Miscellaneous Ramblings

iCab 3.0 Beta: The Last New Browser for the Classic Mac OS?

Charles Moore - 2005.11.14 - Tip Jar

One of the biggest drawbacks to continued use of the classic Mac OS is diminishing support of up-to-date Web browsers.

Internet Explorer 5.1 is still there for Mac OS 8.5 through OS 9.x, of course. Although it pains me to admit it, IE provides reasonably reliable browsing, although I shy away from it - especially in Classic - because of stability issues. A near surefire way to make my wife's old PowerBook 1400 running OS 8.6 crash is to launch Internet Explorer.

I also still use OS 9.2.2 on my 233 MHz WallStreet PowerBook G3, and while IE is not as likely to take that more robust system down, I avoid starting it up as much as possible.

I also have the WaMCom 1.3.1 version of Mozilla 1.3, and while it offers good general browsing performance, I've encountered some off-putting bugginess (such as bookmarks disappearing and preferences canceling to default after a restart), and WaMCom overtaxes the processor and memory of the old 117 MHz 1400.

Reliable iCab

We rely mainly on good old iCab on both machines - the last browser being actively developed for the classic Mac OS (at least for OS 8.6 through 9.2.2). And it still has very modest hardware demands.

I've been an iCab fan since before there was even an English language localized version back in the '90s. I also usually have iCab up and running on my OS X machines, as there are certain things iCab does better than any other browser. When I just want to get some work done on the Web, it's often the one I use.

iCab has had glacially slow development (the iCab team is very small with 1 or 2 people, doing all the programming, the email support, and everything else), which hasn't been a big problem because it was pretty stable and reliable early on - and it has remained so. Some serious deficiencies in CSS and JavaScript support with versions 2.x had become increasingly trying, with certain web pages being rendered very badly. Happily, iCab 3.0 addresses these issues.

iCab 3.0

The first public beta release of iCab 3.0 in December 2004 proved disappointing. The page rendering issues had been addressed, but that build was buggy and slow. I reverted to iCab 2.9.8 with higher hopes for the future.

Several beta versions have been released since, and the beta 352 build I'm currently using on my WallStreet is a reasonably speedy and smooth performer, although not as fast as some of the latest OS X browsers like Opera, Camino, and Safari. In fairness, the developer, Alexander Clauss, warns that iCab 3 hasn't been optimized for speed yet.

iCab 3.0 for classic
iCab 3.0 for the classic Mac OS

Visually, iCab 3.0 looks identical to version 2.9.8. Some critics have complained that the iCab user interface looks drab and antiquated. I would have to agree with regard to the default interface of the Classic version, although I'm quite partial to the "Crystal" theme in the OS X version. You can also choose from some three dozen alternate icon sets that can be downloaded from the iCab website for free.

In any case, the interface is businesslike and serviceable, with a minimum of clutter and unwanted features, and its tabbed browsing configuration customizability and flexibility are second to none.

Unique Features

If you have a mouse with three or more mouse buttons, you can use the third button to open links in new tabs. This is the fastest and easiest way to open web pages in tabs because you don't need to press any other modifier keys - but this works only under Mac OS X. In the classic Mac OS you have to configure the mouse driver of your multibutton mouse to get the same functionality.

You can bookmark all of the tabs of a window as a "tab group". A tab group is similar to a folder in the Hotlist, but it's handled as a single item in the hotlist menu or the favorites toolbar. Opening a tab group will open all the tabs in that group at once. In the hotlist window you can also modify tab groups at any time; you can add remove pages, for example.

iCab supports autocomplete in the URL location field. Toolbar elements can be dragged & dropped. To customize the Navigation toolbar, choose the menu item "Customize Navigation Toolbar" from the View menu or choose the menu item "Customize Toolbar" from the contextual menu of the Navigation toolbar. In the bottom part of the window all of the icons that can be placed in the Navigation Toolbar are shown. Just drag the icons into the toolbar where you want them.

There's also a default icon set provided, which you can also drag into the toolbar. You can drag the "globe" icon on the left side of the URL field to insert the URL into document windows of other applications or save location files in the Finder or insert the URL in the Hotlist window or in the favorites toolbar, etc.

You can either use a separate location toolbar (which contains the URL input field and a search field) or you can place URL and search field directly into the Navigation toolbar. You can't have URL and search fields in both toolbars at the same time, so if you've configured iCab to use a separate location toolbar, the URL and search fields will be removed from the main Navigation toolbar.

