Mac Musings

The Best Browser for the Classic Mac OS

Dan Knight - 2001.11.14

It's been a source of debate since Internet Explorer first came to the Mac: What's the best browser for a Mac user? Well, there's no single answer, but here's my take on the issue.

Netscape 4.7.x

I cut my Internet teeth on Netscape and used it almost exclusively until the day we had a really bad Internet connection at work. As I was printing out some pages to share, I found Netscape's behavior to be very odd - it was taking as long to generate the page as it had taken to download the page in the first place.

That's when a little research discovered that Netscape didn't know how to print the currently displayed page without reloading the whole thing from the Internet a second time. How preposterous! Internet Explorer 4.5 didn't have that problem, so I began using it as my second choice to Netscape.

One thing that bothered me then (and still bothers me today) is that each browser displays the same HTML code differently. Pages designed for Netscape might look bad under Internet Explorer - and vice versa. This lead to discovering what worked in both browsers and avoiding the rest.

I didn't use IE 4.5 heavily, but knowing about the printing flaw in Netscape made me less likely to use it. Further, I've never been a fan of Netscape's email client.

Internet Explorer 5

I didn't make the switch to IE as my default browser until IE 5. Microsoft really improved Internet Explorer over 4.5, especially with things like Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) support. IE 5 rendered pages well, supported a multitude of plug ins, let me change font size on the fly (Netscape crashed when I changed the default font size unless I immediately quit the program after making the switch), and let me choose my own email client as an alternative to Outlook Express.

Nice as it is, IE 5 is probably the buggiest piece of software on my Mac. I'm using a lot of programs from the System 7.x era, but almost every time OS 9.2.1 crashes it's because of IE 5. So I've been looking at alternatives.

iCab

I won't even mention a version number, because iCab keeps improving. I've seen it grow from a browser that could just barely support HTML to one that's almost ready to take on the big boys. I like the way iCab works. I like the way it displays. I like the options it provides. And I love its speed.

Unfortunately, iCab isn't quite ready for prime time. When I access secure pages, iCab switches me to Internet Explorer. That's a nice touch, since it means I don't have to launch IE, but it would be nice to have iCab do it all.

Like Internet Explorer, iCab lets me use my favorite email client.

This is the program I hope will get finished someday so I can make it my standard Web browser.

Netscape 6.2

I have played with Netscape 6.2 and find it an enjoyable browser with some quirks. I still hate Netscape's email client, but Netscape still doesn't want to let me choose my own email software. That's one of my big complaints.

The other is that when I follow a link in email or in my URL manager (a great little shareware program from Jeremy Kezer called WebChecker), Netscape insists on opening a new browser window. That gets old really fast.

Finally, Netscape 6.2 is bloated. It wants about 30 MB on my TiBook running Mac OS 9.2.1. Okay, IE 5 isn't much better at about 25 MB. OTOH, iCab only uses 8.5 MB. (For the record, I have 512 MB RAM, 140 MB set aside for a RAM disk, and run with virtual memory off for best speed. Turning VM on would reduce the memory footprint of these programs at the price of speed.)

If Netscape let me link to Claris Emailer instead of using its own mail client and didn't open so many new windows, I might consider it instead of IE 5.

Opera

I've played with Opera just a bit - the darned beta keeps expiring on me! It's a nice browser and seems faster than Netscape and IE 5. I'd guess iCab and Opera are about on a par in terms of speed.

Conclusion

Looking at browsers for the classic Mac OS reminds me of the observation that democracy is the worst possible system of government - except for all the other ones. That's how I look at the current situation. Internet Explorer is the worst browser, except in comparison to the other ones.

I'm not a huge Microsoft fan. I don't like the company's way of doing business. On the other hand, I am a fan of good software regardless of the source, not that I consider IE particularly good software (after all, it's the application most likely to crash my TiBook). But from my perspective as someone who both publishes on the Web and does a lot of research on the Web, Internet Explorer strikes me as the best of a bad lot.

Yes, that's damning with faint praise. I really hope Netscape 6.3, Opera, or a future version of iCab will let me work the way I want to. (Among other things, IE lets me tab between fields; iCab doesn't.) Until then, IE 5 remains my browser of choice.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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