OmniWeb 5

For the past year I’ve been dithering between Camino, Safari and Firebird as my default browser on OSX, unable to settle with one. They’re all really good, but each one has something that niggles me or leaves me wanting. In Camino its the lack of autofill and its centered tabbed browsing. In Safari, it’s the lack of toolbar customisability, its icons and non-configurable pop-up blocking. Firebird is the one that comes damn close, but at the end of the day, its not a cocoa app, so no native form widgets and (more importantly) I can’t use the funk in the services menu like ‘subscribe in NetNewsWire’ or ‘Encode into HTML’ (Character Convertor).

One other browser that I’ve been really impressed with was Omniweb 4.5. Its heavily laden with features, but that doesn’t seem to slow it down. It now uses the WebCore Framework (Safari’s rendering engine), so its CSS and Javascript problems are in the past. One of my favourite features is its form editor. Everytime you come across a textfield, you’ll see a small icon the scrollbar -click that and a larger editing window zooms out. This is particularly useful when fiddling with MovableType templates. I’m not keen on OW’s back/forward/stop toolbar icons, but that can be changed. The real drawback was the lack of tabbed browsing. Why pay $30 for a browser, when all the free ones supply this important feature? So I’ve been waiting for news of the next version, in which the Omni Group promised to bring in Tabs.

Finally, details have been released of Omniweb 5, but I couldn’t help give a huge sigh of disappointment (and feel a little angry) when I saw how they were going to implement tabs. The Omniweb way is going to be a side drawer with thumbnails of each site. If you’ve ever opened a multi-page PDF in Apple Preview, you’ll have an idea of how this will look.

This seems a very odd move. For a start, its screen-hungry. It might not be too bad on a widescreen PowerBook, but on normal proportion monitors it looks as if it’ll steal far too much space. Also, if there are more thumbnails than there is space for, you need to scroll down and then select one. Traditional tabs mean that everything is just one, easy click away. They obviously felt the need to be different – now that it uses the safari rendering engine, they have to work harder to convince users to buy something they effectively already have.

There are some interesting new features, such as an in-built RSS reader and ‘workspaces’ which allow you to save a set of tabs. There’s a google search box to compete with the others – but they’ve also included an interface to add your own search engines. (Safari and Camino require fiddling to do this, while Firebird has a wide selection of add-ons available from Mozdev’s Mycroft). The new page marker feature looks like Safari’s ‘snapback’ in all but name, but the ability to save preferences for each site (pop-ups, text size etc) looks handy. It all looks really promising, with just the tab-thumbnails dampening my enthusiasm.

Having said that, I’m slowly starting to come around to this new approach to tabbed browsing. When the public beta becomes available in February, I’m going to be eager to try it out.

Update: If you want to see how the new tabs work, have a look at this movie. This shows that you can view sites as a list, rather than thumbnails, as well as resize the thumbnails.

Update II: Omniweb 5 was previewed at the MacWorld Expo in San Francisco this week, and Your Mac Life have a video interview with David Kasprzyk from the OminGroup. The video shows that it has the ability to resize the tab thumbnails, from huge to tiny. Looks even more promising….

YML at MWSF – Omniweb 5 Movie