A review of OmniWeb 5.5, and commentary on polish.

A few weeks ago, I purchased a license for OmniWeb 5.5 during its beta phase. I became aware of it a couple of years ago, when it became the darling of the mac-using contingent of the Software Systems group at the U of A, mainly due to its polished user experience and stability.

I have not been so enamoured of it, I have to regretfully confess, and I have -- reluctantly, since I paid for it -- returned to the arms of Camino.

OmniWeb is pretty decent, with more than a few nice features built in: It's tabbed browser model includes a thumbnail-sized preview of the page in the tab, so that you can see where you're going. It uses a modified version of the Apple WebKit, which means that it behaves in ways very similar to Safari, including using true Cocoa widgets for web page input. This is a selling point because much of OSX's user experience stems from the system-wide integration of applications and services, all of which depend on the builtin behaviour of the UI widgets.

OmniWeb's flaws, however, made themselves known to me throughout the beta. I was more than willing to wait for them to resolve themselves during the beta process, but at this point, they have released the final version of 5.5, and still they're not fixed.

One problem was stability. With a great many tabs open, containing images or pages, OmniWeb slows to a crawl. This isn't too surprising, because RAM ain't cheap, but it could be smarter about keeping tabs in memory or allowing them to be paged. Add into this mix a high likelihood of crashing when under load, and you have a very irritating situation.

The worst problem, however, seems to be the fault of WebKit, not OmniWeb itself, although their claim that they use a modified version suggests improvements, when I have a sneaking suspicion it means "older version". If you use Gmail, and who doesn't these days, then you've noticed that when you create a mail message and press 'tab, enter' from the edit box it sends the message. Kind of a reflex by now.

That doesn't work in OmniWeb, not at all.

Now, there's a tradeoff to be made, here, of course -- OmniWeb and Safari have native widgets, which means that -- for example -- the keystrokes I use in editing text elsewhere on the system work consistently, a bit of polish that does not apply to Camino or Firefox. It's features are many and fabulous, but it shouldn't be final with that set of issues.

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