The back and forward icons of the Navigation toolbar now have a history menu attached.

iCab also has a good download manager, the most intuitive history management, no-nonsense bookmarks, excellent drag & drop support, and the most comprehensive and versatile save function of any browser. It virtually never crashes or hangs, and it also has one of the best Preferences dialogs. There's a lot to like.

System requirements: Mac OS X 8.6 or higher

iCab is a free public beta. After the first final release, "iCab Pro" will sell for $29. You will also be able to download a "lite" version for free.

Appendix A

11 iCab Features, That You May Not Find In Other Browsers

1. Blocking advertising

iCab can block undesirable images (using the Filter Manager), it can also prevent popup windows containing advertising from opening automatically (using unique "InScript filters"). It is very easy to modify these filters. Simply control-click on any image you wish to block in the future (or inside the popup window itself). The domain, or (if you choose) the specific file name will be blocked thereafter. The contextual menu automatically opens, where you can choose either "Image/Filter Image" or "Page/InScript Filter.

2. Kiosk mode

While in Kiosk mode, iCab will cover the whole screen and all other applications are blocked. The Kiosk mode is the ideal environment when the computer is accessing a public place (like fairs, exhibitions, hotels etc.) where users should be able to obtain information, yet prevent any external access to your system. Additionally, the access can be restricted to certain pages (even refusing referrals, if you choose).

3. Error protocol (Smiley)

iCab records all HTML errors of Web pages. A smiley-face will indicate if the HTML code is OK (has no HTML errors, or hazards). In such sites, the smiley face will be green (and smiling). Errors make the smiling face red and sad. By clicking the red smileys iCab will open a window where all the errors are identified with a small description. At http://validator.w3.org/ you can also test web pages using the official validator of the W3C.

4. Portable web archives

HTML pages can be stored in a compact ZIP-file, including all images of the page. The advantage of the ZIP format is that you can use it under DOS/Windows, Unix/Linux -and nearly all other operating systems as well. The ZIP archive uses highly efficient compression, to save hard disk space.

5. Download manager

HTML pages can be downloaded automatically. This allows you to access the content off-line at your convenience, without having to go online again. The download specifications are highly configurable: The path/depth of downloaded files can be configured to get (only) the specified file, all linked files, all HTML, all images, all files on the same site, or even all linked files from all external linked sites. Additionally, you can exclude any specific file type(s)

6. Link manager

When selecting this handy menu utility, a convenient split window opens with all page links identified and listed on the left side. Pick any link, and the respective site appears on the right side of the window. Using the link manager you can comfortably search through long lists of links (for example the result of a search engine) without the need to open any new windows. This way you can avoid sites you do not wish to visit, or information sources which are not be useful to you.

7. Source code manager

When selecting this handy menu utility, the source code of a page will be displayed in any (chosen) editor, or directly in iCab. iCab can automatically reload and redisplay the entire page whenever the HTML code is saved in the editor.

8. No system extensions

iCab doesn't install any system extensions, does not create any "invisible files", and iCab doesn't modify the system or any system settings.

9. Open web page in new window

With this command, a link can be opened in a new window with Command-Click. With Shift-Command-Click, this window is opened in the background so that the main page remains on top and can be read first. When you are finished with the main page you can switch to the underlying pages, which will be fully loaded. This saves you time, allowing your next page

10. Highly configurable

iCab is highly configurable. You can configure which Cookies should be accepted and which should be rejected. You can select which menu items are displayed in the contextual menu. Utilizing Apple "Text-to-Speech", web pages can be read aloud.

11. And much more

iCab's unique and thorough cookie controls, Java scripting controls, and filters offer you a broader range of control about your privacy and safety on the Internet. You can choose to "allow or refuse" any illegal HTML/HTTP or security practices you encounter. iCab allows you (if you choose) to have convenient warnings about any dangerous sites you visit where your computer or security are threatened by rogue code, or important data exchange that is conducted in an insecure environment.

iCab removes or restrains many annoying things from web pages: like scrolling text messages in the status-line (which disable its reporting function); windows that alter their size or position automatically to interfere with your organizing preferences; web pages that switch off all the navigation toolbars, etc. All this is done without completely disabling the technology used by these features, unlike all other browsers where you have only an "either/or" choice (or no choice at all).

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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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