Mac users have never been so spoilt for choice with web browsers and it’s a good thing too, because your browser is the one application which you probably use the most. The OS X internet browser landscape has fluctuated somewhat in recent years with Google Chrome continuing to steal market share, while Firefox’s new release schedule has seen Mozilla gain ground in the race for speed and flexibility. Finally, the changes made in Safari for OS X Lion show that Apple is still very much committed to making sure their own browser remains competitive.
Below we take an updated look at each of these options and a few wildcard alternatives too, in an attempt to see what it is that each web browser brings to the table.
For a long time, the first choice for those not wishing to use Safari, Firefox lost significant market share to newcomer Google Chrome and was seen to stagnate somewhat. Mozilla seem to have taken note of this however and, after a period of adjustment to the new Gecko layout engine, have hit back with some big changes in an effort to once again give Firefox great speed, while retaining the features which has made it one of the most successful web browsers to date.
Though it hasn’t quite caught up to Chrome speed-wise, Firefox now comes close enough to be competitive and loading web pages is not a painful experience when moving from one to another. Of course, swiftness is not everything and Firefox offers far more customisability than any other mainstream Mac web browser, enabling power users to tweak it to their exact specifications.
Best Point: Unparalleled flexibility
Worst Point: Cannot match speed of Chrome
If there is one thing which Google know a lot about, it’s the Internet. It’s no surprise that when turning their hands to web browsing, a fantastic application which bears all the hallmarks of a great Google product has resulted. A beautiful minimalist UI, functioning extensions and commitment to constant improvement all make Chrome a force to be reckoned with.
If you’ve never used Chrome before, one thing is immediately apparent; Chrome is fast. Websites load with remarkable speed and the strong library of extensions mean it’s no slouch with extensions either. However, for those who have privacy concerns and feel uncomfortable with a powerful corporation having access to so much personal data, Google’s patchy record on privacy may negate any such great features.
Best Point: Incredible speed
Worst Point: Privacy concerns
Apple’s own web browser has always been popular with OS X users due to its speed, stability and beautifully designed minimalist user interface, but it seemed to suffer slightly in the wake of the swift rise of Google Chrome (which shares Safari’s rendering engine, Webkit). However, a recent update has brought some well considered tweaks and features, especially to OS X Lion users, such as the Reading List, Fullscreen and increased gesture support. In addition, there seems to be a return to the perceived stability and speed which was lost with the introduction of extensions.
Despite being a long Firefox loyalist, Apple have, temporarily at least, won this user back to Safari due to its good overall compromise and excellent features, in addition to the OS X Lion gestures which it now makes use of.
Best Point: Seamless OS X integration
Worst Point: Fewer extensions than competitors
Long consigned to life as the “other” web browser which most people didn’t use, Opera has increased its user base significantly with its speed, stability and increasing standards-compliance. But perhaps it is the non-typical approach by which Opera approaches web browsing which wins its loyal support.
Opera’s clever approach to passwords and its ability to run widgets or check email may not be particularly striking, but the browser is capable of much more; downloading torrents, making use of a very impressive server-side compression engine ‘Turbo’ to speed up slow connections and extensive gestures support – all combining to make Opera the choice for web-savvy Mac users looking for something different.
Best Point: Unique approach
Worst Point: Still less standards-compliant than major competitors
Considering PowerPC users may have bought their machines as recently as 2005 and that the higher-spec models are often still very powerful and capable computers, the dropping of PPC support by Firefox was understandably seen as an upsetting development for users of PPC Macs. Luckily, up stepped TenFourFox: a project with a commitment to producing PPC-compatible versions of the latest Firefox build, in a package which will work for those still using that architecture. There is no need to delve into TenFourFox’s features here as they almost mirror that of Firefox 6, just rest assured that it’s a great browser for your PPC Mac!
Best Point: Brings the power of FF6 to PPC
Worst Point: Dependent on the work of smaller third party developers
I admit that the inclusion of Lynxlet may be seen as pointless, but don’t be too hasty to write this text-only browser off as a gimmick just yet.
For those of us who love to tinker in the command line but don’t want the hassle of launching Terminal, Lynxlet provides a clickable icon to launch the command-line Lynx web browser. Since it is text-only, pages load very quickly even on slow connections and it is also a very secure browser, owing to the lack of plugins for hackers to exploit.
Not to forget that Lynxlet looks so technical, that anybody who’s not computer savvy taking a looking over your shoulder in the library will assume you are working hard at programming rather than surfing the Internet.
Best Point: Fast, retro fun
Worst Point: Unsuitable for the vast majority of Internet users
The Camino browser was originally launched in an effort to make Firefox more ‘Mac OS X-like’ and made impressive strides as a lightweight, stable and swift browser – indeed Camino is the often the first browser which springs to mind when thinking of Mac web browsers. Camino is written with Cocoa which basically means that it is more integrated than most web browsers, working with OSX’s built-in dictionary and Keychain.
Unfortunately, the community-driven project has suffered slightly from Firefox’s dropping support of Gecko embedding and it faces an uncertain future, as outlined in the Camino Blog
Best Point: Lightweight, visually pleasing
Worst Point: Future of project uncertain
The Best Of The Rest
RockMelt is a social network orientated web browser based upon Chromium. Though still quite young in its development, it’s already proving very popular and has gained positive reviews.
iCab sports one thing not often seen in a web browser; a purchase price. Despite this apparent stumbling block, the shareware browser has many fans and has a commendable habit of offering support to older machines and operating systems.
Previously covered here on this site, Iron browser purports to be a safe, secure and privacy-respecting alternative to Google Chrome.
By their very nature, browser roundups go out of date quickly and each version brings more features, speed or bloat but hopefully this brief look at most of the mainstream choices of Mac browser (and some lesser known) will leave you better armed to make an informed choice for your browser without going through the hassle of individually testing each and every one. Have I missed out anyone’s favourite? Please let us know in the comments if there’s any other browsers which you feel are worth looking at.