Miscellaneous Ramblings

4 Mac Browsers Updated Recently

Charles Moore - 2009.11.16 - Tip Jar

I expect there are plenty of folks who just keep using the Web browser that comes bundled with the operating system when they buy a computer, which would typically be Internet Explorer (helping explain that mediocre third-rate application's continued market share dominance) or, in the case of Mac, Safari - perhaps installing automatic updates but never venturing beyond that.

On the other hand, we have the near-obsessive browser junkies, like your humble servant, who enthusiastically download the latest browser upgrades and innovations and would never be content with using just one browser. For us, this past week or so has been a specially busy with releases of new beta or preview versions of Firefox (3.6b2), the Google Chrome developer preview (4.0.245.0), Opera (10.10b1 RC Build 6770), and a new upgrade of Safari (4.0.4).

I've been downloading, upgrading, and trying them all out.

Safari 4.0.4

Safari 4.x is a pretty good browser, although thoroughly unexciting. It gets the job done competently, but I find the user interface uninspiring, and it has little in the way of "gotta have it" features, other than the fact that it starts up really fast on Macs (there is also a Windows version). Its close integration with the OS X operating system offers presumed, although unspecified, advantages. And it is also very stable.

The downside of that close system integration is that Safari upgrades require running an installer and then a system reboot after installation. I hate shutting down everything and then having to put it back in production order, so I find this annoying.

You also have to make sure that the latest minimum support system version and/or security update is installed. For example, I was obliged to find, download, and install Security Update 2009-005 (Tiger PPC) before I could persuade Safari 4.0.4 to install on my Pismo, although it all went smoothly - if two obligatory reboots qualifies as "smooth".

With the other three browsers featured in this article, it was just a matter of shutting down the previous version, dragging and dropping the new one into the applications folder, and starting the program again.

As for Safari 4.0.4, all of the changes are under the hood. "Nothing to see here," is the operative comment. Safari 4.0.4 adds improvements for JavaScript performance, Full History Search performance, and stability for third-party plugins, the search field, and Yahoo! Mail. It also includes six security fixes (two of which only involve Windows), and I don't doubt there's been some bugfix tidying as well. It's a smooth and dependable performer; it falls somewhere middle of the road compared with Firefox and Opera, in speed, although it can't keep up with Chrome.

Note also that for Mac users, there are separate versions of Safari 4.0.4 offered, for Mac OS X 10.4 .11 "Tiger", 10.5.8 "Leopard", and 10.6.1 (and up) "Snow Leopard".

  • Snow Leopard System Requirements: Mac OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.1 or later
  • Leopard System Requirements: Mac OS X Leopard 10.5.8
  • Tiger System Requirements: Mac OS X Tiger 10.4.11 and Security Update 2009-005 or later - Note: Top Sites and Cover Flow require a Quartz Extreme compatible video card.

File Size: 28 MB (Snow Leopard), 36 MB (Leopard), 26 MB (Tiger), 28 MB (Windows)

Firefox 3.6 Beta 2

As with Safari 4.0.4, you won't notice any visible changes with this latest beta release of the next version of Mozilla's flagship browser.

I've been using Firefox 3.6 since the alpha-level releases and heartily recommend it, especially now that plugin developers are rolling out updates to support it. Version 3.6 is faster than the current 3.5 version, and I've found it quite stable and reliable.

System Requirements: Mac OS X 10.4 or later

Google Chrome 4.0.245.0 Developer Preview

Google's Chrome is still a "developer preview" for Mac users, but after downloading it out of curiosity about three weeks ago, it's quickly become my browser of choice for general surfing. Its marquee advantage is speed - nothing else I've tried comes close, especially for JavaScript rendering. Chrome also starts up almost as quickly as Safari, and I'm a big fan of its minimalist, but to my eyes attractive, user interface and uncluttered preferences settings.

There have been three preview version Mac releases of Chrome so far, including two last week alone, but it's a simple matter of downloading and dropping them in. I've found Chrome admirably stable, being that it has to be considered alpha-grade software, but I'm taking Google's caveats about incomplete security features at their word and not using it for anything with security implications, such as online banking or purchases.

I can't wait for the final release of this one. Potentially the best OS X browser ever.

System Requirements

  • Intel-based Mac
  • Mac OS 10.5 or later

Opera 10.10b1 RC Build 6770

My previous heaviest-use browser, Opera, also got a new release this past week with 10.10b Build 6770 release candidate. Once again, there are no major visual clues that one is running an updated version, but Help pages now open in new tabs, and shopping.com has been removed from Speed Dial. However, there has been quite a bit of tweaking under the hood, especially to the Unite feature that lets Opera function like a Web server, allowing you to download and run Web applications and share content with others quickly and easily.

Opera 10.10 also includes a Media Player application, facilitating enjoyment of music from any Web browser, anywhere, instantly or with any desktop music player that supports streaming playlists, plus Opera's unique Turbo proxy-server based compression feature that speeds up performance dramatically on slow connections.

System Requirements: Mac OS X 10.3 "Panther" or later

Camino, the Other Mozilla

Editor's note: Our "heavy duty" browser at Low End Mac headquarters, where we still use PowerPC Macs exclusively, is Camino 2.0 Beta 4, a version of Firefox optimized for Mac OS X 10.4 and later. Although listed as a preview release, we've found it remarkably stable since the first alpha. (The latest non-preview version is Camino 1.6.10, which is compatible with OS X 10.3.9.) Although Camino version numbers don't comport with those of Firefox, it is based on the same code. If you're looking at alternatives to Safari, I strongly recommend giving Camino a try alongside the others listed here. Dan Knight, publisher, LowEndMac.com.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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