Too good to ignore: 6 alternative browsers

Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari lead the market, but there are other browsers out there for PC and Mac users. Which are better?

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OmniWeb 5.8

Apple logo

OmniWeb has been around longer than Mac OS X, dating back to the NeXT platform of the 1990s. Throughout its history, OmniWeb has always been an excellent citizen of technologies specific to the NeXT -- and later, OS X -- platform, and the polish shows through in even minor details.

Even though OmniWeb was one of the first native browsers to grace OS X, with an interface that has remained top-notch, it has faced rivals such as Firefox and Camino that are powered by speedy Gecko-based rendering engines -- not to mention Apple's own Safari browser, which has been integrated with OS X since 2003. That's kept OmniWeb's browser share limited to a fairly small audience. However, the advances seen in OmniWeb since its rendering engine revamp in 2004 may mean it's time for surfers to give this browser another serious look.

OmniWeb, now at Version 5.8, is easily one of the best examples of a properly implemented interface on the Mac today. The Omni Group has always taken care to make sure that its products feel like native Mac applications instead of ports from other platforms, and the attention to detail makes using OmniWeb a joy.

Some of OmniWeb's best features include extensive (if not zealous) ad-blocking, auto-saved Web browsing sessions and site-specific preferences. From the unique tab drawer -- more on this later -- to support for browsing Web pages using OS X's built-in Speech Recognition, OmniWeb's embrace of Mac-specific technologies wrapped in a clean and uncluttered interface makes the product a delightful browser alternative.

It renders Web pages quickly, easily on par with the fastest of the competition, right up there with Safari and Firefox. That's significant because rendering speeds used to be a major source of disappointment, something that changed with Omni Group's embrace of Apple's own open-source WebKit frameworks. WebKit is used by Apple itself in several of its software packages -- Mail, Safari and Dashboard, to name a few -- and the Omni Group's adoption of this technology allowed it to focus on designing an elegant user interface instead of worrying about updating its rendering engine with every new Web standard.

Among the interface niceties is the aforementioned tab drawer. Instead of offering up a layout like its competitors -- with small tabs displayed horizontally near the address field -- OmniWeb shows a resizable window pane attached to the browser. The pane, which can be displayed on the right or left side of the main browser window, previews tabs as mini-Web pages rendered in real time. The real-time page rendering allows you to skip on to other sites when one is loading slowly, while still keeping an eye on the site's progress.

Alternate browsers

OmniWeb may be the most properly implemented interface on the Mac.

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OmniWeb's user experience is top-notch and Mac-like -- something that can't be said about competitors like Firefox -- but that experience comes at a price. At a time when most Web browsers are free, a license for OmniWeb 5.8 costs $14.95, while an upgrade license from earlier versions costs $4.95.

Even if you don't want to pay for a browser, I still recommend downloading the software and taking it for a free 30-day test run. The thought of paying for a browser probably won't sit well with those accustomed to free alternatives -- especially since the alternatives themselves are good -- but after using OmniWeb for a few days, you might decide it's worth the price.

-- Mike DeAgonia

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