhere from 15 to 20 submissions, one after another, opening each in a new tab. In prior versions of Safari, this could take a really long time, while Firefox didn’t even blink. With the 10.4 version, Safari is now just as fast (and perhaps faster) than Firefox when doing this. Also, there’s a stats page for the site that relies heavily on PNG images and frames, and is served from a secure server. It used to be painfully slow to load and navigate in Safari. No longer; it loads very quickly and the GUI for navigating is very responsive.

I’ve found myself using Safari more than Firefox lately, but I’m still not prepared to call either my favorite. They both have their strengths and weaknesses, and I’m personally just glad both are available.

“But if one were to vanish, which one would you want to be left with?” OK, OK, I’ll name one! If push comes to shove and I’m forced to choose just one browser to use, it would be Firefox. Although the UI still isn’t great and it’s not written in Cocoa, Firefox does have a lightning-fast rendering engine, it renders pages very well, and the availability of hundreds of extensions means that I can pretty much make it do whatever it is I’d like it to do.

So there you have it. In a very, very, very close race, I’d pick Firefox as my favorite browser … of the day :).

16 Comments

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  1. If only OmniWeb, king of preferences and customization, would allow the user to choose between a tab bar and a tab drawer. Better yet, allow a user to switch from one to the other on the fly if one is better suited at the moment than another.

    Safari has really grown on my with 2.0 – its RSS handling is much nicer than Firefox’s, and it is blazing fast (before it tended to beachball a LOT). Looks a lot better if you pop open Interface Builder and change the window from metal to the new unified aqua look. :)

  2. “They both have their strenghts and weaknesses, and I’m personally just glad both are available.”

    Safari’s strenght for me is the built in Cocoa spell checking. ;-) Of course, you can always get an extension to do that in FF.

  3. I love the OmniWeb tabs. For meit’s the main reason for using it. (Well, that and the fact that when it crashes it pops all the open tabs back up on a restart).
    It’s the crashes that are the problem. And the high cpu use even when idle. And the constant beachball.
    Did I mention that it crashes?

  4. I have switched to Safari mainly because I began having serious problems with Firefox and Flash. The browser would slow to an absolute crawl (or beachball) if a site on a tab in the background had an animation on it. In hindsight, I should have looked for an extension to handle Flash like you mention, but instead, I jumped at the opportunity to give Safari a 3rd try.

    It’s now my primary browser, but I still have some major beefs with it. The main one is the use of aqua form and button controls, ignoring the site designer’s CSS. It looks better than other browser’s “generic” form buttons and such, but it’s heinous that it actually ignores when a designer HAS given them styling. As a designer, this pisses me off to NO END.

    And it has a severe memory leak, soaking up to 200MB of memory within 8-10 hours. Plus you have to add an Input Manager in order to get access to your bookmarks with hotkeys in the address bar. All in all, the improvements that came in 2.0 counteracted these negatives enough that I switched. Attacks on Firefox and its security haven’t encouraged me to go back, and Camino is trash.

    Guess I’m still waiting for that perfect browser. :\

  5. Rob, I couldn’t agree more about OmniWeb’s tabs. I simply can’t work their vertical orientation. And honestly (personal opinion) I think the feature that they can be thumbnails is useless.

  6. I used to be a partisan of OmniWeb, but moved to safari because OmniWeb could be maddeningly slow at times. What really pushed me toward Safari has been the maturation of Saft, which provides safari with most of OmniWeb’s most treasured features, not least of which are the saved tab state, the new ability to resort the tabs, and sundry other goodies. Though if OmniWeb could resolve the performance gap, I’d probably go back. They’re both quite good.

  7. An easier question is which browser do you have as a default?

    Firefox was mine for a while under 10.3, but the lack of Services menu support drove me nuts. I love the new RSS feature in Safari 2, and this plus the increased speed is why Safari has become my default browser again.

  8. I still rely on IE to do print previews. I love the ability to change the font size in the preview to make it print correctly. I also prefer to put the web page title, URL, print date, and page number in the header and the footer of IE when printing. I can’t figure out how to do that in Safari

  9. I with most of what everybody already said. Omniweb is nice, but it’s slow, and the tabs on the side are a waste of precious screen realestate. I think it might be nice to use on a machine with 1.2GHz machine with a 15″ (or larger) screen, but on an 800Mhz 12″ iBook Omniweb is mostly useless.

