Quite 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:
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.
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.
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 :).