2007-07-31

Review: Camino

Okay, so this isn't really a review. I'm not going to list all the features, measure performance, and make up a score out of ten or anything like that. Basically, all I have to say is "if you're using Mac OS, Camino should be your web browser".

I'll elaborate a little though, because you might well ask why I'm wasting my time like this. This post, which takes you but a minute or two to read (even assuming you don't skip over it) will take me at least an hour to write. But I've been surprised recently to find that other Mac users I know, despite being men and women of sophistication, aren't using Camino. They're generally using Safari or Firefox.

Safari is okay. It's not the worst browser ever. IE for Mac OS X probably holds that title, and I for one am grateful that's it's dead. Safari's interface is Mac like, it has a few nice features, and little touches like the combined Stop/Reload button are classy, and I'll tell you the truth and admit that although I was a staunch Camino user until Mac OS 10.4 and whatever version of Safari shipped with that, 10.4's Safari was good enough, and Camino at the time was stagnant enough, that I didn't bother installing Camino on my new Mac OS 10.4 system. Safari was no longer a buggy crash-prone piece of junk that didn't render the few sites I care about very well. It was "an okay browser".

The trouble with Safari is that it's quite hard to say anything positive about it. Whereas Firefox on Linux (or even Windows) is a pretty sweet browser. I've suffered enough unfinished Apple software to have avoided Safari 3 so far, so for my money Firefox has the best in-page search. It's annoying that it can't highlight by default (like Evergreen or Terminator, but it's still way better than crappy dialog-based search. Plus Firefox really has no competition. I'm not going to run a KDE app, I'm not going to pay for a browser, and I've yet to understand the purpose of Epiphany. I don't know what its "gimmick" is, and the fact that even after years of reading Slashdot I can't sum up the point of Epiphany in one sentence suggests to me that there is no point.

If you try Firefox on Mac OS, though, you're in for a disappointment. For one thing, it looks like shite. I know Firefox looks a little bit odd everywhere, but it doesn't really stand out anywhere but Mac OS. But on Mac OS, you may as well be running it on Linux and displaying it via X11.app, so wrong does it look and so strange does it feel. Plus it crashes. I'd almost forgotten that browsers used to crash, but Firefox on Mac OS would crash regularly for me. I'd know it was coming because I'd start to see empty tool tips being left around, and Firefox's ability to restore the pre-crash session eased the pain, but still... I started to wonder why I kept punching myself in the nuts. There were various lesser irritations too. I actually think the final straw for me was the way Firefox on Mac OS would open new windows so that the status bar would be off-screen.

That, and the release of Camino 1.5, which happily coincided with my decision to give up on Firefox on Mac OS.

I'll tell you the bad news up front: Camino doesn't have decent in-page searching. It's the crappy dialog again. And the bookmarks icon (the need for which escapes me completely) still looks as bad as it did in 2002 when we were refugees from Mac IE. But everything else looks and feels beautiful. Camino also feels very fast, though I've done no objective measurements.

The best part, though, is the "Web Features" section of the preferences dialog. This is what all web browsers would be like if they weren't funded by kick-backs from advertisers. (Ironic, then, that as I understand it, Camino's main developer works on it in his "20% time" at the biggest web advertiser of them all.) I'm told that the intertubes are festooned with adverts these days, somewhat like the countryside in the film "Brazil". But all I see is countryside, thanks to Camino. "Block web advertising". Yes, please. "Block pop-up windows". Well, of course! "Prevent sites from changing, moving or resizing windows". Thank you. "Block Flash animations". An excellent idea. "Play animated images only once". You took the words right out of my mouth!

I know that I can install Firefox's FlashBlock extension, and I can set "image.animation_mode" to "once" (or even "none"), but what kind of user experience is that? A web browser that respects its user more than advertisers should ship with this stuff, and make it trivially easy for me to opt in or out (and, perhaps most importantly, make it obvious that I have a choice).

If Camino had better in-page find, I wouldn't have to equivocate. Even as it is, it's still my recommendation for Mac web browsing.