    With the new Safari in Tiger, I switched back. Add the Saft extension for $12 and it makes Safari a much more capable browser. My only complaint is that the auto-complete in the address bar uses the up-arrow and down-arrow to select possible completions instead of the Tab key (which is a LOT easier to reach when touch-typing).

    I absolutely LOVE Firefox on Windows, but I think it sucks on the Mac. It’s a lot slower, for one thing. And it looks kinda goofy. Oh and the scrolling is just weird (not to mention that the scroll wheel doesn’t work). It just seems clunky to me and not like a “Mac app” should be.

    I wish there was one browser that I was 100% happy about but that day isn’t here yet :/

    Ben

  10. In the pre-Safari days, I bounced around between Chimera, Opera, and OmniWeb, using OmniWeb most of all. Once Safari came out, I jumped out that bandwagon for quite a while, but rendering was slow and imperfect, and the program ran slowly on my mac at the time. Once Firefox came of age, I dropped Safari and never looked back. That is, until now.

    With 10.4, I’m back to Safari; not because Safari is necessarly a great browser, but because Firefox is buggy as hell in this OS. It will routinely simply stop working after a couple of hours of on and off browsing. It’s not my machine- I have four macs in my house, all with 10.4 clean installs, and about 10 more Tiger macs at my workplace. They all have this problem, leaving me to rely on Safari.

    On a good note, Safari 2.0 isn’t bad. It’s rather nice. It got much faster, rendering- and resource-wise, and it renders most of the website I frequent very well. Of course, I miss Firefox’s extensions, themes, rendering engine, and speed. I wish they’d fix the damned thing for 10.4!

    Jim

  11. I go back and forth between Camino and Safari. Safari is only marginally superior in its current incarnation (v2.0) although it seems to have more “slap my desk” irritations that pop up from time to time (favicon induced slowdowns, weird scrollbar rendering).

    In the end, I like the little things about Safari like the close button on each tab, the way history and bookmarks are handled (compared to Camino) and that is why it tends to hold a slight lead over Camino right now with me.

    Firefox just feels too “crufty” to me. Omniweb has always struck me as too… hmmm, well, too funky. Opera has too many doodads in its interface and if I’m gonna use Mozilla why not use Firefox. I like my browsers like I like my burgers, lean and simple (actually Shiira is interesting. Very similar to Safari as it uses WebKit but different enough to be intriguing).

  12. Camino for me, too. One big reason is a customizable popup blocker. My bank uses an outside service for online bill pay, which pops up in its own window. To use this in Safari, I have to disable popup blocking, use the site, then remember to re-enable popup blocking.

    I also feel Camino is a bit faster than Safari, though it does use a lot of memory. I block ads and turn on other nifty features with Camino extra preferences.
    http://www.nada.de/mac/camino/cep.html

    Aesthetically speaking, I also think Camino’s GUI is “prettiest”. I especially like it with the unified toolbar look.

  13. Rob, maybe you could do a poll on who likes the vertical tabs in OmniWeb? Myself, I think they’re outstanding. The thumbnails give you a graphical view of what they are. You can drag and drop ’em like crazy (to reorder, or to open a new window). They give clear and easy signals regarding their ‘loading’ status and how to close them. When I’m using Safari or Firefox, and I see these little words on this tiny tab at the top of my window and no close box (in Firefox) and I can’t re-order them, I think, “Wha?!? Back to OmniWeb.” Waste of screen real estate? Vertical real estate is MUCH more valuable than horizontal (which way does one typically scroll?). (Yes, many of these things can be added in FireFox by extension, but, they’re already there in OmniWeb without.) (And no, I don’t work for OmniGroup.)

    And, don’t get me started on how useful it is to click a “+” icon to fold out a great big window for editing text.

    Finally, Safari, how hard is it to set it up so that when I open a new tab, it goes to my home page? What’s so useful about opening a new tab to a blank page? If I liked blank pages (e.g., because they don’t need to load), wouldn’t THAT be my home page?

    Vic

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