Miscellaneous Ramblings

Miscellaneous Ramblings Review

Shiira 2.0b2 Browser: Neat Features, but Not Ready for Prime Time

Charles Moore - 2007.01.08 - Tip Jar

The browsers I use most are Opera 9.02 (for general surfing) and one or another of the mozilla.org troika of Camino, SeaMonkey, and Firefox in about that order of preference (for workaday browsing).

All four of the aforementioned are fast and reasonably reliable, although Firefox 2 has not been an especially happy camper on my G4 PowerBook running OS X 10.4.8 for some reason. It works nicely on the Pismo running OS X 10.3.9. I prefer Camino's Mac-oriented interface anyway.

However, I do try to keep abreast of what else is going on in the browser world, and another browser I've been checking out recently is the latest beta 2 build of Shiira, a Japanese open source browser project based on Apple's Webkit for Safari. In general, I would say that Shiira is not quite as fast overall as Opera, but it's still very swift most of the time - and especially so on some Websites.

Aside from speed, what I like about Shiira is that it is delightfully small (the compressed file for downloading is only about 3 MB) and has some interesting and unique features that aren't available on any other browser.

Here are a few of them:

New Shiira features

I've followed development with the Shiira browser with interest over the past few years, and for a while I used it as my main browser. Then Opera 8 was released, and Opera has been my number one browser ever since, but I still like to look in on Shiira from time to time to see how it is progressing.

The most recent Shiira build is version Shiira 2.0b2, and while it's a beta with some rough edges that need to be polished, it's also an impressive effort.

Shiira has been criticized in the past for having an indifferent and sometimes just weirdly quirky (perhaps you remember the fish icons of earlier versions) user interface, but Shiira 2 now has one of the most interesting interfaces in the Mac OS X browser category - definitely my favorite of all the Safari WebKit-based variants.

Shiira with thumbnail bar showing.

tiny preview icons - full sizeThe user interface's most distinctive feature is PageDock, a resizable thumbnail icon bar displaying mini-previews of open tabs, which is located at the bottom of the browser window rather than at the side or along the top. This takes a bit of getting used to, but I actually like it now that I've used it for a while. Previews of minimum sized thumbnails are shown to the right at actual size, and maximum sized thumbnails are below, also at full size.

large preview icons - full size
Maximum thumbnail size.

The downside (so to speak) is that this does reduce the vertical depth of the browser window - but the thumbnail bar can be banished and summoned by clicking a button at the bottom of the window, much as the OS X Dock can be hidden.

A very cool feature that I've never seen on any other browser is borrowed from Apple's OS X Exposé play book. Just click a button at the bottom of the browser window, and all open tabs will be displayed, downsized appropriately to fit the screen space available (above).

Shiira 2 starts up really quickly - a nice change from Opera and the Mozillas.

There's no conventional page load progress bar, but the "tab" thumbnail icons gradually fill with blue as the page loads (right). This is actually pretty cool once you get used to it.

Another thing that's easy to like is the speed. I usually use a member of the Mozilla family for posting news stories on Applelinks, for example, and Shiira is noticeably faster than those browsers on the Applelinks posting CGI site, although that doesn't hold for all sites.

I would say that in general, Opera and the Mozilla cousins are faster, but Shiira is satisfyingly speedy.

One thing I don't like is that if you click on a PDF link, rather than downloading the PDF to your hard drive, Shiira opens a dialog looking for an open and read application. That would be sort of okay, except that it doesn't recognize Preview or PDF View or ToyViewer - instead it wants to open the leviathan Adobe Acrobat Reader, which I usually don't want to waste the time waiting for.

There is no bookmark import function implemented yet.

I found that Shiira's support for forms and pulldown menus on certain sites is spotty, and JavaScript doesn't work very well, if at all. It also has some stability issues. I've had several hard crashes that required a force quit, and once I couldn't get the bookmarks function to work again until I quit, trashed the preferences, and restarted (all the bookmarks were lost). Shiira 2 obviously still needs some work - but this is still a fairly early beta build.

I really like this browser and am eager to try a debugged and stable version with all features fully supported. In the meantime, it's definitely not ready for use as a workhorse browser, but it's not a monstrous download, and you'll probably find checking it out fun and interesting.

Shiira has the key features I look for any browser. For instance, its implementation of tabbed browsing. Being a native Cocoa application, it has full support of OS X Services, which means that I can export selected Web content into Tex-Edit Plus or DEVONthink with a menu selection.

New in version 2.0b2:

  • Fixed many bugs and implemented some new features. Still in development.

System requirements: Mac OS X 10.4

This is an unstable preview release. Use at your own risk

Newest stable version: Shiira 1.2.2 for Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later

System support: PPC/Intel

Free (and just a 3 MB download).

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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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