10 Mac Browsers Compared

This article aims to show which Mac browsers are best, in terms of stability, speed, general features, and compatibility.

This article was superceded by 11 Mac Browsers Compared on 2008.09.03.

I have always had an interest in web browsers for Mac OS X. Since the demise of the Mac verison of Internet Explorer (IE) in 2001, nothing has really taken its place. While Internet Explorer 5.2.3 still works okay, not being updated it lacks support for today’s standards and features. Firefox is close on its tail, but stubborn web developers still lazily code only for Internet Explorer for Windows.

Here’s how I did my test: I updated all browsers to the very latest revision, closed all other apps, and set the homepage to www.google.co.uk with no other fancy add-ons or trimmings. I even logged all browsers out of my iGoogle page to ensure it was as basic as possible.

The test machine was my Intel iMac 1.83 GHz with 2 GB of RAM running Mac OS X 10.5.3 Leopard, and the time shown for each browser was from when I first clicked the icon in the dock until Google finished loading.

  1. Internet Explorer 5.2.3
  2. Opera 9.25

WebKit Browsers

  1. Safari 3.1.1
  2. Shiira 2.2
  3. iCab 4.1.1
  4. Radon 1.02

Mozilla Browsers

  1. Firefox 3.0
  2. Netscape Navigator 9.0.0.5
  3. Flock 1.1.2
  4. Camino 1.6.1

Internet Explorer 5.2.3 2 out of 4

Time to Load Application & Homepage: 5.2 seconds

Microsoft stopped development of Internet Explorer for Mac in 2001. In 2006 they removed the download from their site altogether. It was superb in its day, but now it lacks some of the newer features of recent browsers. It doesn’t have tabbed browsing or remember passwords, and it has trouble rendering some pages.

It didn’t perform very well in the speed test, and it was the slowest browser loading Google – but after that who knows how fast pages will load and whether they will look as they should.

Rating: Speed 9/10. Stability: 7/10. Compatibility: 5/10 Features: 4/10. Overall 5/10. (2 LEMs)

Opera 9.25 3 and a half out of 4

Time to Load Application & Homepage: 1.4 seconds

I gave Opera another try and was pleasantly surprised. The latest version has superb speed and much better compatibility, but it still has a long way to go. Like Safari, you have to manually enter the HTML rather than using the WYSIWYG editor in eBay.

I have been using it for a little while but need to subject it to the same tests as the other browsers.

Rating: Speed 10/10. Stability: 9/10. Compatibility: 7/10 Features: 8/10. Overall 9/10. (3-1/2 LEMs)

WebKit Browsers

Safari 3.1.1 3 and a half out of 4

Time to Load Application & Homepage: 1.2 seconds

Safari has been my chosen browser for a few months now, and I am pretty happy with it. It is immensely fast and rock solid. I have tried both Safari 1 and Safari 2 and was very disappointed in them, but Safari 3 – even though it is still in beta in Tiger – has changed my view of the Apple browser. It has some standard features, such as tabbed browsing, remembering your username and password, and autocomplete in the address bar.

One bad point is that when using eBay to list an item for sale, you have to manually enter the HTML rather than using eBay’s WYSIWYG editor. Another bad point: occasionally it will fail to load pages that other browsers have no problem with, but this seems to be random.

Rating: Speed 9/10. Stability: 9/10. Compatibility: 8/10 Features: 8/10. Overall 9/10. (3-1/2 LEMs)

Shiira 2.2 2 out of 4

Time to Load Application & Homepage: 1.4 seconds

Shiira is built around the Safari engine, and version 1.2.2 wasn’t too bad. However version 2.2 isn’t too great. I assume it is still based around Safari 2.0, whereas Apple has moved to Safari 3.0. You can tell the difference. It is a little slower all around than Safari, and when I was trying it, it was very unstable. In the 30 minutes I was trying it, it crashed 9 times.

I gave up on it. It’s a nice looking browser with a few different features, like the preview of each page instead of just tabs (although you can enable tabs if you want), but the developers really need to work on stability.

