Living Without Safari Week 2: OmniWeb

by , 9:00 AM EDT, March 14th, 2007

Spending a week without Safari and exclusively in a different Web browser is kind of like visiting someplace you've never been before - you never know what surprises are waiting around the next corner. Lucky for me, the surprises waiting in OmniWeb town were happy and nice and kick-in-the-shins free.

Last week I used only Firefox, and this week, it's OmniWeb. Next week is Opera, and thanks to the overwhelming number or requests for Camino, that's now on my list, too.

Week 2: OmniWeb 5.5.4
OmniWeb from The Omni Group is about the only Web browser for the Mac that you have to pay for. It costs US$14.95, and it is available as a download from The Omni Group's Web site.

If you are interested in seeing what else I have to say about OmniWeb, check out my review from January.

The Omni Group's OmniWeb

Impressions Like Safari and Firefox, OmniWeb sports tabbed browsing and pop-up blocking which are essential features when I'm surfing the Web. The tabs in OmniWeb, however, offer a unique twist: They all sit in a drawer off the side of the application window, and each site is represented by a live-updating thumbnail.

It's amazingly easy to keep track of several Web sites through the thumbnails. Every time a site is updated with new information, OmniWeb adds a green check to its thumbnail as a visual queue to the changes.

The thumbnail drawer works great - unless you have lots of Web pages open. I may have 20 or more pages open at any time, which is just way too many to keep track of with thumbnail images. Sure, you can scroll through the list, but I found that to be cumbersome and at times it was difficult to find just the tab I wanted.

After I switched to the name-only view for tabs, it was much easier for me to find exactly the one I wanted. Hovering over a tab revealed the full site name and URL, which was handy when a site name was cut off. I also appreciated that I could reorder tabs by dragging them, just as you can in Firefox. Sadly, this feature is missing from Safari.

One feature I would love to see in OmniWeb is the ability to color code tabs. That would add a great visual reference to help organize the slew of tabs I keep open. For example, I would use one color to denote the administrative sites I use for The Mac Observer and Another color would signify other sites I reference throughout the day, like Apple, Adobe, and Quark. Personal sites for friends and colleagues would get their own color, too.

Keyboard shortcuts were easy to use, and didn't require me to click first and then invoke a shortcut. I'm all about saving time and being efficient when I'm at my Mac, and I really felt like OmniWeb helped me out instead of getting in my way.

I had no qualms with Web page rendering times, and OmniWeb was stable all week long. OmniWeb also had that "made for a Mac" fluid feel that Firefox was lacking. Actually, I'll go so far as to say OmniWeb felt more Mac-like to me than Safari.

Processor usage was reasonable, too. When in the background, OmniWeb usually dropped to zero CPU usage, and rarely jumped over 10 percent when it was the foreground application.

Web site compatibility wasn't an issue for me. Every site I use opened and rendered correctly, and even a couple of sites that render incorrectly in Safari look right in OmniWeb.

I'm not, however, a big fan of OmniWeb's site marking feature. In OmniWeb, you can mark any page and then jump back to it later. Safari's snap-back feature automatically marks pages for you, and is smart enough to jump back to the last page you were viewing in a Google search - a much better implementation.

Other notable features: OmniWeb has a fantastic built-in spell checking feature that proved itself over and again when I was filling out online forms and writing in online forums. It also includes a "workspace" feature that lets you build custom browser window sets that include tabs pre-loaded with specific sites, and the ability to set per-site preferences. You can, for example, increase the type size on a site that displays text at an insanely small size, and OmniWeb will dutifully bump up the type size every time you return to that page.

The Verdict OmniWeb takes all the Web browser-y goodness I want in an application and rolls it into one neat little package. It is easy on your Mac's processor, renders quickly and reliably, and it has the feel of a well-designed application coded by people that get what the Mac and Mac OS X are all about.

The tabs-in-a-drawer feature is much more usable than any other browser tab implementation I've tried so far, but that doesn't necessarily mean it is the best implementation out there. Like peas and carrots, some people prefer the flavor while others don't. Some people prefer the more traditional-style tabbed interface that Safari and Firefox offer. Call me a peas and carrots kind of guy - I just happen to like it.

OmniWeb does pretty much everything I need in a Web browser - save for the tab color labels and not-to-my-liking implementation of the site marking feature. As of now, I am seriously considering dumping Safari in favor of OmniWeb. Really.

Next week: Opera

Interested in the other Web browsers in the Living Without Safari series? Here you go: