Miscellaneous Ramblings

iCab Preview 1.7: The Best iCab Yet

11 Sept. 1999 - Tip Jar

Now that I've been using the latest v1.7 preview build of the German iCab browser for several days, I'm happy to report that it is definitely more stable on my computer than its predecessor, v1.6a, was - and I can't overemphasize how much more convenient I'm finding the new Save As text function, which was missing from previous iCab builds.

Developed by Alexander Clauss and the iCab Company, a small, private software development firm founded by Oliver Joppisch, 34, and based in Braunschweig, Germany. iCab is currently available as a public beta from <http://www.icab.de/>. iCab's was first developed for the Atari platform, but the Mac version is a complete rewrite - not a quick and dirty port. iCab for Atari was written in Pascal, but the Mac version has been coded entirely in CodeWarrior C.

I like iCab a lot, and I am hoping that it will be able to carve a profitable niche in the browser market. It is especially useful for older Macs, like my PowerBook 5300, due to it's modest RAM and hard drive real estate demands. The entire iCab folder is only 2.7 MB (the application itself is 2.4 MB), and iCab operated happily in a 1.7 MB memory partition (with VM or RAM Doubler enabled).

iCab's interface is clean and uncluttered. In place of IE's and Netscape's somewhat pretentious animated logos at the upper right of the browser window, iCab features a little animated cartoon car (cab) driving through the window and blowing puffs of cartoon smoke. A nice, lighthearted, self-effacing touch.

Oliver Joppisch has stated that the motivating factor for iCab development was that both Communicator and Explorer are based on older programming concepts and evolutionary development, and are thus very bulky. He noted that Internet Explorer for the Mac is quite attractive, but it still seems excessive. iCab is intended to be a "slim," fast, smooth browser.

Joppisch's admiration for Internet Explorer is evident in iCab, which incorporates many of IE's useful and convenient features like a persistent History (even after you close a browser window or quit the program that shows the time of the last visit), the ability to download web pages as complete archives with images or sounds embedded, the ability to autocomplete URLs and forms, convenient Hotlist (bookmark) editing, and a Download Manager.

Joppisch says that iCab is not intending to challenge Microsoft and AOL (Netscape) for market share, but rather to offer a solid, fast, and small browser for those who want one. Indeed there should be a ready market for that sort of software, catering to those who continue to use older browsers like Netscape 2.02 for their speed and small footprint.

As for Mac OS X support, Joppisch says that since iCab has very up to date coding, porting it to Carbon compliance shouldn't pose any problem - and this will be done as soon as the consumer version of Mac OS X begins to shape up. By comparison, the recoding from Cab's Pascal/Atari to CodeWarrior C/Apple was more difficult. However, a special port to Mac OS X server is too esoteric for iCab to bother with.

In happy contrast to Explorer, iCab does not dump a ton of shared libraries and other junk into your System folder - just a modest Preferences folder.

Speaking of Preferences, iCab has a comprehensive range of preference settings, and is as configurable as Communicator and Explorer - in some respects more so. For instance, you can specify the search-engines to be used when iCab conducts a search on the Internet, and set an expiry period for your browser cache.

While a shootout comparison on MacSpeedZone found that iCab 1.6a was somewhat slower than Internet Explorer 4.5 and Communicator 4.6.1, that is not the case on slower machines like my PowerBook 5300, which are overwhelmed by the big browsers' ponderousness. While both the latest versions of Explorer and Communicator are satisfyingly speedy (always room for improvement, though) on my G3 233 PowerBook, they bog down horribly on the 5300, while the smaller, less-demanding iCab sails right along.

I especially like iCab's Download Manager, which I rate as better than IE's. Starting with Preview 1.7, you will still be able to go to the iCab Website and download a current version if you keep the preview until it expires. Very cool.

I am including the comprehensive list of new features and bug fixes in the 1.7 build in an appendix below for those interested.

I've also heard from a couple of readers who have been following iCab's progress.

Chris Long, who was like me unenchanted with the iCab 1.6/1.6a builds, writes:

Re: iCab 1.7 - I'm using it regularly and I like it! It's crapped out a couple of times but I find it's about as reliable as the last couple of versions.

Daniel Morris comments:

Prior to preview 1.7, I could drag links by simply clicking and dragging. With 1.7, I must option-drag links. I vastly prefer the previous behaviour. Can I switch it back? I ask because when I surf I usually have a window open with links which I drag to another window. Having to do so with two hands is very detrimental to this method. (See Daniel's further comments in Appendix II below).

Like Chris, I have noted that iCab still has some stability work to do, and I have experienced one hard crash so far doing something that should not have caused one. However, the 1.7 build is a distinct improvement stability-wise over 1.6a, which I found very crash-prone.

iCab version 1.7 will work until the end of December, but there may be another preview version released before that date. The final version, which will sell for the shareware-esque price of $29 for it, is expected to be ready around the turn of the year, although a free "lite" version will continue to be available as well.

It only takes a few minutes to download the iCab preview (about 940k), and each new version accesses preferences and the "Hotlist" (ie: Bookmarks) from the previous version, so there is no configuration hassle upgrading from version to version. However, it is probably wise to trash the preferences from previous builds of iCab and start afresh anyway (make sure to save your Hotlist.html file from the preferences first if you want to retain your URL database). iCab also gives you the option on first startup of assimilating either Favorites from IE or Bookmarks from Netscape for its "Hotlist" menu. However you can also make a copy of your Favorites file from IE, rename it "Hotlist.html" and drag it into the iCab preferences folder. This does not work with Netscape bookmarks.

  • For questions concerning iCab, bug reports and suggestions: support@icab.de .
  • For general questions concerning the concept, marketing etc.: info@icab.de .
  • You can download a free evaluation copy of iCab preview 1.7 here: http://www.icab.de/download.html
  1. Appendix I: New Features in iCab Preview 1.7
  2. Appendix II: iCab 1.7 anomalies as identified by Daniel Morris

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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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