Rating: Speed 8/10. Stability: 4/10. Compatibility: 8/10 Features: 7/10. Overall 6/10. (2 LEMs)

iCab 4.1.1 3 out of 4

Time to Load Application & Homepage: 0.7 seconds

I haven’t had too much experience with iCab. I stumbled across it recently when looking for an OS 9 browser. Besides the OS X version, they are one of the last developers to still write OS 9 software, and a fairly up-to-date version (3.0.5) is available.

The OS X version was the fastest in the speed tests at under a second to load the app and Google. This will be my new “tryout” browser, to give it a good run.

Rating: Speed 10/10. Stability: 8/10. Compatibility: 9/10 Features: 8/10. Overall 8/10. (3 LEMs)

Radon 1.02 2 and a half out of 4

Time to Load Application & Homepage: 1.8 seconds

A new boy in the Mac browser world, Radon is a lightweight browser. It is still in its early days, but it looks very promising.

It is a very fast browser – even on older machines. It has no fancy add-ons, but it also lacks essentials, such as bookmarks and tabs. I think this is deliberate to keep the speed up.

Rating: Speed 10/10. Stability: 9/10. Compatibility: 8/10 Features: 3/10. Overall 7/10. (2-1/2 LEMs)

Mozilla Browsers

Firefox 3.0 3 and a half out of 4

Time to Load Application & Homepage: 2.4 seconds

Everybody knows Firefox. It is fast becoming a serious contender against Internet Explorer. It is also a good word for the open source community and a brilliant browser that is hard to beat. Even on Windows it had features over a year before Internet Explorer caught up (like tabbed browsing and proper PNG transparencies). It’s fast and very stable.

My wife uses it all the time, and I have had no complaints from her. The speed is very good. It’s not as streamlined as Safari or Camino, but it is a very nice and very stable browser. Version 3 is a vast improvement over version 2, and it looks to be a very promising browser.

Rating: Speed 9/10. Stability: 9/10. Compatibility: 9/10 Features: 8/10. Overall 9/10. (3-1/2 LEMs)

Netscape Navigator 9.0.0.5 3 out of 4

Time to Load Application & Homepage: 4.4 seconds

Netscape Navigator used to be a top dog in the browser world, but Internet Explorer trounced it and almost pushed it out completely. Netscape tried to release Navigator as a commercial browser, but it never really worked.

Netscape Navigator has been out of the Mac OS X world for a while, but it’s now rebuilt using the Gecko engine (the one behind Firefox).

Navigator is a nice browser, but it did not fare very well in my loading test, being the second slowest. Loading pages was a little slow, and although I didn’t test it with a number of tabs, I got the general feeling it wouldn’t cope with too many of them.

Rating: Speed 7/10. Stability: 8/10. Compatibility: 9/10 Features: 8/10. Overall 8/10. (3 LEMs)

Flock 1.1.2 3 out of 4

Time to Load Application & Homepage: 3.1 seconds

I used Flock for a long time; it has some superb features above other browsers. It is actually labelled as a “social browser”, as you access your Photobucket and Blogger accounts (as well others) directly from the browser window rather than loading their respective pages.

It is a little slow and sluggish, and with a few tabs open it really slows down and occasionally quits unexpectedly. The newer versions have increased the speed and stability.

Flock is a great browser for the extra “social” features it offer, but you need a fast machine to properly take advantage of them.

Rating: Speed 6/10. Stability: 8/10. Compatibility: 9/10 Features: 10/10. Overall 8/10. (3 LEMs)

Camino 1.6.1 3 and a half out of 4

Time to Load Application & Homepage: 0.9 seconds

Camino is another offering from the Mozilla crowd, but this time only for Mac OS X. It is a fairly simple and clean looking browser, which has the usual tabs and remembers password.

The biggest trick up its sleeve is its speed – even on older G3 machines. It is amazingly quick, and even with a number of tabs open it still handles very well.

Rating: Speed 10/10. Stability: 9/10. Compatibility: 9/10 Features: 8/10. Overall 9/10. (3-1/2 LEMs)

Conclusion

My choices are between Safari 3 and Camino 1.6 for speed, stability, and compatibility. Firefox 3 is still the best all-rounder for compatibility, but it is a little slower than Safari or Camino (although the version 3 is very fast).

I keep going back to Flock ever now and then, but the lack of speed really gets to me. I will give iCab another shot, although it has a nag screen. The rest have a long way to go before they get me to give them another shot.


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