The Ultimate Mac Browser Roundup

If any one application is near and dear to almost every Mac users heart, it is the web browser. With more applications becoming web based, and web applications becoming more complicated, the browser’s appearance, feel, and most of all performance become even more important. 2008 has been a big year for web browsers, with Firefox 3, Safari 3.1, and several massive improvements in javascript performance. 2009 is poised to be even more impressive in browser achievements, with new versions of most browsers in the works, and the promise of a new player with a big impact, Google Chrome.

Each browser was run through the industry standard Acid3 and SunSpider tests.

If you are looking for choice, performance, feel, or appearance, at least one of the 16 browsers below should fit the bill.

Webkit Browsers

Safari: Apple’s default web browser, Safari is the most popular browser in the Mac market, and for good reason. Safari is elegant, fast, and integrates deeply into the Mac environment. As great as Safari is though, there is always room for improvement. My biggest gripe with Safari, and I’ll admit it is a small one, is how it handles the contextual menu search. If I highlight a word, CMD-Click and select “Search with Google”, Safari should open a tab in the background with the search in it. Right now what Safari does is replace the tab I’m reading with the search. If there’s a hidden preference for this somewhere, someone please point it out to me.
Acid 3 Score: 75/100
SunSpider Total: 3609.2ms

Omniweb: The Omni Group’s venerable web browser OmniWeb is the only one on this list that is not available for free. OmniWeb sells for a list price of $15. OmniWeb is packed with features, and integrates just as well as Safari does into the Mac. OmniWeb’s distinctive tabs, which are really thumbnails in a drawer, make the interface stand out from the crowd.
Acid 3 Score: 75/100
SunSpider Total: 3745.4ms

iCab: Another ancient web browser, I was very surprised to see iCab updated. iCab is fast, but it also has a few annoying characteristics. For one, unless you donate to the developer, you get a window that appears every time it’s launched. Also, iCab uses very non-standard buttons in its toolbar.
Acid 3 Score: 75/100
SunSpider Total: 3727.0ms

Shiira: The browser from the Land of the Rising Sun, Shiira aims to be “better and more useful than Safari,” and attempts this by adding a few interesting features. It creates large screenshot tabs at the bottom of the window, similar to OmniWeb. I found them rather obtrusive there, but they are customizable in the preferences. Its “Tab Expose” feature is nice, as are the HUD windows for bookmarks and history. Sadly, it seems that Shiira may be abandonware, as there have been no updates since January, and there are rumors of the projects death in the forums.
Acid 3 Score: 74/100
SunSpider Total: 3571.4ms

Sunrise: Sunrise uses a URL field to both search and enter addresses, which I think is a great idea. I’m not sure if Google thought that up with Chrome first or not, but I think from a usability standpoint it’s excellent. Bookmarks are a little different in Sunrise as well. It takes a screenshot of the web page to bookmark, and then instead of a standard menu there is a list of the screenshots that slides out from the right hand side. Interesting, but I’m not sold on how useful this is. If there are only a few bookmarks, then I suppose this would work well, but I doubt this could scale very far.
Acid 3 Score: 75/100
SunSpider Total: 3558.0ms

Cruz: Cruz is a very early attempt to blend the best of Firefox and Safari into a webkit based browser. As a 0.1 release, its more of a proof of concept than a usable everyday browser, but it does seem like it has some promise.
Acid 3 Score: 75/100
SunSpider Total: 3556.4ms

Stainless: Another “proof of concept” browser, Stainless is an attempt to clone Google Chrome for OS X. The developers describe Stainless as a “technology demo,” and advise that it is not for every day use. The main feature of this browser is that each tab is an independent process, so a web page could crash the tab, but the application could keep running.
Acid 3 Score: 75/100
SunSpider Total: 3630.4ms

AOL: Wow, this was a blast from the past! AOL still has the familiar “You’ve got mail!” voice from years past. The browser portion of AOL looks to be based on webkit, and seems quick and usable. The only item I find incomprehensible with the AOL for Mac desktop is the tab bar at the top of the screen, which really equates to a series of bookmarks that take up a whole lot of screen real estate for very little functionality.
Acid 3 Score: 75/100
SunSpider Total: 3551.4ms

Gecko Browsers

Firefox: The other big dog in the Mac browser market besides Safari, Firefox has all the speed of Safari along with its famous extensions that can add a ton of functionality. Firefox on the Mac feels much more at home than previous versions have, and is a serious contender for the browser crown.
Acid 3 Score: 71/100
SunSpider Total: 3389.0ms

Flock: You’ve got at least one blog, a Facebook account, photos on Flickr, videos on Youtube, and you are on on Twitter 24/7. If this is you, Flock is your browser. Flock is built from the ground up to integrate into the social web. Flock has several features that make it easer to stay connected. Unfortunately, it also has a user interface that makes it easer to stay distracted too.
Acid 3 Score: 75/100
SunSpider Total: 3419.4ms

Camino: It used to be brisk, baby! Camino is the older Gecko engine from Firefox built into a Mac browser. Camino seems to have fallen behind the development curve lately, but it still sports a clean interface and proper Mac integration. With Firefox’s new and improved Mac port, I’m not sure we will see too much more from Camino.
Acid 3 Score: 53/100
SunSpider Total: 11683.4ms

The Odd Man Out

Opera: Opera’s user interface takes some getting used to, with the tabs on top and the controls on the bottom. However, once the mind set of each tab being completely separate is achieved, it makes a lot of sense. Opera mimics the functionality of the older Mozilla browser, including not only a web browser, but a mail client, and RSS feed reader, a widget rendering engine, and a sink from either the kitchen or bathroom, I’m not sure. Even with all the extra ability, Opera seems quite brisk and responsive. Opera is also the only browser that doesn’t include either the Webkit or Gecko rendering engines. Opera builds its own, named Presto. Opera is a good browser, but it’s a port to the Mac, and unfortunately, that’s what it feels like… a port.
Acid 3 Score: 85/100
SunSpider Total: 6740.0


WebKit Nightly: Wow. I mean that… the latest WebKit nightly are incredibly fast. Safari and the rest of the WebKit gang have a lot of goodness to look forward to. I’ve started using WebKit as my main browser for now, essentially getting the next version of Safari before it’s actually released.
Acid 3 Score: 100/100
SunSpider Total: 956.8ms

Firefox 3.1 beta: Not as impressive as I’d hoped it would be. The latest Firefox beta seemed a little sluggish during my limited testing of it.
Acid 3 Score: 93/100
SunSpider Total: 1655.8ms

Opera 10 Alpha: Another good port from Opera. Alpha quality software for now, should be interesting when released. Opera recently hired John Hicks from Hicks Design to head up their user interface, so maybe we can expect a little better Mac integration in the future. I’d be all for fewer features and being a better Mac citizen.
Acid 3 Score: 100/100
SunSpider Total: 5507.2ms

CrossOver Chromium: OK, speaking of ports… I threw this one in because I’m so anxiously waiting for Chrome to be released on the Mac. I use the Windows version at work on XP, and it beats the pants off of everything else. There are no features, there are no add-ons or extensions, there’s just a amazingly fast browser that does one thing and does it very well. This is actually an emulated Windows Chrome running in a special version of Wine from the guys at CodeWeavers. Even with the emulation, Chrome performed very well. When Chrome is released for OS X, it will change the browser market.
Acid 3 Score: 73/100
SunSpider Total: 1527.0ms