Miscellaneous Ramblings

Camino, Firefox, and Opera Reconsidered

Charles Moore - 2009.01.19 - Tip Jar

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Well, it was a good faith attempt. As I related here last week, I had decided to give Camino 1.6.6 a serious trial as my workaday web browser on my old faithful G4-enhanced Pismo PowerBooks running Mac OS X 10.4.11 "Tiger".

As I reported here last week, initially things seemed to be going promisingly well. Camino 1.6.6 was fast, and interface glitches and sluggishness I had noted in earlier versions of Camino - particularly when using it in conjunction with Mac OS Classic applications running in OS X Classic Disk Mode - seemed to have been fixed to some degree in the version 1.6.6 build.

In fact, I was initially liking it so much that I shut down Firefox 3 and switched to Camino 1.6.6 on my 17" G4 PowerBook running Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard" as well.

Increasing Sluggishness

However, as the week unfolded, Camino 1.6.6's performance on the Pismo gradually unraveled. The sluggishness in dragging blocks of text into browser window fields or just bringing Camino forward coming from a Classic mode application gradually worsened with uptime. This does seem to be mainly or even exclusively an issue with Classic apps.

For example, it manifests with Tex Edit Plus 4.1.3, which is the version I use for production work on the Pismos for a variety of functional reasons, particularly Classic Mode's support of the Scrollability automatic scrolling add-on, for which there is no satisfactory analog that works in OS X, but the issue is absent with Tex Edit Plus 4.9.8 for OS X. Consequently, that issue may not be a problem at all for any but we dogged holdouts running elderly hardware who are disinclined to give up Classic functionality (and speed) that isn't available in OS X.

So far, Camino 1.6.6 is running quite nicely on my Classic Mode-less Leopard machine.

Beach Ball of Death

Back on the Pismo, by day five performance had begun to slow down substantially, with obvious signs of the memory heap clogging up (increased hard drive activity). On Saturday morning, while doing research for a newspaper column, I visited a website that brought Camino 1.6.6 to a virtual standstill. It didn't crash, and there was no spinning beach ball. I could switch between open tabs, but I couldn't scroll in any of them (reluctant/choppy scrolling is one issue I've noticed running Camino 1.6.6 in Leopard as well, but there it's just an intermittent annoyance - in this instance it was completely crippling the browser). After waiting for 10 minutes or so to see if it would sort itself out, I force-quit the program.

The problematical website worked perfectly fine with no slowdowns, scrolling issues, or other drama in Opera 9.2.3, which I have discovered is the best-performing and most reliable choice in up-to-date browsers - at least for my slow G4 machines running OS X 10.4.11 (although, paradoxically, I find that Camino 1.6.6 handles some pages much more gracefully and quickly than Opera on the Leopard machine). iCab 4.2.5, which is usually up and running as a third browser on my Macs, is a very solid performer as well.

The troubles weren't over, and on Sunday, coincidentally or not, I experienced a near system lockup on the Pismo, which is very rare behavior for that usual paragon of stability. It went into a paroxysm of hard drive chatter with intermittent appearances by the spinning beach ball and started responding v e r y s l o w l y. I was able to quit all running programs and Classic Mode and reboot, which restored normal behavior, but it seems an interesting coincidence that it happened after the issue with Camino.

Back to Netscape 9

Consequently, for my Gecko browser on the Pismos I've reverted again to good old reliable Netscape Navigator 9, which more or less just works, and I'm becoming more doubtful that the later Gecko rendering engine based browsers will ever be a comfortable alternative on these old, slow Macs running Tiger. Dan Knight, Low End Mac's publisher, says he finds that Firefox 3 seems to slow down more over time than any other browser he uses (no argument there - Firefox 3 is horrible on the 550 MHz Pismos), although lots of its sluggishness is solved by relaunching the app. But Dan still prefers Camino on his dual 1 GHz G4 desktop, which is of course a lot more powerful computer than my Pismo.

Ironically, considering how this little experiment started, I may continue using Camino 1.6.6 on the Leopard machine. It seems to work well, I like the aesthetics of the interface better, and, coincidentally or not, my PowerBook seems to run cooler with Camino up than it does with Firefox - at least until the Firefox 3.1 final is released.

Opera Overall

Opera is my overall favorite for general surfing on my Tiger and Leopard machines. Opera has its annoyances. It is sluggish to start up, but that's mitigated somewhat by its having the best, no-hassle session resume support of any Mac browser. It also has far and away the best download manager of any browser I've ever used, with a pause and resume feature that works dependably and excellent progress monitoring.

I prefer the way Opera renders text to that of most other browsers, especially if it's to be copied and pasted into a text editor. I'm massively impressed with its stability, although as I noted above on the Leopard machine it seems to gag a bit on certain pages that give Camino and Firefox no problems.

I also love little things about Opera like the buttons to toggle image loading on and off (huge when you're stuck with dialup access) and instant page zooming on the main interface without having to root around in menus.

The bottom line for me is that there is no browser that is so comprehensively satisfactory that I would settle for using just one as long as there is a range to pick from based on their various strengths and shortcomings. If I absolutely had to limit myself to one, it would probably be Firefox on Leopard and Navigator 9 on Tiger, but neither edging Opera out by more than a whisker.

Opera is the one I actually use the most on both platforms, which I think says something. LEM

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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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