Choosing a browser to use on a Mac used to be simple, but it’s not any more.
Once upon a time, Netscape was the obvious choice. As its star faded, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer became my browser of choice, and not just because it was the default browser on Mac OS for a period. I didn’t get on with the Windows versions until quite recently, but at that stage you were hard pressed to find anything better for the Mac.
Then Apple released Safari, and it has been my primary browser ever since. But compatibility issues would show up from time to time, so it was my practice to keep Firefox, Camino (a Mozilla based browser that gives a more ‘Mac native’ experience than Firefox) and more recently Chrome installed and up to date on my main Mac.
But now Camino is probably on its last legs, thanks to Mozilla’s decision to drop support for Gecko embedding - the feature that made it possible for browsers like Camino to use the Gecko rendering engine. Camino’s not going to break overnight, but the writing is on the wall, and I’ve learned the hard way that once the end of the road is in sight, it’s time to move in a new direction.
So what’s wrong with Safari? Up to and including version 5.0, not a lot as far as I was concerned - apart from a minor but crucial incompatibility with a certain web application I’m required to use as part of my work. My practice, therefore, was to use Safari for routine browsing and Camino for that web application.
Then Safari 5.1 arrived, and in comparison with its predecessors it’s a dog. There are three main problems. The first is that pages load relatively slowly. The second is that when I switch between tabs there’s a good chance that the window will go blank while the content reloads, often slowly. The third is the all too frequent message that a page in one of the tabs has stopped responding, so all tabs must be reloaded. Oh, and the incompatibility with that web application still remains.
So do I use Firefox or Chrome? Chrome is fast and presents that web application correctly. It also uses the Mac OS X Keychain, so all my previously stored credentials are immediately accessible. But I can’t find an equivalent of the ClickToPlugin extension for Safari that stops Flash and various other types of media content from loading and playing automatically, yet activates a desired piece of content with a click.
Chrome itself can be set to completely block all plug-in content, but that’s not what I need, and the FlashBlock and Flash Control extensions aren’t as flexible as ClickToPlugin.
While Firefox has some very useful extensions and good compatibility, it lacks support for various Mac technologies, in particular the Keychain and the spellchecker. I know Firefox has its own spellchecker, but I already need to add words to the Mac’s and Microsoft Word’s user dictionaries, so I can do without having another one to maintain.
And neither Safari nor Chrome seems able to flag an RSS bookmark with the number of unread items, a feature I rely on in Safari.
So what should I do? I’m hoping that the next release of Safari will eliminate my issues with 5.1 and that it will stop behaving like a memory-constrained smartphone browser. For now, I’m inclined to relegate Safari to the role of an RSS reader, and use Chrome (with a Flash blocker) for most other work. But is really asking too much to ask for one browser to do everything?
One good thing came from my attempts to move to a different browser: it prompted me to finally get round to trying the Xmarks http://www.xmarks.com/ bookmark synchronisation service. If nothing else, I now have a consistent set of bookmarks across all browsers on all my computers.